Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55

      Photo Review 8

      In summary

      A stylish Slimline point-and-shoot camera with some useful shooting modes and excellent close-up capability.Sony’s new Cyber-shot DSC-W55 is an update to the popular W50 model with higher resolution and a greatly expanded internal memory. The CCD imager offers 7.1-megapixels, while the internal memory has risen from 32MB to 56MB plus an expansion slot for Memory Stick Duo cards. Physically little has changed in the new model although its brushed aluminium cladding now comes in four colours: Caribbean blue, blush pink, black and silver. The camera body itself is made from plastic, which contributes to its light weight. . . [more]

      Full review


      Sony’s new Cyber-shot DSC-W55 is an update to the popular W50 model with higher resolution and a greatly expanded internal memory. The CCD imager offers 7.1-megapixels, while the internal memory has risen from 32MB to 56MB plus an expansion slot for Memory Stick Duo cards. Physically little has changed in the new model although its brushed aluminium cladding now comes in four colours: Caribbean blue, blush pink, black and silver. The camera body itself is made from plastic, which contributes to its light weight.
      A solid built-in lens cover is provided but the battery/card compartment door on the test camera was rather flimsy and the USB port on the camera’s base lacks any form of protection. The camera’s controls, though tiny, are reasonably easy to operate although a fingernail must be used to press most buttons. Designed as a point-and-shoot camera, the W55 has a mode dial with settings for full auto, Program AE, movie capture and seven scene selections (High Sensitivity, Soft Snap, Night Portrait, Twilight, Landscape, Beach and Snow).


      A tiny power button is embedded in the top panel and the zoom control is a ring around the shutter button. The rear panel is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD, above which sits a tiny viewfinder, quick review button, buttons for the Display, Menu and Image Size/Delete plus a pretty standard four-way controller. The LCD’s resolution is comparatively low – and it showed on the test camera, especially in bright ambient light. Unfortunately, the viewfinder proved too small to be a viable alternative in such situations, being poorly located and providing a ‘cramped’ view of the subject.


      The battery and card slot into the base of the camera, which carries a standard tripod mount and uncovered Multi-connector (USB, AV, PictBridge). The wrist strap hooks into an eyelet on the top right corner. A multi-purpose USB/AV cable is supplied for connecting the camera to a PC or TV set.
      Menus on the W55 are similar to other Sony cameras, with a line of options along the bottom of the LCD screen and pop-up settings above them. The Colour mode has five options (normal, rich, natural, sepia and B&W); the Focus setting has positions for multi, centre and infinity as well as pre-set distances of 0.5, 1.0, 3.0 and 7.0 metres. Three metering modes are supported: multi, centre and spot, along with auto white balance plus five pre-sets but no manual measurement.
      Sensitivity can be set on Auto or adjusted through ISO 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1000 steps. Two JPEG compression settings are provided, along with three recording modes: normal (single shot), burst and multi-burst. The multi-burst mode captures 16 images and presents them as a single one-megapixel file and you can choose from three shot-to-shot intervals (1/30, 1/15 and 1/7.5 seconds). Flash level, contrast and sharpness are adjustable through three levels: low, normal and high.
      The set-up menu lets you choose between two AF modes (single and monitor) and three digital zoom settings (off, precision and smart). Setting the Function Guide to On allows you to see what mode you’re in when you turn the mode dial. Red-eye reduction, the AF illuminator and the auto review can be turned on and off via this menu, which also contains settings for formatting the internal memory or memory card, creating album folders, copying shots between memories, adjusting the LCD backlight and other standard settings.
      To record movie clips in MPEG Movie VX Fine mode you need a Memory Stick Duo Pro card and, since no card was supplied with the camera, we were unable to evaluate this function – or shoot movie clips at lower resolution, due to inadequate internal memory. The supplied software is Sony’s Picture Motion Browser 2.0, which offers both basic thumbnail and calendar views of stored images and enables users to select shots for printing, emailing and slideshow production. It also includes a CD/DVD burning function plus some basic editing controls. You can adjust image brightness, contrast and saturation, correct red eyes in flash shots, crop images and imprint a date on shots. A comprehensive user’s Handbook is also provided on the software CD, with only a basic guide in hard-copy.

      Test shots taken with the W55 were bright and colourful with elevated contrast and saturation. Consequently, although highlight and shadow details were not recorded in shots taken in bright sunshine, overall the impression of vivid colours and sharp detail was conveyed. Imatest showed overall colour accuracy to be good and saturation to be typical of a point-and-shoot digicam.
      The MTF50 figures from our Imatest tests were well below expectations at all ISO settings and Imatest also revealed a huge difference in resolution between the centre and edges of shots. A large variation in sharpening between centre and edge of images was also detected. Both these factors could be seen as edge softening in most of our test shots. Interestingly, very little rectilinear distortion was observed at either end of the zoom range.
      One factor contributing to the overall softness of shots from the test camera could be the degree of noise reduction processing that is applied to shots taken on the W55. While it does produce lower noise levels at high ISO settings, it did not totally eliminate image noise and could be one reason why shots looked a little fuzzy when enlarged to 200%. The softening was noticeable at ISO 400 and shots taken at ISO 1000 were visibly soft all over. Lateral chromatic aberration was generally low.
      Digital zoom shots were relatively free of artefacts, with both the Smart and Precision zoom modes. Close-ups were outstanding, thanks to the camera’s ability to focus to 2 cm. White balance performance was typical of many digicams. While the auto setting managed quite well with fluorescent lighting, neither the auto nor pre-set mode produced natural colours under incandescent lighting and the fluorescent pre-set produces shots with a distinct blue cast. No custom settings are provided.
      Flash shots were competently handles at all ISO settings above ISO 100. However, the close proximity of the flash to the lens axis makes red-eye inevitable in most flash portraits.
      The W55 was ready to use within two seconds of pressing the power button and shot-to-shot speeds averaged just over one second. We measured an average capture lag of 0.35 seconds, which reduced to less than 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. When flash was used, shot-to-shot times slowed to one shot every 3.5 seconds. It took just under three seconds to process and display each shot.
      In the standard continuous shooting mode, shots were recorded at 0.9 second intervals. A bust of five shots took approximately 10 seconds to process. With the multi-burst mode, 16 shots were recorded in 0,5 second and presented as a single file. It took almost 30 seconds to format the internal memory.

      Despite some reservations about image sharpness and resolution, provided you only print your shots to snapshot size, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 should be a capable slimline camera with the style and functionality many everyday photographers will enjoy. The camera supports the standard PictBridge direct printing controls and is supplied with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger. Battery life appears to be excellent; we still had plenty of power left in the battery after more than 100 test shots.



      Note the difference between edge (upper graph) and centre (lower graph) resolution.





      Digital zoom.


      Auto white balance under fluorescent lighting.


      Image noise at ISO 200.


      Image noise at ISO 1000.


      Low-light shot at ISO 400.


      Three snapshots taken on an overcast, drizzly day.





      Image sensor: 5.76 x 4.29mm CCD with 7.2 million photosites (7.1 megapixels effective)
      Lens: Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 6.3-18.9mm f/2.8-5.2 zoom lens (38-114mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 3x optical; up to 6x (14x at VGA resolution)
      Image formats: Stills ““ JPEG (Exif 2.2); Movies ““ MPEG VX
      Image Sizes: Stills -3072 x 2304, 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1632 x 1224, 640 x 480; Movies ““ VGA at 30, 16 or 8 fps
      Shutter speed range: 1-1/2000 sec.
      Image Stabilisation: n.a.
      Exposure Compensation: +/-2EV in 1/3EV increments
      Focus system/range: 5-area Multi-point (selectable) AF; range 30 cm to infinity; macro to 2 cm
      Exposure metering/control: Multi-segment, Centre-weighted average, Spot metering
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1000
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Red-Eye reduction, On, Off, Slow Sync; range –
      Sequence shooting: 1.1 fps for 4 shots
      Storage Media: 56MB internal plus Memory Stick Duo/Pro Duo expansion slot
      Viewfinder: Optical
      LCD monitor: 2.5 inch Amorphous silicon TFT colour LCD; approx. 115,000 pixels
      Power supply: NP-BG1 rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (380 frames, CIPA Standard)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 90 x 59 x 23 mm
      Weight: 147 grams (with battery and wrist strap)





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