Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350 - Verdict

Verdict

 

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-W350 is one of the most affordable ultra-slim cameras from a big brand name, and boasts an impressive feature-set to go with it. Many smaller cameras compromise on their lens range or lose out on wide angle coverage, but the W350 does well on both accounts with a flexible 4x range which starts at a wider-than-average equivalent of 26mm. This allows it to squeeze in a little more than models which start at an equivalent of 28mm (and much more than those at 35mm), which is handy if you’re faced with very large subjects or cramped environments.

The Cyber-shot W350 also features 720p HD video (with the ability to optically zoom while filming), a decent-sized 2.7in screen, foolproof shooting in fully Automatic with scene detection, shutters and timers which can be triggered by faces or smiles and Sony’s neat Sweep Panorama mode which cleverly stitches together a series of photos taken with a casual pan of the camera. It also gives you the choice of using the company’s own Memory Stick PRO Duo format, or more commonly available SD memory cards.

The headline feature though is its tiny size, which at just 90.7×51.5×16.7mm makes for a very compact camera you can slip into almost any pocket. Many cameras are left at home because they’re too big or inconvenient. That’ll certainly never happen with the W350.

   
 

So by delivering the same key specifications of Canon’s IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS at a comfortably lower price-point, and with a body that’s a little smaller in every dimension too, it would seem Sony’s got a real winner on its hands. But while there’s certainly a lot going for the Cyber-shot W350, there’s equally a number of downsides to be aware of.

In terms of image quality, the W350 suffered from patchy processing artefacts at 200 ISO and up which are quite apparent in our Sample Images Gallery. It’s not a problem for smaller prints or casual viewing on-screen, but if you’re into big prints or examining at 100%, you may be disappointed.

 

The lens range and wide-angle coverage is impressive for the body size, but almost inevitably there’s some optical compromise. In our tests the W350 became quite soft towards the edges and corners of the image when zoomed-out to wide angle. Again something which may be forgivable on smaller reproductions, but equally something which could annoy more demanding owners.

The screen was also a bit of a disappointment compared to rival models, becoming hard to see unless viewed pretty much face-on; if you raise or lower it even a little, the image quickly fades until it’s rendered essentially invisible when held overhead or at waist-level.

It feels almost churlish to complain about being able to optically zoom the lens while filming (since so many cameras don’t allow it), but it’s so quick on the W350 as to be impractical. And while Sony has become more open by accommodating SD memory cards instead of Memory Sticks, its other connectivity remains quite proprietary, so you’d better not lose the AV / USB cable, or you’ll be looking at a potentially pricey replacement. It’s also a shame there’s no HDMI output.

Revealingly a number of these and other complaints are addressed by Canon’s IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS, so before wrapping-up, let’s see how it compares.

Compared to Canon IXUS 130 / PowerShot SD1400 IS

 
 
     

Canon’s IXUS 130 / PowerShot SD1400 IS is one of the closest rivals for the Cyber-shot W350, with both cameras sharing a great deal in common. Both are ultra-slim compacts featuring 14 Megapixels, 4x stabilised zooms, 2.7in / 230k screens, 720p HD video and very capable Auto modes with scene detection.

In its favour the Sony W350 zooms a tad wider to an equivalent of 26mm (albeit being a little shorter at the long end), you can optically zoom while filming (albeit very quickly), it features Sony’s excellent Sweep Panorama which automatically generates panoramic photos in-camera with a simple sweep of the camera, you can film longer HD movie clips, and it’s actually a little smaller in every dimension. Best of all, the Sony W350 is comfortably cheaper than the Canon.

Sounds like a slam-dunk for Sony, but there’s a number of benefits to the Canon which you only really notice when using both cameras side-by-side. The Canon IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS may be slightly larger, but thanks to its rounded corners it feels much more comfortable in your hands (or pockets) and looks classier too.

The screens may be the same size and resolution, but Canon’s is brighter and considerably easier to view at high or low angles when the Sony’s image virtually disappears. The IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS also features a standard Mini HDMI port, whereas Sony forces you to buy a proprietary cable for HDTV connectivity, and even then only with analogue Component output. In our Sample Images Gallery, the Canon also enjoyed an edge in image quality.

The bottom line is the Canon IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS is a classier camera overall, and justifies its higher price for more demanding owners. If you want a quality ultra-slim compact and can afford to pay the extra, we’d say it’s worth it. See our Canon IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS review for more details.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350 final verdict

The Cyber-shot DSC-W350 may be out-classed by the Canon IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS in several important respects when both models are compared side-by-side, but that doesn’t diminish what it offers for the money. The W350 still boasts a flexible zoom range with wider-than-average 26mm coverage, 720p HD movies, a great auto mode and Sony’s clever Sweep Panorama, all packed into a tiny, yet relatively affordable body.

It isn’t a one-sided battle either, as the Sony boasts a slightly wider lens, longer HD video recording times, a slightly smaller and lighter body, and once again that neat panorama mode; remember while the Canon offers panorama assistance, it still expects you to do the assembly in software later, whereas the Sony does it all in-camera in seconds.

Most importantly though is the price: at the time of writing, the W350 was available for around 20% less than the Canon, which makes a big difference whether you’re on a tight budget or simply want some money left over for accessories.

 

Ultimately if you can afford to spend the extra, we believe the Canon IXUS 130 / SD1400 IS delivers a superior overall experience, but for the lower price, the Sony W350 is hard to beat. Indeed it represents great value considering its tiny dimensions, wide lens and HD video. So if you’re after a very pocketable point-and-shoot camera with some neat features at a great price, look no further.



Good points
Very slim and light body.
4x stabilised zoom with 26mm wide coverage.
Foolproof Auto with scene detection.
720p HD video with zooming while filming.

Bad points
Optics become soft in corners at wide-angle.
Image quality deteriorates at 200 ISO.
Screen hard to see at high or low angles.
Proprietary connectivity and no HDMI output.


Scores

(relative to 2010 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:


18 / 20
14 / 20
14 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20

79%

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