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

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The Good The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 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.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 6

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.

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.

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.