Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300 review: 20x zoom, Wi-Fi, and a lot of fun
Smartphone snapshooters who want lots of zoom in the smallest possible package should check out the Cyber-shot WX300 point-and-shoot camera.
As everyone's well aware at this point, one of the key advantages point-and-shoots have over smartphones is their zoom lenses. Sony's out in front for 2013 with the 30x zoom Cyber-shot HX50V and the 20x zoom Cyber-shot WX300. Though both are small enough to fit in a pocket, the WX300 is compact and light enough to comfortably stick in a pants pocket or carry with you every day in a bag.
Also, because of how much Sony has pared down its Cyber-shot lineup, the HX50V is really targeted at those who want more control and features, while the WX300 is for those who want a better shooting experience than you get using a smartphone. At providing that, the WX300 definitely succeeds.
Its built-in Wi-Fi makes it possible to shoot and send to an Android or iOS device on the go, so if you do get a shot you want to share, you don't have to run back to a computer to do it. The wireless also allows you to remotely control the camera with a mobile device, making it an easy way to capture group or self-portraits. It can even be set to snap and save a low-res version to your device for fast sharing.
Those looking for significantly better image quality than a smartphone gives, though, might want to step up to the HX50V or forgo long zoom lenses for a higher-end enthusiast compact. While the WX300 turns out good results, there are some trade-offs that come with getting a 20x zoom lens into a camera so small.
In order to make a 25-500mm lens for a body this small, Sony took one of its 1/2.3-inch type 20-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensors and used only the center 18.2 megapixels of it, basically making an already small sensor even smaller. Pixel and sensor size are important to better image quality -- the larger, the better -- so having a small sensor that's packed with pixels isn't great.
That said, the WX300's photos are very good as long as you're not planning on doing a lot of enlarging or heavy cropping and don't really care about what your shots look like onscreen at 100 percent. Though photos appear soft even at its base sensitivity of ISO 80, detail is good up to ISO 800. Still, with the lens' slow f3.5 aperture at the wide end and f6.5 aperture when zoomed in, this camera is best used outdoors with good lighting. Noise and softness only get worse above ISO 800, but photos are good enough for sharing online at small sizes (well, maybe not ISO 3200) and certainly better than what you'll get from a smartphone.
The camera's ISO settings do include 6400 and 12800 settings, but they're reached by taking multiple shots and combining them. Unfortunately, the results are not good and I would avoid using these settings unless it's an emergency.
The WX300 also captures movies very well, on par with an entry-level video camera. The 60i frame rate and image stabilization make for some smooth movement, too. As with photos, it's good but not great in low light and really needs bright light to get the best results when you're using the zoom lens. If you'd like a single, small device for capturing good photos and videos, this is a decent choice. For the best results you'll want to record in AVCHD, but for Web sharing there is the option to record in MP4 format. The optical zoom does work while recording (though you will hear it moving in quiet scenes), and there is a fairly good stereo mic on top.
For the most part, the WX300 offers very good shooting performance. From off to first shot in our lab tests averaged 2.1 seconds with the lag between shots coming in at just 1 second. Turning on the flash in our tests seemed to always require some extra processing time, which gave us a shot-to-shot time with flash of 3.9 seconds. The time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing was only 0.2 second in bright conditions, so shooting felt near-instantaneous. It slowed down some in low light and with the lens extended, but was still good at 0.6 second.
The camera's burst shooting mode is capable of up to 10 frames per second. However, this burst shooting sets focus and exposure with the first shot, and once you've fired, you're stuck waiting for the camera to save the photos -- 8.6 seconds in our tests. There is no option to shoot continuously with autofocus.
Overall, it's a pretty fast camera, but it's not going to be perfect for shooting active kids and pets, especially in low light or when using the zoom lens indoors. Also, some of its modes require additional processing time, which can make performance feel slower.
Design and features
Prior to the WX300, the longest lens in the Cyber-shot W-series ultracompacts was the 10x 25-250mm on the WX150. To double the zoom range, Sony had to increase the body size of that model. It's only slightly larger, but enough so that Sony could put a shooting-mode dial on top and put more space between the buttons and control pad on back.
However, it still lacks much of a grip, which makes shooting one-handed a little tricky. Although, really, despite some excellent optical image stabilization, you'll want to steady the camera with two hands when using the zoom lens.
Again, the body is slightly thicker than the WX150's, which at least gives you more to grab onto there, and makes it more comfortable to use. The LCD is the same 3-inch display from that model; it's good, but like most camera screens it can be difficult to see in full sun.
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300
|Weight (with battery and media)
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type
|20 megapixels (18 megapixels effective), 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder
|3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)
|20x, f3.5-6.5, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent)
|File format (still/video)
|JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)
|Highest resolution size (still/video)
|4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (interlaced; 24Mbps)
|Image stabilization type
|Optical and digital
|Battery type, CIPA rated life
|Li-ion rechargeable, 500 shots
|Battery charged in camera
|Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer
|SD/SDHC/SDXC; Memory Stick Pro Duo
The camera's battery and memory card slot are under a locking sliding door on the bottom. The standard tripod mount is right next to the door's hinge (as is its Micro-HDMI port), so you'll more than likely need to remove any tripod or quick-mount plate to get to the battery and memory card. On the upside, since the camera is charged via its Micro-USB port and you can do transfers by USB or Wi-Fi, you can avoid opening it for the most part.
Battery life is excellent, too. If you've ever spent the day shooting a lot of photos and videos with your smartphone, you know it can quickly drain the battery. The WX300 is good for up to 500 shots, which is remarkable for such a small camera. Keep in mind, though, that using the zoom lens a lot, cranking up the screen brightness, using the built-in Wi-Fi, or recording movies will shorten it.
As for the Wi-Fi, it works well, too, and it's pretty uncomplicated to set up. The Wi-Fi can be used to send photos to an iOS or Android device or back up your shots on a computer. You can also use an iOS or Android device as a wireless remote control, though there is considerable lag.
Sony's PlayMemories Home software, used for sending to a computer, is Windows-only, but you can use the camera's Wi-Fi to connect directly to a Mac instead of over a network. (This, by the way, will also enable you to convert AVCHD video files to MP4 format on the fly.) If you're not comfortable with poking around with basic wireless settings on your computer or smartphone, you'll probably want to enlist the help of a techie friend to walk you through it.
|General shooting options
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)
|Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
|Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, White Fluorescent Lighting, Natural White Fluorescent, Day White Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, Manual
|Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Program, Scene, iSweep Panorama, Background Defocus, 3D Shooting, Movie
|Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child)
|1.9 inches (Wide); 6.6 feet (Tele)
|Multi, Center, Spot
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)
Like all of Sony's higher-end Exmor R-based Cyber-shot cameras, the WX300 has a lot of shooting options that take advantage of the fast sensor and Bionz image processors. For those who like to leave it in auto, there are three options: 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. (These multishot modes are also selectable as distinct modes in Scene options, along with 11 others like Soft Skin, Gourmet, and Pet.) These multishot modes work by rapidly capturing several images and layering them to remove problems like noise and blur from hand shake. However, your subject has to be absolutely still for them to work properly.
There is a Program mode if you want more control over your results, but you won't find any semimanual or manual shooting modes; the WX300 is really made for automatic snapshots. Sony does give you a lot of extra auto shooting options, though, including nine picture effects such as a miniature/tilt-shift, HDR, and high-contrast black-and-white, and 3D stills and easy pan-and-shoot panoramas.
It's hard out there for a point-and-shoot. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300 stands out by combining a 20x zoom lens, wireless features, excellent battery life, and Sony's large stable of auto shooting options. And like all good ultracompacts, it's small and light enough that you won't hesitate to take it with you when you know you're going to want something more than your smartphone can provide.