Your budget would have to be extremely tight to pass over the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 in favour of the Sony DSC-W30. The two cameras are identical with a single exception -- the DSC-W50's 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD is a full 12mm larger then the DSC-W30's. Otherwise, the W50 sports the same stats as its little brother. Both are 6-megapixel ultracompact cameras with 3x optical zoom lenses. They share the same body design, control layout and feature set.
At less than 90mm long and just 23mm thick, the 156g DSC-W50 is a compact, easily pocketable point-and-shoot camera. Unfortunately, its small form includes small controls, and the small buttons are uncomfortable to use if you don't have small hands to match. However, Sony's menu system is direct and well designed, and the most common functions -- timer, flash, macro and exposure compensation -- are accessible with one touch of the small control pad.
Surprisingly, Sony manages to fit an optical viewfinder on the DSC-W50's diminutive body. It's a tiny, cramped viewfinder, but it can prove handy if bright light washes out the LCD.
The DSC-W50 runs almost entirely on automatic. You can choose between single- or five-area autofocus or select from a handful of preset focus distances, but true manual focus is impossible. It also offers multipattern, centre and spot metering as the method for determining exposure, though you can adjust the exposure value using only exposure compensation. There's no way to select shutter speed or aperture -- the camera automatically picks from shutter speeds between a full second and 1/2,000 second and aperture values between f/2.8 to f/5.2 (wide) and f/7 to f/13 (telephoto).
Like some other members of the W series, the DSC-W50 can reach as high as ISO 1,000 sensitivity for more shooting flexibility in low light. The camera lacks the dozens of different scene presets available on other cameras, such as the Canon PowerShot A540, but it does have a nice movie mode that can shoot VGA videos at 30fps. The DSC-W50 also includes 32MB of onboard memory, but you'll still want a decent size Memory Stick Duo if you plan on taking more than a handful of photos at a time.
Since the DSC-W50's lens, sensor, body design and imaging processor are identical to those of the DSC-W30, image quality and performance follow suit. That model delivers pleasing performance, though it lags behind in burst mode. After a quick 1.6-second start-up, you'll get a shot-to-shot time of 1.4 seconds with shutter lag ranging from a very quick 0.25 seconds in bright situations to a sluggish 1.7 seconds in dim light.
The onboard flash recycles every 1.6 seconds for a relatively quick shot speed in low light despite the shutter lag. Unfortunately, burst mode is limited to three full-resolution shots at about 2.1fps -- if you drop to VGA resolution, the number of frames goes up but only at a mediocre 1.5fps.
As with the DSC-W30, the photos have decent exposure and dynamic range, without the blown-out highlights produced by many cameras in this class. Colours are accurate but slightly oversaturated, especially the reds and oranges. Noise is the biggest issue with these models -- while barely visible at ISO 80, smearing from the noise-reduction algorithm becomes evident at ISO 200 and starts to develop severe colour shifts at ISO 400 and beyond. It's better than nothing if you can't use the flash, however.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 is a decent ultracompact digital camera that makes up for its lack of controls with its solid performance and image quality. Its high sensitivity can give you passable low-light shots if you can get past the noise, and its compact form makes it an easily pocketable piece of tech.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield