The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 12.1-Megapixel Pocket Camera; Taking A Fun Camera Seriously

As a photo enthusiast becomes more serious about making pictures, acquiring a larger and larger set of tools (lenses and accessories) to accommodate every possible contingency and capability seems to be essential. Unfortunately, a complex of lenses and accessories can make it all a very deliberate exercise. We all wish it could be more of a spontaneous, free-spirited adventure and not one so bogged down with gear. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just carry a little shirt pocket-sized camera around that would also produce prize-winning picture quality?

(Top): The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 is a shirt pocket-sized digital camera that's capable of producing very large, high-quality prints. Its 12.1-megapixel resolution provides an ideal combination of ultimate portability and convenience with the capacity to satisfy the requirements of serious enthusiasts. (Above): The new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 provides a variety of picture-taking modes for easy adaptability to a wide range of subjects and conditions. The large 2.5" LCD and simple controls are both easy to learn and use effectively, and includes full automatic, programmed, and manual control in addition to automatic configurations to accommodate many typical subject types and conditions.

When I first read the Sony press information for the Cyber-shot DSC-W200 camera I was reminded that when I traveled a lot I used to have somewhat of a pocket camera (big pocket), a Fuji 645 120 camera. It often came in handy when lugging a heavy camera bag full of gear was not feasible. So, I wondered if, in this digital age, the new Sony would be even handier (smaller pocket) and make images one could take seriously.

Testing The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200

In my neighborhood the most recent and popular tourist attractions are the numerous new wineries and vineyards, like those featured in the comedy film Sideways. I'd never visited any of these attractions so I thought I'd do the "wine trail" tour because at least irrigated vineyards would be green. However, I did not think to consider that tourist attractions don't open until mid-morning and close by 5pm at the latest, so the light at midday in the summer would never be very flattering to the scenery. It didn't matter all that much as most of the subjects on the "wine trail" were not very inspiring. (It made me wonder just how the producers of the film Sideways made their scenes so appealing and picturesque--probably by shooting during the hours the tourists like me were not around.)

I shot subjects to test specific characteristics like color saturation and accuracy, as well as lens distortion. For comparison I threw my Canon EOS 5D with a 28-105mm zoom lens in a small bag to duplicate what I photographed with the Sony DSC-W200. To ensure that each subject photographed with both cameras would be comparable, I put my big old Gitzo tripod in the trunk of the car and made all of the shots with both cameras on the tripod. (It's a good thing I'm a funky-looking old man, because otherwise that cigarette pack-sized Sony DSC-W200 on a heavy tripod would have attracted some incredulous looks.)

Once the images I made with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 and the companion shot done with my Canon EOS 5D were adjusted in Photoshop, comparing them on screen at 100 percent magnification revealed minor differences in detail and sharpness. The Canon 5D's raw files preserved better shadow detail and more subtle color variations. The full range of tests I did (using a 28-105mm zoom on the 5D to closely match the 3x zoom range of the Sony's Carl Zeiss 7.6-22.8mm) indicated that the image-capturing capabilities of the two cameras are similar. However, the almost 10:1 JPEG compression and sRGB color space used to save the Sony files limits the printable quality of the DSC-W200 output.
All Photos © 2007, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

I let both cameras determine exposure as well as color. Both were set on Auto White Balance (AWB). In addition, I set up the shooting parameters with the Sony to record as neutrally and normally as possible in terms of contrast and saturation, selecting the largest image size of 12.1 megapixels. It should be noted the Sony saves stills only in JPEG compressed format, making a file size of about 3.5MB, or almost a 10x compression from the 34+ megabytes when opened in Photoshop. This file size is considerably smaller than the raw, lossless format saved by the Canon 5D. Another technical distinction is that my 5D is set to save raw files in Adobe RGB color space, while with the Sony files are saved in sRGB color space.

Photographing With A Very Small Camera
First of all, I must admit to cheating a bit, as sometime previous to getting the Sony DSC-W200 I had purchased a Hoodman HoodLoupe for use with my Canon 5D, the better to see the LCD screen outside in bright sunlight. The HoodLoupe is very much like some standard loupes designed for viewing 35mm slides, but with a slightly larger hooded area to accommodate the size of camera LCD displays. It has an adjustable eyepiece (ocular) to obtain precise focus on the screen. I immediately found the HoodLoupe could be used very effectively with the Sony DSC-W200 LCD, making it function very similarly to a Through-The-Lens SLR. It also provided a means to hold the camera steady by having it pressed, via the HoodLoupe, to my face to steady handheld shots. Even though the camera has an Anti-Shake feature built-in, holding it at arm's length to see the LCD to frame the shot, I believe, must contribute to both a degree of unsharpness and poorly framed pictures--how can it not?

This shot of a warehouse skeleton, also duplicated with the Canon EOS 5D, established that the Carl Zeiss lens is as well corrected and distortion free as the Canon lens for my 5D. Interestingly, the Sony, which set its lens at f/5.6, provided just a shade more depth of field than the Canon 5D set at f/9.0.

Sony does have an eye-level viewfinder on the Cyber-shot DSC-W200, so you can hold the camera close to your face for better steadiness. But like just about every handheld camera made with an eye-level viewfinder, the area covered by the finder frame is smaller than what is seen and recorded by the lens and sensor. This difference, of course, assures that people photographed don't have their heads missing by providing some "fudge" space. But the downside for the serious user is that you can't easily fill the frame accurately and you end up with space in your picture you may not want and have to crop afterward in your computer.

Unlike 35mm cameras with their 24x36mm film frame size providing a 2:3 aspect ratio, digital point-and-shoot cameras like the Sony have a frame aspect ratio of 3:4. This makes the actual image size of a 12" print 12x16"; the Canon 5D, even with its somewhat larger megapixel count of 12.8, will reproduce a 12x18" print. The point is that the central part of the image actually contains about the same information, pixel for pixel, in both cameras.