With the exception of macro shots, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX66's 18-megapixel resolution doesn't really bring anything to the table for regular snapshots. If you view photos at 100 percent (these are 100 percent crops of our test scene) you'll see noise and subjects look soft and painterly, especially once you get above ISO 200. Despite having a resolution you might find on a larger digital SLR, the photos do not compare. At this size, it's tough to see the quality differences--especially below ISO 800--but if you look at it at a larger size you can tell.
That said, at reduced sizes, photos do look very good even at higher ISO settings. If most of your shots end up on Facebook or get turned into photobooks or 8.5x11 prints or smaller, you'll probably be pretty happy with what this tiny camera turns out.
In general, the camera is a fast performer. It turns on in less than a second and has little shutter lag in bright 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. Plus, focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so if you're subject is moving, there's a good chance they won't be in focus for all 10 shots.
If you're looking for accurate colors, you won't get them with the TX66. However, they are bright and vivid, which, frankly, is what most people want from a point-and-shoot. If you don't fall into that category, Sony's added simple sliders for brightness, hue, and saturation, so you can tune them to your liking. What's better is that they're available in the auto modes, which is unusual but definitely welcome.
To give you a little more range, Sony includes its digital Clear Image Zoom, which doubles this camera's zoom range to 10x, but without a reduction in resolution. At small sizes (top), the photos are clearly better than you'd get with a traditional digital zoom. But if you view them at 100 percent (bottom), subjects look like oil paintings. Basically, Sony gives you a usable digital zoom, but you're not going to get even closer by enlarging and cropping in.
There is some barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens (top), but there's no real sign of pincushioning at the tele end (bottom).
The lens has very good center sharpness and is for the most part consistent edge to edge. It only gets noticeably softer at the sides and in the corners. I did see some fringing in high-contrast areas of photos, but for the most part you can't see it unless you're looking for it.
Sony offers two HDR (high dynamic range) modes in the TX66: one for artistic effect, one for correcting difficult lighting. Backlight Correction HDR is the latter. It works by taking three shots and different exposures and quickly processing them together to get a more balanced exposure. The photo on the left is taken in Intelligent Auto, while the shot on the right is with this HDR mode.
To give a more "pro" look to photos, there's a Background Defocus mode that takes two shots, identifies the background, and blurs it while keeping the subject sharp and in focus. Recommended distance from the subject is about a foot (30cm according to what the camera says onscreen) and you can set the amount of blur to low, medium, or high; this sample photo was taken at medium. It works best when your subject is well in front of the background.
Sony's expanded its Picture Effects mode for the TX66, giving users more creative options for snapshots. This is using Partial Color, which lets you pick a highlight color--red, blue, yellow, or green--and turns everything else monochrome.