Sony Cyber-shot W290 review: Sony Cyber-shot W290

Sony kept shooting options reasonably basic on the W290. Though you won't find full control over aperture or shutter speed, you do get something on the Mode dial for just about every point-and-shoot user. Going from top to bottom on the dial, you have a Movie mode capable of 720p HD-quality video (no use of the optical zoom while recording, however); Program Auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering; Sony's Intelligent Auto; Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options; and SCN, which lets you select from 10 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings. If you tend to leave it in Auto mode, Sony's Intelligent Auto turned in reliable results as it picks from eight scene types (branded iSCN) and turns on face detection and image stabilization. Sony's iSCN can be set to Auto or Advanced, the difference being that in difficult lighting the camera will automatically take two shots with different settings so you have a better chance of getting a usable photo. Also worth mentioning is that the W290 has exposure bracketing that'll take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV.

Overall performance of the W290 is very good. Startup to first shot is a relatively brisk 1.3 seconds. Shutter lag in good lighting was a fairly average 0.4 second; in more difficult dim lighting, it went up to 0.7 second. Without the flash on you'll be waiting an average of 2.3 seconds between shots, which only jumps up to 2.7 seconds with the flash on. Lastly, the W290 turned in an impressive burst speed of 2.1 frames per second.

With such a good package for less than $250, expectations for photo quality were low going into testing, but the W290 far surpassed those expectations. Color and exposure were particularly pleasing and accurate. The camera goes from ISO 80 up to ISO 3,200, but usability drops off significantly above ISO 400 (typical of cameras in its class). However, even at ISO 80 photos viewed at full size have a grain to them that only gets more pronounced as sensitivities get higher. It had little to no impact on large prints (13x19 and below) made from test shots taken up to IS0 400. If you're planning to make prints that large, just keep the ISO as low as possible. (Click to see a photo comparison of ISO sensitivities.) More of an issue was overall softness of photos, especially subjects off to the left in shots.

Video quality was good, too, but again you don't get use of the 5x zoom while you're recording. Also, if you want to view it on an HDTV, you'll need to pony up for a proprietary component cable that connects to the multi-use terminal on the camera's bottom.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is a compelling package. Unless you're extraordinarily picky about your photo quality, it's a great pocket camera at a reasonable price with a solid combination of features, usability, and design.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
1.6 
3.5 
2.1 
0.6 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290
1.3 
2.7 
2.3 
0.7 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
1.2 
3.2 
1.9 
0.8 
0.4 
Nikon Coolpix S630
3.9 
3.4 
3.1 
0.8 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
2.4 
2.5 
2.1 
1 
0.7 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Apr 1, 2009
  • Digital camera type Ultracompact
  • Optical Zoom 5 x
  • Optical Sensor Type Super HAD CCD
  • Sensor Resolution 12.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (Steady Shot)
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.3"