Sony today announced two new 6-megapixel compact digital cameras - the DSC-W50 ($250, at left) and the DSC-W30 ($230). All I have are specs and photos about these new cameras, but I like what I see -- especially their light sensitivity capabilities. Both cameras go to ISO 1000 - very rare on a pocket camera, most of which stop at ISO 400.
The higher the ISO, the higher the light sensitivity, but the greater the chance of getting grainy pictures. My Canon sd450, for example, stops at ISO 400, and even that looks splotchy. In fact, I've been using it as an artistic effect, as you can see at left in another picture of my niece, Brooke. (Click for larger image.)
The biggest benefit of ISO in a pocket camera is that you don't have to use the flash as much. And unless you are taking mug shots or drivers license photos, you probably don’t want flash. It totally kills the natural light and shading, making any photo in any setting look like it was shot in the same spare, overlit warehouse. See the photos at left for examples with (above) and without flash. (Up top is the bride, Melissa, dancing with her dad.)
High ISO capability is a hallmark of pro-style single lens reflex (SLR) cameras. Canon's 20D, for example, goes to ISO 3200. That's practically night vision! SLRs can do it because they have comparatively huge image sensors that suck in a tremendous amount of light. And in my opinion, there is no substitute for size when it comes to image quality.
So far, Fujifilm has pretty much been on its own with pushing high ISO capabilities in pocket cams. And the results have been quite nice. Look for example at the detail crops of two ISO 400 shots of the quirky still life I've been using for camera testing. (Yes, that is a Sigmund Freud action figure.) The one at the top was shot by a 5-megapixel Canon sd400. The one below is from a 5MP Fujifilm FinePix Z1. (Click for larger images. The second isn't focused well: My fault, not Fujifilm's.) It would be interesting to see how these Sonys compare to the good work Fujifilm has been doing.
Other details about the Sony cameras. The W50 has a 2.5-inch LCD and will be available in March. The DSC-W30 has a 2-inch LCD and should be available by the end of February. Both cameras have 3X Zeiss optical zoom lenses, 32 megabytes of built-in memory, and take Memory Stick Duo or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards.