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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 Gordon Laing, August 2007

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 Verdict

When Sony announced the 12.1 Megapixel Cyber-shot W200, it was hard not have a pre-conceived impression of what it would offer in practice. It’s probably fair to say most of us expected an otherwise great compact, let down by the overly ambitious resolution of its sensor. In reality though, we found the opposite was often the case.

Sony W200 front angle view Sony W200 rear angle view


The W200’s sensor really can resolve a great deal of detail, and while there’s inevitably a loss in quality at higher sensitivities, it’s nowhere near as bad as some models we’ve tested recently. Just take a look at our W200 Real-life Noise Results and you’ll see the Sony actually delivers fairly respectable performance, even at 400 ISO. Head over to our W200 Sample Images and you’ll also see 800 ISO is acceptable for smaller prints. We’d expected the worst from the sensor, but in reality it was actually pretty good.

Had Sony then coupled the sensor with the best features in today’s compacts, it would have had a winning product, but instead the W200 employs some surprisingly average choices in components and operation. First the lens which with a bog-standard 3x, 35-105mm range, offers nothing more exciting than compacts produced years ago. Everyone recognises the benefits of 28mm coverage, so let’s have it, or at least a slightly longer 4x range to justify the price.

Sony W200 LCD screen
 

Then there’s the operation and controls. It’s great to have manual control over exposures, focus, sharpness and contrast, but where’s the custom white balance and why only offer one JPEG setting? As for the menu system, some may like it, but we found it very confusing.

Probably the biggest insult though is the 115k pixel screen which simply looks very coarse compared to the more common 230k pixel screens found elsewhere. Sure, 115k is understandable on entry-level compacts, but surely a 12.1 Megapixel model deserves something better. So while the optical viewfinder is a nice addition, it doesn’t make up for the screen.

So what you have a compact with good looks, great build quality, and a sensor which performs much better than expected, but one that’s let down by a budget screen, often confusing controls and a pedestrian lens range. And it has to be said, the W200 ain’t exactly cheap. So how does it compare with the competition?

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100

 
 

More 12 Megapixel compacts have since announced, but at the time of writing, the only other model on the market was Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FX100. We’ve not tested this model, so can’t comment on image quality, but it costs the same as the W200 and has several key advantages. The lens offers genuine 28mm wide angle coverage and its slightly longer 3.6x range means it zooms-in to virtually the same degree as the W200. The screen may not be a 230k model, but with 207k pixels, it looks much better than the W200’s 115k model.

Beyond this though it’s swings and roundabouts comparing features. The Sony has greater manual control, an optical viewfinder, musical slideshows and optional HDTV connectivity, while the Panasonic has widescreen movie capabilities and an arguably more intuitive menu system. For us though the wider lens and superior screen for the same money makes it a compelling alternative.

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX30

 
 
 

The FX30 may ‘only’ have 7.2 Megapixels, but it was the last compact we tested at Cameralabs and the one we’ve used for many of the W200’s comparisons in this review – so how does it measure-up? Most obviously it’s 5 Megapixels behind the W200, and there’s certainly a noticeable difference in resolving power. The W200 also boasts superior performance at higher sensitivities which is impressive given its higher resolution, and there’s an optical viewfinder, manual control over exposures, along with a range of accessories which are probably unparalleled for any compact.

In the FX30s favour though, its lens offers 28mm coverage and a slightly longer 3.6x range, along with a 207k pixel screen which simply looks much better. Like most Panasonic compacts, it also boasts widescreen movies, an arguably more intuitive user interface – but most crucially of all, it comes in about 30% cheaper than the W200. See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX30 review for more details.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 final verdict

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-W200 is certainly not a cheap compact. This is partly understandable given the 12.1 Megapixel sensor, but sadly it’s not reflected across the rest of the specifications. Sure the optical viewfinder, manual control and wide range of accessories are nice to have, but for many people they won’t make up for the entry-level screen and average zoom range.

Had Sony fitted a higher resolution screen and equipped the W200 with wider angle capabilities, the story would have been very different, but as it stands you have a camera where most of your money seems to be devoted to the sensor. To be fair, the sensor is actually surprisingly good, out-resolving every other compact we’ve tested while not overly compromising noise levels, but you’ll have to weigh up for yourself whether it makes up for otherwise average features.

Don’t get us wrong – the Sony W200 is a good-looking and well-built compact capable of generating some very impressive results, but ultimately we feel it’s let down by its relatively high price and otherwise average specifications. For the money - and its position in Sony's range - it’s hard to forgive a pedestrian 35-105mm range and 115k screen. Had these been improved, or the price lowered, the W200 would have been easy to recommend. But unless you absolutely want a compact with 12.1 Megapixel resolution and the Sony badge, there’s alternatives which offer a more compelling overall package. To see the W200's highlights, check our W200 video tour.


Good points
Very high resolution images.
Optical viewfinder.
Manual control over exposure.
Huge range of accessories.

Bad points
Softness and fringing in corners.
Pedestrian 35-105mm lens range.
Screen looks relatively coarse at 115k pixels.
Convoluted menu system and controls.


Scores
(relative to 2007 compacts)
 

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
16 / 20
14 / 20
15 / 20
14 / 20

77%



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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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