Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 Digital Camera, A Review by A Camera Techno Peasant
I've figured out how to operate it and if "I" can, anyone can.
A week later and I'm still reading about features packed into it and learning
The Bottom Line:
I recommend this digital camera for the novice just getting into them. A relatively low cost product, easy to use and packed with digital features, for experimental shots.
What, you may well ask, is "The Gasman" doing in "Electronics", attempting to review a Sony digital camera. I won't even try to pretend that I'm an expert on this product. I received it as a birthday gift and I've been experimenting with it for a week. Taking pictures of everything and anything, close-ups of flowers, panoramic scenic shots in the distance, people in light and dark places, with flash, without flash, with zoom, with macro, without, etc., etc., etc.
You should also understand that I am a die-hard, life long fan of photographic equipment that requires film, a big black bag, full of stuff and processing charges. My trusty old Minolta AF (auto-focus) has been good to me, it was built for photography neophytes like me. Point and shoot, point and shoot, point and well, you get the idea. I even had a telephoto lens for it, to impress people as I expertly slipped off a standard lens from the body and snapped on the long one, to shoot a bird in the distance or whatever. Or, I could reach into my hefty bag and pull out a massive snap on flash, giving those watching on a quick look at the rows of fresh film, like cartridges on a gun belt, ready for auto-loading at a moments notice.
I better get on with my review or this is going to degenerate into an ongoing, internal argument I've been having with myself about, good old fashioned film versus digital.
The scene opens with Ricardo Montalban in a white suit and his trusted companion Tattoo smiling at me:
"Welcome Gasman, To The 21st Century, we understand it is your fantasy to learn how to use a Sony Cyber-shot camera."
It seems the gift of this Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 digital camera, set up for 7.2 mega pixels, a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar, 3 X zoom lens, is finally dragging me, kicking and screaming into the 21st century and those who chose this model for me, chose well. At least they seem to have had a good understanding of my limited mental capacity for all things digital and computerized.
From the least technical perspective, my first impression was that this camera, (in its case!), is smaller than my wallet. At 3 1/2" across by 2 3/8" high and only 29/32" deep (without the case) this thing is something James Bond would have appreciated. Pressing the "On" button produces a pleasant musical tone, which confirms the camera is on, as the 2.5" LCD screen lights up, the lens instantly emerges from the face about an inch, as the lens cover retracts. Fancy, shmancy!
At a glance the buttons seemed simple enough, on/off, shutter button/zoom together, display, menu, control button, playback, the all important delete button and what Sony calls the Mode Dial. I like to think of it as the "wheel of fortune", because it offers up to ten choices for setting up the next shot, all marked pictorially.
Once power is on, as long as the Mode Dial is set on the standard camera image, all functions are set for automatic it's ready to start snapping pictures, slowing depressing the shutter button sets the auto focus, lights up your target with a yellow light and completing the depression, takes the picture with a standard flash, with an almost invisible lag time. This is the mode I kept it in for my first day of picture taking, happily oblivious to the rest of the cameras capabilities.
Turning the wheel of fortune (Mode Dial) one step clockwise brings up a note on the LCD screen, "ISO: High Sensitivity, shoot without flash in low light, reducing blur." Damn if it didn't work well too. So you may begin to see why I thought this camera was perfect for people like me, who hate cyber gibberish and accept they have a degree of attention deficit disorder, when it comes to certain kinds of manuals. Here, I just reset a dial and the camera patiently explains in understandable text, on the LCD screen, what I have just done and how I can use this setting.
I won't go into depth on each of the ten modes on the wheel of fortune, but it includes cool settings like:
"Soft Snap: Shoot subject with soft background."
"Twilight Portrait: Shoot portraits in low light with flash."
"Twilight: Shoot low light scene without flash."
"Landscape: Shoot landscapes with distant focus."
"Beach: Shoot water side scene with rich blue color."
"Snow: Shoot whitish scene brightly.
The internal 56 MB memory will allow you between 16 and 33 shots depending upon conditions and mode selections. With my optional 2 GB "memory stick duo", they say it should be good for between 573 and 1125 images, again depending on mode. I doubt I will ever have the need to shoot that many pictures without downloading them.
Turn It Into A Movie Camera
The next dial on the wheel of fortune or Mode Dial, allows you to shoot a movie with sound from the built-in microphone. (Note to self, next time remember to keep your thumb off the microphone.) Don't expect a high quality film or very good sound quality from this feature, but decent enough to record an event and recognize the people and their voices. I won't be getting rid of my camcorder any time soon. This feature also chews up memory.
The internal memory is only 56 MB which would only allow you to run it in movie mode for about 2.5 minutes.
I have an optional 2 GB "memory stick duo" that would give me about 1.5 hours in standard mode.
The A/V (audio/video) leads that come with the camera allow you to hook it right up to the TV and playback your movie.
With the LCD screen on they estimate up to 380 images can be shot over a minimum of 3 hours. This estimate is based upon, image quality set to fine, auto focus is set to single, shooting pictures every 30 seconds and the zoom is used alternatively between W and T ends of the scale. Sounds like a pretty intense shooting session and wouldn't be typical of my usage. I always like to hold something back in reserve, just in case Big Foot runs by me in the woods.
Auto shut down, after three minutes of inactivity is another feature they must have designed in for guys like me to save the battery.
More Menu Options and Features:
In addition to the cool settings on the wheel of fortune dial (Mode Dial), the control button has an icon for Macro shooting, the icon is a flower, so naturally I took it out to the garden and shot a bunch of flowers still in bloom, in "Macro mode", allowing me to get within 13/16ths of the subject (less than an inch) with my zoom set on the W side or back out about 12" or further with my zoom set on the T side and still get a really clear, crisp focused shot. I have to admit, my old Minolta AF wouldn't do that for me.
Self-Timer for setting up shots from 2 to 10 seconds after I press the shutter button. It's a very important feature for people like me, who want to be in at least one or two of the pictures. Otherwise you're just the person saying, "Well, I was there, but I was working the camera."
Full control of the flash function, which I am still playing with, but allow me to force the flash on or off under various lighting conditions and slow the synchronization of the flash and shutter in dark places, which is intended to bring out the background, often washed out by the flash in the dark.
Another one on the control button, that I am planning to take time to experiment with is "EV" used for adjusting exposure and brightening or darkening an image. Some of these kinds of features may not get much use from me, but, I am curious to see what they can do.
I think the beauty of this kind of camera is that you can experiment with it and if it doesn't work, delete the shot. Although I said in the beginning of this review, I like the big black camera bag with stuff in it, film and processing charges, I have boxes of experimental pictures I've taken over the years that were dismal failures, but I still had to pay to have them developed.
It's a compact, powerful little piece of photographic technology, at a fraction of the price of my old Minolta. As I've said above, it virtually tells me what to do and it's been very forgiving of my photographic ignorance.
* Rechargeable battery pack (NP-BG1)
* Battery charger BC-CSG/BC-CSGB)wall mount cordless type.
* USB, A/V cable for multi-use terminal.
* Wrist strap.
* CD-ROM Cyber-shot application software, which walks you through the fairly basic loading and includes a copy of the manual. The CD also directs you product registration.
Compatible with Windows 2000 and later.
Howard Creech, forgive me for encroaching on your domain. I know not what I am doing here and I rely upon the old adage, ignorance is bliss. I expect you're going to be writing about gas fireplaces next week.
It is smaller than my wallet, but I don't think you would want to carry in in your back pocket.
Anyway, I like this camera and I'll probably carry in around in one of the many extra side pockets of my Minolta camera bag.
I hope this review has adequately covered the primary features and specifications. If I find any more, I will update the review.