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Quick Review

Sony DSC-W1 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 06/08/2004
User Level Novice - Intermediate
Product Uses Home / Travel
Digicam Design Point and Shoot w/expansion
Picture Quality Very High, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes Email to 8x10-inch
(even with cropping)
Availability Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)

Review Links
Recommended Accessories
Test Images

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-W1 is one of the latest in the long (and incredibly broad) line of digicams that reflect Sony's commanding position in the digicam marketplace. Sony's P-series digital cameras have been hugely popular in the compact and subcompact markets for some time now, but they've also recently introduced three cameras that divert significantly from the P-series form factor: The rangefinder-style V1, the ultra-slim T1, and now the mid-size W1.

The W1 could be described as a more rangefinder-styled DSC-P100 with a few of the features of the V1 and T1 thrown in for good measure. Most of the functions and the 3x zoom lens and small built-in flash are the same as (or at least very similar to) those on the P100. However, the W1 has the 2.5 inch LCD screen of the T1, as well as the more standard rangefinder body style of the V1, which gives it the ability to accept accessory lenses. The main thing it doesn't share with the other models is its use of two high capacity NiMH AA rechargeable batteries; the others use InfoLithium batteries.

The W1 has a 5.0-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom lens, and an expanded range of seven preset Scene modes to choose from. The W1 also offers a Manual mode for greater exposure control if desired, though no Shutter or Aperture priority mode is included. The 3x zoom lens (with Macro mode) is great for recording a wide range of subjects, from close-up portraits to scenic vistas. Like the DSC-P100 and most other new Cybershots, the W1 has greater speed than previous cameras thanks to the company's new Real Image Processor. The identical Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens that graces the P100 is on the W1.

Camera Overview

Though Sony's P-series of digital cameras, with their unique long-and-slim design, are quite popular, launching a camera like the W1 is probably a smart move on Sony's part, because it has a more traditional shape, better matching that of many of its competitiors. The P-series is so small and slim that some consumers might not think of them as serious digital cameras. Off course, they'd be wrong, a Sony's P-series models offer excellent image quality, feature sets, and performance, but impressions at retail count for a lot. The W1 has a more "serious" look, one that more conservative buyers--those upgrading from a film camera--are likely to be comfortable with. Sony leads in the digital camera market with its current designs, but it seldom does harm to produce a form factor that might attract more customers from your competition.

A little taller and thicker than the P100, the W1 is also not as wide, taking up only a little more volume overall. Its major advantage over the P100 is its 2.5 inch LCD that absolutely dominates the back of the camera. To get this fine and useful display used to require purchase of the $550 T1. Now it can be had for $150 less in an equally capable camera, plus the addition of something the T1 lacks: an optical viewfinder.

Though the LCD is huge, Sony somehow managed to keep all the functions necessary close at hand and easy to operate. Grab the camera in your right hand and your middle and third finger naturally grab the agressively raised and angled ridge on the front of the camera. Your thumb finds its home over the nine raised bumps nestled between the monitor and menu button on the left and the soft but large ridge on the right. Above is the zoom control and below the Five-way navigator; all within easy reach, but the buttons are firm enough that they're not easily activated by accident. It is not impossible, though, so one should be careful, especially when shooting vertically, because your thumb can move and press a button unintentionally.

The mode dial's presence on top surrounding the shutter button is both good and bad. It's less likely to be accidentally changed here, and its firmer detents keep it from being spun while in a pocket, as I sometimes experienced with the P100. It's just not as natural a position for the shutter release. I prefer it a little further forward and perhaps at an angle. Still, there's no question where the shutter is, and it's still easy enough to get to with your index finger.

Pressing the nearby power button produces a fairly swift reaction. The LCD comes on, the camera chimes, and the lens assembly bursts out of its silo faster than those on most other cameras. The effect is futristic enough that most new buyers will probably spend a few minutes turning the camera on and off just to hear and watch the lens come out. When you start to think about taking a picture, however, the experience quickly becomes all about that wonderful 2.5 inch LCD display. More like a frame in a gallery than an LCD viewfinder, you'll be able to acquire subjects quickly and better frame your shots than with most other digital cameras. The display appears to be one of the new generation of "transflective" units, meaning that it's surprisingly usable in very bright lighting, even direct sunlight. - This is often a severe limitation of rear-panel LCD digicam displays, one that the DSC-W1 avoids entirely. Reviewing images is also easier with the larger display, making the camera's 5x Playback zoom that much more meaningful.

A half-press on the shutter begins the focus operation. In low light, a bright orange LED illuminates the scene when necessary, reaching impressively far. The fast Multi-point AF determines the closest object and focuses quickly, showing brackets around the areas that will be in focus. Everything about the camera feels quality and performs competently. The only possible exception to this is the oddly-placed Memory Stick door, positioned on the left of the camera body in the same location as the AC and A/V jacks. It's not just the location, but the mechanism that holds the door shut. It closes tight, to be sure, but there's no slide lock for added security. Time will tell how well this arrangement wears. It's not bad, just a questionable place to put your multi-hundred dollar Memory Stick Pro.(I highly recommend purchasing a large memory card along with the W1, so you'll have plenty of room to store its high-resolution image files. Note too, that you'll want to use the newer Memory Stick Pro cards, to take best advantage of the W1's high shooting speed and high-resolution movie modes.)

The battery door releases with a push on a small plastic arrow, and the batteries immediately fall free, so you'll need to have a hand ready (it should be noted that dropping rechargeable batteries of any kind is often fatal to the battery). Included with the camera are two Sony NiMH AA Stamina batteries, delivering 2100 mAh at 1.2V. Not bad. They'll last about 170 minutes of on-time, capturing up to 340 full-resolution images. (Sony's official ratings, not mine.) With Alkaline batteries, that number drops sharply to 35 minutes of battery life and around 70 images, but at least you can use them in a pinch. Sony includes a charger and two batteries. I suggest you buy at least two more, even though the battery life on this camera is pretty good.

The Sony Cybershot DSC-W1 is an impressive offering for under $400. It is handsomely constructed, with a feel of quality. It also has reasonable heft for better handholding of shots. Its big screen and quality lens should give most users a great experience capturing fine pictures they'll be proud to display. Sony's not the market leader for nothing, and their smart interface and quality construction have won them many return customers. Read on for more details.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • 3.2x digital Smart Zoom.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 2.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Mostly automatic exposure control, now includes Manual mode.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
  • Sony Memory Stick storage (32MB card included), compatible with original Memory Stick as well as the Memory Stick Pro format.
  • USB 2.0 computer connection.
  • 2 AA NiMH batteries included).
  • Software for Mac and PC.

Special Features

  • Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, and Soft snap modes.
  • Movie recording mode (with sound).
  • Multi-Burst slow motion mode.
  • Email (VGA) modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/8 sec in auto mode; 1/1000 to 2 seconds in twilight mode; and 1/1000 to 30 seconds in manual mode (with automatic Noise Reduction below 1/6 second).
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/5.6 (the manual says f/5.2, but the camera says f/5.6).
  • Creative Picture Effects menu (black and white and sepia).
  • Image Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • Spot and Multi-Metering modes.
  • Adjustable AF area and three AF modes.
  • Auto ISO setting or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.


User Recommendation
Beginning through intermediate users will be right at home with the W1, and advanced users will enjoy its excellent portability and new manual control option. Although the W1 is technically a high-end point-and-shoot digicam, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle a wide variety of shooting situations. So, while it's designed to relieve you from complicated exposure decisions, advanced amateurs and business users will appreciate it for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. It appears well-built and its lens mechanism is impressively fast. Accessory lenses make it more versatile for wide or telephoto use. Overall, an excellent "all around" camera, with impressive speed and resolution.


The Sony DSC-W1 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere, with a boxy body style similar to other rangefiner digital cameras on the market. Its silvery metal body is about as wide as a typical business card, and about a quarter inch taller, top to bottom. Measuring just 3.62" x 2.37" x 1.43" (91 x 60 x 36.3mm) and weighing 8.8 ounces (248 grams) with the batteries and memory card installed, the W1 fits easily into small pockets or purses. When not in use, the telescoping zoom lens retracts neatly inside the body, and a small plastic leaf shutter automatically closes over the lens to protect it. Outfitted with the accompanying wrist strap, it's quick on the draw and easy to hold. The shot above right shows the camera posed with a Memory Stick Pro memory card, to give a better idea of its size.

Despite its small size, the W1 has just enough room for a good grip up front and one small spot for your thumb on the back. The 3x, 7.9-23.7mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm zoom on a 35mm camera) is just left of center (when viewed from the back), with a small and very bright orange lamp on the upper right of it, to help with focusing in low-light conditions. (This lamp also blinks less brightly when the self-timer is in use, flashing faster to let you know when the camera is about to snap the picture.) Seven holes for the mic are above that, and the flash is to the right. A slightly larger window for the optical viewfinder is upper left of the lens.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) has a small rubber door to cover the USB 2.0 jack. Above the door is a small eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

The left side has a large plastic door that springs open when swung about 45 degrees wide. Here we find the Memory Stick slot, an AC power jack and the A/V jack. Oddly, here also is the Memory Stick access light, which is covered by the door. (Although you'll certainly be able to see it if you open the memory compartment door to remove the Memory Stick while the camera is still writing to it. - Just wait for the light to go out before pulling the card.) A small rubber sub-door is embedded in the big plastic door, giving easier access to the AC power plug.

The camera's top panel includes the Shutter button surrounded by the Mode dial. To the left is the small Power button; between the two is a green power LED.

The camera's rear panel holds the remaining camera controls and function buttons, along with a big 2.5-inch color LCD monitor for previewing and playing back images, and the optical viewfinder window. As noted earlier, the W1's LCD is one of the newer "transflective" units, making it amazingly readable in bright light, even direct sunlight. The LCD display reports a variety of camera and exposure settings, including the aperture and shutter speed settings (a nice bonus for those interested in how the camera will expose the image) and a three-stage battery gauge. The optical viewfinder is located above to the left of the LCD monitor, and has three LED lamps along the left edge of the window, each of which reports the current status of various camera functions. The optical viewfinder has no dioptric adjustment, but eyeglass wearers will be pleased with the high "eyepoint," allowing plenty of room for an eyeglass lens between the camera body and your eye. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner, conveniently located right above nine raised bumps for better thumb traction when holding the camera. Lower right of the LCD is a Five-way Arrow pad, with small arrows pointing in four directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right) and a set button in the middle. Each serves multiple functions, navigating onscreen menus scrolling between captured images in playback mode, or activating different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro).

Upper left of the Arrow pad is the LCD Display On / Off button; beneath that is the Menu button; and further down is the Image Resolution / Erase button.

Finally, the W1's flat bottom holds the threaded (metal) tripod screw mount, a reset button, and a speaker for audio playback. While most users of the W1 probably won't care, it is impossible to change the batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod.

Camera Operation

Operating the W1 in any of its automatic modes is very straightforward, with only two additional controls when you enter Manual mode. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, Soft snap, Setup, Movie, and Playback modes. In all image capture modes, the W1 provides an onscreen LCD menu (activated by the Menu button), with a variety of options for adjusting image quality or adding special effects. The four arrows of the Five-way arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the button in the center of the pad functions as the OK button to confirm selections. In Manual mode, pressing the OK (center) button on the Five-way arrow pad switches the arrows from adjusting flash, macro, and self-timer, and quick review modes to adjusting aperture (left and right) and shutter speeds (up and down). When in Manual mode, information on the LCD to the right of these values tells you by how many EV units it thinks your exposure is off, up to plus or minus 2EV.

The four arrow buttons also serve as external controls when the camera's menus are turned off, or they can be used to scroll through captured images in Playback mode. Starting with the Up arrow and going clockwise, the functions they control include Flash, Macro, Self-Timer, and Quick Review modes. An Image Resolution button calls up the available resolution settings, removing this item from the main menu system, thereby making it much quicker to access when needed. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when the latter is activated through the Setup menu). Overall, I was impressed by Sony's judicious use of space, especially with the large number of external controls provided, the extremely large LCD, and the relatively short learning curve the W1's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the W1 has one of the cleanest user interfaces I've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.

Record-Mode Display

In record mode, the LCD monitor displays the subject with a moderate amount of overlaid information, indicating approximate battery life remaining (graphically), flash mode, focus mode (macro or normal), autofocus mode setting, any currently-selected exposure compensation setting, ISO setting, the current size/quality setting, and number of images that can be stored on the remaining Memory Stick space at the current size/quality. Half-pressing the shutter button causes the camera to display the shutter speed and aperture setting it has chosen for the current lighting conditions. (While you can't change these directly, it's very nice to know what settings the camera has selected.) Pressing the Display button beneath the LCD once adds a small "live" histogram display to the information, pressing it again removes the information overlay, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off entirely. Pressing it a fourth time restores the default display.

Playback-Mode Display

In playback mode, the default image display shows the most recently captured image, with a modest information overlay present. Pressing the display button once adds the exposure information and a small histogram to the overlay, pressing it again removes the information overlay entirely, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off altogether. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom lever takes you to a display showing images on the Memory Stick in groups of nine small thumbnails. (You can navigate a yellow outline cursor over these thumbnails by using the four arrow keys. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever will bring the currently-selected image up full-screen.) Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever when viewing an image full-size on the LCD screen will zoom in on the image, in 17 variable-sized increments up to a maximum magnification of 5x. - This is a useful level of magnification, handy for checking focus and precise framing.

External Controls

Power Button
: Located just left of the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off.

Shutter Button
: Surrounded by the Mode dial, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Mode Dial: Surrounding the Shutter button, this ribbed dial sets the camera's operating mode, offering Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, Soft snap, Setup, Movie, and Playback modes. (See menus and descriptions below.)

Zoom Control
: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls optical zoom and, when enabled via the Setup menu, Sony's "Smart Zoom."

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of a captured image, which can go as high as 5x. (Very handy for checking focus or the expressions on people's faces in group shots.) Also in Playback mode, the wide-angle end of the button activates the Index Display mode, which displays as many as nine thumbnail images on the screen at one time.

Five-Way Arrow Pad
: Located just to the right of center on the rear panel, this rocker control features four arrows, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, and right), and a Set or OK button in the middle (Sony describes it by its shape: a dot). In all settings menus, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. Pressing the center of the button confirms selections.

In any record mode, the Up button controls the Flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Suppressed, and Slow-Sync modes. The Right arrow turns the Macro (close-up) mode on and off, and the Left arrow accesses the Quick Review mode, which displays the most recently captured image on the screen. The Down arrow accesses the Self-Timer mode.

In Manual record mode, pressing the center button switches the arrow keys back and forth between controlling their normal functions, and controlling shutter speed (up/down) and aperture (left/right).

In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When Playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows scroll around within the enlarged view, while pressing the center button returns to the normal, 1x display. In Manual mode, the four arrows can control aperture and shutter speed after the middle button is pressed.

Menu Button
: Upper left of the Five-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode (except Setup, which displays the menu automatically). The Menu button also turns off the menu display.

Image Resolution / Erase Button
: Lower left of the Five-way Arrow pad, this button displays the available resolutions in any record mode. Choices are 5.0M (2,592 x 1,944), 4.5M (3:2 ratio: 2592 x 1728), 3.1M (2,048 x 1,536), 1.2M (1,280 x 960), and VGA (640 x 480). Movie resolutions are 640 x 480, and 160 x 112-pixels.

In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently displayed image.

Display / LCD On/OFF Button
: Off the upper right corner of the LCD, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with information display, the image with information and live histogram display, the image with limited information display, and no image display at all (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles through the same series.


Camera Modes and Menus

Scene Modes: Marked on the Mode dial with a black line these modes are for capturing images in specific situations. Six "scenes" are available, including Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, and Soft snap. While a nice collection, these are fewer than those offered on the P100. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, although the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed to let ambient lighting brighten the background as well. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Candle mode is just for candlelit scenes, great for birthdays or services. A tripod is once again recommended. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away. Beach mode optimizes the camera for bright situations and prevents color loss from overexposure. Soft snap mode enhances skin colors while keeping a soft focus for a pleasing glow.

Manual Mode: This mode provides total control over the exposure, as you're able to select both aperture and shutter speed independently of each other. Although aperture control is confined to only two available apertures of 2.8 and 5.6, the camera is capable of speeds from 30 seconds to 1/1000.

Program Mode: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with a black camera icon and a "P." In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while you control all other exposure variables.

Automatic Mode: Indicated on the Mode dial with a green camera icon, this mode puts the camera in control over the exposure and everything except Macro, Image Size and Quality, Zoom, Flash, and the Self-Timer.

Playback Mode: Playback mode is noted on the Mode dial with the traditional Playback symbol (a triangle enclosed within a black rectangle outline). In this mode, you can scroll through captured images, delete them, write-protect them, and set them up for printing on PictBridge-compatible printers. You can also copy, resize, and rotate images.

Movie Mode: A filmstrip icon marks this mode on the Mode dial. In Movie mode, you can record moving images and sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. Resolution and quality choices are 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixels. While recording, a timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how many minutes and / or seconds are remaining on the Memory Stick, and how long you've been recording, so you'll have some idea of how much time you have left. Recording in 640 x 480 mode is only available with a Memory Stick Pro card.

The W1 offers a Multi Burst mode separate from the movie mode and selected in the menu in Auto, Program, Manual, and Scene modes, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This would be a fun way to catch someone crossing a finish line during a race, or to analyze golf and tennis swings.)

Record Menu: Available in all three Record modes by pressing the Menu button, the Record menu offers the following options (some options are not available in all modes):

  • EV (Exposure Compensation): Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. 
  • Focus: Sets focus control to Multi AF or Center AF, or one of five preset focus distances (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 meters, and Infinity).
  • Metering Mode: Chooses between Multi-Metering and Spot modes. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background exhibit very high contrast. Multi-Metering mode reads the entire frame to determine exposure.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, to suit the light source. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash.
  • ISO: (Not available in Scene mode.) Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • P.Quality: Sets compression between Standard and Fine.

  • Mode: Sets capture mode, Normal (single), Burst, and Multi-burst.
  • Interval: When in Multi-burst mode, sets the capture interval between 1/7.5, 1/15, and 1/30.
  • Flash level: Sets flash power to +1, Normal, or -1.
  • Picture Effects: Offers two creative shooting modes:
    • Black and White: Takes photos in monochrome.
    • Sepia: Records an image in monochrome sepia tone.
  • Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Contrast: Alters the level of contrast in images with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness and softness with plus, normal and minus settings.

Playback Menu:

  • Folder: Selects the folder for playing back images. (secondary screen)
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting. (secondary screen)
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark. (secondary screen)
  • Print: Prints the current image. (secondary screen)
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not the sequence of images repeats. (secondary screen)
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels. (When an image is resized, the original image is left in place, and a new copy is made at the selected size.) (secondary screen)
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. (secondary screen)
  • Divide: Allows you to trim material from the beginning or end of a recorded movie, or to extract an interesting bit of action from the middle of a longer clip. (Very handy.)

Setup Mode: This mode allows you to change a variety of camera settings. The Setup menu is automatically displayed upon entering the mode.

  • Camera:
    • AF Mode: Sets the focus mode to Single, or Monitor.
    • Digital Zoom: Switches between the 3.2x Smart Zoom and Precision zoom.
    • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on captured images.
    • Red Eye Reduction: Enables or disables the Red Eye Reduction flash mode, affecting both Auto and Forced flash modes.
    • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
    • Auto Review: Immediately plays captured image onscreen for two seconds.

  • Memory Stick Tool:
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Create REC Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change REC Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded t

  • Setup 1:
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the level of the LCD's backlight, with options of Bright, Normal, and Dark.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, turning them on or off. A Shutter option enables only the shutter beep noise.
    • Language: Selects among Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, or English for the menu language.

  • Setup 2:
    • File Number: Chooses between Series (continuing the shot number infinitely) or Reset, which resets the frame number by folder.
    • USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PictBridge, PTP, or Normal.
    • Video Out: Sets the timing of the video output signal to either NTSC or PAL.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.

In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-W1 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap..
  • 32MB Memory Stick..
  • 2 NiMH AA batteries and charger..
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Software CD containing Pixela ImageMixer v1.0 and USB drivers.

Recommended Accessories

Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...



See the specifications sheet here.


Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Test Images

See my test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Indoor Flash






Viewfinder Accuracy


"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the W1, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the W1.


Test Results

Following are my usual condensed notes about the W1's performance: See the W1's sample pictures page for a full analysis. (NOTE: For those of you who've read my review of the Sony DSC-P100, the comments below are virtually identical, as the two cameras apparently share the same lens, sensor, and internal electronics. As a result, there are only very minor differences in image quality between them.)

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how W1's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Good color, accurate hue, appropriate saturation. Some white balance difficulty indoors though. Overall, the W1 produced good color, with only slight color casts with each white balance setting. Outdoors, it did particularly well, with natural-looking skin tones, and a flawless handling of the always-difficult blue flowers in the Outdoor Portrait test. (While they appear to be virtually the same camera internally, I felt that the W1 actually did a slightly better job with color rendition outdoors than did the P100, although the differences were very slight.) Indoors though, it had a little trouble with household incandescent lighting, leaving more of the warmth of the lighting in its final images than I personally prefer.

  • Exposure: Very good exposure accuracy. As was the case with the P100 that I reviewed immediately before it, the W1 seemed more accurate than most cameras I test, as it required less exposure compensation adjustment under difficult lighting conditions than I've generally found to be the case. Like most consumer digicams, its default tone curve is somewhat contrasty, causing it to lose detail in strong highlights under harsh lighting, but I found its low-contrast adjustment to be much more effective than that on most cameras, doing a very good job of taming the extreme contrast of the Outdoor Portrait shot. Overall, a much better than average performance in the exposure/tonality department.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,250-1,300 lines of "strong detail," but some loss of subtle detail due to anti-noise processing. As you'd expect from its 5-megapixel sensor and sharp lens, the W1 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height vertically, and around 800~900 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to about 1,250 lines vertically and 1,300 lines horizontally. (Some reviewers might rate the resolution as high as 1,400 lines, but I tend to be more conservative in my resolution ratings.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until 1,600-1,700 lines. This is all very good, but I found that the W1 lost subject detail in areas of subtle contrast, due to somewhat over-aggressive anti-noise processing.

  • Image Noise: Very low noise, but somewhat heavy-handed noise-suppression. Overall, I was surprised and impressed by how "clean" the W1's images were, as its noise levels were lower than I'd generally expect from a five-megapixel camera, let alone a compact model. BUT, the low noise came at the cost of flattened subject detail in areas of subtle contrast. (Very visible in Marti's hair and features, on the Outdoor Portrait test.) There was also some odd behavior in areas where a bright, highly-saturated color abutted a dark area, almost a "glow" fuzzing out from the colored region. (And no, it wasn't lens flare, nor was it a focusing issue.) I give the W1 high marks for low noise levels, but wince at how much subject detail is swallowed up by its noise-suppression processing.

  • Closeups: A small macro area with good detail. Flash is blocked by the lens. The W1 performed quite well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.31 x 1.74 inches (59 x 44 millimeters). Resolution was high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch (though the coins and brooch are soft due to the close range and limited depth of field). As is often the case with digicams I test, all four corners of the frame are somewhat soft, an unfortunate limitation of digicam lenses in macro mode. The W1's flash almost throttled down enough for the macro area, but was still a little bright, and was blocked by the lens in the lower portion of the frame. (Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots.)

  • Night Shots: Excellent low-light performance with great color, exposure, and focusing at the darkest light levels. The W1 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all three ISO settings. The W1 does an excellent job controlling image noise here, as even at ISO 400, noise is only moderate. A great job overall. The bright autofocus-assist lamp lets the camera focus on nearby objects even in complete darkness, and even without the AF assist, the P100 can focus (albeit slowly) at light levels as dark as about 1/8 foot-candle. (Quite impressive.) For reference, a light level of one foot-candle corresponds to typical city street lighting at night.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but nearly accurate LCD monitor. The W1's optical viewfinder was a little tight, showing about 82 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 86 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved to be a little loose, showing just slightly more than what made it into the final frame. Still, frame accuracy was near 100 percent. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the W1's LCD monitor is pretty good in this regard, but I'd like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Average barrel distortion, but very low pincushion, low chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the W1 was about average at the wide-angle end, where I found about 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end did much better, showing only 0.04 percent pincushion distortion (about one pixel). The Zeiss lens quality showed in the P100's images, which were sharper from corner to corner than those of most cameras. There was also relatively little chromatic aberration, as the color fringes around the res target elements, while a little broad, were pretty faint. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Very (!) fast, particularly for a subcompact model. The DSC-W1 is a very fast little camera, with really excellent shutter response (0.30-0.60 seconds) and cycle times (a blazing 1.24 seconds/frame), as well as very quick startup and shutdown times. On the down side, the DSC-W1 is a camera that "penalizes" you for pressing the shutter button too quickly after a previous shot. If you mash down the shutter button immediately after capturing an image, the camera will just sit there until you let up on the shutter button and press it again. A number of cameras do this, but I consider it to be a pretty significant design flaw. Overall though, the DSC-W1 is one of the fastest cameras on the market, regardless of size or price range, with its cycle time performance being one significant area in which it pulls ahead of its sibling, the P100.

  • Battery Life: Couldn't measure the power drain, but battery life should be quite good, based on the P100's performance, and Sony's own battery-life numbers. Because it uses a custom power connector, I couldn't perform my usual exacting measurements of the W1's power drain. Its sister camera, the DSC-P100 had excellent battery life though, and Sony's battery-life numbers call for a run time of 170 minutes in capture mode with the LCD on, 290 minutes with it off, and 340 minutes in playback mode, all with the supplied set of NiMH AA cells. These are excellent run times, particularly for a camera powered by two AA cells, but I still highly recommend purchasing another set or two of high-capacity NiMH batteries. See my battery shootout page for rankings of various batteries, based on actual performance measurements.


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Functionally, the Sony DSC-W1 is nearly a dead ringer for the slightly more compact DSC-P100, offering nearly the same functions in a differently-shaped and slightly larger body, with a larger 2.5 inch LCD. It competes with models like Canon's PowerShot S500 in the "subcompact" digicam category, and should be a strong player there, with its excellent mix of features, functions, small size, and image quality. It provides more manual exposure control than most compact models permit, yet is easy to use in full-auto mode, and its six preprogrammed scene modes help with tricky subjects. Its photos show excellent color and sharpness, although it shares with its P100 sibling some white-balance weakness under household incandescent lighting, and likewise achieves its surprisingly low image noise levels at the expense of image detail in areas of subtle contrast. (It seems to have a very aggressive anti-noise system, which does indeed deliver low noise in flat-tinted areas, but which also tends to flatten-out fine subject detail in areas with low contrast, such as hair, grass, etc.) In my testing, the W1 did a very good job with dynamic range and highlight detail when I employed its optional low-contrast setting, a feature that I really like to see, given how common it is for digicams to lose the highlights when trying for "snappy" photos under harsh lighting. The DSC-W1 also has very good macro capability, and is unusually capable when shooting under low light conditions. Finally, while I couldn't test its power consumption directly, Sony's specs and my own anecdotal experience both speak of very good battery life. Add in a surprisingly fast shutter response, very fast shot to shot cycle times, and a (relatively) huge and very readable 2.5" LCD display, and you've got a real winner of a compact digicam, one with fewer tradeoffs than you'd expect to find in a camera packed into such a small case size. If you're looking for a great "take anywhere" camera with great versatility and excellent color and tonality, the Sony DSC-W1 should be an easy choice. A "Dave's Pick," although I have to say that I'd be happier with it if its noise-suppression processing were a bit less aggressive.

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