We’ve got used to point-and-shoot cameras being slimline but the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is a little chunkier at 22mm at its thinnest point and 28mm across its belly. At 174g, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is also heavier than, say, Sony’s waiflike T77, and the same weight as the Fuji F200 we’ve recently reviewed.
In common with many of the latest compacts, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 is packed with megapixels and has a 28mm wide-angle lens, but the 12.1Mp 1/ 2.33in CCD has to contend with only a 5x optical zoom. Coming straight on to using the Sony after having tested the Ricoh CX1, we found the lesser zoom a disappointment.
The trade-off is that with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 you also get 1080-pixel video capture, which is still something of a novelty on digital cameras (the more usual scenario being HD shooting on a camcorder that also offers digital stills).
We were surprised to find that we weren’t able to manually invoke the macro option when using either the ‘easy shooting or ‘intelligent auto adjustment’ mode on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290. To use the manual controls you need to select Scn (scene), but even then you get few options. There’s an ISO adjuster that steps up from auto or 80 up to 3200. There are three separate underwater ISO settings too, depending on the colour of the sea.
Scene-wise you must make your choice based on whether you’re at the beach, eating food, capturing a memorable landscape, watching fireworks or underwater. The descriptions are quite useful for inexperienced photographers but restrictive if you’re used to being able to select all or some settings yourself.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290’s light settings are then adjusted and the 3in LCD dims or brightens according to the chosen scenario. Again, the options you can use depend directly on your current settings, so macro shots can’t be taken at twilight, for instance.
We weren’t terribly impressed with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290’s ability to snap action shots either. We didn’t expect amazing results when shooting a horse rider cantering at a distance, but even when the zoom wasn’t a factor and we had ages to pre-focus and compose our shot, we weren’t bowled over with the results.
Portraits came out better and the fact that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 can focus on as many as eight people in the same shot helped. With more general shots we found it best to let the Sony W290 take over – when it did so we got fairly pleasing results both indoors and out. Detail in the middle of each shot was crisp, detailed and well-exposed but was less firm around the edges of subjects.
For many users, however, it will be the ability to shoot true HD video footage that sways them towards the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290. You can’t use the zoom in this mode, so the videoing process is little more than a matter of shooting what you see and ensuring the stabilisation is in place.
Sony has had a fair bash at marrying video capture and point-and-shoot photography and, on paper, you get a lot for your £180 or so. However, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290's video functions are limited, the camera is reasonable but not exceptional and we weren’t convinced that the 12Mp of detail makes for photos that are any more memorable. Faster shooting and a zoom that could be used when in video mode too would have been a more satisfactory balance.