The first 12-megapixel camera I ever used was the Canon EOS 5D which cost a cool $3,500 USD. That D-SLR uses a full-frame CMOS sensor, one of the two currently available. Because the imager is the size of a frame of 35mm film, there’s no digital factor impacting interchangeable lenses so your favorite 28mm is still a 28, not 42mm. The pictures delivered by this pro-grade D-SLR are amazing, magical as some of my confreres in the imaging press reported. With that larger-size chip, the pixels are much bigger, so there’s very little digital noise. Now, just a few years later, Sony has introduced a $399 USD 12MP CCD point-and-shoot digicam. Realize this is a totally different camera than the 5D and about the only thing they have in common is the gross number of pixels. The Sony chip is much smaller so the pixels are crammed together making noise the inevitable result. Still it is a 12-megapixel camera and–with 10MPs so commonplace– DigitalTrends.com just had to give it a test drive. This is what we discovered.
Features and Design
The DSC-W200 is a very unassuming digicam, looking like an Altoids tin with a silvery all-metal body with some nice accents. In other words, no one but you and few eagle-eyed friends will know you’re holding a cutting-edge digital camera. For the record, Casio recently introduced the 12MP EX-Z1200 ($399 USD) and Panasonic has the DMC-FX100, also $399 USD and 12 megapixels so the Sony isn’t the coolest camera ever. As a matter of fact, the Panasonic has a 28mm lens, one of my favorite features—but that’s a story for another day.
The Sony measures 3.4 x 2.3 x 1.1 and weighs 6.2 ounces with battery and MS Duo card. This is a very compact camera—fitting just about anywhere–and feels very solid. The front is dominated by a 3x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with the standard focal length of 35-105mm. You can buy wide or tele conversion lenses to juice things up but you’ll need to buy an adaptor ring as well. Also here are the flash, AF Assist lamp and window for the tiny viewfinder. There are a few embossed decals and another stating “12.1 Megapixels.”
The top only has the shutter button, on/off switch and microphone. The rear, as you’d expect, is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD screen rated 115K pixels. I know Sony is trying to hit a price but they really should’ve used the higher-quality screen found in the T series (230K pixels). Fortunately, there’s a small viewfinder to use if you feel the screen is too wiped out. You’ll also find the wide/tele zoom toggle switch, a main mode dial, four-way controller with OK/set button and dedicated keys for playback, Menu and Home. The main mode dial gives you quick access to your shooting settings including Auto, Program Auto, Manual (aperture and shutter speed adjustment), Soft Snap for portraits, Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Landscape, and additional Scene settings (ISO+, beach, snow and fireworks). There’s also a Movie mode (640 x 480 at 30 fps). The four-way controller is similar to almost every digicam on the market, letting you tweak the flash, self timer, switch to macro and adjust the display (with grid lines, without and so on).
On the right side is the compartment for the lithium ion battery and MS Pro Duo card slot. On the bottom are the speaker, tripod mount and the connection for the hydra-headed cable for USB and AV and hookups. Again, I have to complain Sony touts the fact this camera offers Full HD 1080 out but makes you buy a cable (around $35 USD) to view them on your HDTV.
The DSC-W200 has an OK kit. You get the camera, battery, charger, strap, hydra-headed connector and an abbreviated owner’s guide to get you started. The rest of the manual is on the supplied CD ROM in PDF form along with basic Picture Motion Browser ver. 2.0.05 software for downloading images. And don’t forget a Memory Stick Pro Duo card (at least a gig). We didn’t and after charging the battery, loading a card, it was time to see how good 12MP images can be.
Image Courtesy of Sony
Testing and Use
Nothing unusual when you press the power button—the camera is ready to go in just over a second. Using the 12MP setting, the camera saves 4000 x 3000 pixel files at only one compression option. I know this is a point-and-shoot digicam but Sony should offer more than one setting, just like Nikon does with its Coolpix cameras including the recently reviewed Nikon CoolPix P5000. This is a shortcut Kodak typically takes; Sony should march to a different, better drum.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the LCD screen for framing images, since it worked nicely indoors and out. A flick of the four-way controller makes it gain up. I purposely shot with the sun shining directly into it and I never had to use the viewfinder. Where the lack of pixels makes its presence felt is during playback. I’d still prefer the better screens from the T series…
Although saving 12MP files, the camera barely labored as I snapped away. If you go into Continuous (or Burst) mode, it will take five shots in a row at 2 frames per second before pausing (with the flash off). After a few seconds, it takes another five-shot burst and so on. This is pretty amazing for a point-and-shoot digicam. The reason behind it is the Bionz processor first used in Sony’s alpha D-SLR. Overall I found the camera to be very responsive with good shot-to-shot times and very little shutter lag. When you realize you’re saving 12MP files—and this is basically an aim-and-forget camera—it’s pretty impressive.
Unlike many point-and-shoots, the W200 lets you adjust aperture and shutter speed. Using the four-way controller you have a variety of options and the LCD shows what the image will look like at that shutter speed/aperture. This is very helpful as you tweak the settings. It doesn’t have aperture- or shutter-priority but if you can adjust both, you’ll achieve the same results.
After shooting a variety of images indoors and out, it was time to make some prints. One of the key benefits of 10 and 12MP digicams is the fact you can make huge 13×19 prints or crop the photo and still get a large print (8.5×11). I made many letter-sized full-bleed prints with the full frame and cropped others. Here’s what I saw:
Photos taken in bright sunshine were as accurate as can be. Blue, orange and yellow flowers were spot on. Images of trees against the bright blue sky were also very lifelike with no evidence of purple fringing. Where the camera fell short was shooting indoors in available light at high ISO settings. The W200 hits 6400 but only a D-SLR like the $5,400 Canon EOS-1D Mark III can actually pull off that stunt. Here there was noise galore. The same held true with images shot in Program with the flash turned off. Noise and more noise. When the flash was turned back on, the shots were much better. The little flash did a good job illuminating the various still lifes (pottery, bottles and so on). Other sites have complained about the slow recycle times when shooting with a flash but it’s not as bad as painted. Within two seconds the camera is ready to flash again. Again this is a point-and-shoot 12-megapixel digicam for under $400 USD, not a D-SLR at the twice the price so you shouldn’t expect the sun, moon and stars. Sony could have eliminated some of these noise issues by offering compression-level options. I’m sure if there were a Fine option, many of these noise issues would go away or at least be reduced.
With cropped images, around 50 percent and then blown up to fill an 8.5×11, the prints were acceptable, not something you’d jump up and down to show to friends and family.
This camera has Super SteadyShot, Sony’s name for optical image stabilization, and it did a good job eliminating the jitter from handheld snapshots. It also has DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer), another trickle-down feature from the alpha D-SLR. Similar to Nikon’s D-Lighting, it helps bring out shadow detail. Unfortunately, you can’t use DRO in post processing as you can with the Nikon P5000.
Image Courtesy of Sony
The DSC-W200 is a good, solidly-built little camera but it certainly has its flaws. On the plus side is 12MP resolution for poster-sized prints. On the down side, you’ll have to shoot in good light or with the flash to get the best results. The camera has an excellent burst mode, a simple-to-operate menu system and manual options if adjusting aperture/shutter speed is your thing. It’s a shame Sony doesn’t let you change compression options, since that would help dealing with digital noise in less-than-perfect situations. Now for the bottom line: should you buy it? I’d say yes if you know the limitations before putting your credit card on the counter. After all, you will be the first person on the block with an affordable 12-megapixel digicam.
• 12MP resolution
• Good response
• Impressive burst mode
• LCD should be better
• No compression options
• No HDTV cable