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.
For those who like to do macro photography, the TX7 can focus as close as 3.3 inches from a subject. Like a lot of point-and-shoot cameras, the TX7 gets sharp results in Macro mode with plenty of fine detail.
The TX7's shooting performance is excellent. Shutter lag in bright conditions is low at 0.4 second; in dim lighting it goes up to only 0.6 second. Shot-to-shot times without the flash averaged only 1.6 seconds; using the flash bumps that out to 2.2 seconds. The high-speed burst mode is capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. But again, once they're shot you have to wait several seconds while the buffer memory clears before you can shoot again. Even its time to first shot is quick for its class at 1.6 seconds.
The TX7's lens quality is OK. There is some visible asymmetrical distortion at the wide end and a touch when zoomed out. Center sharpness is very good, but it drops off to the sides. The corners are particularly soft and the wide angle can cause a bit of a fish-eye effect. Fringing in images is below average to average; it is present in the high-contrast situations you would expect to see it, but it's only really visible at 100 percent and is thin enough that it could be removed with photo-editing software.
Photo color accuracy is very good with the TX7. While blues and reds maybe aren't as accurate as other colors, they're still nice looking with all colors turning out bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that, things are slightly washed-out-looking. Exposure and white balance are strong as well. However, clipped highlights are a regular occurrence.
Like photo quality, movies captured by the TX7 are somewhat soft-looking, but still very good for its class. The 60i frame rate makes for some smooth movement, too. It won't replace a standalone HD camcorder, but if you'd like a single device for capturing good photos and videos, this is one of the better options available. The optical zoom does work while recording and the stereo mic is a nice extra.
If you're in the market for a spare-no-expense stylish ultracompact, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7 is worth considering. Its shooting performance, low-light photo quality, and movie options make it an excellent party companion. You're paying mostly for the design and features, though, so if your primary concern is photo quality you're probably looking at the wrong camera. Also, while its Intelligent Auto mode is reliable, you'll need to experiment with the different settings and shooting options (and read the instruction manual thoroughly) to get the most from this camera.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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