My Precious

Paparazzi style with Sony

Sony DSC W55 by Sony
DSC W55 Sony
Sony cybershot
Another perspective of the main attraction...
Little superstar
Pattern in the Making
Yellow fruity

SPRING AND SUMMER ARE THE BUSIEST TIMES of the year for travelling and I can not imagine myself of not having a digital camera to take photos during these seasons. Camera is always my priority gadget to be carried along both in travelling and attending important gatherings.

Despite the threat of Swine Flu around the world, I could not stop myself planning my next trip to Scotland (where the first case of the infection started in the UK) in June. This is also the time again to test and prove that Sony DSC W55 has the "x-factor" - topping the digital chart.

The model hit the market in the early of 2007 and I bought it in April of that year. My brother influenced me to buy this unit after I have used his W70 model when I forgot to bring the battery charger of my old Olympus IR500 during my short visit to the Philippines. There are no major differences in the functionality between these two models (W70 and W55), except for the price which I chose the cheaper one in Curry's (UK) at a promotional offer of £149.99 (almost $300 that time), excluding the memory card and carrying case.

Having used this unit for almost two years now, it really served its purpose - documenting my passion in photography as well as my interest in filming. This is the reason why I want to share my experience on its functionality that is comparable to other brands available in the market today. The highlights of my review mainly focus on the things beyond the basic specifications of the unit. I discovered them by accidental or experimental while exploring its built-in buttons and menus which are easy to navigate. In other words, these are the "x-factors" of the unit that really stands out from the rest of the cyber-shot models, and delivering the same quality of photos taken from SLR units.

What are these x-factor features and minor inconveniences of Sony DSC W55?

1. Accident happens and I dropped this unit several times. Due to its compactness and exterior finishing metal casing, it does not really make a mark from the hard fall. Even the wide screen, only slight scratches are noticeable and not affecting the quality of the photos. Because of its lightness, weighing 116 grams, the unit can easily carry inside the pocket or in small compartments of a backpack. Thus, it is more durable than the stylish touch-screen models nowadays.

2. Due to its design and size, it is comfortable to carry and hold it while taking photos like "paparazzi" style. No instruction manual needed for asking other people to take my own poses or even taking it by myself. In some situation, blurredness can not be avoided, however, using tripod or having a stable location to place the unit somehow eliminate this problem. This is also the time when the self-timer function is used which allows everyone to be included in the photo.

3. It also survives in extreme situations. I used it while visiting Spain, Italy and France in summer last year and my 2007 Xmas holiday in Canada and the US. The camera could stand in high and low temperatures without affecting the clarity of the images. Sometimes moisture and dust are accumulated at the surface of the lens, but this is not a problem. Make sure to wipe it with a dry cloth or just a quick blow towards the lens. Always turn-off if it is not in use and it keeps inside your pocket or inside a small carrying case.

4. Having a viewfinder in the camera is an added comfort especially during sunny days when the rays of the sun are directly reflected to the LCD screen which causes nuisances to the eyes. It is more convenient to hold the camera closer to the eyes for steady focus and grip of the unit. Majority of the current digital cameras disregard this functionality.

5. The presence of a large liquid crystal display (LCD) measuring 2.5 inches (larger than DSC W35 and similar to DSC W70 models) provides an excellent view of the image itself, including access to the menu system of the camera. It allows to show or display useful information such as follows: remaining capacity of the battery and the memory card, histogram and other functionality to improve the quality of the image in terms of colour, ISO and flash levels, and formatting.

6. It can also capture a minimal number of images without a flash memory card. With a limited internal memory capacity (56 MB), it can only store few images (approximately less than 20 shots), and then easy to transfer these images to the memory card duo media for sharing and printing. The size of the memory card is also compatible with my Sony Vaio notebook's card slot.

7. Having a 7.2 megapixels allows larger prints (A4 size) and to minimise distortion of the image while using the 3X times optical zoom lens. The camera has a high sensitivity level of ISO 1000 which is beneficial when there is a limited source of light or flash is not allowed. However, maximising this functionality affects the quality of the image and "noise" is visible.

8. A full-charged Lithium ion battery can take up to a maximum of 380 images. In my experience, I can use the camera for a whole day shooting. The main concern is when video function is used requiring additional power to continue filming, consequently draining the battery easily. For this unit, the battery is rechargeable and included in the purchase which is more convenient than having disposable batteries.

9. The longevity of the battery is a common concern to all cameras especially when the flash memory card can hold up to more than 300 images, including short video clips. But this is not a major issue if you have an extra battery to back-up as well as having a regular charging of the battery every day. To avoid disappointments while travelling, it is recommended to transfer the photos from the camera to the computer every day.

10. Aside from still images, the camera can capture VGA (640X480) audio-video clips which can be easily edited using Windows movie maker and shared them through YouTube website. YouTube creates functionality for embedding videos to my existing travel blogsites. In addition for a larger viewing, the cables and software for television set or projector connection are also included in the purchase. My only concern with filming using this unit is that, zooming in/out function can not be used on the time of filming, but will be adjusted before filming a scene or subject which is not a hassle at all. In taking videos, it is manageable to record not more than 2 minutes for easy downloading/uploading, editing or sharing the clips online.

11. In terms of the quality of the image, there are several ways to test this camera's functionality. The menu system provides all the various options to get the best image depending on the subject being shot and its location. For example, ISO function is recommended for indoor location; landscape mode for panoramic and outdoor settings; snow function can be used in foggy and night scenes; while auto adjustment and program auto modes suitable for normal conditions. The macro function is also noticeable which gives an excellent result. However, this unit is not intended for this feature but still it can captures a closer angle of the subject (almost 1.5 inches to the subject, without using the zoom lens). Other functionalities include colouring modes, lighting modes, flash levels, red eye reduction, and zoom in/out.

12. Unfortunately, there is no panoramic function in the camera comparable to my old Olympus IR500. Another minor dissatisfaction of the unit is taking moving objects and during dark/night scenes which always show blurry results. Unluckily, until now I could not find the right adjustments to get a satisfactory outcome. Another thing to remember is always "turn-off" the flash or set it in an auto mode especially outdoor location. Excessive exposure to light somehow ruins the clarity of the photos and frequent usage of flash deteriorates the battery life.

13. Finally, shutter speed and aperture are two main functions in this unit that are also having big influence in the quality of the images from SLR (single-lens-reflex) cameras as the majority of the professional photographers are patronising nowadays. In this unit, these functions are automatically set which the shutter speeds are within a range between 1- 1/2000 seconds and the available apertures are f2.8 (wide) and f5.2 (telephoto). In simple terms, shutter speed is the duration of time when the shutter is open to allow light to reach the image sensor; while aperture determines the size of the opening of the lens to allow the light to enter. It means that this unit has the characteristic that allows users to adjust the levels of sharpness and contrast (depth of field) in taking photographs.

"...durable, lightweight and stylish touch-screen model and it survives in extreme conditions as well as providing video clips..."

OVERALL, THIS SONY DSC MODEL did not disappoint me until now even that I have already bought an Olympus 790 for underwater shooting and as a back-up partner in exploring the world of photography and film. This is a compact pocket-sized digital unit that has an appeal for both photo hobbyists and professional users in terms of functionalities and appearance.

Updates: I broke the LCD today (May 12) while visiting the Giant's Causeway, but it is still working and I can use the viewfinder to take photos. The only problem is I could NOT see the function features anymore and it will be difficult to do adjustments, including formatting. Well, it is not convenient to use it, but my friend has the same model with me, so I could reformat my memory card using his camera. To be honest, the quality did not change at all as shown in the opposite photo.

Note: Originally posted in dooyoo and ciao. All the photos included in this review were taken using this digital camera and transferred to my computer using the Microsoft Windows Picture Manager.