I was looking for a compact, cheap, OK camera to keep in my coat pocket all the time. I wanted to have a camera that was compact and light, had acceptable image quality, image stabilization and didn’t break the bank.
Bonus points were given out for: Wide angle, low light ability, video capabilities, snappy operation
After some research, I ended up with this Sony DSC W120.
The Sony W120 is an affordable digital compact camera.
The case is made of brushed aluminum, looks great and suggests a much more expensive price tag. The startup time is pretty standard, fast enough to not feel sluggish, but no match for a digital SLR.
It has a focal length range of 32-128mm (35mm equivalent). This is a surprisingly good range for such an affordable camera. The 32mm at the wide end is much more useful than much of the competition which often offers 37-38mm as the widest.
In addition, the maximum aperture at the wide end is a pretty respectable f2.8. That is actually larger than most digital SLR standard kit lenses. While this is not an earth shuttering lens, it is faster than many comparable cameras, allowing the camera to stick to slightly lower ISOs or higher shutter speeds.
There is an optical viewfinder, but it is completely useless for framing, due to its tiny size and small coverage. This means you have to use the display to frame your shots. The display is pretty poor, it quite obviously does not have high resolution. The colors on the display are also mushy, to be kind. While all this is bad for looking at the photos, the refresh rate of the display is actually very good. There is very little lag, so framing with live view is no problem at all. The image stabilization also helps, I think.
One of the nice touches on this camera is that it goes back into shooting mode when the shutter is pressed in any menu or mode. I absolutely despise any cameras that first need to be switched to shooting mode to take a picture, fortunately the Sony DSC W120 passes the test.
The image stabilization is pretty effective; it is possible to get acceptably sharp shots with shutter speeds as low as 1/2 seconds.
The overall speed of the camera is OK for a camera of this type; it is fast enough that it does not feel sluggish. Compared to a digital SLR, it is very slow especially in startup and shot to shot time. With the flash on, shot to shot time increases to 4 or 5 seconds.
Autofocus is pretty OK at the wide end and pretty slow at the long end of the zoom.
One of the annoyances is the auto review functionality. When you take a picture it displays it automatically for 2 seconds. What is annoying is that it is not in playback mode while doing this. So you cannot zoom in on the picture or see the picture info. You cannot even press a button to look at it longer than the preset time. Instead, you have to wait to go back to the shooting mode and then press the playback button to go the picture again.
Talking of stupid designs, deleting pictures is very clumsy. You have to go into the menu, (there is no delete button) and then go to delete, delete this picture, and then move the selection from cancel to OK and then confirm.
This is the kind of functionality that makes me wonder if compact camera designers ever talk to digital SLR camera designers. These points are not super important, and you can easily live with them, but it just makes me wonder the whole time, what were the designers thinking?
Probably the worst thing about this camera are the menus. They are totally confusing and annoying to work with.
For example, when you set the camera to burst mode and then later try to turn on flash, it will display a message saying: Flash setting cannot be changed! I could only figure out after more than a day of playing with it that the flash does not work in burst mode. I cant help but think it would be easier if it told me that.
Another example is with the autofocus. When face detection is enabled, the menu options for the autofocus disappear completely. They are not greyed out or something, they are just not there. Turn off face detection, and there you go. My brain obviously does not function in the same way as the designers of this camera.
To sum-up: The image quality is very good for a camera of this size and price and the image stabilization helps tremendously with low light photos. It works well with everything on automatic, exposure and focus is spot on most of the time. The display could be better and the menus are very fiddly, but in the end these small flaws are not enough to spoil it. If you want manual controls, you might want to keep looking. If, on the other hand you are just looking for an affordable compact camera to point and shoot, the Sony DSC W 120 is a great choice.
– Compact, light and good looking
– Good image quality (for a compact camera)
– Reasonably quick (for a compact camera)
– Effective image stabilization
– A good deal pricewise
– Poor display
– Slow autofocus at the long end of the zoom
– No manual modes
– Proprietary Sony Memory Stick cards
Here are some useful notes on setting up and using the Sony W120. The settings mentioned are used under the Program (P) shooting mode unless otherwise noted.
Confusingly, the HOME button takes you to the camera menu and the MENU button takes you to the equivalent of the shooting settings menu.
Since the Sony DSC W120 is pretty much a point and shoot camera, I will try to set it up to be used that way. In other words, adjust everything once and then forget about 90% of the settings.
I prefer to keep it in Program (P) mode. It lets you decide to shoot with or without flash, which is very important.
The default mode for the autofocus is Face Detection, Auto. This mode works quite well and reasonably fast.
It is also possible to choose from Matrix AF, Center AF, Spot AF or a preset AF distance.
When face detection is disabled, it defaults to Matrix AF.
It is possible to preset the focus to a distance of 0.5, 1, 3, 7 meters or infinity. This is useful to reduce shutter lag if you need to take action photos. (Face detection needs to be turned off to enable these settings.)
Steady Shot (Image Stabilisation):
Steady Shot can be set to Shooting or Continuous (or off).
In Shooting mode, it only works when the shutter is pressed halfway. This introduces a bit of shutter lag but the liveview image is very responsive.
Switching to Continuous reduces the shutter lag but makes the liveview image floaty, making it harder to compose.
I prefer keeping it in Shooting mode.
It is possible to make (acceptably) sharp shots all the way down to 1 second if your hand is steady.
The flash is enabled by pressing the right side of the four way controller.
The flash is disabled in the Burst mode, in which case the camera will display a message saying: Flash setting cannot be changed! Just go back and change REC Mode back to Normal.
The flash fires four times if Red Eye Reduction is enabled. For me, this is enough reason to keep it off. It is also easy to fix red eyes pretty easily in post processing if needed.
The power of the flash can also be adjusted standard, plus or minus.
The flash takes 3 or 4 seconds to recycle after each shot, so you cannot take a bunch of photos quickly with flash.
It is possible to set the ISO manually to anything from 100 to 3200.
The camera does quite a goob job at the Auto ISO setting, staying below ISO 800 until a shutter speed of about 1 second (at the wide end).
ISO 400 is still usable but 800 and above is quite terrible. Fortunately the camera keeps 100 to 400 until light conditions desperately demand higher ISOs.
I leave it on Auto ISO pretty much all the time, unless I want to have good colors, in which case I set it to ISO 100.
The macro function is enabled by pressing the left of the four way controller.
At the wide end, it will focus down to nearly 1 cm from the front of the lens, but autofocus struggles and does not always focus on the right object.
Exposure compensation can be set by pressing the Home button and scrolling up and down to find the setting.
It can be set from -2 to +2 stops.
The camera remembers the exposure compensation setting if it is turned off and back on again.