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

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The Good Terrific design, interface, and controls; wide-angle, 5x zoom lens; excellent price-to-feature ratio.

The Bad No optical zoom while recording video; soft photos.

The Bottom Line The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is an excellent, well-balanced compact camera.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 seemed too good to be true when it was announced in February 2009. For less than $250 you get a wide-angle lens with a 5x zoom, 12-megapixel resolution, some of Sony's advanced automatic shooting options, HD video capture, and a 3-inch LCD all packed into a nice-looking body roughly the size of a deck of cards. Sounds pretty great, right? There had to be something wrong.

Well, as with most point-and-shoot cameras of its caliber, the photo quality from the W290 could be a little better and the performance a touch faster. In the end, though, neither was disappointing from this camera (better than expected actually), and if you take into account its attractive price tag, the W290 is tough to beat.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290
Price (MSRP) $249
Dimensions 3.9 inches wide by 2.4 inches high by 0.9 inch deep
Weight (with battery and media) 6.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution; Viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots; No
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f3.8-8, 28-140mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MP4 (MPEG-4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and electronic
Battery type, rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 300 shots

Available in silver, black, blue, and bronze, the W290 doesn't stray from Sony's typical W-series Cyber-shot appearances. It's an attractive camera in a pocketable body, but with some weight to it, so you likely won't forget it's on you. The silver model we tested noticeably retains fingerprints all over the body, something to keep in mind if that sort of thing bugs you. Actually, if there's one minor nitpick with the body design it's that the W290's front has concentric ridges adding a slight texture that improves grip, but unfortunately also traps grease and dirt so your fingerprints are embedded as soon as you touch the camera and they aren't easily wiped off. A lock on the all-too-easily-opened battery/Memory Stick compartment would be nice, too, so I guess that's two minor complaints.

Sony managed to get almost all of the controls on to the back of the camera without making it feel cramped and confusing and while allowing for a secure one-handed grip that doesn't result in accidental button presses or mode dial changes. This is even with a 3-inch LCD on back. There are just three buttons on top: the usual power and shutter-release buttons and a Smile Shutter button for instantly activating Sony's have-smile-will-shoot feature.

Gone from this model is Sony's confusing Home and Menu buttons setup from previous models. That relied on the user remembering which to press to access context-sensitive shooting controls and which got you to the menu for all settings. Now there's just one Menu button giving you access to shooting controls as well as a selection for seeing all settings. What's also nice is the camera's ability to warn you about adjusting certain settings. For example, if you set the W290 to spot meter light you won't be able to turn on Face Detection. The W290 tells you onscreen that Face Detection is not available because of Spot metering being selected. Cameras from other vendors generally make you guess what needs to be shut off in order to turn on a blacked-out option.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent 1, 2, and 3, Incandescent, Flash, Manual
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Easy, Program Auto, Movie, Scenes
Focus 9 points, Center-weighted AF, Spot AF, Semi-manual (1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, unlimited distance)
Metering Multi, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Normal, Vivid, Sepia, Black & White
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 100 photos

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.