Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 Overview
Reviewed by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Date Posted: 03/24/2010
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 digital camera is a slim, stylish pocket digital camera that has a secret: It's waterproof. The Sony TX5 is based around the combination of a 10.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor and a 4x optical zoom lens. The Sony TX5's sensor is what's known as a backside illuminated (BSI) design, meaning that its circuitry is placed on the non-light-gathering side of the sensor, allowing the maximum area of the sensor's other side to be devoted to light gathering. This should translate to higher sensitivity, and to reduced noise levels when compared to a non-BSI sensor for the same sensitivity. Actual focal lengths vary from 4.43mm to 17.7mm, equivalent to a range of 25 to 100mm in still image mode. This equates to everything from a generous wide-angle to a moderate telephoto. When shooting high-def movies, the sensor crop raises the effective focal lengths to a range of 28 to 112mm, and for standard-def movies the range is equivalent to 34 to 136mm.
The Sony TX5 has a maximum aperture which varies from f/3.5 to f/4.6 across the zoom range. At wide-angle the minimum aperture is f/6.3. To help combat blur from camera shake, the Sony DSC-TX5's lens includes an optical stabilization mechanism which works in concert with a built-in gyro sensor to detect and correct for camera motion. As is sadly the norm for most compact cameras these days, the Sony Cyber-shot TX5 doesn't include any form of optical or electronic viewfinder. Instead, Sony has opted for a 3.0" Clear Photo Plus LCD display with a resolution of 230,000 dots, roughly equating to a resolution of 320 x 240 dots with three dots per color. Overlaid on the LCD display is a touch panel, allowing it to double as an input device with intuitive operations like flicking or drag and drop used to control camera functions.
Perhaps the most significant feature of the Sony TX5 is its rugged body, which for the first time in a Sony Cyber-shot camera is protected against a variety of dangers including water, dust, shock, and freezing. The Sony TX5 is also rated waterproof and dustproof to the IEC60529 IP58 standard, which means that it is dust protected (not completely dust tight, but sufficiently sealed to prevent dust affecting operation), and is suitable for immersion at one meter or below, under conditions specified by the manufacturer. In the case of the TX5, Sony states that the camera functions up to depths of ten feet underwater for as long as one hour. The shock proofing should protect the camera from accidental drops as high as five feet, which merits the MIL-STD-810F Method 516.5-Shock rating. Finally, the freezeproofing allows use in temperatures as low as 14 Fahrenheit / -10 Celsius, and as high as 104 Fahrenheit / 40 Celsius.
A nine-point autofocus system includes face detection capability, and can recognize up to eight faces in a scene. The face detection function can be disabled if desired, and can also be programmed to give priority to either adult or child faces. The AF system can also operate in either center-weighted or spot AF modes. ISO sensitivity in the Sony DSC-TX5 ranges from 125 to 3,200 equivalents, and exposures are calculated using multi-pattern, center-weighted or spot metering. 2.0EV of exposure compensation is available in 1/3EV increments, and to help with capturing contrasty scenes, the TX5 includes Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer function, although its strength isn't user-adjustable, and is instead fixed at the Standard position. Nine white balance settings are available, including Auto, Manual, and seven presets. Shutter speeds vary from 1/1,600 to two seconds. Burst shooting is possible for up to ten shots at full resolution, with a generous rate of ten frames per second. A built-in four mode flash operates to a maximum range of 9.5 feet at wide-angle, or 7.9 feet at telephoto, using the ISO Auto mode.
As well as still images, the Sony TX5 can capture either high-definition 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) or standard definition VGA (640 x 480 pixel) video at a frame rate of 29.97 frames per second. Movies are saved with MP4 compression, and include monaural audio. The Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 also includes an unusual sweep panorama function which can capture up to 100 shots automatically by simply sweeping the camera across the scene, and then stitch these in-camera into a single image with up to a 258 degree field of view.
The Sony TX5 stores images on Secure Digital and SDHC cards, but not the newer SDXC types. The Sony TX5 is also compatible with Sony's own proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo cards, and includes 45MB of built-in memory, enough to provide for a few of the most important photos should you accidentally leave your flash card at home. Power comes from a Sony InfoLithium NP-BN1 rechargeable battery, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 is rated as good for around 250 shots on a charge. Connectivity options include both USB 2.0 High-Speed data, as well as standard and component high definition 1080i video output.
The product bundle includes Sony's Picture Motion Browser v5.0 and Picture Motion Browser Portable (5.0 for Windows / 1.1 for Mac OS) applications. Sony also includes a one year limited parts and labor warranty. Pricing for the Sony DSC-TX5 is around US$350, and the camera will be available in silver, black, pink, green, and red versions from April 2010.
Sony TX5 User Report
by David Elrich
Right before PMA, Sony unveiled the DSC-TX5, a sleek new digicam featuring its Exmor R CMOS sensor. This 10.2-megapixel imaging device lets the camera capture ten frames per second at full resolution, take Intelligent Sweep Panoramas, and perform Backlight Correction HDR. Cool stuff--under the right conditions. In a first for Sony's super slim T Series with its sliding front panel, the Sony TX5 is waterproof so you can jump into the pool with it (taking it to a depth of 10 feet) but more likely you'll shoot in rainy weather. It's also freeze- and dust-proof, plus it takes a drop from five feet putting it in the class of similar "rugged" digicams from Olympus and Panasonic. The pocket-sized Sony TX5 also has a 4x Vario-Tessar wide-angle zoom (25-100mm equivalent), a good 3-inch touchscreen LCD, Optical Image Stabilization, plus it records 1,280 x 720p HD video at 30 frames per second, a nice set of features for $350.
Look and feel. I've always liked the sleek looks of Sony's T Series. It was one of the first featuring a zoom lens that didn't extend from the camera body, thanks to its folded optical design, and a sliding front panel that performs double duty as a lens cover and on-off switch. In the case of the silver-bodied Sony TX5, the panel has a shiny, reflective surface. The edges are rounded with few protruding controls. Overall it's a very sophisticated-looking digicam that'll fit right in at Disney World or Manhattan's Fashion Week. If silver is too boring, the Sony TX5 is available in black, pink, green, and red.
It measures 3.7 x 2.2 x .7 (WHD, in inches) and tips the scales at 5.1 ounces with both battery and card. You'll have no issues whatsoever carrying the Sony TX5 around all day. During our tests we did notice extensive finger smudges on the sliding door and 3-inch touchscreen so keep a lens cloth at the ready. Definitely attach the wrist strap for security whether you're on land or heading for the water.
Controls. Given this is a water- and dust-proof digital camera, every control and door has the potential for leaks, so don't expect many external dials, buttons, or extraneous compartments. Although the Sony TX5 powers on and off by sliding the front panel, there is a small button on the top that performs the same task. A small green light appears when the camera is on. Surprisingly, the Playback button on the back also turns the camera on to review shots, but it doesn't power the Sony TX5 off. A quick flick of the front panel does the trick.
Near the main power button is a slightly raised shutter button and a tiny zoom toggle next to it. This is extremely small and takes a bit of pressure to move through the entire range; it is a tad slow but I prefer that to a zoom that overshoots the subject. That's it for the controls other than Playback on the rear bezel, since every other adjustment is handled by the touchscreen. The Playback button is tiny, a bit hard to find, and requires a press of a nail to work. It's not a deal breaker, but I always strongly recommend you do your own hands-on test before you make a purchase. Theoretically a very compact camera sounds great on paper (or online) but these controls may not work for you. It didn't take long to get the feel for the Sony TX5's shutter, zoom, and playback system.
When you slide down the front panel you'll find a pinhole mono mic, AF-Assist lamp, and flash.
Again, only the Playback button graces the Sony TX5's rear panel. You won't find the ubiquitous four-way controller, menu, or delete buttons. Everything is handled by the touchscreen menu system, which is terrific. More about this in the Menu section.
Lens. In keeping with 2010's ongoing trend, the DSC-TX5 has a wide-angle zoom starting at 25mm. I really prefer this focal length, as it's very helpful for landscapes and group shots, plus it adds a more pleasing perspective than the traditional 35mm focal length. Sony uses a 4x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar type with 12 elements in 10 groups with 6 aspheric and 1 prism lens. When you're in Movie mode it records 28-112mm rather than the 25-100mm for stills.
The lens has an aperture range of f/3.6-f/6.3 in iAuto and Program modes. There are no individual aperture adjustments other than those made by the camera in various auto/scene modes. If you want to tweak aperture and shutter speeds, this is not the camera for you.
Results from our lab showed some softness in the corners at wide-angle, as well as some chromatic aberration. Telephoto shows low levels of both. There is very little geometric distortion at either end.
The TX5 has Sony's Optical Image Stabilization rather than digital, and it does a fine job minimizing the shakes at wide-angle and telephoto settings. This feature also comes in very handy when using the Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode.
Like many of Sony's point-and-shoots, the TX5 has 9-point autofocus so response was fast during our tests. Given the incredible number of snowstorms in my area, I had many opportunities photographing expanses of white; the Sony TX5 had no problems focusing quickly. Another nice feature is the ability to select a focus point off center just by tapping the screen when you're Program Auto.
Modes. Unlike the vast majority of digicams, there is no mode dial or switch on the DSC-TX5. All of your adjustments are made via the 3-inch touchscreen rated a decent 230K dots. The response of the touchscreen, its clarity, and thoughtful design make it one of the best we've ever used. The main Mode icon appears on the bottom right of the screen. By tapping it you're taken to a screen with all the available options. These include Intelligent Auto Adjustment, Program Auto, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Movie, Anti-Motion Blur, Handheld Twilight, Backlight Correction HDR, and Scene. Tap on the one that suits your needs and the camera is good to go. Depending on your choice, there are additional options with each.
iAuto is the basic point-and-shoot mode where the camera chooses the appropriate scene setting for the subject in front of it. It works well. Program Auto gives you access to exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, and burst mode. This is the most "sophisticated" setting, but it's hardly a PowerShot G11. If aperture and shutter speed adjustments are on your must-have list, keep looking. Intelligent Sweep Panorama is an enhanced version of the feature I like so much. Just by pressing the shutter and sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically, you get a seamless panorama with a maximum 258-degree range. The "Intelligent" adds face detection to the up to 100 images it stitches together. Anti-motion blur takes six images in a fraction of a second, combining them to eliminate blur. Handheld Twilight also takes six shots in fraction of a second, combining them to reduce digital noise. Backlight Correction HDR combines high and low exposures to create a more evenly exposed photo. Scene is for the classic scene modes and you have your choice of High Sensitivity, Soft Snap, Landscape, Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Gourmet, Pet, Beach, Snow (which we used a lot), Fireworks, Underwater, and High-Speed Shutter. Unlike the Sony DSC-W350, there is a dedicated macro setting that lets you take close-ups from 0.4 to 7.87 inches at wide-angle. In iAuto, it will switch to that setting when you move close to an object.
The Cyber-shot TX5 takes High Definition videos when you're in Movie mode. Unlike the more expensive TX7 with its AVCHD 1080 Full HD quality, this camera captures 1,280 x 720p at 30 frames per second with mono, not stereo sound. Your options include 720 Fine, 720 Standard, and VGA. Forgive my repeated rant but you have to purchase a proprietary $60 cable in order to view high-def movies on your television directly from the camera. This bothers me to no end, and we wish Sony would at least give consumers a break when they buy a bundle of the camera and cable.
Menu. Since almost all of your adjustments are done via the touchscreen, the menu system is absolutely critical for a good experience. Here Sony has done a wonderful job and it's among the nicest we've seen and used.
When you power up you'll see your subject in a traditional 4:3 or widescreen 16:9 frame depending on your mode. In 4:3 photo mode icons flank the viewing area. In widescreen, icons are overlaid. You simply tap the icons to make your changes. It's that ridiculously simple. Unlike some touchscreens, here your taps cause an immediate action so you can quickly make all the changes you want with a minimum of fumbling. Sony gets a big tip of the hat for this system. Even if you don't buy this camera, try the menu system at a local retailer to see this state-of-the-art interface in action.
The Sony TX5 isn't the most sophisticated camera on the block (at least for photographic tweaking). When you're in Program Auto you can adjust exposure compensation (+/-2EV), ISO (125-3,200), white balance (nine options), metering (Multi, Center, Spot), Smile Shutter, Flash, and resolution. One of my favorite options is the burst mode. Thanks to the Exmor R chip and BIONZ processor, the Sony TX5 can rip off 10 frames per second. This is blazingly fast and tops most DSLRs. The only difference is the fact that those DSLRs that can reach such speeds will keep shooting for a 100 frames at full resolution while the Sony TX5 stops after 10 to save the images to memory. Still, there are very few point-and-shoots with this fast a burst mode (other than the many new cameras from other manufacturers using Sony's chip).
Storage and Battery. As part of the new friendly face of Sony--and the fact they want to sell more cameras--the Sony TX5 and most new 2010 models have a slot that accepts Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD/SDHC cards. This is an excellent trend. Since the camera takes videos, Sony suggests using Pro Duo cards with the Mark 2 designation, Pro-HG or Class 4 and higher SDHC cards. No matter which you choose, pick up at least or 4GB or 6GB card. The TX5 has 45MB of internal memory to capture up to nine shots when you fill your card.
The Sony TX5 is supplied with a Lithium Ion N type 3.6V battery that's rated 250 images, per Sony. The battery held up well even with extensive flash exposures and videos. Nevertheless, a charged spare would be a worthwhile investment.
Since this is a waterproof camera the battery compartment door has a secure, sturdy lock. The door overlays a separate compartment for Multi Connector cable connection, seen just left of the tripod socket in the photo above. We had no leakage problems placing the Sony TX5 under water or in the snow.
Shooting with the Sony TX5
Timing is everything. I love reviewing cameras but when you get a waterproof model and all you see around you is snow, not powdery beaches with palm trees and warm breezes, you tend to curse the fates. No one said life was easy. Beach-withdrawal aside, I was pleased to give one of latest Sony T-series a workout--especially since it has the 10-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor and BIONZ processor, a combination that offers many cool features we'll cover shortly.
Although I joked about the lack of warm beaches or a even backyard pool, a waterproof camera is a good thing. It was used during several blizzards with no problems especially since it can handle water depths of 10 feet and temps down to 14 degrees F. I even dunked it into a fountain with no problems. The Sony TX5 is also drop-proof, which means it can fall 5 feet. We did this on asphalt several times and the camera was no worse for wear. Note: if you drop it on concrete or rocks, it can possibly scratch the case so this is not Superman (even he had issues with Kryptonite). Sony states the certification test is done on plywood, not jagged rocks. Also, if you buy this camera, remember to wipe off the lens to avoid bubbles on your images and make sure there's no sand or dirt on the camera when you raise the front panel. A warning message appears onscreen to be careful of this issue. This camera may be tough but it's not indestructible.
I used the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 over the course of several weeks around my home in New Jersey, in NYC, and as a companion during the recent PMA show in Anaheim. Before getting into image/video quality, I'd like to state the Sony TX5 has the best digicam touchscreen interface I've ever tested. It's very easy to use, quite responsive, nicely organized and simple to follow. There's no need to spend much time with the owner's manual, but it's still worth reading.
The Sony TX5 was primarily used at full resolution (4:3 aspect ratio) in Program Auto and videos were 720p Fine. Although I did use the 10 fps burst mode on occasion, for static shots it was overkill.
As noted, the camera has a 9-point AF system and there was very little "hunting" by the lens, even when shooting very dark scenes.
The nice, wide-angle 4x zoom is a winning feature. With 25mm the widest setting, you'll capture distinctive architecture images as well as attractive landscapes and good group shots. The wide setting let me capture both sides of a Manhattan street with the Empire State Building in the far background. The camera did a reasonable job in Program Auto, but then I used the Backlight Correction HDR to see what it would do. The combination of two exposures definitely added some detail to the buildings in shadows. I used this in other static situations such as a foliage expanse, buildings in shadows and other situations. It definitely added some pop and detail--it's a winning feature. Handheld Twilight is also a good option in poorly-lit scenes. I took shots of a restaurant's wall sculptures in the dark and the results were excellent--and without much digital noise. Note: these are best used in static situations as the camera pauses several seconds to merge the images. The wait is worth it.
There's is no waiting whatsoever when you move to high-speed burst mode. Usually point-and-shoots take 1-2 frames per second. This baby grabs 10 fps--it's amazingly fast. Again the camera pauses for a few seconds after capturing a burst. I took series of shots during snowstorms and sunshine with solid results. Colors overall were on the money but I did notice the noise suppression had a heavy hand in certain instances (it cannot be adjusted). Also shooting under tungsten light was quite warm with auto white balance.
Noise was kept under control for the most part, when there was enough light. In my test shots, noise wasn't a real problem until ISO 800, but I'd try to keep it at ISO 400 or lower. When shooting in low light, definitely use the Handheld Twilight setting.
Movies. As for HD video quality, the 1,280 x 720p at 30 fps is quite good, and a pleasant surprise. Clips displayed directly on a 50-inch Panasonic plasma were not filled with annoying digital blocks and the video was fluid with accurate colors. At telephoto you definitely see the blocks but overall the MP4 movies were more than acceptable. As a confirmed camcorder user, if video--not stills--is your key memory pursuit, I'd always recommend a quality AVCHD Full HD digital camera. Still, having the flexibility of recording a short clip for your YouTube account isn't a bad thing.
Playback. Press the Playback button and you can check out your photos and movies in a variety of ways. You can simply move frame by frame, view a slideshow with music, check them out in a calendar view or via thumbnails. The zoom switch lets you blow them up 8x for inspecting details.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft upper left corner
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Softest upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot
DSC-TX5's zoom is quite soft in the corners of the frame, though the center is
sharp. Blurring extends a small amount in toward center, which is noticeable in
some shots. At telephoto, blurring is minimal in the corners, and does not
extend very far.
Wide: Minimal pincushion distortion; only slightly noticeable
Tele: Virtually no distortion
Geometric Distortion: Surprisingly, there is a little pincushion distortion at wide-angle (0.2%), possibly thanks to a little overcompensation from the camera's processor. At telephoto, there's almost no perceptible distortion (<0.1% or a half pixel of barrel). Again, most likely the result of proactive camera processing.
Tele: Almost none
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is noticeable, with bright blue and red pixels on either side of the target lines. Telephoto, however, shows almost no visible distortion, except a hint of blue on the left side of the target lines. A very good performance for such a small, waterproof digital camera.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5's Macro mode captures
a sharp image at the very center, though softness in the corners is strong.
There's also noticeable chromatic aberration, particularly on the left side of
the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.07 x 0.80 inches (27 x 20 mm). The camera
focuses so closely that the flash exposure is uneven, with strong shadows from
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 Image Quality
Color: Overall color is about average for a
point-and-shoot digital camera, though blues and reds are pumped rather
strongly. (Many consumers prefer brighter blues and reds, and this trait is
common among many digital cameras.) Bright yellows and greens are about spot
on, as are pink tones. Hue is a little off for colors like orange and cyan,
which stretch toward yellow and blue respectively. Dark skintones are a little
more saturated and orange, but lighter tones are closer to accurate, if a
little cool and pinkish.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Noise handling is about what you
might expect for the Cyber-shot DSC-TX5, with good detail at ISOs 125 and 200,
but evident nose suppression at ISO 400 and 800. By ISO 1,600, color balance
cools and detail falls apart. See the Printed results below for more on how
this affects printed images.
Tele: Fair -- slightly dim
Auto WB: Warm
Incandescent WB: Also warm
Manual WB: Very good
Incandescent: Auto and Incandescent white balance
settings both produced very warm color under the household incandescent
lighting. Manual white balance, however, produced more accurate results, though
with a slightly cool, magenta tint.
Printed: ISO 125 printed results look good at 13x19 with good color and detail, with just some slight softness around low-contrast fine detail. ISO 200 looks almost the same at 13x19, just with a little more anti-noise softness. ISO 400 of course is softer, but prints reasonably well at 11x14 inches. ISO 800 looks just fine printed at 8x10; only reds are noticeably lacking in detail, but even that's not bad. ISO 800 shots clean up quite a bit at 5x7. ISO 1,600 and 3,200 shots both look quite good at 4x6. It's a pretty good performance for the slim pocket Sony TX5, a camera that's not only tiny, but rugged and waterproof.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.31 second at wide-angle and 0.61 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.008 second, which is exceptional.
Cycle time: Cycle time is also relatively fast, capturing a frame every 1.75 seconds in single-shot mode. The TX5 is capable of capturing 10 frames at 10 frames-per-second in burst mode, which is excellent.
Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5's flash recycles in a moderately fast 4.5 seconds after a full-power discharge.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5
- Wrist Strap
- Battery Charger BC-CSN
- Battery Pack NP-BN1
- Multi Connector Cable (A/V, USB)
- Paint Pen
- Software CD-ROM
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SD/SDHC or Memory Stick Pro Duo card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Multi Connector component video cable for HDTV
Sony TX5 Conclusion
With style and ruggedness, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 is a good quality point-and-shoot that I'd recommend. It's stylish and easy to carry around all day. It has a good wide-angle lens and the combo of the CMOS sensor and BIONZ processor lets the camera do some remarkable things such as 10 frames-per-second shooting, Backlight Correction HDR and Handheld Twilight, among others. And our printed test results show that you can make quite good use of its images, enlarging an ISO 125 image to 13x19 inches. The touchscreen interface is outstanding. The fact the Sony TX5 is water-, dust-, freeze- and shock-proof is icing on a pretty tasty cake, and the image quality makes it a clear Dave's Pick.