Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90 Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90

“I have no problems recommending this latest addition to the W series.”
  • 8.1MP; 3x optical zoom; optical image stabilization
  • Few manual adjustments; needs optional cable for HD out
MSRP $279.95

Summary

Last year, the point-and-shoot Sony W series was one of the top sellers in the industry simply because the cameras were affordable and took good photos, a pretty winning combo when you think about it. The company has refreshed the lineup to complement the budding forsythias and tulips across the county. The new models range from the DSC-W35, a $179 7.2-megapixel digicam with a 3x optical zoom and a 2-inch LCD screen, up to the $399 12.1-megapixel DSC–W200 due in May (when different flowers will be blooming).

We got our hands on the new DSC-W90 with an 8.1-megapixel imager. What makes this digicam (and other select 2007 Sony’s) stand apart is its new Bionz processor that speeds performance and enables Face Detection, the popular new feature from all camera makers this season. The DSC-W90 seems like a nice package with its 8.1MP CCD, 2.5-inch LCD, 3x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, HD output, and sub $300 price. However, as Digital Trends readers well know, we can’t take a manufacturer’s word for anything — the proof is in the shooting and full-bleed prints. So, it was time to put the DSC–W90 in the barrel and see how it stood up…

Features and Design

Forget the sleek, stylish Sony T series when perusing the 8.1MP DSC-W90. It looks like just about every other point-and-shoot digicam on the market with its silver, mostly metal, Altoids-tin sized body. There are a few accents that give it a little bit of panache, but a design masterpiece it isn’t. If you want to be a little different, the camera is available in black. Still, your fashion-forward friends won’t chuckle when you take their photos. After all, it is a Sony, not some funky brand like Vivitar or Polaroid.

The DSC-W90 measures 3.6 x 2.3 x .87 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 5.2 ounces, including battery and Memory Stick Duo card. It’s easy to slip this one in your pocket, and as the old saying goes, your best camera is the one you have with you.

The front is brushed silver, and its key feature is an f/2.8 3x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar optical zoom with the common point-and-shoot focal length (35 – 105mm in 35mm terms). The lens extends when you power up and safely retreats when you power down behind a built-in lens cover. You’ll also find the flash, AF Assist lamp, and a peep hole for the viewfinder. There are a couple of embossed logos, but nothing too obnoxious.

The top has the shutter, mic, and power button (another one that requires trimmed nails to make it work).

The rear is dominated by the 2.5-inch LCD screen, rated a so-so 115K pixels. If you’re wondering how Sony is able to sell an 8.1 MP camera with OIS for less than $300, this is a key reason, since it’s more expensive models feature Clear Photo LCD Plus screens with 230K pixels. Still, this LCD is better than competing models, with little lag or blur as you’re moving to a new scene or subject. If the screen gets hit with direct sunlight it wipes out, but you can use the tiny — and I mean tiny — optical viewfinder. At least it’s something to help bail you out.

The rest of the rear main controls are those you’ll find on the majority of point-and-shoot digicams. There’s a mode dial to set the camera’s main parameters such as Auto, ISO (up to 3200), Program, six common scene modes, and movie mode (rated 640 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second). Sony has updated the onscreen menu systems, so they’re very easy to follow and offer brief descriptions of the setting you pick.

Other controls include a wide/tele toggle switch, playback, menu, home, and a four-way controller with set button. The controller lets you quickly move into macro and adjust the flash and self-timer as well as the display. Hit the last control and it brightens the LCD screen, clears icons from the screen, displays the histogram, or turns it off to save power while you try to peer through the viewfinder located on the top left. The right side has the compartment for the battery and Memory Stick Duo card.

On the bottom are a tripod mount and the connection for Sony’s hydra-headed controller that’s similar to the DSC-T100. As with that camera, I have to complain that although Sony touts the fact that the DSC–W90 lets you view HD-quality pictures on your TV, you need to purchase an optional cable or dock. This knocked a few fractions from the total rating of this camera as well. Bummer.

The DSC-W90 comes with the basics (sans memory card and HD cable). Although the camera has 31MB of internal memory, budget another $25 for a 512 MB card. You’ll get the camera, wrist strap, battery/charger, hydra-headed cable, and software CD-ROM in the box. We let the battery charge overnight (it’s rated 350 shots), waited around a week for the sun to come out, and started taking some photos.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200
Image Courtesy of Sony

Use and Testing

The DSC-W90 reacts very quickly. In less than two seconds, the camera boots up and you’re ready to frame shots on the LCD screen. Starting off in Auto mode, I went to the Jersey shore to shoot the aftermath of the April nor’easter storm and, on a more pastoral side, some of the first blooms of spring.

There’s something about flowers that demand macro close-ups — especially after you’re stuck with dreary landscapes for months. Some beautiful yellow tulips had popped up, so I set the camera in macro and fired away. Fortunately, the DSC-W90 can get as close as 1.67-inches — much better than other digicams — so you can get really tight close-ups. Since it was a breezy day, the benefits of optical image stabilization were readily apparent; the focus for most of the shots was dead-on sharp.

As noted earlier, this camera has the Bionz processor, so you can shoot almost as fast as with a D-SLR. I’m not kidding. Put the camera in continuous mode, and it will crank off seven shots at full resolution at over 2.5 frames per second at 8.1-megapixels. At that point, the camera pauses. In about another two seconds, you can fire away again. This is terrific for capturing running kids. Granted, not every shot will be in focus, but at least you have a chance to grab the image. I got these results with the flash off; shoot with it on and things slow down considerably, but all in all, this is a very responsive point-and-shoot digicam.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90
Image Courtesy of Sony

This camera has Face Detection, and it works well, but it’s still not as good as the Canon SD1000. I wasn’t too thrilled with the LCD screen, especially in bright sunshine since it wiped out. That’s what happens when you have a screen rated 115K pixels. Fortunately, the camera has an optical viewfinder to use during those situations. It’s almost quaint holding the camera close to your face instead of framing subjects with the LCD.

The DSC-W90 doesn’t have many manual options. Forget about aperture- and shutter-priority modes. In Program mode, you can adjust white balance, type of focus and metering, and exposure compensation, plus, you can take three shots (bracket) at three different compensation options. Of course, you adjust ISO (sensitivity) up to an absurd 3200. There’s no point-and-shoot digicam that can take a decent shot at that level, and this Sony is no different. I took a few indoors without a flash and the final 8-½” x 11” prints were terrible. Four hundred was ok, but at 800 they really started to fall apart; you might be able to squeeze a 4” x 6” and get away with it. That said, this option will come in handy if you want to shoot indoors without a flash. Sony’s image stabilization did a good job eliminating blur, and the AF Assist lamp practically guaranteed sharp focus.

The camera has an excellent menu system that is very simple to operate. I especially like the grid lines that help keep your horizons straight. There are a few in-camera editing functions such as red-eye removal, cropping, adding starbursts, and things like that. This is all well and good, but editing on a 2.5-inch screen doesn’t really do it for me.

I churned out many 8-½” x 11” full-bleed prints and was very happy with the results. Colors were very natural and true-to-life. The yellow of the tulips was vivid in a “real” way, not overly processed. Images taken indoors and out were accurate and pleasing.

Conclusion

I have no problems recommending this latest addition to the W series. It’s compact, speedy, easy-to-use, and takes good-quality photographs. However, I’ll keep squawking about the lack of a cable for the touted HD Output on your HDTV. If that piece of wire was in the box, this one might have received an Editor’s Choice. If that isn’t a problem for you, by all means, buy it.

Pros:

• Good, accurate photos
• Very responsive
• Optical image stabilization

Cons:

• Few manual options
• No HD Out cable
• So-so LCD screen

Editors' Recommendations