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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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6 min read

With the Cyber-shot DSC-TX20, Sony has once again proven that a rugged camera need not look like a tank or some sort of extreme sports gear in order to be waterproof and shockproof. The TX20 is dustproof and can operate underwater down to 16 feet and handle 5-foot drops (albeit onto plywood, but, hey, it can still do it). And it doesn't look any different that Sony's regular ultracompact, the TX66.

sony-cyber-shot-dsc-tx20-digital-camera-3d-compact-16-2-mpix-4-x-optical-zoom-carl-zeiss-underwater-up-to-15ft-orange.jpg
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20

The Good

The <b>Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20</b> is a slick, small rugged ultracompact that is fast to focus and shoot, and has plenty of fun shooting options for those looking to do more than just take pictures.

The Bad

The TX20's photo quality is disappointing compared with nonrugged Sony Cyber-shots, and its design is almost too small and slippery to use in water.

The Bottom Line

The rugged camera that doesn't look rugged, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 is a nice option for people wanting an ultracompact for days by the pool and nights on the town.

The design, however, is both a blessing and a curse. Its small size can make it difficult to use for those with larger hands. Its smooth metal surface doesn't help with your grip, especially compared with models like the Pentax Optio WG-2. On the other hand, the Pentax would look out of place in a bar or club; the Sony would not.

Aside from its hidden durability, the TX20 is no different than Sony's other midrange to high-end point-and-shoots. Well, except maybe for its photo quality.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Price (MSRP) $329.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.9x2.3x0.7 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 4.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x, f3.5-4.6, 25–100mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS), H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (interlaced, 24Mbps, AVCHD), 1,440x1,080 at 30fps (MP4)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 250 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; proprietary USB cable connected to computer or wall adapter (included)
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC, MemoryStick Pro Duo
Bundled software PlayMemories Home (Windows)

Photos from the TX20 are OK, but not nearly as good as those from nonrugged Sony Exmor R sensor-based point-and-shoots. Even at smaller sizes subjects look overly soft regardless of the amount of light you have when you're shooting. The good news is that noise and noise reduction don't get considerably worse as you go up in ISO sensitivity. Color quality also doesn't noticeably drop off until ISO 1600, which means you can get decent low-light shots, though you still won't want to look at them at larger sizes -- on screen or in prints.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 sample photos

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While noise reduction is partially to blame for the camera's image softness, its lens shares some of the guilt; center sharpness was good, but the lens gets noticeably softer off to the sides and in the corner. At small screen sizes or prints, you may not notice, especially if your subject is centered. But if you're sensitive to image sharpness, you may have to do some sharpening after you shoot photo-editing software. (To read more about photo quality and some of the camera's shooting capabilities, see the slideshow above.)

The TX20's video quality is very good, both in and out of water. You can record in either MTS or MP4 formats (though you'll get the best quality using the former), capture up to 10, 10-megapixel stills per clip, and you get use of the optical zoom while recording. All of the pluses and minuses of its photos are present in the video, so, again, good for Web use and computer viewing, but watching on a large HDTV might not be very pleasing.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, White Fluorescent Lighting, Natural White Fluorescent, Day White Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, Underwater, Manual
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Program, Scene, iSweep Panorama, Background Defocus, Picture Effect, 3D Shooting, Movie
Focus modes Multi Point AF, Center Weighted AF, Spot AF, Tracking AF, Face Tracking AF, Touch AF
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 1.6 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Creative filter options
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10 shots

Outside of a couple of underwater modes (including one for Sony's awesome Intelligent Sweep Panoramas), the TX20 has much of the same shooting options that you'd find in any of Sony's Cyber-shots with Exmor R BSI CMOS sensors. That includes its three auto modes: Easy, Intelligent Auto, and Superior Auto.

Easy mode takes away all options except for image size (large or small) and enlarges onscreen text. Intelligent Auto picks from 10 scene types and turns on face detection, dynamic range optimization, and image stabilization. Superior Auto takes Intelligent Auto and adds three multishot modes: Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, and Backlight Correction HDR. The multishot modes, take several shots and then combine them into one photo improving noise, blur, and exposure. However, they should not be used with moving subjects.

Background Defocus mode rapidly takes two photos and processes them together, keeping the foreground subject sharp while blurring the background. Joshua Goldman/CNET

Along with these, you also get several scene modes, a background defocus option that simulates a shallow depth-of-field by softening the background in camera, and you get seven of Sony's Picture Effects: HDR Painting, Richtone Monochrome, Miniature, Toy camera, Pop Color, Partial Color, and Soft High-key.

Shooting performance is for the most part very good. True to Sony's claims, the TX20 does focus and shoot quickly, making it easy to catch that one-off shot of your kids or pets. Slide the lens cover down and it's ready to shoot in 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag is good at 0.4 second in good lighting and 0.7 second in dim conditions. It burst shoots 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 get stored on your memory card before you can shoot again. Plus, focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so if your subject is moving, there's a good chance they won't be in focus for all 10 shots. Regular shot-to-shot times were pretty quick, too, at 1.5 seconds without flash and 3.6 seconds with flash.

The slide-down lens cover and slim, slippery body could make the TX20 undesirable for beach use. Sarah Tew/CNET

Actually shooting with the camera is another story. If you've got strong, tiny hands with nimble fingers you'll probably be fine. Me and my big hands had trouble using the camera when they were wet or cold, and keeping my fingers out of shots (the biggest drawback to this type of internal zoom lens). Also, while the metal body looks good, it doesn't give you much to grip -- not good if you have wet or sweaty fingers. The touch screen doesn't function properly when wet, either, so Sony suggests you shut off its controls when using it in water. That's fine, but you'll have to remember to get in the correct shooting mode before it gets wet and understand that you might not be able to easily change settings. Lastly, the slide-down lens cover has the potential to trap sand or dirt and grind scratches into the body.

When it's not wet, the touch screen is responsive and snappy, but because of its size and the location of some icons, I would accidentally hit the wrong thing. Sony includes a tiny stylus that clips to the wrist strap, which is much more efficient than your fingers, if not as convenient. The camera itself is easy to operate out of the box, and if you get lost, there's a full operating manual stored in the camera.

Though Sony's other TX-series models use microSDHC or MemoryStick Micro cards, the TX20 takes a full-size SD card or Memory Stick. However, it has a very small battery pack that runs down pretty fast if you're doing more than snapshots. Along with that, the camera uses a proprietary USB port for charging, so if you lose the cable, you can't just use an off-the-shelf Micro-USB cable.

Conclusion
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 looks and operates just like the manufacturer's nonrugged TX-series cameras. That's the good news. Overall, though, it's not the best design for a rugged camera for frequent outdoor adventures. But, if you just want something tougher than your average point-and-shoot, it gets the job done.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
2.2 
1 
0.7 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
3.3 
1.5 
0.7 
0.4 
Pentax Optio WG-2
2.9 
2.8 
0.9 
0.7 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
10 

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Image quality 6
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