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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7

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With point-and-shoot cameras, it's rare that a high price tag equates to superb photo quality and/or fast shooting performance. You're mostly paying for getting all the latest features into a very small body that you can take anywhere. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7, for example, features one of the company's Exmor R high-speed backside-illuminated sensors, a 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens, a 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. The sensor combined with Sony's Bionz image processor is capable of a lot of things you can't do with your typical pocket camera. And while two of those are speedy performance and very good low-light photos, its overall photo quality is less exceptional. Its photos are best suited for prints of 8x10 inches or smaller, viewing on a TV, and Web use. If your eye isn't overly critical, its features and design definitely make it worth considering.

sony-cyber-shot-dsc-tx7-digital-camera-compact-10-2-mpix-4-x-optical-zoom-carl-zeiss-flash-45-mb-silver.jpg
7.8

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7

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.

The Bottom Line

The fast-shooting Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7 is a slick, feature-laden ultracompact, but its price doesn't guarantee perfection.

Available in silver, red, and dark blue 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 TX7'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 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 TX7 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.

TransferJet is best suited for those with lots of cash to burn and who are already living a Sony-made lifestyle. In fact, if you own a Web-connected Sony HDTV, the experience is great. Connect the TransferJet Station to the USB port on the TV and set the camera down on top of it and it near instantly starts a slideshow of your photos. The wireless connection was fast enough to playback AVCHD movies without issue, too. And if you take a lot of photos and don't want to mess with cables or taking your memory card in and out, you simply connect the Station to your computer, place the camera on top, and start the transfer. (It's a long way to go and a considerable expense to avoid using a cable or card reader, though.)

On the bottom under a locking door is the battery/Memory Stick compartment, a proprietary connector for use with the included multioutput dock, and a tripod mount. Like all of Sony's 2010 Cyber-shots, the TX7 accepts both Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SD/SDHC cards for memory. There's a single slot for both card types next to the battery located in a compartment in the bottom of the camera. The battery cannot be charged in the camera, which is a shame considering the battery life is really short. 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 its USB, AV, and HDMI ports.

Sony keeps shooting options geared toward snapshooters on the TX7. Though you won't find full control over aperture or shutter speed, you do get something for just about every point-and-shoot user. Pop open the Shooting Mode menu and you'll find a Movie mode capable of 1080i HD-quality video in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording; Program Auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering; Sony's Intelligent Auto; Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options; and SCN, which lets you select from 12 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings.

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 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.

If you tend to leave it in Auto mode, Sony's Intelligent Auto turned 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 are three levels of high-speed full-resolution shooting, too, that all live up to Sony's performance claims. However, once the photos are shot you have to wait for them to be stored to the memory card--roughly 2 to 3 seconds for each photo taken.

For those who like to do macro photography, the TX7 can focus as close as 3.3 inches 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 TX7's shooting performance is excellent. Shutter lag in bright conditions is low at 0.4 second; in dim lighting it goes up to only 0.6 second. Shot-to-shot times without the flash averaged only 1.6 seconds; using the flash bumps that out to 2.2 seconds. The high-speed burst mode is capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. But again, once they're shot you have to wait several seconds while the buffer memory clears before you can shoot again. Even its time to first shot is quick for its class at 1.6 seconds.

The TX7's photo quality is fairly typical for a point-and-shoot camera. It's good up to ISO 200, but at higher sensitivities its noise reduction softens fine details, which is noticeable when pictures are viewed at 100 percent or when heavily cropped. Even at the camera's lowest ISO of 125, though, subjects are soft and benefit from a little post-shoot sharpening. By the time you get to ISO 400, photos start to look smeary. In its favor is its consistent color performance across sensitivities up to ISO 800. As long as you don't mind their painterly appearance at ISO 800, the results are fine for 4x6-prints and smaller and Web use. Photos at ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 look washed out and details are absent. In the end, if you're going to make poster-size prints and stare at them from a foot away, you're probably going to be disappointed with what you see. Also, if your subject isn't moving, we suggest you use the Hand-held Twilight mode for the best results in low-light conditions.

The TX7's lens quality is OK. There is some visible asymmetrical distortion at the wide end and a touch when zoomed out. Center sharpness is very good, but it drops off to the sides. The corners are particularly soft and the wide angle can cause a bit of a fish-eye effect. Fringing in images is below average to average; it is present in the high-contrast situations you would expect to see it, but it's only really visible at 100 percent and is thin enough that it could be removed with photo-editing software.

Photo color accuracy is very good with the TX7. While blues and reds maybe aren't as accurate as other colors, they're still nice looking with all colors turning out bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that, things are slightly washed-out-looking. Exposure and white balance are strong as well. However, clipped highlights are a regular occurrence.

Like photo quality, movies captured by the TX7 are somewhat soft-looking, but still very good for its class. The 60i frame rate makes for some smooth movement, too. It won't replace a standalone HD camcorder, but if you'd like a single device for capturing good photos and videos, this is one of the better options available. The optical zoom does work while recording and the stereo mic is a nice extra.

If you're in the market for a spare-no-expense stylish ultracompact, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7 is worth considering. Its shooting performance, low-light photo quality, and movie options make it an excellent party companion. You're paying mostly for the design and features, though, so if your primary concern is photo quality you're probably looking at the wrong camera. Also, while its Intelligent Auto mode is reliable, you'll need to experiment with the different settings and shooting options (and read the instruction manual thoroughly) to get the most from this camera.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7
1.6 
2.2 
1.6 
0.6 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS
1.9 
3.6 
2.4 
0.7 
0.4 
Samsung DualView TL225
1.5 
2.6 
2 
0.7 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
1.1 
4.5 
2.8 
0.7 
0.5 
Nikon Coolpix S70
2 
2.7 
2.1 
1 
0.6 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Samsung DualView TL225
0.9 
Nikon Coolpix S70
0.4 

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

sony-cyber-shot-dsc-tx7-digital-camera-compact-10-2-mpix-4-x-optical-zoom-carl-zeiss-flash-45-mb-silver.jpg
7.8

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7