I couldn't have asked for a better example of the evils of sensor-resolution specmanship than Sony's 12-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-W200. This top-of-the-food-chain addition to the otherwise sensible W series--not exactly budget cameras, but reasonably priced compact models with the occasional amateur-friendly feature--shares the attractive, compact design and midrange feature set of models like the W80 and W90, although Sony doesn't offer a black alternative.
There's little to complain about with the 6-ounce camera's design. There's no dedicated area to rest your thumb, which I thought would pose a problem, but the slightly indented mode dial fulfills this purpose without incident. The buttons are a bit small, but manageable.
Likewise, its feature set supplies the capabilities we expect from a premium-priced snapshot camera. Among them you'll find Sony's Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization, 9-point autofocus, and face detection. Here, Sony makes some odd choices. For example, you can only enable face detection in full Auto mode; it's not even available in Program mode. Also, the W200 provides a Manual exposure mode--a fairly limited one, in which you can select from only two or three aperture settings, depending upon zoom, but manual nonetheless--without providing a shutter-priority choice.
I also expected more from the 2.5-inch LCD. It's the same coarse, 115,000-pixel model we see in cameras half the price, with poor off-angle viewing. It's almost impossible to view in bright light, and the Brightness Up setting is practically indistinguishable from its standard state. There's a surprisingly large, if somewhat distorted, optical viewfinder to supplement the LCD, however. The narrow f/2.8-5.5 35mm-105mm-equivalent 3x zoom lens is also a bit limiting.
As we've seen in other Sony models, the W200's face detection works pretty well, recognizing multiple faces in a scene--as long as it can see both eyes. It tends to be inconsistent, however; in a three-headed test setup, it would usually choose one, sometimes three, occasionally two faces, and a couple of times none, all under identical conditions.
The model fares moderately well on shooting speed. From power-on to first shot takes a zippy 1.6 seconds, and in high-contrast light it snaps photos in a reasonable half-second. In dim light, under harder-to-focus conditions, it takes a so-so 1.3 seconds. Unfortunately, the W200's typical shot-to-shot time is a sluggish 2.2 seconds, and when you enable flash, that almost doubles to a seriously shot-impairing 4.4 seconds. Its 2fps continuous-shooting rate compares better to its classmates, though.