While DSLRs generate huge amounts of online buzz, point-and-shoot digital cameras generate huge amounts of sales. An analyst told us that over 30 million digicams will be purchased this year, the majority for less than $199. Yet if you’re at this site, a low-priced model is not your target, and we’re not too thrilled with them either. Enter the new 10-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1 for $379, an aim-and-forget camera that’s loaded with some definite buzz-worthy technology, including a new CMOS sensor, along with the ability to capture great panoramas and quality images in low light. Let’s see how this one worked overall in the real world.
Features and Design
The TX1 and new sister WX1 ($349) have the same imaging system, but differ in some key ways: the TX1 has Sony’s classic T-Series styling, which is super thin, and has a sliding lens cover that powers it on and off. The WX1 has a more traditional, boxy shape.
We’ve always liked the T-Series design, and the TX1 doesn’t spoil the formula. The new model is thin, all right, measuring 0.65-inches thick, and it has very few protrusions, buttons or dials. You make almost all of your adjustments – other than the zoom and shutter button – using the 3-inch touch screen. Available in dark gray, pink, blue or silver, the TX1 measures 3.75 inches wide, 2.4 tall and weighs a svelte 5 ounces with battery and card. This one is as compact as can be, and you’ll find yourself popping it into your pocket along with your cell phone.
The T Series uses a sliding front panel to power it on and off, and protect the lens. Move it down, and you’ll see the flash, mic, AF assist lamp and lens, which is a 4x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar. The focal range is 35-140mm, which is decent, but we prefer a wider opening angle (by comparison, the WX1’s 5x zoom starts at 24mm). There are just a few low-key logos and icons, but the overall feel of the TX1 is very slick, and our dark gray edition looked super cool.
The top of the camera has a silver metallic accent, along with a small power button, shutter and a tiny toggle for the zoom. Definitely do a hands-on test with this camera, as it may be just too small for some people. The rear of the TX1 has a 3-inch touch screen LCD rated 230K pixels. It handled sunlight fairly well, but wiped out in direct sunshine. It also lacked fine detail when framing or reviewing shots. Sony definitely should’ve upped the quality of this screen. The only other thing you’ll see on the back is a playback button and a silver attachment for the wrist strap – this camera is as minimalist as they come.
The bottom of the Made-In-Japan camera has a metal tripod mount, a compartment for the battery and optional Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, as well as the connection for Sony’s proprietary multi-connector cable. This camera records 720p HD video, but to watch scenes directly on your television, you’ll need an optional cable, not a consumer-friendly move.
What’s in the Box
The DSC-TX1 comes with the camera, battery, charger, a 59-page English owner’s manual and a multi-connector cable fitted with USB and A/V connections. The VMC-MHC1 cable needed to watch high-def video clips on your HDTV goes for $39. If we were shopping for this camera, we’d ask the dealer for a hefty discount for a bundle including the cable. The supplied CD-ROM has Picture Motion Browser (Windows only), a more in-depth manual, and Music Transfer (Windows/Mac) for adding tunes to slideshows. PMB makes a good, basic program for transferring, editing and archiving images.
With the battery charged and a 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo card in place, it was time to hit the streets.
Performance and Use
One of this year’s key imaging tech trends is the migration of CMOS sensors from DSLRs to point-and-shoots. These devices are known for quick response and low digital noise, two welcome traits for aim-and-forget digicams, which are typically pokey and filled with artifacts and grain at higher ISOs. Several new Canon PowerShots use CMOS devices, as do the HX1 and TX1. In this case, the company incorporated the new Exmor R sensor, which Sony claims delivers far less grain in low-light scenes.
Why? The explanation gets a bit techie: Sony’s conventional image sensor architecture required wires and other circuit elements be positioned above the light-sensitive photo diodes, limiting the imager’s light gathering capability. Positioning these elements behind the photo-diodes, the Exmor R sensors gather more light, resulting in approximately twice the sensitivity compared to conventional sensors. That’s the claim, and we’ll see if it holds up shortly.
The Cyber-Shot DSC-TX1 uses a 10.2-megapixel sensor, so it captures 3648 x 2736 pixel stills, as well as 1280 x 720 MPEG4 videos at 9 Mbps. Thanks to the CMOS sensor and onboard processing, this camera captures 10 frames per second at full resolution, better than most DSLRs. However, it stops after the 10 shots to catch a breather, while DSLRs keep going until the card is full. Still, this is an incredible spec no other digicam matches. ISO ranges from 125-3200, which is solid. Other than ISO and white balance, however, there are no manual options (f/stops, shutter speed, focus), so if you’re looking for these adjustments, search elsewhere. Initially, we set the camera to easy no-brainer mode, with DRO standard, optical image stabilization engaged, and then switched to Program AE and other modes as our shooting expeditions progressed.
We have to admit to jumping quickly to Sweep Panorama, first seen on the HX1: a great feature that lets you make horizontal and vertical panoramas in-camera, rather than post-processing with software, a cumbersome task that rarely works well. When you use this mode onscreen, directions tell you how far to move your arm to capture a sweeping vista. It’s as easy as can be, and one of our favorite new features for 2009.
Handheld Twilight is another touted TX1 feature. Here, the camera captures six photos and melds them together for a single image. Algorithms help eliminate noise and add detail. This was one of the most impressive features of this digicam. We took shots indoors with hardly any ambient light, and the still life, while grainy, had far more detail than simply pushing the ISO up. We even used it outdoors in shadows, and the color reproduction was excellent. This one is a winner.
We took our standard test subject for ISO while in Program AE. Noise really didn’t become an issue until 800, which is good for a point-and-shoot; 1600 and 3200 were filled with noise, but you might be able to get away with a small print.
Overall, our test shots were a mixed bag, with colors being dead-on in many images while others had a fluorescence that was totally out of whack. This was especially true with a white outdoor bench, and blooming white hydrangea. Images weren’t uniformly tack sharp, either, which was surprising for a Sony digicam.
The video clips were good, even blown up on a 50-inch screen. Also good was the onscreen menu system, which is about as easy to use as you could want.
We have to look at this camera as a version-0.9 offering. Although it’s almost fully developed, it’s not all the way there. Sweep Panorama and Handheld Twilight are really good features, as is the 10-frames-per-second shooting. Yet colors were uneven, and focusing isn’t as good or accurate as we’d like. Given these issues, this one is hard to recommend. Hopefully, the implementation of Exmor R technology in the WX1 or future models will resolve these issues.
- Incredibly compact
- 10 fps shooting
- Handheld Twilight and Sweep Panorama modes
- Uneven picture quality
- Inaccurate focusing
- LCD should be better
- Prefer wider-angle lens
- Optional cable required for HD video