With point-and-shoot cameras, it's rare that a high price tag equates to superb photo quality and/or fast shooting performance. You're mostly paying for getting all the latest features into a very small body that you can take anywhere. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7, for example, features one of the company's Exmor R high-speed backside-illuminated sensors, a 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens, a high-resolution 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD, and 1080i movie capture at 60 frames per second--all in a body that's just 0.7 inch thick. The sensor combined with Sony's Bionz image processor is capable of a lot of things you can't do with your typical pocket camera. And while two of those are speedy performance and very good low-light photos, its overall photo quality is less exceptional. Its photos are best suited for prints of 8x10 inches or smaller, viewing on a TV, and Web use. If your eye isn't overly critical, its features and design definitely make it worth considering.
|Key specs||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.9 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.2 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||10 megapixels, 1/2.4-inch CMOS (backside illuminated)|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3.5-inch LCD, 921K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4x, f3.5-6.3, 25-100mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/MPEG-4 AVCHD (.MTS, .MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||3,648x2,736 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 59.94i|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Storage media||Memory Stick Pro Duo; SD/SDHC cards|
|Bundled software||Picture Motion Browser 5.0, PMB Portable 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Macintosh), Music Transfer|
Available in silver, red, and dark blue versions, the camera has an elegant feel with a full metal body and nothing but its 3.5-inch high-resolution touch-screen display on back. For its features, it's incredibly slim and will easily slip in a pants pocket or small handbag. The only physical controls are the power and shutter buttons on top; a little nub of a zoom rocker at the right corner; and playback and photo/movie mode buttons. To take a picture you simply slide down the metal lens cover and click away. After touching the camera for a bit, though, the lens cover gets slick from fingerprints making it difficult to slide up and down. You'll also want to be careful of errant fingers getting in shots and touching the lens--a common problem with internal-lens cameras.
Sony's high-contrast Xtra Fine display is quite good. At its Normal brightness setting, there was no issue seeing the screen in direct sunlight. Well, after wiping away fingerprints there was no issue. If having to wipe off fingerprints is a deal breaker, you'll want to skip this camera and probably all touch-screen models, for that matter. The TX7's screen is very responsive to fingers, but better with the included stylus (or Paint Pen as Sony calls it) likely because you can be more precise with it. It clips onto the wrist strap and allows you to quickly poke around the onscreen menus along with the in-camera retouching and painting tools (you can add stamps, frames, or draw on pictures) all while keeping the screen free of fingerprints.
Sony's touch-screen interface makes settings easy to find. Tap the Menu icon in the upper left corner and a panel of available shooting options slides out as well as a Toolbox icon to take you to a secondary menu for general settings. Back out to the main screen for framing shots and down the left side is a row of four customizable shooting function icons (changing them is a simple drag-and-drop procedure). The options now include a one-press record button for movies. On the right side of the screen are shooting mode and playback icons. And if you don't want to see anything but what's in the lens, a simple tap and swipe on the left side hides everything else.
The TX7 has Sony's TransferJet technology for wireless photo and video transfers between the camera and TransferJet-compatible devices. No pairing is necessary, but the two products must be within about an inch of each other. Of course, you'll need some extra gear to take advantage of the feature. For starters, you'll need a Memory Stick with TransferJet; an 8GB card runs just less than $100. You'll also want to have something with a TransferJet receiver. Sony has laptops with the feature, or you can pick up a Sony USB TransferJet Station that sells for about $150. The feature will work with other TransferJet cameras, too, should you want to transfer up to 10 photos to someone else's camera.
TransferJet is best suited for those with lots of cash to burn and who are already living a Sony-made lifestyle. In fact, if you own a Web-connected Sony HDTV, the experience is great. Connect the TransferJet Station to the USB port on the TV and set the camera down on top of it and it near instantly starts a slideshow of your photos. The wireless connection was fast enough to playback AVCHD movies without issue, too. And if you take a lot of photos and don't want to mess with cables or taking your memory card in and out, you simply connect the Station to your computer, place the camera on top, and start the transfer. (It's a long way to go and a considerable expense to avoid using a cable or card reader, though.)
On the bottom under a locking door is the battery/Memory Stick compartment, a proprietary connector for use with the included multioutput dock, and a tripod mount. Like all of Sony's 2010 Cyber-shots, the TX7 accepts both Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SD/SDHC cards for memory. There's a single slot for both card types next to the battery located in a compartment in the bottom of the camera. The battery cannot be charged in the camera, which is a shame considering the battery life is really short. There is an AC adapter sold separately for connecting to the bundled dock, but it will not charge the camera. Presumably it's just to power the camera while using its USB, AV, and HDMI ports.
|General shooting options||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Custom Underwater Auto, 1, 2, and Custom|
|Recording modes||Easy, Intelligent Auto, Program, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Scene, Backlight Correction HDR, Anti Motion Blur, Hand-held Twilight, Movie|
|Focus modes||9-point AF, Center-weighted AF, Spot AF, Flexible Spot AF (touch), Face Detection (adult/child priority)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||10|
Sony keeps shooting options geared toward snapshooters on the TX7. Though you won't find full control over aperture or shutter speed, you do get something for just about every point-and-shoot user. Pop open the Shooting Mode menu and you'll find a Movie mode capable of 1080i HD-quality video in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording; Program Auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering; Sony's Intelligent Auto; Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options; and SCN, which lets you select from 12 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings.
Then, there are the more specialized modes. The Intelligent Sweep Panorama option lets you shoot horizontal or vertical panoramas with one press of the shutter release; this is unlike other cameras that require you to take several shots. It's been updated for 2010 on its models that use the Exmor R sensors. This new version--designated by Intelligent--automatically detects faces and moving subjects to avoid distortion. It's definitely one of those features you might not care about until you try it. Once you realize that it's fun and works well, you end up using all the time. Then there are the Anti Motion Blur and Hand-held Twilight modes. Both use the camera's capability to quickly capture six images and combine them into one photo with less blur, lower noise, and better detail than you would otherwise get with just one shot. The results are impressive as long as you don't look too closely at the images at full size. They are usable at 8x10 inches or smaller, though. There's also a Backlight Compensation HDR mode that takes two shots at different exposures to help improve shadow and highlight detail.
If you tend to leave it in Auto mode, Sony's Intelligent Auto turned in reliable results, as it picks from nine scene types (branded iSCN) and turns on face detection, dynamic range optimization, and image stabilization. Sony's iSCN can be set to Auto or Advanced, the difference being that in difficult lighting the camera will automatically take two shots with different settings so you have a better chance of getting a good photo. There are three levels of high-speed full-resolution shooting, too, that all live up to Sony's performance claims. However, once the photos are shot you have to wait for them to be stored to the memory card--roughly 2 to 3 seconds for each photo taken.