However, when it comes to image-related performance and image quality, the W200 tanks, mostly because of that unnecessary 12-megapixel sensor. Though it's physically larger than the 8-megapixel sensor in the W90, the pixels still must be insanely small. That's the only reason we can think of for the W200 to be such a light vampire, simply incapable of exposing shots at ISO 100 that most snapshot cameras can handle without problem.
We often found it necessary to boost the ISO setting to at least ISO 400 in order to use a reasonable shutter speed -- even with SteadyShot enabled -- while shooting in very bright sunshine. In theory, Sony's Dynamic Range Optimisation, which is enabled by default, should automatically expand the midtones to fix the exposures, but we couldn't find any situation in which the DRO helped either underexposed or high-contrast photos. In fact, we took a variety of DRO/no-DRO test shots, and saw no effect whatsoever.
None of this would be much of a problem if the W200 produced exceptional low-noise photos at high ISO settings. It doesn't. Though the measured results of our noise tests yield extremely low noise numbers across all ISO sensitivities, observation doesn't match the maths. Images become smeary at as low as ISO 200, with detail smudging and brush-stroke-like artefacts, in addition to the typical splotchy-colour noise.
Combined with increasing focus problems heading out to the right side of the lens, plus aggressive 8-plus-to-1 compression (at minimum) to keep those 34MB files under control, and it's simply too hard to get a sharp, artefact-free photo. In order to get some decent shots, we ended up shooting at ISO 200 and bringing up the exposure in Photoshop. Once adjusted, we got a few nice 320x420mm (12.5x16.5-inch) prints. But that's not exactly the point-and-shoot experience most people are looking for, and we certainly wouldn't have cropped in and blown them up, one of the few reasons you'd want such a high-resolution camera.
On the bright side, the W200 does capture some very nice 30fps VGA movies, though you can't operate the zoom while you're shooting.
In a camera with a really good low-dispersion lens, limited image compression, and really great noise- suppression algorithms, the 12-megapixel sensor could possibly yield some excellent photos. The W200 is not that camera. If you derive emotional sustenance from knowing you've got the highest-resolution camera on the block, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 might help fill that gaping void in your soul. But if you're looking for a compact snapshot camera that will provide great photos at a reasonable price, almost any other ultracompact camera will deliver better photos for the money.
Additional editing by Nick Hide