DPInterface Sony Cyber-shot W50 Review
Brad Soo - March 17th, 2006

The ultra-compact Sony Cyber-shot W50 is has 6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, a large 2.5 inch LCD and ISO 1000 capabilities. Sony has come up with a compact camera capable of taking photos at high sensitivities. So how will things turn up? Will I like the W50? The only way to find out is to start here...

There is also another camera, the Sony W30, which retails for $20 less. The W30 and W50 share the same sensor and lens (among other things) except the W50 has a larger 2.5 inch LCD (compared to 2.0 inch on the W30) and is available in black. Both the W30 and W50 are sold in the US.

Since both these cameras use the same sensor and lens, you might want to check out the Sony Cyber-shot W30 review and photo gallery since I took more photos using the W30.

Size and Weight

So exactly how compact is the Sony Cyber-shot W50? Take a look:

(161.2)  86.0 x 53.5 x 21.7 mm (140 g) - Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH
(173.3)  90.4 x 56.5 x 26.4 mm (165 g) - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
(166.0)  88.5 x 57.0 x 20.5 mm (112 g) - Casio Exilim Z600
(163.6)  90.0 x 55.0 x 18.6 mm (130 g) - Fujifilm FinePix Z2
(177.0)  93.0 x 61.0 x 23.0 mm (130 g) - HP Photosmart R727
(171.2)  101.0 x 49.8 x 20.4 mm (125 g) - Kodak EasyShare V570
(163.6)  92.0 x 50.0 x 21.6 mm (120 g) - Kodak EasyShare V603
(172.0)  93.0 x 59.0 x 20.0 mm (135 g) - Nikon Coolpix S5
(178.5)  97.0 x 55.0 x 26.5 mm (128 g) - Olympus Stylus 600
(170.2)  94.0 x 50.8 x 25.4 mm (132 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX01
(159.0)  86.0 x 54.0 x 19.0 mm (100 g) - Pentax Optio S6
(175.3)  96.5 x 61.0 x 17.8 mm (130 g) - Samsung Digimax i6
(165.2)  89.7 x 54.9 x 20.6 mm (134 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T9
(188.1)  91.0 x 60.0 x 37.1 mm (197 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W7
(169.0)  89.0 x 57.0 x 23.0 mm (127 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W30/W50/W70
(179.6)  94.2 x 60.6 x 24.8 mm (161 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W100

As usual, I've included the "DPI measurement unit" (As opposed to volume) on the left for a more accurate impression of a camera's size.

Believe it or not, the Sony Cyber-shot W50 is actually lighter than and almost as small as the T9 and Canon Digital ELPHs. Not the smallest or lightest, but the W50 can slip into your pocket with ease. Something else worthy of note is it's much smaller than the W7 and roughly 2/3 its thickness.

Open up the Box

Open up that box and in it you'll find these:

  • Rechargeable NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

First off, I have bad news for current Sony W1/W5/W7 owners who want to upgrade - The Sony Cyber-shot W50 uses Memory Stick PRO Duo cards which are physically smaller than normal Memory Stick PRO cards. In other words, you'll have to get yourself a new memory card, no matter what (unless you have Duo cards).

So back to discussion, the Sony Cyber-shot W50 has 32 MB of internal memory and can barely hold 10 photos. What now? Get a larger memory card of course! A 256 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo might not be a bad idea. If you've got a higher budget, why not get a 512 MB or 1 GB card? That'll do you good and can hold maybe a week's worth of photos (based on usage of course).

There's more bad news for Sony W1/W5/W7 owners, the new W50 (as well as the other 2006 W series cameras) uses a lithium-ion battery instead of 2 AA batteries. Thankfully, the Sony Cyber-shot W50 can take about 390 shots (CIPA Standard) on a single charge. That's quite a bit above average. The NP-BG1 battery the W50 uses is not an InfoLithium battery so you won't get a detailed "minute" battery indicator.

160 shots - Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH
240 shots - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
500 shots - Casio Exilim Z600
170 shots - Fujifilm FinePix Z2
N/A - HP Photosmart R727
150 shots - Kodak EasyShare V570
150 shots - Kodak EasyShare V603
210 shots - Nikon Coolpix S5
330 shots - Olympus Stylus 600
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX01
130 shots - Pentax Optio S6
N/A - Samsung Digimax i6
240 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T9
390 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W50

 

Extras

Being compatible with conversion lenses is a big surprise found on a $249 camera but the W50 has it.

Camera Tour

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 is available in your choice of silver or...

...black.

Sony Cyber-shot W50 has a 38 - 114 mm lens (3x optical zoom). The aperture range is F2.8 - F5.2. Despite having a lens identical to the W7's, the Cyber-shot W50 has a smaller 1/2.5 inch CCD.

The whole camera has been given a facelift with most of the features shifted to the right(which resembles a certain manufacturer's box and circle design). The front is now made mostly of brushed metal.

Anyway, the circle on the left is the viewfinder window (next to "Carl Zeiss") and the circle below the flash on the right is the AF-assist beam. The AF-assist beam emits a red beam of light to help the camera focus in dark conditions as well as become a countdown lamp in self-timer mode. The flash has an average maximum range of 4.2 m at ISO Auto and that goes up to 7.3 m at ISO 1000.

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 features a large 2.5 inch LCD which has only 115,000 pixels. The W50's direct competitor, the Canon SD600 Digital ELPH has the same sized LCD with 173,000 pixels. Visibility is okay outdoors and good in low-light though not as bright as the SD600's LCD. Surprisingly, Sony didn't even include any function which brightens the LCD as more and more manufacturers nowadays are doing this.

Sony didn't leave out the optical viewfinder though - It's next to the "DSC-W50" along with 2 status LEDs followed by a small playback button; which enters playback from a shooting mode or when the camera is off, press it again to exit and start shooting. There's also a speaker on the top left if you can see it.

And now, here's the mode dial. The Sony Cyber-shot W50 has a hundred and one ways to exit playback and here's another way - turning the mode dial will automatically exit playback. I'll go through it clockwise from the green camera icon:

  • Automatic - Just point and shoot
  • Programmed auto - No manual exposure control but you can change settings such as ISO sensitivity and flash intensity
  • High sensitivity - Mostly for low-light and action shots. the camera boosts ISO up to 1000 if needed
  • Twilight
  • Twilight portrait
  • Snow
  • Beach
  • Landscape
  • Soft snap
  • Movie

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 adds a new Function Guide, which displays a description of the mode selected which can be helpful, and two new Color modes which are "Rich" (AKA vivid) and "Natural".

Next are two buttons, one for selecting the amount of info displayed on LCD and the MENU button calls up the menu. The 5-way controller has these functions:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, on, off, slow-sync - redeye reduction is turned on/off in the menu)
  • Down - Self-timer (On/off)
  • Left - Exposure compensation (+2 till -2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Right - Macro (On/off)

Pressing the center button is to confirm a setting. The button at the very bottom allows you to change image size while shooting or delete a photo in playback.

Up here is a rather oddly placed microphone (on the left) as well as a power button and shutter button. A zoom lever is wrapped around the shutter button. I found this zoom lever to be rather loose and easy to bump, making the camera zoom when I don't want it to. Here's yet another way to exit the W50's playback mode - By half-pressing the shutter button.

In case you were looking for it, the Sony W50's DC-IN port is located on the right along with a wrist strap mount.

At the bottom of the Sony Cyber-shot W50 is the battery/card slot. The door covering the battery/card slot locks firmly into place when closed and the spring loaded hinge means it pops out quickly when opened. And there's a multi-connector port which is the I/O port. The tripod mount placement means it is possible to change batteries/Memory Stick Duo when on a tripod.

Shooting

You can select one of the Sony Cyber-shot W50's many image sizes in addition to its 6 effective megapixels. Other image size options available include 3 megapixels, 2 megapixels, 1 megapixel and VGA plus two compression options - Fine and Standard.

Being a point-and-shoot camera, there's not much for you to change; these being somewhat of manual controls:

  • 5 white balance presets (no custom option)
  • ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1000)
  • Auto focus (Multi, center, preset distance)
  • Metering method
  • Flash intensity (High, normal, low)

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 features an improved macro mode. While the Sony W5/W7 can go up to 6 cm and the Canon SD600 about 3 cm, the Sony W50 can perform macro as close as 2 cm.

Recording

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 can take VGA movies with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up. This requires a Memory Stick PRO Duo card (but nowadays, who doesn't have one?). Just in case you have a normal Memory Stick Duo or want to record longer movies, you can record VGA movies at 16 FPS or 160 x 112 movies at a bumbling 8 FPS!

Exposure is automatically adjusted while recording, but unlike other cameras, the Sony W50 cannot constantly focus or zoom (optical or digital) while recording a movie. And needless to say there's no image stabilization available.

Overall movie quality is very good.

Performance

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 starts up and extends its lens in under 2 seconds. Focusing speed is very fast - taking less than a second. Shot-to-shot speed was quick as well, taking about 2 seconds between shots (slightly longer if the flash is used). Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery was more or less 5 seconds.

Buffer clearing was nice and fast. The lens takes 1.6 seconds to reach telephoto and powers down in 2 seconds. I forgot to talk about continuous shooting! Okay, the W50 took 7 shots at 1.5 FPS before it decided its buffer had been filled.

Image Quality

Using my brand new test chart, I've conducted some noise tests on the Sony Cyber-shot W50 (these are 100% crops):


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/10 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/13 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/25 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/50 sec)


ISO 800 (f2.8, 1/100 sec)


ISO 1000 (f2.8, 1/125 sec)

The ISO 80 crop is not noisy at all but a little blurry (my fault). At ISO 100 and ISO 200, noise is still under control. I don't know about you but I seem to prefer the ISO 200 crop better than the ISO 100 one.

At ISO 400, noise is becoming more evident but is still acceptable. Something else also happened at ISO 400 - The white balance decides to cast an orange tint on the photo. At ISO 800, white balance accuracy is back but things are starting to smudge. At ISO 1000, things are no better, but no worse either. I still could get a good A4 print out of that. I am most impressed with the acceptable photos at high ISOs the W50 can produce!

And now for my color chart! Before that, I'd like to highlight that barrel distortion is not that bad and there is almost no pincushion distortion. So back to the color chart: Colors are quite accurate but the W50 seems to have some difficulties in trying to distinguish between dark blue & light blue and dark purple & light purple.

Redeye is a problem as usual and this is probably the only major image issue the W50 has (along with most compact cameras). Overall, I'm most impressed with the image quality of the W50, especially when it comes to ISO.

Photo gallery

Wanna see more full sized photos taken by the Sony Cyber-shot W50? Check out the W50 photo gallery.

Playback

In playback, the Sony Cyber-shot W50 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as perform these functions: Protect image, print marking, direct printing (The W50 is PictBridge enabled), slideshow, resize, trim, rotate and edit movies. You can also zoom up to 5x into still photos taken and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons. Choose to see no info, basic info or lots of info about your photos. A histogram is shown both while shooting and in playback.

The lens retracts after a short period spend in playback. I feel that the camera should wait a little longer to retract its lens. Once I spent a short while checking my photos in playback and the minute I want to shoot again, the lens retracts and re-extends.

 

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot W50 takes most of the W5's features and puts them into a smaller package. The W50 is about 10% smaller than the W5 yet features a 6 megapixel CCD, 3x zoom lens with the same specifications, excellent battery life and can still support conversion lenses! But gone are the limited (but useful) manual controls from the W5.

The Cyber-shot W50 maintains the large LCD found on the W5 but sadly, also maintains its lack of resolution and visibility. Owners of previous W series cameras will also be disappointed that the 2006 batch of "W" cameras use lithium-ion batteries and the smaller Memory Stick PRO Duo format. Thankfully, battery life is excellent so there will be no need to get an additional battery pack.

The W50 is also adept at macro shooting. Not only can it go as close as 2 cm, the flash throttles down appropriately so the photo won't be overexposed. And that brings me to the topic of image quality. The photos produced by the W50 are amazingly sharp with low noise. With ISO up to 1000 and low noise, this is a very significant improvement over the W5 and an excellent function not many cameras can do. The only problem here and on most compact cameras is redeye.

You may want to judge image quality yourself. So in case you missed it, check out the photo gallery.

There are some things that can be improved. The zoom lever could be made stiffer so the zoom can't be operated by accident (I understand this is Sony's first attempt at a zoom lever after years of using buttons). Buffer could be increased as continuous shooting is rather slow and I think the overall performance of the W50 is lacking. The excellent movie mode from other Sony cameras is here too - Also recorded in MPEG format, the main reason file sizes are small and easy to buffer for movies.

I think that the Sony Cyber-shot W50 is a great camera and deserves a recommendation from me - From an excellent macro mode to great high ISO performance and from almost the best battery life in its class to unlimited VGA 30 FPS movies. But if you're looking for speed and manual controls (and perhaps a cheaper, more widely used memory card format), then this is probably not for you.

What's hot:

  • Large 2.5 inch LCD
  • Excellent battery life
  • Conversion lens compatibility
  • Flash control is better than most
  • Gets very close with 2 cm macro mode
  • Great high ISO performance (Even ISO 1000 shots are acceptable)
  • Unlimited VGA 30 FPS movie mode
  • Very good image quality

What's not:

  • LCD visibility and resolution not excellent
  • Zoom lever is too easy to bump
  • No manual controls
  • Slow and limited continuous shooting
  • Performance could be faster and better
  • Redeye
  • Memory Sticks can be costly

Recommended Accessories

~512 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card

Other Cameras

Here are some other cameras you might want to consider:

Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH - Worse battery life, not compatible with conversion lenses and macro mode which is not as good but 50% higher LCD resolution, much faster and the same great low-light performance (Low noise ISO 800).

Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH - Worse battery life, not compatible with conversion lenses and a flash not as strong but has optical image stabilization plus low noise ISO 800, 50% higher LCD resolution and is overall much faster.

Casio Exilim Z600 - The best battery life in its class, a ton of scene modes and excelent movie mode but still not good when it comes to low light shooting and fairly slow.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 - An excellent camera for low-light shooting (Low noise ISO 3200) along with a viewable LCD in low-light. Also has 25% better battery life, full manual controls. The only issues here are slow continuous shooting and uses xD cards which are expensive.

Kodak EasyShare V570 - A unique camera with two lenses which can take very wide-angled shots (great for indoor use) and excellent movie mode but terrible battery life and fairly slow. It has a ISO 800 option but I think it's unacceptable.

Panasonic Lumix FX01 - The same size as your average ultra-compact but has a 28 mm wide-angle lens (not as wide as the Kodak though). Comes with optical image stabilization which is very handy, one of the best movie modes, good image quality and battery life. The downside is some soft photos and no high ISO options.

Sony Cyber-shot W100 - Has 8 megapixels, larger imaging sensor, higher ISO (ISO 1250) and a manual mode (full shutter speed, limited aperture control) but costs $100 more.

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