Though it might seem like the whole world is trading in point-and-shoots for smartphones, there are still plenty of people who don't have or want a smartphone, or who want something faster and with better photo and video quality that won't kill their phone battery while shooting all day. That's why Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-TX66 exists. It's a powerful camera that can outperform a smartphone in many ways, in a body that's no thicker than a AA battery and weighs just a few ounces.
The TX66 is almost the same as 2011's, so if you have that already, you probably don't need to dump it for the TX66. The 5x f3.5-4.8 26-130mm lens and 3.3-inch OLED touch screen are carried over, but Sony bumped up the resolution from 16 to 18 megapixels. From the test shots I've taken so far, the extra resolution isn't really improving image quality. However, Sony is using its sensor and processing technologies to improve other things.
For example, its digital Clear Image Zoom uses pixel creation and pattern matching when it "zooms" in. Sony claims this will maintain the image quality and keep the same number of pixels, allowing you to double the camera's optical zoom; in the case of the TX66, that's 5x to 10x.
This technology, called By Pixel Super Resolution, also lets you capture 13-megapixel photos while it records full HD video and improves Sony's Active Mode image stabilization at the telephoto end of the lens. Previously, the Active Mode, which helps when you're recording video while moving with the camera, was only really effective at the wide end.
Also improved is the camera's shooting performance. Slide the lens cover down and it's ready to shoot. The TX66 gets a new autofocus system that focuses in approximately 0.13 second in daylight and 0.25 second in low light. We haven't lab-tested it yet, but the camera does feel extraordinarily quick in casual testing, fast enough to shoot active kids--at least in bright daylight conditions. It will also burst shoot at 10 frames per second at full resolution; however, as with past Sony models with this feature, you're stuck waiting for the pictures to store to your memory card--in this case a microSD card--before you can shoot again.
Photo quality, at least in my initial tests, looks very good. There are plenty of options for snapshooters to play with, too, including nine creative modes. But what I really liked was being able to tweak brightness, color, and vividness, even when shooting in full automatic modes--something most cameras in this class don't let you do. If you've been unhappy with Sony's color processing in the past, the TX66 lets you easily adjust colors with a simple slider.
The DSC-TX66 will be available in March for around $350 in silver, gold, red, white, purple, and pink versions. Check back soon for a full review.