Check out an examination of photo quality from Sony's ultracompact WX9 featuring a 16-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and a 5x, f2.6 25mm-equivalent lens.
With its f2.6 maximum aperture and backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, the WX9's photo quality is very good indoors and out. The only real disappointment is that photos aren't very sharp even at its lowest ISO. However, there's little difference between photos taken at ISO 100 and ISO 400. Noise reduction kicks in more at ISO 800, though, which smears details and dulls colors some. There's a noticeable increase in noise and noise reduction at ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 making colors more washed out and subjects appear painterly; you'll probably want to reserve these two highest sensitivities for emergencies when you need to shoot in low-light conditions or get a faster shutter speed regardless of the results. On the other hand, if you're shooting a stationary subject, the WX9's Handheld Twilight mode improves low-light results by reducing noise and blur from hand shake. In fact, there's a mode to help with just about every typical shortcoming with point-and-shoots. You might not be able to make huge prints or do a lot of heavy cropping, but for snapshots the results are excellent.
The WX9's Macro mode can focus as close as 1.9 inches from a subject, and the photos can be very good. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset image. If you look at them at larger screen sizes fine details look soft, but for smaller prints or Web use, they're pretty good.
Color is excellent from the WX9. While blues and reds may not be as accurate as other colors, they are bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that, things get slightly washed out and muddy-looking. Also, when the lens was fully extended, blacks look slightly washed out compared to how they are at the wide end.
Exposure and white balance are good as well, though highlights tend to blow out. The camera has shooting options for helping with those things, though.
There is some slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens, but no signs of pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. Also, like any ultrawide-angle lens you will get some fish-eye distortion if your subject is too close to the lens. The lens' center sharpness is very good, but gets noticeably softer at the edges and in the corners. If you want your subject at their sharpest, you'll need to frame them in the center.
The WX9's high-speed burst option is capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. Since the camera focuses once for the entire burst, moving subjects won't always be in focus. On the other hand, you'll be able to get shots not possible with many ultracompact cameras and they'll be fine for 4x6 prints. There is one more caveat, though: once they're shot, you have to wait a couple seconds for each shot to save to memory before you can shoot again.
For scenery and still subjects, take advantage of the WX9's Backlight Correction HDR mode that takes photos at different exposures and combines them for one photo for a more balanced exposure. The left photo was taken in Program mode, the right with the Backlight HDR mode. You can see the sky is actually blue instead of blown out and the sidewalk and hair detail are visible, too.
In an attempt to give users 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 on screen) and you can set the amount of blur to low, medium, or high; this was taken at low. It works best when your subject is well in front of the background, but even then it's not perfect. For example, in this shot part of the background on the right didn't get blurred. At small sizes, though, it can be convincing.
Sony has two versions of its Sweep Panorama mode, one regular one Intelligent. The cameras with a Sony Exmor R sensor get the latter, which includes the WX9. The benefit is that it does a better job of handling moving subjects, such as the woman walking on the right.