A few weeks ago I gave my first impressions of Sony's new W50 pocket camera, based on using it for a few minutes at the PMA show. Well, I have now spent a week with it. In most ways, it's as good as I had initially suspected. But in one way, it fails quite conspicuously.
First the good. And the goodest of the good is how clean the photos come out. Sony has found, I believe, the ideal level of sharpening for a snapshot camera. Details are very distinct, without noticeable artifacts. And pixel noise is very low. Even blue skies - a very tricky subject mater -- look fairly smooth, not speckly.
Check these examples by clicking the thumbnail to reveal a larger image (Sony on left, Canon on right):
Color is also quite pleasing. I saw no difference in quality between the colors from the W50 and from Canon's new PowerShot sd600. While the PowerShot line has considerable problems with pixel noise, it is the gold standard for color. And Sony has now met that standard in the W50.
Check these examples from an indoor still life shot with flash by clicking the thumbnail to reveal a larger image (Sony on left, Canon on right):
Sony also matches Canon -- to an uncanny extent -- in design. The W50 is nearly the exact same dimensions as the sd600. They also share rugged metal construction and nearly identical shutter and zoom controls. I could criticize Sony for being a copycat. But fact is, the Canon design is simply superb. So I give Sony credit for recognizing the fact.
The W50 also has some great features that the Canon lacks. One is higher light sensitivity: up to ISO 1000, vs. Canon's ISO 800. The actual specs don't matter, but the end result does. Under the same conditions, the Sony produces images with smooth or virtually smooth surfaces, while the Canon's are mottled with pixel noise.
Check these close-ups of photos shot at ISO 400 by clicking the thumbnail to reveal a larger image (Sony on left, Canon on right):
Sony also, as always, includes the ability to adjust flash intensity-- a huge omission on Canon's PowerShot series cameras -- which live up to their name by blasting most subjects with far too much ugly white light.
So what's the catch? You're going to need the flash, because the Sony performs abysmally in low-light settings. The problem is not pixel noise as with the Canon, but rather color distortion that cause images to turn horribly pinkish - like washing your white T-shirts together with a red towel. Going pink is not an uncommon problem with digital cameras. But as such, it's one that Sony should have remedied before releasing this machine. Sadly, the color shift negates one of the W50's best features - the ability to shoot in low light with minimal pixel noise. Yes, the images come out clean, but the wrong color.
For a glaring example, click the thumbnail image below. Those tiles are supposed to be gray.
The W50 is far from useless. It produces lovely images in daylight or with its flash. But it lacks the ability to capture the true color of indoor settings. It's a better camera than the sd600 and most other slim cams, but still not as good as Sony should be able to do.