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My take on the Sony Cybershot DSC-W350

Why the sudden urge on point and shoot camera when I own a D90? Unfortunately, DSLR have been restricted at The Arena where I shoot the Shakey's V-League womens' volleyball conference. There is a frustrating story about it, but is not the focus of this review.

I need a point and shoot that will let me take decent shots of a fast paced sport, so I laid down a few requirements that I am looking for in a point and shoot camera, and a few I have discovered by using one.

I use pre-focusing a lot with my Nikon D90 and Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8 and lived to love the focus lock buttons on the aforementioned lens. Knowing that I can't expect such performance from a P&S camera, I thought that by having an AF/AE lock would minimize the delay when I'm ready to take that all-important shot.

With less than ideal lighting, but not by any means bad, at the venue, I still thought that having the capability to support ISO 1600 as well as manual white balance control, will be equally important.

Seating in the lower box means I need to have 10x optical zoom.

Finally, manual Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority will be extremely useful, but that would severely limit my choices as far as available P&S cameras are concerned.

At the office, I came to know that one of my officemates own a Sony Cybershot DSC-W350 and she was kind enough to let me have it over one weekend. The DSC-W350 can only provide 4x zoom in optical mode, but I thought I'd have a go anyway. Armed with a new "weapon" I head over to The Arena in San Juan to shoot and enjoy the games.

The DSC-W350 locks focus and exposure by half-pressing the shutter button, and I discovered that my usual focus point, the net, proved to be too small even at 4x zoom. At f/5.7 on the long end, I reckon that I can get away with DOF issues by using the players near the net, or the center of the court, as my focus anchor.

By using [P] mode, I was able to set the ISO to 1600, flash off, white balance to incandescent, and I'm good to go.

To my dismay, and lack of prior knowledge about current P&S cameras, the W350 took 4 seconds to save to the memory stick! So taking a shot of a player at the time she was diving for the ball, but then rolled over, resulted to a lot of lost opportunities and a bit of frustration. I switched between [4:3] 10megapixel and [4:3] 5megapixel but there is no performance gained from doing so. Nevertheless, I never gave up and the resulting shots are featured in this gallery.

The effective shutter speed ranges from 1/80 to 1/100 at f/5.7 and fixed ISO 1600, which is definitely not enough to freeze everything, but what can I expect?

Immediately as I got home, I used Nikon Capture NX 2 to view the photos and prepare for some serious cropping. At this point, the hard fact that these P&S cameras use tiny sensors dawned upon me. Even with "specifications on paper" that the W350 supports 14megapixels, there is just not enough resolution and thus limited my crops to only about 30% or thereabouts. In addition, details seems to have evaporated after the crop, therefore I had to use Unsharp Mask with 15% radius, and 60% intensity.

The focus is decent overall, as can be seen from the photos as static objects remain in focus. Battling with subject movement, low shutter speed, and even photographer shake for being excited about the action, was part of the experience.

Call me crazy for using the DSC-W350 to shoot an action scene, but I want to capture the moments, even with an inappropriate tool.

So there, my ambitious goal to use a P&S camera for a sport scene gave me the experience and fulfillment of not only being a spectator of the sport.