Originally Posted: July 23, 2009
Last Updated: November 9, 2009
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 ($250) is an ultra-compact camera featuring a 12 Megapixel CCD, 5X wide-angle zoom lens, image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD, HD movie recording, and more. It has two siblings -- the DSC-W220 and W230 -- and the chart below illustrates what differentiates these models:
The DSC-W290 finds itself among some pretty tough competition -- there are some great ultra-compact cameras out there. How does it compare? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Cyber-shot DSC-W290 has a rather uninspiring bundle. Inside its box, you'll find:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-W290 camera
- NP-BG1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB + A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Picture Motion Browser software, Cyber-shot handbook and Step-up Guide
- 58 page basic manual (printed) plus 145 page full manual (on CD-ROM)
Like all of Sony's recent cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-W290 has built-in memory instead of having a memory card included in the box. The W290 has a paltry 11MB of onboard memory, which holds just two photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to get a memory card, and fast. The DSC-W290 supports Memory Stick Duo cards (groan), and I'd recommend starting out with a 2GB card at the very least.
The W290 uses the familiar NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has 3.4 Wh of energy, which is about average for a camera in this class. The W290 also supports the NP-FG1 battery, which has the same amount of juice, but adds InfoLithium technology, which allows the camera to provide a minute-by-minute countdown of battery life. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect from the DSC-W290:
While it doesn't post best-in-class numbers, the DSC-290 is still a good 20% above the group average.
I should point out a few things about the proprietary lithium-ion battery used by the W290 and every other camera in the table above. Proprietary batteries tend to be more expensive than their AA counterparts, with a spare NP-FG1 costing at least $27. In addition, should that battery run out of juice, you can pick up an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day.
When you're ready to charge the W290's battery, just pop it into the included charger. And then you might want to find something else to do for the next five hours or so, as that's how long it can take to charge the battery. If you want a faster charger, Sony would be happy to sell you one.
And on that note, here's the list of accessories available for the DSC-W290:
I threw the conversion lenses and their adapter in there, but you're going to have a heck of a time finding them, at least in the USA. The camera clearly supports them, but Sony USA doesn't even acknowledge their existence. I should add that Sony makes about a million different cases for the W290, in all colors.
Sony includes version 4 of their Picture Motion Browser software with the DSC-W290. This software remains Windows-only, so Mac users will have to use something else (iPhoto works just fine). The first part of the software you'll probably encounter is PMB Launcher, which is the gateway to all of PMB's functions. Here you can import photos, upload them to popular photo/video sharing sites, burn a CD or DVD, or just jump right into the photo browser.
Picture Motion Browser 4
Speaking of which, above you can see the actual Picture Motion Browser software. On the main screen you'll find the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos in a calendar format, as well. You can sort photos by date, whether they contain people, smiles, or scenery, by label, and more. From here you can also e-mail, print, or upload your photos to sharing sites; a slideshow option is also available.
Editing in Picture Motion Browser
Double-clicking on any thumbnail brings you to the edit screen. The tools here include auto correction, brightness/contrast/saturation adjustment, redeye removal, and trimming (cropping). You can even adjust the tone curve, with wasn't available on earlier versions of PMB. If you want to print the date on your photos, you can do that as well.
The final piece of software included with the W290 is Music Transfer. This allows you to copy MP3s or CD audio to the camera to use as background music for slideshows. Don't expect great audio quality, though.
Look and Feel
The Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is an ultra-compact camera made almost entirely of metal. The body feels quite solid, save for a flimsy plastic cover over the memory card/battery compartment. While the W290 can easily be held with one hand, I found the controls to be both small and cluttered. Since there's no dedicated space for your thumb, quite often it ends up on the LCD, leaving a fingerprint.
Every compact camera has to come in multiple colors, and the W290 is no exception. Sony has gone relatively subdued with their top-end W-series camera, offering it in black, dark blue, bronze, and silver.
Now, here's how the DSC-W290 compares to other ultra-compact cameras in terms of size and weight:
The DSC-W290 is tied with the Olympus Stylus 7000 as the largest camera in the group. Don't worry though, it'll still fit into your small pockets with ease.
Okay, let's start our tour of the W290 now, shall we?
The Cyber-shot DSC-W290 features an F3.3-5.2, 5X optical zoom lens. That maximum aperture range is on the "slow" side, but it's fairly common for ultra-compact cameras like this. The focal range of the lens is 5.0 - 25.0 mm, which is equivalent to a nice 28 - 140 mm. While the lens itself isn't threaded, you can buy the conversion lens adapter to add a wide or telephoto lens -- if you can find it.
Inside that lens is Sony's optical image stabilization system, which they call Optical SteadyShot. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can shake the camera just enough to blur your photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. OIS systems can't work miracles: they won't freeze a moving subject, nor will they allow you to take night photos without a tripod. EVen so, they're still way better than nothing at all. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/6 second. As you can see, the SteadyShot system did its job, producing a much sharper photo. You can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode, and you can see its effects in this short sample movie.
To the upper right of the lens is the camera's microphone and its AF-assist lamp. The W290 uses the AF-assist lamp to illuminate subjects in low light, which improves focusing performance in those situations. This lamp also illuminates when the Smile Shutter feature is active, and while the self-timer is counting down.
Moving to the opposite side of the lens, we find the W290's flash. Don't expect much from this small flash: it has a working range of just 0.2 - 3.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 1.9 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the DSC-W290.
The main event on the back of the DSC-W290 is its large 3-inch LCD display. While the screen is big, the 230,400 pixel resolution isn't any higher than what you'd find on a 2.5 or 2.7-inch screen. Sharpness was as expected -- good enough for most folks, but not spectacular. Outdoor visibility was pretty good, and in low light the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.
As you probably noticed, there's no optical viewfinder on the DSC-W290. This feature has grown less and less common as the LCDs on ultra-compact cameras have gotten larger, for better or for worse. Some folks love their viewfinders, but I figure that the typical buyer of the W290 won't even notice.
Moving now to the controls on the right side of the LCD, the first thing to talk about is the zoom controller. The controller, which is on the small size, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.5 seconds. There are just nine steps in the 5X zoom range, which isn't nearly enough for precise lens control.
Next up is the camera's mode dial, which has just a few options.
As you can see, the DSC-W290 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with no manual controls to be found. You've got your usual set of scene modes, and in the Intelligent Auto and Easy modes, the camera will pick the scene mode for you. Intelligent Auto mode also has an Advanced mode in which the camera will take two photos in certain situations. For example, if it is using the backlight portrait scene, it will take one photo with the flash, and another with the DRO feature cranked all the way up.
One scene mode I always recommend passing on is the High Sensitivity mode, as the resulting images can be quite soft and noisy.
Continuing downward, we find the button for entering playback mode, with the four-way controller under that. You'll use the four-way controller for navigating menus, and also:
- Up - Display - Toggles what's shown on the LCD
- Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Left - Macro (Auto, on)
- Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow sync, flash off)
Below the four-way controller are buttons for entering the menu system, and for deleting a photo.
There's not a whole lot to see on the top of the W290. On the left is the speaker, followed by the power, shutter release, and Smile Shutter buttons (which are kind of hard to tell apart).
The camera is about to take a photo of my smiling niece
Press that Smile Shutter button and Sony's elaborate smile detection feature swings into action. The camera will detect the faces in the frame, and wait until one of those people smiles. You can adjust how sensitive the feature is using the menu system -- slight, normal, and big smiles being the options. I've tested this feature on many occasions, and it works very well.
Nothing to see on this side of the camera. The lens is at full wide-angle here.
There's nothing on the other side either, unless you count the wrist strap anchor. The lens is at the full telephoto position in this shot.
In case you've been wondering where the camera's I/O ports are, they're here, on the bottom of the camera. That port at the lower-right of the photo is where you'll plug in the multi-connector cable that comes with the camera, and the optional component video cable goes here as well. I would've expected this HD-capable camera to have an HDMI port, but no such luck. Having the I/O port on the bottom of the camera is a bit inconvenient, as well.
Other items here include a metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is quite flimsy. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery can be seen at left.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290
The DSC-W290's startup times seemed to vary, and I'm not sure why. In most situations, it would extend its lens and prepare for shooting in just 1.2 seconds, which is very quick. On other occasions, it would stick on the welcome screen for several seconds, possibly because it is rebuilding the album data files used in playback mode.
A histogram is available in record mode
In almost all situations, the W290 is super-fast at focusing. In good light, expect wide-angle focus times ranging from 0.1 - 0.3 seconds. Telephoto times aren't much worse, usually staying between 0.4 and 0.7 seconds. The only time the camera felt sluggish was when focusing in low light situations, where delays often exceeded one second (but the camera would lock eventually).
Shutter lag wasn't a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it can sometimes occur.
Shot-to-shot speeds were good. With the flash off, you take another shot in about 1.5 seconds. With the flash, add another second or so.
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must enter playback mode to do so. Something that I don't like about the W290 and other recent Cyber-shot cameras is how they retract the lens way too quickly when you enter playback mode. This becomes a real pain in the rear when you're trying to maintain the same composition for several shots, and just want to a review a photo you've taken.
Most cameras let you adjust both the size and the amount of compression applied to photos, but the DSC-W290 only lets you do the former. Here are the available image sizes on the camera:
See why I recommended buying a memory card right away?
The DSC-W290 doesn't support the RAW image format, nor would I really expect it to.
Let's talk menus now. If you're shooting in Easy Mode, then you'll see the menu above. It doesn't get much simpler than that!
Standard record mode menu
In other shooting modes, you'll find an improved version of the menu system used on previous W-series cameras. Gone is the unnecessary Home menu -- now there's just a traditional overlay-style menu. My only complaint is that navigating the menu feels slower than on most other cameras. Keeping in mind that some of these options aren't available in all shooting modes, here's the full list of menu options:
- Movie shooting mode (Auto, high sensitivity, underwater) - only shown in movie mode
- Image size (see above chart)
- REC mode (Normal, burst, bracketing [±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0 EV])
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- ISO (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1/2/3, incandescent, flash) - no manual mode here
- Focus (Multi, center, spot AF, 0.5, 1.0, 3.0, 7.0 meters, infinity) - you can set the focus distance manually... kind of
- Underwater white balance (Auto, underwater 1/2) - for use with one of the u/w cases
- Metering mode (Multi, center, spot)
- Scene recognition (iSCN, iSCN+) - whether camera takes two shots in Intelligent Auto mode; discussed earlier in the review
- Smile detection sensitivity (Slight, normal, big smile)
- Face detection (Off, auto, child priority, adult priority) - see below
- Flash level (Low, normal, high)
- Anti-blink (Auto, off) - see below
- Redeye reduction (Auto, on, off) - discussed later
- Dynamic Range Optimizer (Off, standard, plus) - see below
- Color mode (Normal, vivid, sepia, black and white)
- SteadyShot (Shooting, continuous, off)
- Settings - see below
Let's talk about some of those REC mode options. In burst mode, the camera took six shots in a row at 1.7 frames/second, which is about average for an ultra-compact camera. I did notice that the image on the LCD lagged quite a bit, so tracking a moving subject will be challenging. The auto bracketing feature lets you take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. This is a good way to ensure proper exposure on every shot, assuming that you've got the space on your memory card.
The W290 found all six faces
The W290 supports face, smile, and blink detection. The camera is capable not only of finding up to eight faces in the scene -- it can also differentiate between adults and children, and give one or the other focus priority. Sony's implementation of this feature works exceptionally well, with the camera easily finding all six faces in our test scene. You can select a face to "register" in the camera's memory, and that person will be giving priority in future photos.
The anti-blink feature works when the camera is in portrait mode, regardless of whether you or the camera selects it. The W290 takes two photos instantly, and selects the one without any closed eyes. If eyes were closed in both photos, the camera will display a warning on the LCD.
I described the Smile Shutter feature a bit earlier in this article.
The Dynamic Range Optimizer feature attempts to improve overall image contrast. The default (DRO standard) setting is your everyday auto contrast system. When you have more difficult exposures you may want to set the camera to DRO plus, which breaks the image into smaller segments, adjusting the contrast for each individually. Quite honestly, I had a difficult time noticing any major differences while playing around with this option.
The last thing I want to mention is the SteadyShot option in the record menu. Continuous mode has the IS system running all the time, so you can compose your photo without the effect of camera shake. Shooting mode only activates IS when the picture is actually taken, which results in more effective stabilization. You can also turn the IS system off entirely, which is a good idea if you're using a tripod.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessible via the record and playback menus. For some reason it takes a couple of seconds to load up. Here are the options you'll find in the setup menu:
- Shooting Settings
- AF illuminator (Auto, off)
- Grid line (on/off)
- Digital zoom (Off, precision, smart) - see below
- Conversion lens (Off, wide, telephoto)
- Auto orientation (on/off) - whether portrait photos are automatically rotated
- Auto review (on/off) - post-shot review
- Main Settings
- Beep (Off, low, high, shutter)
- Language setting
- Function guide (on/off) - describes each menu setting
- Initialize - returns camera to default settings
- Demo mode (on/off)
- Component (HD/1080i, SD)
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- Wide zoom display (on/off) - sets aspect ratio to 16:9 for video output
- Memory Stick Tool
- Create folder
- Change folder
- Delete folder
- Copy - from internal memory
- File number (Series, reset)
- Internal Memory Tool
- File number (Series, reset)
- Clock setting
- Area setting (Home, destination)
- Date and time setting
The only thing worth mentioning here are the digital zoom options. Precision digital zoom is the one I always tell people to avoid. It just blows up the center of the image, which results in a noticeable drop in image quality. If you're going to use digital zoom, use Smart Zoom. You'll have to lower the resolution, but you'll be able to get more zoom power without a loss in image quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 3 Megapixel, you can get a total zoom power of 9.8X.
Alright -- enough menus, let's talk photo quality now.
The DSC-W290 didn't impress with its photo of our standard macro test subject. First off, there's a noticeable color cast, since the camera's preset white balance settings couldn't handle my studio lamps (here's where a manual WB mode really helps). Second, the image has visible noise, giving the figurine a fuzzy appearance (and we're only at ISO 80). You can also see some softness at the top of the "hat", though I'm not sure if that's caused by noise or the lens.
The W290 has an automatic macro mode, so when you get close to something, it'll switch over automatically. If you want to give priority to close-up subjects, you can change the macro setting from "auto" to "on". Don't expect to get too close to your subject in macro mode -- the minimum focus distance is 10 cm at wide-angle, and 50 cm at telephoto.
It took almost a month, but I finally managed to get a clear night in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the DSC-W290 couldn't really take advantage of it, because of its lack of manual controls. The only way to take long exposures like this is to use the twilight scene mode (which either you or the camera can select), where the slowest shutter speed available is 2 seconds. That's not long enough to bring in enough light, so the above image is quite dark. It's also on the soft side, with noise reduction smudging away detail. Purple fringing levels were fairly low.
|Night shot added on 8/5/09|
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the DSC-W290's 28 -140 mm zoom lens. You can see what this does in the real world by looking at the building on the right in this photo. I saw some mild corner blurring at times, though vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem.
Straight out of the camera
After using the redeye removal tool in playback mode
If you're using face detection, the camera will automatically fire the flash a few times before a photo is taken, in order to shrink the pupils and (in theory) reduce redeye. As you can see from the top photo, that didn't help. If you have the same result as I did, then you can head over to playback mode and use the tool there, which did a great job at getting rid of this annoyance.
Now, here's our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare it with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the image quality at each ISO sensitivity, viewing the full size images is definitely a good idea. Here we go!
You can spot some noise in the ISO 80 shot, and a bit more is present at ISO 100. Detail loss begins as ISO 200, with once-sharp edges turning fuzzy. There's more detail loss at ISO 400 than I would've expected, and this is as high as I'd take the DSC-W290 in good light, and only for smaller-sized prints. I suppose you could use ISO 800 in emergencies, but ISO 1600 and 3200 are best left untouched.
The overall image quality on the Cyber-shot DSC-W290 gets mixed reviews from yours truly. Exposure was generally solid, save for the highlight clipping that is commonplace on compact cameras. The W290 did a great job with color, except in our studio tests, where the lack of manual white balance became an issue. Sharpness and detail is the W290's weak spot. The camera produces photos that are soft, noisy, with plenty of detail loss (especially on trees, grass, and low contrast items) -- even at the lowest ISO setting. If you'll be sticking to 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 inch prints, then you probably won't notice any of this. But if you're making large prints or viewing photos on your computer screen, the "fuzziness" of the photos is hard to miss. Purple fringing levels were moderate.
Don't just take my word for all this, though -- have a look at our DSC-W290 photo gallery. View the full size images, print a few if you can, and then decide if the W290's photo quality meets your needs.
One of the nice features on the DSC-W290 is its ability to record video at 720p -- that's 1280 x 720 -- at 30 frames/second. Sound is recorded along with the video. You can record continuously for up to 29 minutes, which is quite a while for an HD mode. There are two HD qualities: fine and standard, with 9 and 6 MBps bit rates, respectively. If you don't need HD video, you can also record at 640 x 480 (30 fps), as well.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. The optical image stabilizer is available, however. I should also point out that you lose the wide-angle capability of the lens when recording movies. It jumps to 31 mm at the 1280 x 720 resolution and 37 mm at 640 x 480.
Movies are saved as MP4 files, using the efficient H.264/AVC codec. For those of you using card readers, you won't find the movies in the usual spot: they're in the MP_ROOT folder on the memory card.
Here's a sample movie taken at the usual spot, this time from a different angle. The quality is pretty good, I'd say!
Click to play movie (22.2 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The Cyber-shot DSC-W290 has a pretty elaborate playback mode. Basic features are covered, which include DPOF print marking, image protection, slideshows, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge a photo (by as much as 8X) and then move around in it -- perfect for checking for proper focus, closed eyes, etc. The slideshow feature is extra-fancy, with transitions and the background music of your choosing.
Photos can be viewed in a number of ways, in addition to one-at-a-time or as thumbnails. You can view them by date (see above), by "event" (similar to by date), and you can also view pictures you've tagged as favorites. The camera also has the ability to filter by faces: you can have it show only photos with people, children, infants, or smiles.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. There are also a number of special effects you can apply to photos, including unsharp mask, soft focus, partial color, fisheye, cross (star) filter, retro, and radial blur. There's also a somewhat creepy "Happy Faces" option, which distorts a face until the person is smiling. In this same Retouch menu you'll also find the camera's redeye reduction tool, which I demonstrated earlier.
Despite the fancy 720p movie mode, there are no movie editing tools on the DSC-W290.
The camera shows you a decent amount of information about your photos in playback mode, including a histogram. Something that's always irked me about Sony cameras of late is that they don't display the histogram if a photo has been rotated automatically by the camera.
The DSC-W290 moves through photos without delay.
How Does it Compare?
I've been a big fan of Sony's previous W-series cameras. The DSC-W50, W55, and W150 can all be found in our Buyers Guide Hall of Fame. While the new Cyber-shot DSC-W290 carries on many of the traditions on those cameras (extra zoom, big LCD, fast performance, good battery life), Sony has let image quality slip. Photos are soft and noisy, even at the base ISO of 80. That, combined with many other issues, make the DSC-W290 just an average ultra-compact camera.
The Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is an ultra-compact camera made almost entirely of metal. The only weak spot on the camera is a common one: the flimsy plastic door covering the memory card/battery compartment. Ergonomics aren't great; the controls are all stuffed together to the right of the LCD (leaving nowhere for your thumb, except the screen), and the buttons on the top of the camera are difficult to tell apart. The W290 features a 5X zoom lens, with a nice focal range of 28 - 140 mm. I did find that the zoom controller isn't very precise, with only nine steps in the entire 5X zoom range. While the W290 supports conversion lenses, finding the required adapter seems to be impossible, at least here in the U.S. Like nearly all of Sony's cameras these days, the W290 features their Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, which does a good job of reducing blurry photos, and you can use it in movie mode, as well. On the back of the camera is a large 3-inch LCD, with a so-so 230,000 pixels. I found the screen easy to see outdoors, and pretty good in low light situations. Like most ultra-compacts, the W290 lacks an optical viewfinder.
The DSC-W290 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with no real manual controls, unless you count the pseudo-manual focus feature. If you want a very basic shooting experience, you can set the camera to "Easy mode", which does everything automatically, and gives you just two menu options. The next step up is the well-implemented Intelligent Auto mode, which will select a scene mode for you. If you turned on the Advanced Scene Recognition feature, the camera can take two photos, each taking a different approach to the situation. The W290 features face, smile, and blink detection, and they all work very well. The camera is even smart enough to distinguish between adults and children! The most control you can get on the DSC-W290 is in Program mode, which turns off auto scene selection and opens up the entire record menu. The W290 has a nice playback mode, with a fancy slideshow feature, many special effects, and several ways of viewing and filtering your photos. One of the camera's biggest selling points is its 720p movie mode, which records videos at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with sound, using the efficient H.264 codec. You can record continuously for up to 29 minutes, which is pretty impressive. While the image stabilizer is active while you're recording a movie, the optical zoom is not.
The camera is generally a solid performer. Startup times were typically around 1.2 seconds, though on occasion it took several seconds, and I'm not sure why. The camera focuses very quickly in good lighting, rivaling Panasonic's best cameras in this department. Wide-angle focus times feel nearly instant, while telephoto delays aren't much longer. The only time the W290 felt slow was in low light, where it often took 1 or 2 seconds for the camera to lock focus. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were low by compact camera standards. The DSC-W290 has a standard-issue burst mode, capable of taking 6 photos in a row at 1.7 frames/second. I did find that the LCD lagged way behind the action, which makes tracking a moving subject very difficult. Sony's W-series cameras have always had above average battery life, and the W290 continues that tradition.
So far I've described a lot of nice features, but none of that matters if the camera doesn't take good quality photos. Unfortunately, photo quality is the W290's weak spot. On the positive side, exposure and color were good in most situations, save for some highlight clipping (common on compact cameras) and difficulty with my studio lamps (due to the lack of manual white balance). The not-so-good news is that the camera has soft, noisy images, with noticeable detail loss even at low ISOs. Whether it's trees, grass, hair, or other low contrast details, the W290 makes them look awfully fuzzy. And forget about the high ISO settings -- once you cross ISO 400, things go downhill rapidly. Like most compact cameras, the DSC-W290 has a redeye problem, but at least there's a tool in playback mode to get yourself of that annoyance. I also noticed moderate levels of purple fringing in the W290's photos.
There are a few other things to mention before I wrap things up. Like the majority of Sony's recent cameras, you cannot select the image quality (compression) on the W290 -- only the resolution (image size). The camera's flash is quite weak which, while not uncommon on ultra-compacts, is still worth pointing out. The lens retracts way too quickly when you switch over to playback mode, and you can't access the memory card slot when the camera is on a tripod. Finally, in the bundle department: there's very little built-in memory, no Mac software is included, and the full manual is only available on an included CD-ROM disc.
In a world of very capable ultra-compact cameras, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is decidedly average (at best). I like having the 5X zoom in a small package, the 720p movie mode, and the good battery life, but the mediocre image quality and a myriad of other issues make the W290 a camera I'd probably pass on.
What I liked:
- Good color and exposure in most situations
- 5X zoom in a compact metal body
- Optical image stabilization
- 3-inch LCD with good outdoor visibility
- Snappy performance in most respects
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene mode for you
- Impressive face and smile detection features
- 720p movie mode with long recording time
- Elaborate playback mode
- Above average battery life
- Lots of optional extras, though conversion lens adapter seems impossible to actually buy
What I didn't care for:
- Heavy noise reduction smudges fine details and gives images a soft, fuzzy look, even at low ISOs
- Redeye and purple fringing are problems, though you can remove the former in playback mode
- LCD lags behind the action in burst mode
- Not enough steps in zoom range, which makes precise adjustments difficult
- Weak flash
- Lens retracts way too quickly when you switch to playback mode
- No optical viewfinder
- Manual controls would be nice, especially white balance
- Can't adjust image quality (compression)
- Flimsy door over memory/battery compartment; cannot access memory card when camera is on a tripod
- Very little built-in memory
- No Mac software included; Full manual only on CD-ROM
Some other ultra-compact cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FC100, Fuji FinePix J250, GE E1255W, Kodak EasyShare M380, Nikon Coolpix S620, Olympus Stylus 7000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25, and the Samsung SL820.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-W290 and its competitors before you buy.
See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!