Despite the camera’s size the very large three-inch monitor screen doesn’t leave a lot of room on the back for all the controls, which include a tiny and rather awkward rocker-switch zoom control, a relatively large but sparsely populated mode dial, three buttons and a very small D-pad. I did find the controls somewhat fiddly to operate, requiring the edge of a fingernail to push the buttons; however people with smaller fingers than mine may not have a problem.
The W290 is an all-auto point-and-shoot camera, albeit a fairly sophisticated one, so it doesn’t offer too much in the way of direct creative control. The standard shooting mode is Intelligent Auto, in which optical image stabilisation, face detection, red-eye correction, auto white balance and ISO, dynamic range optimisation and automatic scene recognition are all activated, and it has to be said that armed with that battery of automation there’s not much the camera can’t cope with on its own, and all the user has to do is press the shutter button.
Even so there are a few options in the main menu, such as a range of image sizes, continuous shooting mode, face detection sensitivity and a nice option to bias the face detection to focus on either children’s or adults faces. You can also set the scene recognition to automatically take two shots instead of one when shooting in twilight or backlighting situations, although in my experience this simply results in either two good shots or two bad ones.
Program auto mode adds menu options for white balance, ISO setting, metering mode and autofocus mode, including some pre-set focus distances, and focusing on infinity. Flash intensity, red-eye reduction, DRO mode and image stabilisation can all be either adjusted or deactivated, and there are also a monochrome, vivid and sepia colour options.
The W290 also has a Scene mode. There are only ten scene programs including the usual Landscape, Night Portrait, Snow, Fireworks etcetera. The only unusual one is a poolside scene mode, which enhances blue water. There’s also an Easy shooting mode, which takes away every option but picture size (large or small) and flash (on or off), but that’s so ridiculously simple it’s almost taking the
The W290 has a good video mode, shooting in 1280 x 720 resolution at 30fps. It starts recording very quickly, saving files in MPEG4 format, but the optical zoom cannot be used while recording and despite what it says on Sony’s website the audio is mono only. Both the video and audio quality are excellent for a compact camera, but bear in mind that within a few months every new compact over £100 will have video at least this good.