[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Over the years the Sony Cyber-shot digital camera has been a popular point-and-shoot camera, so when they announced a new Cyber-shot with a Carl Zeiss 5x optical zoom wide (28mm) lens that takes photos at 12.1 megapixels and shoots 720p HD video, we just had to take a look.

The camera that we looked at is part of the Sony “W” series. Like other Cyber-shots, the W290 is a compact point-and-shoot camera. As shown in Figure 1, it comes packed in a blue-and white cardboard box. The contents of the box are shown in Figure 2. These include the camera itself, a wrist strap, a type G Sony lithium ion rechargeable battery, the battery charger, a combination USB and video cable, an instruction manual, and a software disk. You will note that the charger does not have a cable. Rather, is the type where the plug flips out from the back of the charger. This is a nice feature that makes it more the charger more portable and easier to handle.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 1: The box.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 2: What’s inside the box.

The camera itself is compact enough to fit in a shirt pocket. It measures 3 7/8" x 2 3/8" x 29/32" (9.76 cm x 5.74 cm x 2.26 cm) and weighs in at approximately 6.1 oz. (174 g) with battery and memory stick. It is available in silver, black, blue and bronze.

[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]

As shown in Figure 3, the front of the camera is very simple. It has the retractable lens, the AF illuminator, a series of small holes for the microphone and the flash. As with most of these point-and-shoot cameras, the lens protrudes slightly even when in the closed position.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 3: The Sony Cyber-shot W290.

The top of the camera, shown in Figure 4, has three small holes for the speaker, the on/off button, and the smile shutter button. At first we thought that the smile button was placed too close to the shutter button and might be inadvertently pressed, but in use, we found that the regular shutter button was slightly raised while the smile button was not. So it was not easy to confuse the two. In fact, because the shutter button was slightly raised, it was easy to find and press the shutter without looking.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 4: The top of the camera.

The right side of the camera, as shown in Figure 5, has a place to attach the wrist strap.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 5: The side of the camera holding the wrist strap.

The other side of the camera has no openings or ports. It only sports a “5X” logo indicating the amount of optical zoom that the camera has.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 6: The other side of the camera.

As shown in Figure 7, the bottom of the camera has the battery and memory card compartment, a tripod socket, and a connector that can be used for the USB connection or the video output connection. As you can see in Figure 8, one cable, which is included with the camera, provides both the video and the USB connections.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 7: The bottom of the W290.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 8: The included dual-purpose cable.

When viewing the bottom of the camera, you will note that the tripod socket is closer to the center of the camera than it really should be. This posed a problem with several of the tripods we tried because the battery/media card door would not open fully when the tripod mount was attached. We often take pictures with a tripod, then simply take out the memory card while the tripod mount is still attached. So for us, this was an inconvenience. While it won’t affect all photographers or all tripod users, it is something to be aware of.

While we are talking about the battery door, we must state that while the camera itself feels very sturdy, the battery door itself seems to be flimsy, especially in comparison to other cameras of this type. While we are not sure if it would break easily, we would suggest that you be aware of this and handle it gently.

The battery compartment also holds the memory stick. This camera comes with only 11 MB of internal flash memory, so you will need to purchase a memory stick with the camera. Unfortunately, Sony insists on promoting their own proprietary memory sticks that are useful only in Sony equipment while most other manufacturer are now using the newer and more interchangeable SDHC memory cards. In any case, the camera takes a Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo card.

[nextpage title=”Screen & Controls”]

As shown in Figure 9, the back of this Cyber-shot has a large 3” LCD screen which is bright and clear. The brightness is user adjustable, which is a nice feature. You can up the brightness when using in bright light and lower it to save on battery power at other times.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 9: The back of the Cyber-shot W290.

Most of the camera’s controls are found on the back of the camera. As shown in Figure 10. From the top, there is a zoom control, the mode dial, a playback button, a 4-way controller and buttons for the on-screen menu and image deletion. Sony uses the same navigation system that is found on many of their cameras. You move up and down with the 4-way control to choose which menu item to change, then left and right to choose the setting.

Sony Cyber-shot W290 Digital Camera ReviewFigure 10: The main controls.

The controls are well-placed and very useful.  In a departure from some older models, Sony has merged the Home and the Menu functions into one, which is marked Menu. This makes the camera easier to use. In fact, we found that the controls were clearly marked and quite useful. The fact that the mode dial on the top was marked differently and looked different, helped make the camera easier to use. The mode dial is actually quite nice. The first setting is marked SCN. This allows you to choose from 11 scene modes including High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Hi-speed Shutter, Gourmet and Underwater (for use with a waterproof enclosure). The second setting is clearly marked EASY. This mode give larger, easy-to-understand icons on the screen and displays instructions when needed. This mode switches to all automatic settings  so you can quickly snap a photo. In this mode the use has control over only the image size and the flash mode.

The next mode is marked by a green camera and the letter “I.” This is the Intelligent Auto (iAuto) Mode. It automatically adjusts to the scene conditions and lighting. Yet, it allows the user to controls setting such as white balance and metering, if they so desire. We expected this to be a gimmick, but were actually quite impressed. In the iAuto mode advanced features like Intelligent Scene Recognition, Face Detection, and Optical SteadyShot are employed automatically without any user intervention. The scene that the camera chooses is shown on the LCD when you frame the picture. Auto modes that we used in the past proved to be inaccurate, but we found the iAuto in the W290 to be quite intelligent. In almost every case, the camera chose the scene mode that we would have chosen. We often take close-up pictures like the ones in this article using the Macro mode. Then when we grab the camera to take another photo, we forget that the Macro mode is on. With this camera, you can leave it in the iAuto mode and it will figure out if you are taking a close-up, a landscape, or a group of people. This automatic optimization is quite impressive and will be very useful for the average photographer who just wants a good picture with playing with the settings.

The “P” mode lets you control the photo settings yourself. From here you can manage the image size, ISO, focus, metering red eye reduction, and other settings.

The last setting is the Movie Mode. The W290 can record videos in high definition video at up to 720p resolution. This is pretty impressive for a compact camera. The videos are quite crisp and clear and even the audio is good. The camera captures the video in MPEG-4 format, which is easy to edit. Although you won’t buy this camera for doing videos, after you try the video mode, you are sure to use it. The only downside is that the camera has analog component video cables, so if you show the video on your television directly from the camera, the video will not be as crisp as if you transfer it digitally. If you have a large enough memory card, the camera can handle videos up to 29 minutes in length.

Under the Mode Dial is a 4-way button that gives you quick access the display settings, flash modes, self-timer, and macro mode. The display settings let you change the brightness and display a histogram.

The Menu Button also lets you control things like movie shooting mode, image size, exposure, ISO, white balance, focus, metering, smile detection sensitivity, anti-blink, red eye reduction, and continuous shooting, as well as changing the camera settings.

As with other cameras of this size and type, there is no view finder on the W290 and no way to directly control setting like the shutter speed or aperture.

[nextpage title=”Special Features”]

This Cyber-shot is packed with special features. Smile detection can be turned on by a button on the top of the camera. Although this seems like a novelty-type feature, it works quite well at determining when the subject is actually smiling. It will be especial beneficial to those who to photograph the children and grandchildren.

The face detection in the W290 is also impressive. In addition to the simple face detection which automatically focuses on the faces, it also has selected-face memory. This  allows you to zero in on the main subject’s face. Although, the setup of this takes a little work, it is pretty amazing because once you have set it, the next time the camera detects that face in the frame, it will automatically focus on that person. It can even detect when the subject blinks.

The W290 also has an Optical SteadyShot that reduces the effects of camera shake when you’re shooting. This is especially useful at dusk or in dimly-lit interiors.

Additional features include the ability to easily create slideshows with music and transitions and to perform in-camera touch up. You can also use different imaging tools including the ability to take pictures in black and white and a fisheye filter.

Further image correction and sorting and viewing of your photos can be performed by using the included software called Picture Motion Browser.

The W290 will give you a lot to investigate. Although it does not give you full focus control it does give you  9 focus points and three different focus modes: center weighted, and spot.  

Also, since Cyber-shot cameras are so popular, you will also find a wide range of optional accessories, including underwater gear.

[nextpage title=”Performance”]

The 5x wide (28 mm) Carl Zeiss optical lens is the centerpiece of this camera taking good photos in macro mode, offering good zoom capabilities, and also taking a wide view. While some might feel that they want a more powerful zoom, the 5x will be adequate for most casual photographers.

Even when offering nifty new features like those found in this camera, manufacturers still seem to be competing on the megapixel level as a selling point. Actually, in our opinion 12-migapixels is more than most photographers need but this Cyber-shot takes very good pictures. In-camera settings allow you to set several different options for image size ranging from 12 megapixel size down to 2 megapixels.

The Sony W290 is built around a 1/2.3" SuperHAD CCD image sensor, The HAD CCD is a Sony specific product. HAD stands for Hole-Accumulation Diode Charged Coupled Device. This technology incorporates two micro lenses on top of each photo diode to collect more light. Most Sony camera on the market today use this technology. According to Sony, the Super HAD is a “sensor with sharply improved sensitivity.” While we have seen no independent research to support this, the W290 takes clear and crisp photos with fairly low noise.

[nextpage title=”Specifications”]

Sony Cyber-shot W290 digital camera main specifications are:

  • 12.1 effective megapixels
  • Carl Zeiss 5x optical zoom with 28mm wide angle lens
  • Record 720p HD movie clips
  • Optical SteadyShot for clearer handheld shooting
  • Enhanced Face Detection and Smile Shutter technology
  • Dimensions: 3 7/8" x 2 3/8" x 29/32" (9.76 cm x 5.74 cm x 2.26 cm)
  • Weight: 6.1 oz (174 g)
  • Sensor Type: CCD
  • Aspect Ratio: 3:2
  • Media type: Memory Stick Duo
  • Image Format: JPEG
  • LCD 3-inch, 230,400 pixels
  • Auto Focus Type: Contrast AF system
  • Focusing Modes: Auto, semi-manual Focusing Points 9
  • AF Assist Illuminator
  • Battery: Rechargeable lithium ion
  • Self Timer
  • Scene Modes: High Sensitivity / Twilight / Twilight Portrait / Soft Snap / Landscape / Beach / Snow / Fireworks / Hi-speed Shutter / Underwater / Gourmet
  • ISO Sensitivity
    80 to 3200
  • White Balance: Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Fluorescent 1 (White Fluorescent Lighting) / Fluorescent 2 (Natural White Fluorescent Lighting) / Fluorescent 3 (Day White Fluorescent Lighting) / Incandescent / Flash / Underwater
  • PickBridge compatible
  • More information: https://www.sonystyle.com
  • Suggested retail price in the US: USD 249

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The W290 is a rock-solid point-and-shoot camera with a great lens and good capabilities. It incorporates several useful new features including smile detection, and face memory detection. The best feature, however, may well be the easy camera control offered by the Intelligent Auto mode. This makes it one of the first true point-and-shoot cameras that fully adjusts itself to take the best picture. Add that to the well-placed controls, the easier navigation, and the HD video mode and we think that Sony has a winner. At a suggested price of USD 249, this camera is fairly priced. It is mid-range priced in the Sony W series. Cheaper and more expensive models can be found in the W series with some of the same features.

Pros

  • Compact sturdy design
  • Clear 3” LCD
  • Excellent lens
  • Excellent iAuto mode
  • HD Video
  • Smile detection
  • Face detection and face memory detection

Cons

  • Lack of direct digital video output
  • Poor placement of tripod port
  • Uses only Sony proprietary Memory Sticks