Technology

Sony's Picture-Perfect Cybershot


Launch
Editor's Rating: star rating

The easy-to-use DSC-W200 packs 12.1 megapixels that produce gorgeous photos—in the blink of an eye

In the digital camera business, the megapixel race is a lot like the megahertz race used to be among computer chipmakers.

Remember when Intel (INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) battled back and forth, consecutively releasing chips a few megahertz faster than the last? Every now and then one chipmaker would leapfrog the other and stay ahead for a few months. In time, the measurement came to be less relevant than other measurements—say energy efficiency—of a chip's performance.

Eventually, the same thing will happen with megapixels on digital cameras. But for now, megapixels rule. And by and large, the more pixels of light the main imaging chip can record, the better the picture and the more expensive the camera.

Time was, 5 megapixels garnered respect among average consumers. What, then, to make of the latest from Sony (SNE)? The Cybershot DSC-W200 is due to hit stores in May with 12.1—count 'em—12.1 megapixels.

Point and Shoot

I tested the Cybershot for my series on affordable cameras and found the results certainly worth writing home about. This is one of the easiest, friendliest cameras I've ever used, and the photos can be stunning, even for a novice like me.

Starting out, I expected all those megapixels to gum up the works. Historically, higher-resolution cameras came with slower shooting speeds. The more megapixels, the bigger the size of the image file created and the longer it takes to get from one shot to the next as the camera saves the image to a memory card.

Not so with the Cybershot. I shot and shot and shot and shot. I took one sequence of images of my watch and scored eight shots in about 30 seconds, whereas with older cameras, those shots might have taken a minute or more.

Fabulous Features

Best of all were the resulting photos. To my admittedly untrained eye, the pictures simply have more detail to them and the images are crisper than I have come to expect from other cameras. The only other 12-megapixel digital camera I'm aware of is a professional model from Nikon—one I'd frankly be afraid to use. The Cybershot is clearly a consumer camera: small, compact, and accessible to a novice. At $400, it's pretty reasonable to boot.

Like other cameras I've tried recently, this model has face-detection technology that knows when the subject is a person. So it adjusts light settings when focusing on a face to ensure it is exposed well. The feature works very well—similar to the other cameras I've tried.

I was especially happy with the settings dial on the back of the camera's body. When I wasn't using the automatic mode that would otherwise be my default—perennial greenhorn photographer that I am—simple guide words displayed clearly on the screen made all the difference in shot selection. For instance, the "snow" setting is for shooting outdoors when there's a lot of, well, snow about.

I was also impressed with the camera's ability to connect to a high-definition TV to display pictures stored on the memory stick. If you've got an HD-ready TV, you'll love showing pictures on one.

Anyone with a background in consumer electronics can tell you these aren't the best of times for Sony. Take the performance of the PlayStation 3 against Nintendo's Wii. Say what you will about the company's other businesses, but judging from the Cybershot DSC-W200, the folks in the digital camera unit are surely doing something right.

Hesseldahl is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com.

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