What the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W570 lacks in size, it more than makes up for in features. This 16-megapixel camera is a great choice for first-time photographers or anyone who wants a carry-anywhere device as an upgrade to the snapper on their phone. It's available now for around £130.
The W570 is ultra-compact. But, while it's easily slipped into a pocket and highly portable, it's not massively comfortable to use. We worried we'd drop it when holding it over water, and, although it's light enough to be held with one hand, it's also fiddly enough to need a second hand for support when you're using the buttons and controls.
The W570 weighs just 100g, a great deal of which will be accounted for by the metal lens barrel and associated zoom, rather than the plastic body and 2.7-inch screen. The result is that this camera feels somewhat cheaper than its fairly low price already suggests. There's very little travel in the shutter button and the mode switch is a simple slider on the edge of the body that travels through the stills, panorama and movie settings.
Look beyond its build quality, though, and the W570 does plenty to impress. It matches the 16-megapixel resolution of Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V, despite costing about half as much. It also has a 5x optical zoom, and the maximum aperture at the wider end of that scale is an impressive f2.6, helping the camera to maintain a shallow depth of field in macro shots 50mm from the lens. At the tighter end of the zoom, the aperture narrows to f6.3.
There are only three shooting modes when it comes to photos -- program, scene (there are 12 scene settings to choose from) and auto. But the latter of these is the same intuitive 'intelligent auto' mode as featured in the HX7V. The macro mode is an integral part of intelligent auto. Move close enough to the subject of your shot and the camera switches automatically to short focus with a shallow depth of field. The results are impressive, with clearly differentiated subjects picked out from their surroundings.
Flowers are particularly well handled, with the depth of field so shallow on a passion flower head that the camera could hold a single stamen in focus while throwing out the others.
Switching from a normal camera to one that features intelligent auto is like moving from a manual gearbox to an automatic. You no longer think about the mechanics of shooting your picture -- you concentrate solely on how you want it framed and when you want to take it.
The camera also offers a ridiculously simple 'easy' mode that reduces the menus to just two options -- image size (large or small) and 'exit easy mode'. This will likely be pounced upon by less technologically literate users, but, with the default menu layout being so simple and easy to navigate anyway, it strikes us as being one simplification too far.
There are plenty of technical crutches to help you take the best pictures, particularly where portraits are concerned. The regular face-detection option can be biased towards adult or family shots, which is a boon if you're shooting at a kids' birthday party, as you'll probably want to focus more on the children. Likewise, the camera features three levels of smile detection -- big, normal or slight -- to cater for everything from weddings to formal gatherings. You can access this setting directly from the four-way controller on the rear of the case if you judge the mood to have suddenly changed.
The most impressive shooting tool of all, though, is 'sweep panorama', which does away with the need to stitch together discrete frames yourself. Rather, you press the shutter button at one extreme of your panorama and then run the camera across, up or down the scene. A meter on the bottom of the display monitors your progress, until you've covered 112 or 235 degrees, depending on your setting, at which point the screen blanks for a moment and stitches together your frames.
The result -- a single shot measuring 4,912x1,080 or 7,152x1,080 pixels -- is impressive. Colours and levels are well balanced and you'd be hard-pressed to spot where each part of the panorama meets the next.
The style of the composition itself depends greatly on how close you stand to your subject. You'll want to be sweeping across a vista for a flat, naturalistic result, rather than a close wall, which will introduce a distinct curve.
Throughout our tests, whether shooting regular photos or elongated panoramas, nature scenes generally demonstrated realistic, vivid colours, although, in isolated cases, lawns were slightly too green to be believed.
Solid blocks of colour in urban shots are well rendered, although stretches of white concrete exposed in bright, direct sunlight, can at times be lost when the highlights become over-exposed.
Skies are particularly well handled. These frequently demonstrate subtle changes in tone depending on where the sun sits in relation to the photographer. In our tests, the W570 rendered them with a natural, smooth gradation.
The focusing system is spot on, and the lens accurate enough to eliminate chromatic aberration in locations where we've experienced problems with other models.
In our controlled test shot below, the W570 achieved a well balanced result, working well with the available light, while keeping the full depth of the scene in focus. Small text remains crisp across the page that recedes towards the back of the frame, and reflective surfaces are dealt with well, without the highlights burning out.
Taking the picture is only half of the story, though, as the W570 features some simple built-in editing tools, allowing you to apply an unsharp mask, correct red eye or trim an image. In each case, the results are saved as a new frame, with the original preserved as a digital master.
Light sensitivity settings run from ISO 80 to 3,200, with the option of +/-2EV in 1/3EV steps. There's no bracketing option -- a missed opportunity in our opinion -- but there is what Sony calls a 'dynamic range optimiser' to recover image detail lost in shadow areas. Combine this with the Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation and you'll have everything you need to improve your low-light shooting.
White-balance options include the three fluorescent options seen on the HX7V, plus the same two manual settings. There's no aperture-priority mode and no manual focus, but you do have the benefit of nine focus points across the frame, and the option of spot or centre-weighted options. The shutter speed ranges from 1/1600 to 2 seconds.
The video mode shoots AVI movies at a 720p resolution. AVI movies can be natively imported into Windows Live Movie Maker and iMovie. The results are inferior to those of the HX7V, which shoots 1080p movies, but they're still streets ahead of those delivered by the similarly compact Casio Exilim EX-ZS10. Very fast-moving, complex scenes, shot while walking, occasionally fooled the autofocus, which struggled to keep the video sharp. But, when set a less demanding task, such as panning across a scene, zooming or shooting water, the problem disappeared.
There are two video scene modes to handle both regular shooting and, for those owners who have invested in the optional underwater housing, underwater use.
Our shooting was strictly land-based throughout out tests, during which the W570 performed impeccably. It was quick to react to changes in the ambient light, such as when panning across a scene from beneath a bridge, where the extremes of the motion were bathed in sunlight and the centre of the pan set in shade. It also retained focus through long zooms, although, as with the HX7V, we could detect the sound of the zoom motors on the soundtrack, along with clicks from the zoom rocker itself.
Like the HX7V, the W570 takes both Memory Stick Duo, Pro Duo and Pro-HG Duo, as well as SD, SDHC and SDXC, cards, so there's no longer any need to replace all of your memory cards when switching from a rival manufacturer.
There's also 27MB of internal memory, which is enough to store 45 seconds of VGA video, 165 VGA stills, or three shots at the camera's native 16-megapixel resolution.
The battery takes between 3 and 4 hours to charge, depending on its state, and, at maximum capacity, will shoot 220 stills or 100 minutes of video.
There's a hidden bonus stored in the camera's internal storage, in the shape of PMB Portable, a cross-platform Mac and Windows photo-management and sharing tool that lets you download your pictures to a local drive or send them directly from the app. The idea -- a good one -- is that you'd use it to manage your shots while away from home, perched in an Internet cafe, as it runs directly from the storage and needn't be installed on a computer.
If you already have a Facebook, Flickr or Picasa account, you can upload directly to those services, or add further services if you know their address and have login details. Sadly, if you want to send images by email, you'll have to sign up with Sony's own Personal Space service.
While the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W570's small size is a key selling point, it's appealing for plenty of other reasons too. If you need a camera that you can take almost anywhere, while still having sufficient faith in its performance to entrust it with once-in-a-lifetime events, this is it. It could be the perfect party camera.
Edited by Charles Kloet