The Cyber-shot WX9 is Sony's entry point for getting an Exmor R backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. These sensors, which provide faster shooting performance and better low-light quality, were previously used only in Sony's higher-end Cyber-shots; the WX9's MSRP puts it squarely in the midrange. Add in a high-res 3-inch LCD, a 5x, f2.6 25mm-equivalent ultrawide-angle lens, and full HD movie capture at the press of a button and the WX9 becomes an incredible value. And the photos are pretty great for its class, too, as long as you don't mind softness when viewed at their full 16-megapixel resolution.
|Key specs||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.7x2.2x0.8 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||4.9 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||5x, f2.6-6.3, 25-125mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 60fps (interlaced; 24Mbps)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 210 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC; Memory Stick Pro Duo; Eye-Fi Connected support|
|Bundled software||Picture Motion Browser 5.5, PMB Portable 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Mac), Music Transfer|
With its f2.6 maximum aperture and BSI CMOS sensor, the WX9's photo quality is very good indoors and out. The only real disappointment is that photos aren't very sharp, even at its lowest ISO. However, there's little difference between photos taken at ISO 100 and ISO 400. Noise reduction kicks in more at ISO 800, though, which smears details and dulls colors some. There's a noticeable increase in noise and noise reduction at ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 making colors more washed out and subjects appear painterly; you'll probably want to reserve these two highest sensitivities for emergencies when you need to shoot in low-light conditions or get a faster shutter speed regardless of the results. On the other hand, if you're shooting a stationary subject, the WX9's Handheld Twilight mode improves low-light results by reducing noise and blur from hand shake. In fact, there's a mode to help with just about every typical shortcoming with point-and-shoots. You might not be able to make huge prints or do a lot of heavy cropping, but for snapshots the results are excellent.
Part of the reason the WX9's photos are so nice is its color performance. While blues and reds may not be as accurate as other colors, they are bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that, things get slightly washed out and muddy-looking. Also, when the lens was fully extended, blacks look slightly washed out compared with how they are at the wide end. Exposure and white balance are good as well, though highlights tend to blow out. The camera has shooting options for helping with those things, though.
Movies captured by the WX9 are excellent as well, on par with a very good pocket video camera. The 60i frame rate and image stabilization make for some smooth movement, too. You will see some ghosting with fast-moving subjects, though, and things look a little oversharpened on occasion. It won't replace a full-fledged 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 (though you will hear it moving in quiet scenes), and the stereo mic is a nice extra.
|General shooting options||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Custom|
|Recording modes||Easy, Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Program, 3D Still Image, SCN, Background Defocus, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Movie|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child)|
|Macro||1.9 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||10 shots|
Sony keeps shooting options geared toward snapshooters on the WX9, but it's so loaded with automatic modes that it could get very confusing. 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--to shoot photos with the best possible settings.
Why not just leave it in Superior Auto? Multishot modes like these rapidly take photos and overlay them to help remove blur, correct exposure, and reduce noise. However, they don't work well with moving subjects and they require additional in-camera image processing so they take longer than a simple snapshot taken with Intelligent Auto and other single-shot modes. If there's a chance your subject might be moving--even slightly--while you're shooting, I'd stick with Intelligent Auto. Also, these multishot modes plus 11 others are available in the WX9's scene mode (SCN) so you can always pick the appropriate one when you need it. That said, Superior Auto does allow you to take full advantage of the camera's capabilities in an automatic mode.
Along with these options there's Sony's Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode for capturing horizontal or vertical panoramas with one press of the shutter release; this is unlike other cameras that require you to take several shots. Intelligent Sweep separates itself from Sony's regular Sweep Panorama by automatically detecting 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 it all the time.
The WX9's movie mode is capable of recording at HD resolutions up to 1,920x1,080 pixels in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording. Though you can actually enter a dedicated movie mode, you can also just press the record button anytime you want to start shooting. Pressing the shutter release while you're recording will grab 3-megapixel stills, too.
Lastly, there are three 3D shooting modes. The 3D Sweep Panorama works just like the Intelligent Sweep, but creates both a normal panorama shot and one that can be viewed in 3D on a 3D-enabled HDTV. As you sweep the camera it shoots separate photos for the left and right eyes, which is how it's able to create 3D images with just one lens. The Sweep Multi Angle works similarly by taking 15 photos at different angles as you sweep across a scene. The camera then coverts those into one photo. By tilting the camera back and forth during playback, the camera's built-in gyro sensor displays the image in a 3D-like view on the camera's LCD. Finally, there's the 3D still image mode that quickly takes two shots, analyzes subject distance between foreground and background, and creates a single 3D photo. The results are OK, but there's definitely room for improvement. For example, the modes can't handle anything moving, so it's really just for landscapes or stationary subjects. Also, it's pretty easy to see the image slices that are stitched together. Still, if you were already planning to buy an ultracompact camera and have already started collecting 3D equipment, this is one more reason to pick up the WX9.
For its size and price, the WX9 is a fast performer. From off to first shot is 1.1 seconds with a shot-to-shot time of 1.7 seconds. Turning on the flash, though, slows the camera down to 3.8 seconds between shots. Its shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is good at 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim conditions with less subject contrast. The camera's burst shooting mode is capable of up to 10fps, but in our more demanding test it averaged 7.7fps, which is still very good. 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, generally a second or two per photo.
Design is usually one of Sony's strong suits with its point-and-shoots, but it's one of this camera's few weaknesses. It's not that it's an ugly camera or it's too big and heavy; it's actually incredibly small for how powerful it is. And that's the problem: many of the controls are very small and several of them are flat and flush with the body, including the power button. Plus, the mode dial/directional pad is slightly frustrating to use and could accidentally move you out of your chosen shooting mode if you're not careful with your thumb.
There are a couple other design things to be aware of. For some of its 2011 Cyber-shots including the WX9 Sony switched to charging the camera battery in the camera via USB. You can charge it by connecting to a computer or the included wall adapter. However, it's a proprietary port on the camera so if you lose the cable, you'll have to buy one from Sony. Also, the battery life is a CIPA-rated 210 shots. If you're shooting a lot video, have the display brightness cranked up, or using a lot of the multishot modes or burst shooting, this will cut into your battery life. If you buy a backup battery you'll probably want to buy an external charger as well, or just plan ahead. Conclusions
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 is a sweet deal for the money. If you can, I recommend trying it out before you buy, though. The controls would keep me from buying this camera because it made it less enjoyable to use. If they don't bother you, however, it's an excellent camera.
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