A junior version of the 7-megapixel DSC-W7, the 5-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 boasts the same no-nonsense, compact, metal-alloy body, gorgeous 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD (which is coupled with a modest optical viewfinder for use in bright ambient light), 3x Carl Zeiss zoom lens and basic array of automatic and manual controls. Decent image quality, a versatile burst mode and convenient AA battery power make this Sony suitable for photo fans who want a pocketable camera with a useful set of mostly automatic features. Minimovie buffs will like the ability to edit 640x480-pixel, 16fps clips right in the camera.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 does have a few notable shortcomings. While shutter speed can be set manually and there's limited manual control over apertures, manual focus requires a trip to a menu where only five preset distances are available, from 0.5m to infinity. Some commonly accessed settings, such as red-eye reduction, also mandate a visit to menu land. We wish this fast-operating camera had an action scene mode, too, the better to streamline sports photography, or at least shutter- and aperture-priority modes. There's only 32MB of internal memory supplied with this Cyber-shot, so a Memory Stick Pro should be slotted into your shopping list.
The W5 measures 91 by 61 by 38mm and weighs 196g. The controls are arranged logically, although one-handed shooting can be clumsy for those with large hands -- you'll find it difficult to position an index finger over the top-mounted shutter release while thumbing the zoom lever on the back. Only an on-off switch, a power LED and a knurled mode dial reside on the top panel. The display info, menu and quick-delete/quality buttons, as well as four-way cursor control pad with a central OK/Set button, are arrayed on the back. The cursor keys are used to set flash options (on, off, auto and slow sync), to activate the macro mode and self-timer, and to review the last photo taken.
Access to the menus that adjust other settings is easy, but it's still annoying when you find it necessary to press several buttons for common functions such as exposure compensation. On the plus side, when the exposure compensation menu pops up on the screen, at your option, it can be flanked by a histogram that you can use to determine how much tweaking to apply, plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV steps. Contrast, sharpness, saturation, ISO, white balance and other settings appear in additional menus.
Press the cursor pad's centre key when in manual mode and a display pops up on the LCD to monitor changing the shutter speed with the up/down keys, from 30 seconds to 1/1,000 second, or your choice of two apertures with the left/right keys: f/5.2 and f/10 at the telephoto end of the zoom range or f/2.8 and f/5.6 at the wide-angle position.
The Cyber-shot DSC-W5's big 64mm, 115,000-pixel LCD is spacious and bright enough to allow easy composition of images under all but the brightest and dimmest of lighting conditions. It washes out in direct sunlight and doesn't gain up in poorly lit environments. The tiny optical viewfinder can sub for the LCD in a pinch, although it suffers serious parallax errors when you're shooting closer than a metre or so.
The Cyber-shot DSC-W5's 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range gives you neither a very broad wide-angle nor a notable telephoto capability, but you can autofocus with a centre-point or a user-selectable five-point system down to 57mm. Autoexposure operates in spot, centre-weighted and 49-point evaluative modes. Seven scene modes are available, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, Snow and Soft Snap for soft-focus portraits.
Although this camera took nearly 4 seconds to wake up for its first shot, it was quite responsive thereafter, firing off shots every 1.4 seconds -- 2.6 seconds with flash -- and capturing 9 full-resolution images in burst mode at about 1.6 pictures per second. At 640x480-pixel resolution, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 was just as speedy and had room in its buffer for 100 shots in about 60 seconds. Shutter lag was minimal under high-contrast lighting at 0.5 seconds, but became merely middle-of-the-road at 1.1 seconds when the focus-assist lamp was called into duty under low-contrast lighting conditions.
We found image quality to be generally crisp, with even exposures in both highlights and shadows. There was a distinct tendency toward clipped highlights, however. The automatic white-balance controls were easily fooled by incandescent lighting, often giving us very warm colour casts indoors. Flesh tones sometimes had a yellowish hue. Visual noise wasn't obvious until we bumped the sensitivity to ISO 400, and Sony's automatic noise reduction feature, which kicks in at slow shutter speeds, helped reduce multicoloured speckles from long exposures. Chromatic aberrations were also kept to a minimum.
Edited by Aimee Baldridge
Additional editing by Nick Hide