Good low-light shooting without help from a flash is a rarely attained goal in the world of compact cameras. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 does it with three of the company's own components: a new sensor design, a high-end lens, and a fast image processor. The combination pays off for low-light photos as well as several other features. However, though the WX1 is capable of delivering fast performance and some very good photos, those expecting extraordinary results equal to its features will likely be let down.
|Key specs||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.6 x 2 x 0.8 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.2 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||10 megapixels, 1/2.4-inch Exmor R CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||5x, f2.4-5.9, 24-120mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/MPEG-4 (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||3,648x2,736 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 350 shots|
One of the most remarkable things about the WX1 is the amount of technology Sony crammed into such a tiny, lightweight body. Due to its back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor and a fast Sony G f2.4 wide-angle lens, the camera has most of the same capabilities as the considerably larger HX1. Both the sensor and the G lens are of the quality found in Sony's dSLR and prosumer camcorder lines.
Sony managed to get almost all of the controls on to the back of the camera without making it feel cramped and confusing and while allowing for a secure one-handed grip that doesn't result in accidental button presses or mode dial changes. There are just three buttons on top: the usual power and shutter-release buttons, and one at the far right for turning on high-speed shooting. The power button is oddly far from the shutter release, just left of the camera's center. While this quickens turning the camera on with your left hand, it also makes it easy to accidentally turn the camera off.
A single Menu button gives you access to shooting controls as well as a selection for seeing all settings. What's also nice is the camera's capability to warn you about adjusting certain settings. For example, if you set the WX1 to spot meter light, you won't be able to turn on Face Detection. The WX1 tells you onscreen that Face Detection is not available because of Spot metering being selected. Cameras from other vendors generally make you guess what needs to be shut off in order to turn on a blacked-out option.
|General shooting options||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1, 2, and 3, Flash, Underwater 1 and 2, Custom|
|Recording modes||Program Auto, Scene Recognition Auto, Easy, Sweep Panorama, Anti Motion Blur, Handheld Twilight, SCN, Movie|
|Focus modes||9-point, Spot AF, Center-weighted AF, Macro AF|
|Metering||Multipattern, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||10 photos|
Outside of a few specialty shooting modes, Sony keeps shooting options reasonably basic on the WX1. Though you won't find full control over aperture or shutter speed, you do get something on the Mode dial for just about every point-and-shoot user. Going around the dial, you have a Movie mode capable of 720p HD-quality video with use of the optical zoom (you will hear the motor moving, however); 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 11 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings.
Then, there are the more specialized modes. The Sweeping 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. The last two are the Anti Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight modes. Both use the camera's capability to quickly capture six images and combine them into one photo with less blur 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 quite usable at 8x10 inches or smaller, though.
If you tend to leave it in Auto mode, Sony's Intelligent Auto turned in reliable results, as it picks from eight scene types (branded iSCN) and turns on face detection 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. Also worth mentioning is that the WX1 has exposure bracketing that will take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV.
Fast performance is not an issue for the WX1; it's one of the quickest cameras we've tested in its class. The wake-to-first-shot time is 1.5 seconds with a nearly identical shot-to-shot time of 1.7 seconds. Using the flash only bumps that time out to 2.3 seconds. Shutter lag in bright conditions is a scant 0.3 second; in dim lighting it's only 0.7 second. The camera has no continuous shooting mode, but its high-speed burst mode is capable of snapping off 9.6 frames per second at full resolution.