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Sony Cyber-shot TX9 review: Sony Cyber-shot TX9

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The Good Speedy shooting performance; slim, stylish design; plenty of fun, useful features; very good low-light photo quality for its class.

The Bad Soft photos, videos; poor battery life; 3D photos are of limited use.

The Bottom Line As long as image softness doesn't bother you, the fast-shooting Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 is a quite capable camera for taking photos under a variety of conditions without much effort from the user.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 is very similar to the TX7 released earlier this year. It has the same 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens, 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. It uses an Exmor R high-speed backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, too, but the TX9's is 12 megapixels, up from the TX7's 10. But that resolution bump would be a pretty lame reason to update a camera. No, the reasons to go with the TX9 have primarily to do with new shooting modes. These include two 3D-shooting modes as well as a Superior Auto mode, which combines all of the multishot modes found on previous Exmor R-based Cyber-shots and makes it so you don't have to decide which will work best for your subject. Though the 3D stuff proved less exciting than we expected, the TX9 overall is a winner. If you're looking for a stylish fully automatic ultracompact with a near-dizzying number of features and don't mind paying for them, this is your camera.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9
Price (MSRP) $399.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-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/AVCHD, MPEG-4 (.MTS, .MP4 )
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,920x1,080 (59.94, interlaced; 17Mbps), 1,280x720 (29.97fps, progressive; 6Mbps)
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/SDXC cards
Bundled software Picture Motion Browser 5.3, PMB Portable 5.2 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.2 (Macintosh), Music Transfer

Available in dark gray and red 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 TX9'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 three 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 TX9 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. Basically, TransferJet is best suited for those with lots of cash to burn and already living a Sony-made lifestyle.

On the bottom under a locking door is the battery/storage card compartment, a proprietary connector for use with the included multioutput dock, and a tripod mount. Like all of Sony's 2010 Cyber-shots, the TX9 accepts both Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SD/SDHC cards for memory. The TX9 also supports SDXC cards. There's a single slot for both card types next to the battery. The battery cannot be charged in the camera, which is a shame considering the battery life is really short, especially if you start using the camera's multishot capabilities. 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 the dock's USB, AV, and HDMI ports.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, 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)
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 1.6 inches (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center, Spot
Color effects None
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10

Sony keeps shooting options geared toward snapshooters on the TX9, but that does not mean its capabilities are meager. It's actually so loaded with automatic modes that it could get very confusing despite Sony's attempt to simplify things. For Auto mode shooters, Sony's Intelligent Auto turns 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's also an Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options and SCN, which lets you select from 13 scene situations including Underwater for use with an optional casing, but automatically handles all other settings. Though you won't find full control over aperture or shutter speed, you do get a Program Auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering.

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 it 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. One of the hurdles to these modes is knowing when to use them, which Sony has solved with the new Superior Auto mode. In this mode, the camera selects the optimal overlay mode based on the recognized scene. The downside is that it takes longer to record images taken with these than a simple snapshot taken with iAuto and other single-shot modes.

For those who like to do macro photography, the TX7 can focus as close as 0.4 inch 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 TX9's Movie mode is capable of recording at HD resolutions up to 1,920x1,080 pixels in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording. There's also a stereo mic in front.

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