The problem with rugged cameras is that they look, well, rugged. That's great when you've donned your wetsuit and are in hot pursuit of the jaguar shark, or you're paraskiing down K2 keeping an eye out for a yeti. Unfortunately, if you're sipping a glass of Vouvray in a chic Loire Valley restaurant, you mightn't want to whip it out to record the moment.
That's not an issue with the Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 though. At just 17.7mm thick, the TX5 is thin and petite, while the metal front is a tactile delight; four colours are available (pink, red, silver and black). There's also a slider on the front, which makes switching the TX5 on and off underwater a snap (literally). It's a shame then that the wrist strap isn't adjustable, because unless you have the arms of a body builder, the strap will likely slide off with alarming regularity when you're in the drink.
Most of the camera's functions are controlled via the 3-inch touchscreen.
(Credit: CNET Australia)
On the back there's a 3-inch 230,000-pixel touchscreen that works well both on and off land as it doesn't suffer from any distracting reflections. An upshot of only having physical controls for power, playback, shoot and zoom is that you needn't take your eyes off the scene ahead when fiddling with settings. Quite why Sony has included an easily lost stylus, though, is beyond us.
In terms of ruggedness, the TX5 isn't the toughest camera on the market, as it's only rated waterproof up to 3 metres, shockproof for falls up to 1.5m and cold proof down to -10 degrees Celsius; it's also dustproof. This makes it good for snorkellers, skiers, beachgoers, watersports lovers and fashion-conscious adrenaline junkies, but probably won't be suitable for scuba divers.
At the bottom of the camera is the customary tripod mount that's not even close to being in-line with the camera's lens. Alongside this are two interlocked watertight flaps that conceal the TX5's battery (good for 125 minutes or 250 photos), a card slot that accepts either SD/SDHC or Memory Stick cards, and a proprietary multi-connector port for USB and AV out connectivity.
The TX5's lens exhibiting barrel distortion and a stray finger.
(Credit: CNET Australia)
Should you forget to insert a card, the Cyber-shot has 45MB on usable internal memory that's good for around 10 or so photos. When plugged into a computer the TX5 allows you to access its memory card, internal storage and an internet cafe-friendly lite version of Sony's rather average Picture Motion Browser software.
Performance and image quality
Located in the top corner of the TX5's body, the lens is all too easily obscured by a stray finger if, like us, you hold compact cameras with two hands when shooting. The 4x optical zoom lens exhibits a fair amount of barrel distortion at its widest. If the 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) lens is quite wide enough, the Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode allows for easy panoramic shots: just press the shutter and move the camera along the horizon. The trade off? Lower resolution than you would get for a manually stitched job.