Sony's W series sits alongside the superslim T series and the superzoom H series. It's the one to choose if you just want a top-quality everyday camera. For around £190, the top-of-the-range DSC-W300 gives you an amazing 13.6-megapixel sensor, a titanium-coated body, advanced face and smile detection, ISO 6,400 and 5fps shooting.
Sony says the W300's titanium body is scratch-resistant, but this camera's so pretty you'll want to keep it well away from any sharp objects. It's easy to use too, and while the startup and zoom speeds aren't the quickest, Sony's autofocus system is much faster than its rivals. You notice it most when you need to quickly grab a shot -- the Sony will lock on and fire in a fraction of a second.
Beginners can leave the camera on full-auto mode, where its Intelligent Scene Recognition aims to automatically spot the difference between a landscape and a portrait, for example, and set the camera accordingly. Portrait shots get an added twist with Sony's latest face-detection system, which can be set to automatically prioritise adults or children. The Smile Shutter mode, meanwhile, will only trip the shutter when your subject smiles.
More experienced photographers will like the fact that there's a fully manual mode on this camera where you can set the shutter speed and aperture yourself, and an optional histogram display on the LCD helps you get the exposure just right. The D-Range Optimiser mode, meanwhile, will effectively lighten up dense shadows in contrast-heavy lighting.
This camera really gives you plenty to both tinker with and talk about.
You don't often get to see the benefits of that massive 13.6-megapixel resolution, though. The Sony can turn in some excellent fine detail in the centre of the frame, but the lens isn't particularly good at the edges, where the detail softens noticeably and some purple fringing starts to intrude, particularly around highlights and bright/dark edges.
The quality drops off at higher ISOs, too, as you'd expect with a small, high-resolution sensor. So although the W300 can go right up to ISO 3,200 at full resolution and ISO 6,400 in 3-megapixel mode, the results are mushy and soft and for emergency use only.
You have to put up with 3-megapixel images if you want to use the Sony's 5fps continuous shooting speed, and you shouldn't get too excited about its 1080 output, either. This only applies to stills, not movies, and you still need to pay extra for a cable to connect it to your TV.
The face detection works well enough, but it's neither instant nor foolproof, and it can be hard to tell the difference in results between a shot taken this way and one taken without face detection. The smile shutter mode is a great gimmick, but it can take a long time to figure out when your subject is actually smiling. It can't always tell the difference between a grin and a grimace.
Some of Sony's gimmicky features have more value as talking points than aids to photography, but the Cyber-shot DSC-W300 is nevertheless a very smart, elegant and responsive compact camera that delivers good results. The resolution advantage is more theoretical than practical, though, because the Sony's 3x zoom is only of average quality.
Edited by Nick Hide