Sony DSC-W50 Review

 
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Sony DSC-W50 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slight oversaturation in red and blue tones, and somewhat warm, dark color overall.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Sony W50 does oversaturate the strong red and blue tones slightly, but undersaturates bright yellows and yellow-greens. We found its color pleasing on a wide range of typical subjects though. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. Here, the W50 did pretty well, albeit with a bit more warmth than we'd prefer.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The DSC-W50 showed small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, but overall had more hue-accurate color than most consumer cameras we test.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm casts with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. More exposure compensation required than usual.

Auto White Balance +1.3 EV Incandescent WB +1.3 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was just a bit warm and reddish in Auto white balance mode, and the Incandescent setting resulted in a more yellow color balance that actually proved more pleasing of the two. The Sony DSC-W50 required a +1.3 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is higher than average for this shot. Overall color is a bit dark and yellow here, making the blue flowers very dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Slightly warm color outdoors. Better than average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance, +0.3 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Sony DSC-W50 noticeably better than average exposure accuracy, although with slightly blow-out highlights. Strong highlights tended to produce slight underexposures, as in the house shot above, with a limited midtone range, but exposure accuracy was still better than average when compared to many other consumer digital cameras. Color balance was typically a little warm overall.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,250 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,250 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,700. (The camera produced slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies though, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Actual resolved detail was about the same as with the Sony W30, but the W50's images seemed more crisp with the default sharpening setting. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,600 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,250 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,250 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images, with some blurring of detail from noise suppression.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, slight edge enhancement. Sharpening seems well-controlled. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Sony DSC-W50's images tend to have a slightly soft look when printed large, though high contrast detail like the fine branches against the sky above is well-preserved, with little or no evidence of oversharpening. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right shows this somewhat, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing only limited detail, even though some individual strands are visible against her cheek. Overall though, the Sony W50 shows less loss of detail from noise reduction than average at low ISOs, but more at high ISOs.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, very high noise and heavy blurring at the higher settings.

ISO 80
(slight blur from subject motion)
ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,000

The Sony DSC-W50's lower ISO settings produced low to moderate noise, with little impact on detail. (As just noted, better than average in this respect.) As the ISO setting increases though, so do the noise level and the amount of blurring that results. Shots at ISO 400 are a bit soft but still usable, while shots at ISO 800 and 1000 have so much noise and blurring that they're practically useless for printing. (Even at a print size of 4x6 inches, ISO 1000 shots are soft and muddy-looking.)

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, though limited shadow detail and high contrast. A tendency towards warm casts. Fair low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting.

Normal +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 produced high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, with deep shadows and dark midtones. Detail was limited in the deep shadows as well, with some noise suppression blurring any remaining details. The W50 required less positive exposure compensation than average, however, at only +0.3 EV. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.) Overall color was a bit warm, which darkened the blue flowers and green foliage significantly.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
Night
Mode
(ISO 80)
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2 sec
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ISO
80
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100
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200
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ISO
400
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ISO
800
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1000
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High
ISO
Mode
(ISO 1000)
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Low light:
The Sony DSC-W50 had somewhat limited low-light shooting capabilities, with a maximum exposure time of two seconds and that only at its lowest ISO setting of 80. However, the camera is sensitive enough for shooting under average city street-lighting at night, about one foot-candle. (The leftmost column of images in the table above.) Overall color was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting (just slightly pink), and the camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/4 foot-candle light level unassisted (about 1/4 as bright as typical street lighting). With the AF assist lamp enabled, the camera focused accurately down to the lowest light level we test at.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
A limited flash range, even at the maximum intensity setting.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash, High Intensity Slow-Sync Flash, High Intensity

Flash coverage was somewhat uneven at wide angle, better but still slightly uneven at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the flash on the underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a High Intensity boost to get reasonably bright results. Even here, the exposure slightly dim. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. It too required the High Intensity flash setting for bright results.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
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1/50 sec
f5.2
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ISO 100

Even at eight feet, our closest test range, flash intensity is a little low. As the distance from the target increased, brightness decreased, becoming quite dim at 14 feet.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, crisp prints at 8x10 inches, usable ones at 11x14. ISO 400 images are soft and noisy at 8x10 inches, acceptable at 5x7, great at 4x6. Higher ISOs are only (barely) suitable for 4x6 inch snapshot prints.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Sony DSC-W50 produced sharp prints at 8x10 inches, and somewhat softer but still acceptable ones at 11x14. As always though, the real test of print size came at the higher ISO settings. Here, the W50's ISO 400 images were soft and a bit noisy when printed at 8x10 inches, acceptable at 5x7 and great at 4x6. (It's our estimation that most consumers would find 8x10 inch prints from the W50's ISO 400 images acceptable for wall display.) ISO 200 shots were still a bit noisy but better-looking at 8x10. The highest ISO settings of 800 and 1000 were so noisy though, that we really question their inclusion on the camera at all. Even in small 4x6 inch snapshot-sized prints, ISO 800 and 1000 shots were soft and muddy-looking.

Color-wise, the Sony W50 did pretty well, with bright but natural-looking color and good-looking skin tones, although we felt that many of its shots had more of a warm cast than we'd prefer.

Bottom line, low-ISO shots from the DSC-W50 look very good and hold together well at large print sizes, but its high-ISO images leave much to be desired.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

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Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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