Sony DSC-W55 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55
Resolution: 7.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.5"
Lens: 3.00x zoom
(38-114mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 100-1000
Shutter: 1-1/2000
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
(89 x 57 x 23 mm)
Weight: 5.2 oz (147 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $200
Availability: 02/2007
Manufacturer: Sony
7.20
Megapixels
3.00x zoom
1/2.5"
size sensor
image of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55
Front side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 digital camera Back side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 digital camera Top side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 digital camera Left side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 digital camera Right side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 digital camera

Sony DSC-W55 Overview

by Rob Murray
Review Date: 4/11/07

The 7.2 megapixel Sony DSC-W55 features a 3x optical zoom lens with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar branding, 2.5" 115,000 pixel LCD display, optical viewfinder, and a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,000 equivalent. Auto and Programmed Auto exposure modes are offered, as well as seven scene modes (Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Beach, Snow, High Sensitivity, Soft Snap).

Other Sony W55 features include 2x "Precision" (interpolating) digital zoom, up to 14x "Smart zoom" (which simply crops to achieve the zoom effect, resulting in lower resolution images, but no softening due to interpolation), three metering modes (multi-pattern, center-weighted or spot), +/- 2.0EV exposure compensation and a 2 or 10 second self-timer. The DSC-W55 captures movies in MPEG1 format with audio at resolutions up to 640x480 pixels, at a rate of up to 30 frames per second.

Like other Sony models, the W55 uses Memory Stick Duo memory cards and comes with a fairly generous 56MB of internal memory available for image storage. Sony DSC-W55 interfaces include USB 2.0 (high-speed), A/V (NTSC or PAL), and DC input via a dummy battery that's included with the optional AC adapter. Power is provided to the Sony W55 via a Sony NP-BG1 Li-Ion rechargeable battery.

The Sony W55 is offered in a variety of colors including Caribbean blue, pale pink, elegant black and sleek silver and appeared in US stores in mid-February 2007, carrying a list price of US$200.

 

Sony DSC-W55 User Report

by Rob Murray

This is another new offering from Sony with even more megapixels than its predecessor, the DSC-W50. Staying with the compact Cyber-shot theme, this camera gives you fully automatic exposure as well as enough options to let you get creative. With 7.2 megapixels tucked into its small frame, a large, clear 2.5 inch color LCD monitor and useful creative controls, you may find yourself carrying this little camera around a lot. Sony gets you started with 56 megabytes of internal storage, so you can shoot as soon as you get the battery charged, but we strongly recommend purchasing a large-size memory card right along with the camera. The Sony W55 has a 3x optical zoom lens with an equivalent range of 38-114mm on a 35mm camera. If you like shooting close-ups, the macro mode focuses down to an exceptional two centimeters, although we found that it produced rather soft corners in its images when shooting that close.

The Sony DSC-W55 also has an extended range ISO with settings from 100-1000. These higher settings will allow you to capture pictures in dimmer light without using flash, but as with all cameras, the higher settings will be noisier than the lower settings. Even so, it is nice to have the option of these higher settings if needed, and Sony appears to have made considerable progress against image noise, compared to the earlier W50. (We really questioned the usefulness of the high ISO options on the W50, but on the W55, image quality is good enough that I could see people actually making use of them, at least for 4x6 inch prints. Oddly though, the improvement in the W55's high-ISO shots is much more apparent in prints than on-screen.) The Sony W55 also has an extremely bright orange focus-assist light that helps it achieve focus in low light situations. Its somewhat short maximum shutter times limit low-light performance a little bit, but it should do just find under typical urban outdoor lighting at night, and the AF-assist light is a real help for focusing indoors.

The first thing you notice about the Sony W55 is the large LCD monitor on the back panel, it's bright, works well outdoors and gives you all the information you would want to see. You can turn off the information on the LCD if you would rather not see it or want to use the optical finder.

I don't think you'll use the optical finder much, as the Sony W55's LCD is pretty good, and a good bit more accurate as well. (Its inaccurate optical viewfinder is one of the major strikes against it, in my mind.) A "mode wheel" control is located in a good place for easy access. The shutter button is surrounded by the lens zoom ring so it is easy to recompose your shots by zooming in or out, and then quickly snap the shot. Another nice feature is that, when the mode dial is changed, a large simulated mode dial is displayed on the LCD monitor telling you what mode you are in and what you should use it for. I found that a nice touch.

The Sony W55 did pretty well in the performance department, with a moderately fast startup time of 1.7 seconds. Shutter lag (the delay between pressing the shutter button and the camera taking the picture) is lower than that of most cameras on the market, with a range of 0.32 - 0.55 second, a real help when it comes to capturing just the moment in time you're looking for. The auto-focus area is shown by brackets on the LCD screen, or if you want to adjust focus manually, you can set it to several different distances through the menu system. You'll be shooting this camera a lot so I recommend a larger memory stick as a must-have item.

Like its other W-series siblings, the Sony W55 sports an impressive list of accessories, including a couple of different accessory lenses, an external slave flash and ring light, and even an underwater case. The underwater case is shown above, a nice accessory not only for true underwater shooting, but also comforting if you plan a canoe or kayaking trip, or a day water skiing or at the beach. That's the underwater case (Sony calls it a "Sportspack") above, see the table further down this page for a full list of accessories.

The Sony DSC-W55 has a quality feel to it; neither too bulky nor too small for average-sized hands, and the weight is just right. It slips in and out of pockets easily, so there's no impediment to bringing it along wherever you go. A beginner will find they can start shooting right away in the Automatic or Program modes, while the more advanced user will find the Creative modes interesting to use; permitting shots in more challenging conditions.

Color handling: Outdoor shots in daylight were bright and vibrant-looking, without seeming artificial or over-colored. Indoors though, the camera's white balance system left too much color in the images when shooting under incandescent lighting.

I liked the photos the W55 captured quite a bit, they were bright and snappy-looking, yet the colors still managed to look realistic, and never felt artificial to me. The one thing I disliked about it was that its photos indoors under incandescent lighting were a bit on the yellow or red side, depending on the white balance option selected. They didn't look as strongly tinted when I printed them as they did on-screen, but I'd still have preferred a bit less coloration in some of my indoor shots. (Note that I'm not asking for a completely neutral color balance under incandescents here: I think some coloration is a good thing, as it preserves the warmth of the original scene. I'd just like a bit less than the W55 left in its images. - You might find them perfectly acceptable though.)

All in all, the Sony W55 struck me as a pretty nice little camera. It seems well-built, is easy to use, yet offers enough special modes and options to handle the bulk of shooting situations most consumers are likely to encounter. I really enjoyed playing with it, and found myself shooting a lot more pictures with it than another camera (here to remain nameless) that I brought along on the same photo expedition. It really packs a lot into a small package, and I think most consumer-level users would be very happy with it.

Basic Features

  • 7.2 -megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Variable digital Smart Zoom (up to 14x at VGA resolution), or 2x Precision Digital zoom.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 2.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Automatic and Program exposure modes.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
  • 56MB internal memory.
  • Sony Memory Stick Duo slot (no card included).
  • USB 2.0 computer connection.
  • Power from one rechargeable LiIon battery pack, charger included.
  • Software for Mac and PC.

 

Special Features

  • High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Snow, Beach, Landscape, and Soft Snap modes.
  • Movie recording mode (with sound).
  • Multi-Burst slow motion mode and Burst continuous shooting mode.
  • Email (VGA resolution) mode.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 1/8 sec in Auto mode; 1/2,000 to one second in Program mode, and 1/2,000 to two seconds in Twilight mode.
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/13, depending on zoom position.
  • Creative Color Mode menu (Normal, Rich, Natural, Sepia, and B&W).
  • Image Sharpness and Contrast adjustments.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens setting.
  • Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Metering modes.
  • Multi and Center AF modes, plus manual focus (5 distance presets).
  • Auto ISO setting or 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,000 ISO equivalents
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.

 

In the Box

Included with the Sony DSC-W55 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Rechargeable battery pack with charger.
  • Combined USB/AV cable.
  • Software CD containing Sony Cyber-shot software and USB drivers.
  • Quick-guide manuals and registration information.

 

Recommended Accessories

You don't normally think of accessory items like add-on lenses or an external flash with compact digital camera models, but Sony's compact "W" series is a bit of an exception in this area. Here's a complete list of Sony accessories for the DSC-W55, complete with shopping links for them:

Accessory Model No. List
Price
Function
Conversion lens adapter VAD-WB $30
(shop)
Needed for all conversion lenses or 30mm filters
Telephoto lens VCL-DH1730 $80
(shop)
Increases the maximum telephoto range by 1.7x, to 194 mm (requires VAD-WB above)
Super telephoto lens VCL-DH2630 $110
(shop)
Increases the maximum telephoto focal length by 2.6X, to a really long 296 mm (requires VAD-WB above)
Slave flash (external) HVL-FSL1B $75
(shop)
Works with on-camera flash to extend flash range. Reduces red-eye by allowing the flash to be separated from the camera. Fastens to the tripod mount, fires whenever the built-in flash does. (Fully automatic)
Ring light (external) HVL-RLS $100 Ring LED light for macro photography. Mounts over lens barrel and fastens to the tripod mount. With output level function.
Lens filter kit
(Circular polarizer, dust/scratch protector)
VF-30CPK $45
(shop)
Makes for more dramatic sky colors (deeper, richer blue), blocks reflections from glass and other non-metallic objects (requires VAD-WB above)
Special effects filter kit
(Soft focus & cross grid)
VF-30SC $30
(shop)
Soft focus and cross filters, the latter turning bright highlights into stars (requires VAD-WB above)
Neutral density filter VF-30NK $20
(shop)
Reduces light entering the lens, letting you use slower shutter speeds for special effects: Blurred waterfalls and fountains, etc. Also includes dust/scratch protective filter (requires VAD-WB above)
Marine Sports Pack
(Underwater case)
SPK-WA $90
(shop)
Shoot pictures up to 10 feet underwater!
AC adapter AC-LS5K $35
(shop)

Run the camera from AC power. (Frankly, not really all that necessary, given the good battery life. Might be handy for extended slide shows, with the camera sitting atop a TV though.)

Accessory kit "Y" ACC-CLG $60
(shop)
Provides extra battery and a leather carrying case (not a bad idea for extended trips)
Carrying cases

LCS-WF

LCS-WE

$30
(shop)
$40
(shop)
Cloth or leather case to protect against light bumps and scratches


 

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Fast, very good shutter response, good shot to shot speed
  • Fairly fast startup/shutdown time
  • Good color accuracy
  • High-ISO image quality is much improved over the earlier W50
  • Very capable movie mode
  • Very fast multi-burst (reduced resolution) mode, great for analyzing golf/tennis swings
  • Macro mode gets you very close
  • LCD is usable in very bright light
  • Bright AF-assist light
  • Design is compact but usable, fits the hand well
  • Very good battery life
  • Extremely fast file downloads via high-speed USB 2.0 port
  • Wide range of accessories available, including underwater case, conversion lenses, and filters
  • Macro mode shows severe curvature of field/blurry corners
  • So-so handling of household incandescent lighting
  • No custom/manual white balance option
  • Somewhat limited low-light capability
  • High noise at high sensitivity settings
  • Rather contrasty default tone curve
  • Anti-noise processing trades away a fair bit of subtle subject detail to hold the noise in check at high ISOs

 

This new Sony DSC-W55 offers a few improved specs over its predecessor, the DSC-W50 model. Most notable are the 7.2 megapixel CCD, more internal memory and its faster top shutter speeds. It still retains the 3x optical zoom and large 2.5-inch LCD display of the previous model. The extra megapixels will be appreciated if you need to crop your pictures or make bigger enlargements. More important changes come in areas you can't see on a spec sheet, particularly high-ISO (high light-sensitivity) image noise. The previous W50 model sported the same top-end ISO 800 and 1,000 settings, but its images were so noisy and blurry at those levels that they were essentially unusable. On-screen, it's a toss-up between the two cameras' high-ISO shots, but when printed, images from the W55 look much better (at least to my eye). Like others in Sony's W-series line, the DSC-W55 is very sleek and easy to pocket so there is no excuse not to take it with you, most any time your stepping out. The Sony W50 offers full automatic exposure control for easy shooting or seven preprogrammed scene modes to help you get the shot under more difficult conditions. It's relatively quick to turn on and has a low shutter lag time in daylight shooting, as well as decent shot to shot speeds. Long a hallmark of Sony cameras, the Sony DSC-W55 offers a very capable movie mode, as well as a long battery life. Most unusual for a compact camera in this size and price range though, is the extensive list of accessories available for it from Sony. There are filters, accessory wide angle and telephoto lenses, a slave flash, an underwater case and even a macro ring light for close-ups. This was the first Sony camera I'd used, but I was able to navigate the menus easily and was ready to shoot in just a few minutes. Particularly for a camera that you can carry in most any pocket, the Sony DSC-W55 boasts a lot of features, and the controls are laid out well. Offering good sharpness and color, a strong feature set, and available in four colors (black, pink, silver, or blue), all at an attractive price, the Sony DSC-W55 has a lot going for it. If it only did a bit better job under incandescent lighting, it'd be a shoo-in for a Dave's Pick, but as it stands, it's a (very) near miss.

 

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