Here's a look at the photo capabilities of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20, the manufacturer's ultracompact rugged point-and-shoot.
These are 100 percent crops from our test scene. Photos from the rugged Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 are OK, but not nearly as good as those from higher-end non-rugged Sony point-and-shoots. Even at smaller sizes subjects look overly soft regardless of the amount of light you have when you're shooting. The good news is that noise and noise reduction don't get considerably worse as you go up in ISO sensitivity. Color quality also doesn't noticeably drop off until ISO 1600, which means you can get decent low-light shots, though you still won't want to look at them at larger sizes -- on screen or in prints.
Part of the problems seems to be the quality of the lens. Center sharpness is decent, but it really softens off to the sides and in the corners. These are 100 percent crops from the corners of a photo taken of our sharpness test target.
The TX20 survived my testing according to its specifications. That included three 60-minute periods in 2 feet of water (it's rated for 16 feet) and five drops straight down from 5 feet onto 2-inch plywood. Of course, this doesn't mean your results won't be different; rugged cameras are tested to survive very specific things and even using them within those parameters can cause damage. Regardless of a camera's ratings, make sure you read the user manual for caution and care instructions.
To give a more "pro" look to photos, there's a Background Defocus mode that takes two shots, identifies the background, and blurs it while keeping the subject sharp and in focus. Recommended distance from the subject is about a foot (30cm according to what the camera says onscreen) and you can set the amount of blur to low, medium, or high; this sample photo was taken at medium. It works best when your subject is well in front of the background.
The TX20 has seven live-view picture effects that let you see what the photo will look like before you shoot. This was taken with its Partial Color effect, which lets you highlight one color and turns the rest of the shot monochrome. Having a touch screen, it would have been nice if Sony allowed you to actually tap on the areas you want in color, but instead you just have to pick from red, green, blue, or yellow and hope for the best.
While recording full HD video you can press the shutter release and capture 10-megapixel still images (up to 10 for each recording). The results look like high-quality video captures, good enough for Web use or small prints.