Most helpful positive review
317 of 321 people found the following review helpful
Very good compact point and shoot
on January 31, 2010
I was looking for a small camera to keep with me when I didn't want to lug my big and heavy pro grade DSLR, and I'm finding the Sony generally works out for me pretty well. It's easy-to-use and relatively high performance for a compact point and shoot camera, and it's capable of producing good images under a wide range of conditions when used properly.
I usually start my camera shopping by paying close attention to the lens, and the Sony comes with a Carl-Zeiss 4x zoom, biased towards the wide-angle end of the spectrum. I generally favor less zoom range if it means getting a higher quality picture, and this is exactly the approach Sony implements. Yes, you can get 5x - even 10x - zooms in camera like these, but in my experience, the sacrifice in image quality isn't worth it. Sony's 4x tends to mean I get pretty solid lens performance in a useful zoom range. To be clear, any DSLR with a good quality lens will beat the pants off the small lens on this sort of compact camera, but that's the nature of the beast...besides, if I'm doing something where absolute best performance is a requirement, I'm carrying my heavy-duty DSLR and lenses that cost ten times what this Sony does - that's not the mission I have in mind for the Sony anyway.
The 14.1MP sensor seems to be high quality, so long as you're using the camera in well and evenly lit conditions. Where the camera struggles somewhat is low light (high ISO), or when there is substantial dynamic range (difference between brightest and darkest parts of an image). Under good conditions - bright and evenly lit - the sensor provides excellent detail, certainly way more than adequate for email, web sites or prints up to maybe A3 (13x19 inch) size. Still, under more challenging lighting, the Sony may be a bit disappointing...where a large DSLR can capture details in highlights and shadow, the Sony tends to blow out the highlights or will transform shadows into a sea of black. Again, this is really normal for cameras with small image sensors - the Sony's performance is very good indeed considering the small form factor and product price point.
The camera's built-in software is also very good, helping to capture lots of detail even as images are compressed to manageable sized JPG files. In Photoshop, I compared a Sony-compressed image to a similar image taken by a pro grade DSLR, and there are few if any differences due to the image processing. Noise reduction and sharpening is handled well, and there are few digital artifacts visible. This is really the best performance I've seen for a camera in this price range.
In terms of construction quality, the camera is solid and seems to be well built. Most of the controls are easy to use, and you don't get the sense of "fighting" against it. The 2.7" LCD display is sharp and easy to use, although it can be a bit difficult in bright sunlight or for those like me with aging eyes that struggle with small text on the screen. Performance is generally quick, and you're not waiting for the camera to figure out what to do next. The camera is small, and one thing that helps me is Sony's well-designed image stabilization feature. I tend to have a hard time holding small cameras steady, and image stabilization helps me get sharp photos in most conditions.
Sony adds a number of cool features, such as Sweep Panorama, that allows you to take multiple pictures of a scene, and then have them "stitched" together in the camera for a wide panorama view. I have similar software in Photoshop to do this, but it's cool to see it implemented right in the camera. Sony also provides a workable HDR (High Dynamic Range) capability in the camera, giving you a way to handle certain otherwise difficult scenes. Both of these features make up for camera limitations, such as low dynamic range capabilities of small sensors and the limited zoom range. Sony also makes it easy to upload photos and videos to popular sharing sites, saving you a few steps from doing this on the computer.
The camera can also record HD (720p) video clips up to half an hour long. I rarely use this feature, so other than to say it works, I'll leave that one to other reviewers.
I considered several other choices from Nikon, Canon, Pentax and even the new Leica X1. I like Nikon because the software and menus are the same as my DSLR (also a Nikon). Canon seemed to produce slightly better image quality. I've owned several Pentax point-and-shoot digital cameras and found them rugged and long lasting. And of course, the Leica is in a class by itself in terms of quality. Still, while all of these competitors offered unique advantages, the overall package of price and performance seemed to be best with the Sony - at least today.
Overall, considering the price, I'm happy with the Sony DSC-W350 and would recommend it to anyone wanting a low-cost, easy to use digital camera that gives good quality images under a wide variety of conditions.