The W290 is a small, sleek device that would fit into a small bag or pocket. At just under an inch thick, it's not the slimmest model out there, but it's small enough to be very portable. It's also pretty light, at just 6.1 ounces.
The W290 goes for a fairly minimalist approach; the only features on the front are the lens, the AF illuminator, a series of small holes for the microphone and the flash.
Most of the space on the back is taken up by the 3-inch LCD screen, which is clear and bright. To the right of this is the (from the top) zoom control, the mode dial, playback button, 4-way controller and buttons for the on-screen menu and image deletion.
Like most thin compact cameras, the sides of the W290 are not particularly feature-filled. The left side (below) has no features at all, except a small bit of text reminding you that the camera has a 5x zoom lens.
The right side is a little more exciting, as this is where the wrist strap loop lives.
A handful of controls are present on the top of the W290. There are a few holes that cover a small speaker, the on/off button and the smile shutter button. The latter one sets the camera to only take a photo when the subject is smiling.
The bottom of the W290 has a handful of features; from the left we have the cover for the battery and memory card compartment, the tripod socket (which is filled with an anti-pilfering device in this photo) and the connector that the single cable that offers video output and the USB connection plugs into. There is an optional dock available as well that was not available to photograph at the PMA show.
There is no viewfinder on the W290; photos are composed on the LCD screen.
The back of the W290 is home to the 3-inch LCD screen, which has 230,400 pixels. In our brief time with it at the PMA show in Las Vegas, the screen looked clear and bright, but we were not able to test it in the desert sun.
The small flash is located on the front of the camera, next to the lens. We sometimes find that flashes that are too close to the lens lead to excessive red eye, but we didn't see an issue with this in our limited testing at PMA.
The W290 has a built in 5X zoom lens, with a focal length that's equivalent to a range of 28 to 140mm on a 35mm film camera. That's a decent range for a compact camera, but we'd like to see a bit more at the wide end of the range; 25mm gives you a much better angle of view for landscapes and large groups of people. When not in use, the lens telescopes back into the camera body and a small cover slides over the front element of the lens.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs
The W290 has only one port on the camera itself; a single socket that, with the included multi function cable, offers video and aoudio outputs and a USB connection. An optional camera dock will also use this connection.
The W290 gets its juice from a small battery that fits into a cavity at the bottom of the camera body. The InfoLithium G battery has a claimed battery life of about 300 minutes.
Like most Sony cameras, the W290 uses Sony's own Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards, and Sony claims to have tested capacities of up to 16GB. Most other manufacturers are now using the newer SDHC memory cards, but Sony is holding fast in using their own type.
Design & Appearance
The W290 is a fairly small and sleek camera, but it is not the smallest or thinnest that we've ever seen. At around an inch thick, it is chunkier than most, but small enough to fit into a jacket pocket without creating an unsightly bulge. Just don't try it in those tight jeans.
Size & Handling
The camera fits fairly well in the hand, with the shutter button falling under the index finger. We did find, however, that it was easy to inadvertently press the smile shutter button instead of the normal shutter if you were not careful.
Another issue was the zoom control. Although this falls under the thumb, the camera did have a habit of slipping when we used it; as the photo above shows, the easiest way to hold the camera and zoom in or out was to use two hands. The other controls all require two hands as well.
Sony has adopted the same cross-bar menu system that many of their products use on the W290; 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. This does involve a fair amount of button mashing to get to some options, but some of the modes filter down the selection: in Easy mode, there are only two menu options; image size and flash.
Ease of Use
The W290 is a pretty simple to use camera; the controls are straightforward and conveniently laid out. Our only real complaint is the poor placement of the zoom control, which means that the camera tends to slip when you use it. The menu structure is also fairly simple to use, but some menu items are buried a little deeply.
The W290 has two auto modes; the easy mode and the Intelligent Auto mode. The former is a full auto mode; everything but the image size and the flash mode is controlled by the camera, and the on-screen menu only offers these two controls. The intelligent adjust mode provides a bit more control for the user, as settings such as white balance, metering, etc can be controlled.
The W290 ups the ante for video recording on a compact camera; it can record high definition video at up to 720p resolution. That's an improvement on the standard definition video that most capture, but it is lower in resolution than cameras such as the Sony HX1 and the Canon XS1, which can record full 1080p video. Also missing is the digital video output that many of these cameras have; the W290 has an analog high definition component video output that allows it to connect to most HDTVs, but may be slightly lower quality. The videos it captures are stored as MPEG4 files, which are relatively easy to edit and upload to the Internet, etc. Videos of up to 29 minutes in thegth can be captured by the W290.
The W290 is no speed demon when it comes to shooting lots of images quickly; it can only manage about 1.8 frames a second. With a suitable memory card, it can keep shooting at this speed for up to 100 images, though.
The usual selection of preset controls are present; images can be viewed as slideshows, as thumbnails (up to 9 on the screen at once) or zoomed in up to 10X. Videos can also be viewed, and there are a few basic image editing tools, such as a crop and resize option.
Custom Image Presets
Sony seems to believe in quality rather than quantity when it comes to scene modes; the W290 has a list of 11; High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Hi-speed Shutter, Underwater and Gourmet. That's a decent selection that should cover most shooting situations, although we aren't sure how often the gourmet mode will be used. But that's probably because we prefer to eat in diners rather than fancy restaurants.
This isn't a good camera to choose if manual controls are important to you; there is no full manual mode and no way to get in and directly control features like the shutter speed or aperture. There is not even the halfway solution of a shutter or aperture priority mode; all you get is a number of scene modes that do similar things (such as the Hi-speed shutter mode, which goes for the highest shutter speed possible to freeze the action).
There are 9 focus points and three different focus modes: center weighted, spot and a semi-manual mode where the user sets the approximate focus distance and the camera refines it from there. There is no full manual focus mode on offer.
The ISO range is from 80 up to 3200; a decent range that allows for shooting in everything from bright daylight to dark rooms. We'll have to see how the noise increases as the ISO goes up until we get the W290 in for review.
The usual suspects are on offer for setting white balance, with a full auto mode and 11 presets. Unusually, there are three different white balance settings for use underwater; Sony obviously expects this camera to be used a lot by underwater shooters.
The W290 uses a muti-pattern measuring system to judge the appropriate settings for shooting a scene, but does not include the usual center weighted and spot metering modes.
The shutter speed ranges from 2 seconds down to 1/1600 of a second in the full auto mode, but the longest exposure gets slightly reduced to 1 second in the other modes. We doubt this will be an issue for most users; who typically don't need exposure times longer than a second on a point and shoot camera.
Canon quotes the aperture range as being f/3.8 to f/8.0 at the widest zoom point, but did not specify how the range changes at the other end of the zoom range.
The W290 has the ubiquitous SteadyShot optical image stabilization, but Sony also claims that the wide ISO range of the camera will help take sharper photos, and the modes are apparently designed to take this into effect.
Picture Quality & Size Options
Five different options are on offer for image size, ranging from the maximum 12 megapixel size down to 2 megapixels. There are no options for different image compression levels, but there are fine and standard quality settings for video recordings.
Several image editing tools are on offer, including the ability to turn images to black and white, a fisheye filter and an unsharp mask filter that can help sharpen fuzzy images.
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