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The Sony W series has been getting gradually slimmer and more stylish with each generation, and the W80 is a pleasant all-metal compact with plenty of chrome and a solid construction. There's not a lot you can say about 'yet another ultra compact 3x zoom camera', though it's worth pointing out that the W80 is one of the few left to sport a (small) optical viewfinder, and that the combination of different surfaces (you can't really see it in this shot but there is a slight blue tinge to the main body) is pretty attractive. Overall fit and finish is excellent, and - especially given the price point - you'd be hard-pressed to find anything to complain about.

There's a fair amount of external controls, mainly clustered around the right hand side of the screen, though you won't find any 'photographic' controls beyond macro, flash and self-timer mode - and of course Sony found space for the 'HOME' button, which is common to most of its new models.

In your hand

The W80 is typical of its breed in that the combination of smooth surfaces and flat, featureless design means that it never feels totally safe unless you hold it with both hands. I would also recommend using the wrist strap. Operation of the zoom (or in fact any of the rear controls) is also nigh on impossible unless you use both hands - though of course this is hardly unique to the W80.

Body elements

The W80 uses an NP-BG1 3.6v, 3.4Wh Lithium Ion battery pack that is good for around 300 shots or so (using the LCD) per charge. The battery compartment sits under a chromed plastic door on the right side of the body (viewed from the back). This is also where you'll find the 'click in, click out' Memory Stick DUO slot. The W80 has approx 31MB of internal memory and is compatible with MS DUO and Pro DUO cards.

The W80's main controls are all clustered together in the small space to the right of the screen on the rear of the camera.

At the top is the small zoom rocker. Below this the play mode button sits next to the main mode dial. Moving down we find the menu button and the ubiquitous four-way controller (used for navigating menus, it also gives direct access to flash, macro and self-timer and display modes). Finally there's the HOME button (more of which later).

The buttons on the W80 are very small indeed, and the play/menu buttons are very close together, so you inevitably end up having to use your fingernail to press them. Take me back to the days of digital watches with built-in calculators.

The 2.5-inch screen is frankly a bit of a disappointment; 115,000 pixels is very low for such a large screen. This doesn't do the lovely new Cyber-shot interface any favors, and means both preview and review images look grainy. The screen has Sony's effective anti-reflective coating, though this is prone to smearing at the slightest touch. There is also a (very) small optical viewfinder you can peer through if you want to save battery life.
From the top you can see the W80's svelte figure; even at its thickest point it's little over an inch deep. The lens sits completely flush with the front of the body when powered down, and extends by a little over half an inch when in use. On the top of the casing you'll find the main power (on/off) switch and the shutter release.
Like most recent Cyber-shots the W80 has a single multi-function port for video and USB connectivity. The supplied cable only provides standard video output - you'll need to buy the optional component video cable if you want to view your pictures in all that high definition loveliness (the W80 supports 1080i ).
The W80's 3x zoom lens covers the useful - if rather pedestrian - range equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera. The maximum aperture at the wide end of the zoom is a perfectly acceptable F2.8, but this drops sharply to a far less impressive F5.2 at the 105mm (equiv.) tele end. This is an inevitable consequence of such a small lens, but means you tend to need fairly high ISO at the long end of the zoom in anything but perfect light.
The small built-in flash isn't that powerful - the range is about 3.3m (10.8 ft) at the wide end of the zoom, dropping to 1.8m (5.9 ft) at the tele end (using auto ISO); fine for social snaps as long as you don't mind it defaulting to ISO 400 when you get more than a few feet away. The flash is close enough to the lens for red-eye to be a problem unless you turn on the red-eye reduction mode (which uses a pre-flash burst).

Control and menus

We weren't that impressed with Sony's new user interface when we tested the high-end DSC H7 and H9 models recently, but those are cameras with extensive manual controls designed for the serious photographer. On a camera like the W80 - in essence a 'point and shoot' model in the truest sense - the pretty new interface and menu system feels a lot more sensible, although this is due in no small part to the fact that you don't actually use it very much. It is quite slow, and still to our mind slightly counterintuitive (the home menu is basically pointless and makes hunting down simple tasks such as formatting the card a chore).

As usual you can choose the amount of information displayed on-screen (or turn the screen off entirely if you are using the optical viewfinder. Shown here is the most detailed view, with lots of shooting information ranged around the screen, plus a live histogram. Also shown here is the optional 'grid' overlay. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will lock focus and exposure. The W80 has three AF area options (center, spot and - as shown here - area).
A ' virtual mode dial' appears when you turn the real mode dial - useful if you don't want to take your eye off the screen (though it stays around for too long). Pressing the menu button in record mode brings up a scrolling menu covering most common photographic settings from imager size to AE-compensation, ISO, white balance and so on. Note that the menu is actually displayed as an overlay on the preview image (click). The menu has a few extra options in 'P' mode (including AE bracketing).
In playback mode you can choose the level of information displayed, from none to full shooting information and histogram (as here). Pressing the wide button on the zoom rocker lets you display 3x3 or 4x4 thumbnails - note the new (and pointless) shaded top and bottom frame. You can also zoom into the image up to 5x (clip).
The playback menu has a couple of pages of scrolling menus including the usual delete, protect, slide show and print order options. The retouch menu allows you to apply a variety of fairly unusual special effects to saved images, plus trim or remove red-eye.
Pressing the 'Home' button - no matter where you are in the menus or what you are doing with the camera - brings up the camera's 'home' page. This is supposed to be a simple way to access the most common functions - and change some less common settings, but since it isn't in any way customizable it's hard to see the point of it. The camera's various settings and options are spread over six pages of menus split into four sections. The 'Main Settings' pages cover basic camera settings including video output (and HDTV format).
There are then two pages of 'Shooting Settings' - covering things like display and AF options and so on. The last two menus are used to set the date and time and to change the language.