If you buy a Sony W200, allow yourself an hour to read the manual. We didn't bother and a short time after taking it out for a spin we were furiously pressing all of the many buttons to try to delete an image. Why hasn't Sony included that familiar bin icon next to a button to make life easier?

Next we tried to change the ISO and again it's not obvious. You don't turn the control dial to the ISO setting as we first thought but instead you have to delve into the menu.

Then we tried to use the camera in the Manual mode and again, it took us a while to figure out how to change the shutter speed and aperture - you have to press the button in the middle of the four-way controller before changing the setting. In short, if you enjoy pressing buttons, you'll love the W200.

Sony has always cut something of its own path with its digital cameras, the use of the MemoryStick being a good example. That's no bad thing in this bland age of conformity but when it comes to cameras we want to be taking pictures, not wasting valuable time trying to figure out how the box of tricks works.

Where the Sony W200 scores highly is in its construction. The brushed aluminium case looks superb and the camera feels solid and capable of absorbing a few knocks. On the rear is a 2.5-inch LCD, which is bright and colourful but, with only 115,000 pixels, it lacks the biting sharpness of some of its rivals.

Instead of the LCD you could try the optical viewfinder - a rarity on pocket-sized cameras these days - but it's a bit like peering into a long, dark tunnel.

Carl to the rescue

Strapped to the front of the W200 is a lens from the legendary German optical company, Carl Zeiss. This lens is limited in its range from 35-105mm, and it's a little disappointing that it doesn't include a slightly wider angle.

Despite the limited range, it's smooth enough as it zooms back and forth. Distortion is a little higher than we expected, with noticeable barrel distortion at the wide angle but we took some shots pointing directly at the sun and were rewarded with minimal lens flare and no colour fringing, even around a silhouetted figure - an amazing performance from a small camera.

We were expecting a lot from the lens in terms of sharpness, but (and this is where we get down to the nitty gritty of the W200) it's difficult to really asses how sharp it is when image quality is so poor.

Sony has experienced noise issues by packing 12 megapixels on to such a tiny sensor, and to combat this it's built in some substantial noise reduction. But this means that even at ISO 100 fine detail is slightly 'smudged'. Push the ISO higher and the noise reduction removes any of the good work done by the lens.

At the maximum ISO of 3200 (6400 is available but only at 3MP) the images look like they've been rendered with a builder's trowel.

Fortunately, the accuracy of the colours captured is far better. The Sony makes perfect exposures time after time. We took several pictures of a golfer (seen above) shot directly into a bright evening sun, and the W200 wasn't fooled. In difficult tungsten lighting the auto white balance did a fine job, with hardly a trace of a yellow hue. The flash also did a good job in low light, although it's not very powerful. So, apart from a confusing menu and, more importantly, image quality, the Sony W200 hardly put a foot wrong.

In an effort to produce a pocket-sized, 12MP compact, Sony has neglected the one thing that makes buying a camera of this type worthwhile: image quality. If you've got a 7MP or 8MP compact and think that upgrading to the W200 will result in better image quality, you're going to be disappointed.

Having said that, we have something to thank the W200 for: it could be the camera that once and for all explodes the myth that more pixels make better pictures...

Via PhotoRadar