Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690 review: A pretty average point-and-shoot

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The Good The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690 has a very good ultrawide-angle lens with a 10x zoom in a small slim body. It's also relatively easy to use.

The Bad The W690's shooting performance is slow and photos get noticeably noisier and softer at ISO 400, so you'll need a lot of light to get good results.

The Bottom Line The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690 is a decent little 10x zoom camera, but similar models from Nikon, Panasonic, and even Sony itself offer more for your money.

6.6 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 6

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690 is the slower, less talented sibling of the Cyber-shot DSC-WX150. It has the same lens, ultracompact body, and a 3-inch LCD (though half the resolution), but after that, things go downhill for this little point-and-shoot.

The W690 uses a 16-megapixel CCD instead of the 18-megapixel Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor. On the surface that might seem like just some megapixels, but the difference in sensor type is more important, with the CCD dragging down shooting performance and low-light photo quality. The W690 also doesn't share the WX150's fast autofocus system.

On top of that, you lose a lot of shooting options -- such as Sony's Superior Auto mode, high-res panorama images, 10fps burst shooting, and full-HD movie capture -- because of the sensor change. The W690 is a decent camera if you're just in need of a simple walking-around camera with a 10x zoom lens for shooting still subjects in good lighting, but the $50 to $80 price difference between the two models isn't worth the sacrifice in features and performance.

Photo quality:
Photo quality from the W690 is very good for its class, but like most compact cameras -- particularly those with CCD sensors -- it still stumbles at higher ISOs. Photos at ISO 80 and 100 are relatively sharp with a decent amount of fine detail and low noise. At ISO 200, subjects soften some, losing sharpness and fine detail. At ISO 400, images get noticeably softer and there's an increase in noise in darker areas of images. If you're printing at and below 5x7 inches and not doing much enlarging and heavy cropping, the results are usable. Photos at ISO 800 and 1600 look painterly from noise reduction, so subjects will appear soft and smeary; it's even worse at ISO 3200, making pictures unusable.

Click image to view larger. Joshua Goldman/CNET

What all this means is that if most of your shooting is done outside in good lighting, the W690 will turn out very good results for the most part. The 16-megapixel resolution isn't really usable for enlarging to full size and heavy cropping. For small prints and Web sharing, though, most people should be pleased with the results.

The same can be said about its video quality. Movie clips are on par with a basic HD pocket video camera or smartphone; good enough for Web use, but you probably won't like looking at them on a large HDTV. Panning the camera will cause noticeable judder. You may also see trailing behind fast-moving subjects. Both are typical of the video from many compact cameras, though. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you will hear it in your recordings, especially in quieter scenes.

Shooting performance:
If you're considering the W690 for regularly photographing fast-moving kids, pets, and sports, I wouldn't recommend it; it's just too slow. Though its lens pops out fast, it takes about 2.5 seconds from off to first shot. Shot-to-shot times averaged 2.3 seconds. Using the flash extends that wait to around 5 seconds. Its shutter lag -- how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed without prefocusing -- is OK for its class, but still long; 0.4 second in bright lighting, and in low-light conditions the lag goes up to 0.7 second. However, having just a little less light drove the lag up to 1.9 seconds. Using the zoom lens in dim conditions will slow things down considerably, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Its continuous shooting speed is pretty slow, too, shooting at 0.9 frame per second. And that's with the focus and exposure set with the first shot, so if your subject is moving relatively fast, it might not be in focus for all of your photos. Now, that's not to say you won't get the occasional action shot, but the chances of you getting the shot you wanted aren't great.

Design and features
One of this camera's best attributes is its simple operation. Most people familiar with digital cameras should be able to use it out of the box, but there is a full user manual embedded in the camera for quick reference whenever you want.

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