Sony Cyber-shot WX9 Overview
by Alex Burack, Zig Weidelich, Shawn Barnett, and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 09/16/2011
Sony has long made small, attractive point-and-shoot cameras. The Cyber-shot line has produced a number of high-performance models, though their often high pricetags have put them out of contention for bargain hunters. The WX9 seems to pack value into its $200 price point, integrating the line's impressive snapshot features, a dense 16.2-megapixel sensor, full HD 1080/60i video, and large 3.0-inch LCD screen.
Sony Cyber-shot WX9 User Report
The 16.2-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot WX9 is a dressed up point-and-shoot digital camera. It joins HD video capture, Panorama stitching, and a DSLR-like background blur mode with a thin, attractive frame. Sony has done an effective, if not creative, job of integrating memorable snapshot features throughout the stylish design. The pocketable WX9, however, faces stiff competition in the $200-$220 price range.
Look and feel. Aesthetics have always been an asset of the Cyber-shot line, and the Sony WX9 is no exception. The slight frame weighs in at under five ounces and is offered in multiple colors: Black, Silver, and Red. The strawberry-red WX9 is the most attractive option, while the brushed black frame assumes a sleeker, more covert presence.
Extending just 3.72 x 2.22 x 0.78 inches (94.6 x 56.3 x 19.8mm), the Cyber-shot WX9 is essentially a thin rectangle with rounded corners. The camera is tall enough to sport a large 3.0-inch LCD screen, but slim enough to easily slide into a pocket.
Typical of sleek point-and-shoot designs, the Sony WX9 omits a grip or textured material to support your shooting hand. The weight is well balanced, allowing you to support the camera with your thumb and index finger resting on the shutter button and navigation wheel (on the top and back of the camera, respectively). A small power button is just left of the shutter button, and two holes for the microphone are left of that.
There are minimal buttons on the Sony WX9's exterior, with the majority of controls grouped into a vertical cluster along the right portion of the back of the camera, accessible by your thumb in shooting position.
The rear dial provides for directional selections (Drive, Flash, Display, and Self-timer), along with quick navigation of the menus and settings. The dial is set off the Sony WX9 to help you locate it by feel, and is responsive. It ultimately speeds up selections and menu surfing significantly over a more conventional four-way directional control.
Above the rear dial are the Mode switch and Movie Record button. Below the dial are buttons for Menu, Help/Delete, and Playback.
LCD. Like most contemporary point-and-shoot digital cameras, the Sony WX9 opts for a larger LCD screen and omits an optical viewfinder. The 3.0-inch screen has a whopping 921,600-dots, rare for a low-priced pocket camera, and is viewable from a wide angle. There is also a five-step control to brighten or dim the screen to accommodate glare or difficult viewing conditions.
In use, the Sony WX9's screen supplies adequate contrast and a wide view. The LCD's color reproduction is a bit oversaturated particularly warmer colors making both the viewfinder and captured image appear more saturated than the actual captured file, particularly anything with a hint of red or brown will become vibrantly red.
The screen resolution is one of the more impressive elements of the Sony WX9, though the level of detail the monitor displays shows some of the image quality flaws (for better or worse). Softness in the corner of the images is a major drawback to the WX9's recorded images, a defect that is noticeable in Playback if you zoom in on image details near the edges of the frame. This allows you to check and determine how soft particular objects may appear in the printed image; however, there is no correction for it.
Lens. Sony touts the Cyber-shot WX9's 5x zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar-branded lens, noting the image quality it can produce when paired with the camera's CMOS sensor. The 25-125mm equivalent zoom lens doesn't live up to its billing, however, producing images with soft edges and occasionally glowing lines around objects.
The design of the Sony WX9's lens is better than the results it produces. The collapsing 5x zoom is effectively stabilized by Sony's proprietary Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, and is a bit faster (brighter) than most lenses on point-and-shoot cameras at full wide angle, opening up to a large max aperture of f/2.6. The large aperture helps to produce images with less visual noise in low light conditions when shooting at full wide angle.
Lens speed, however, slows significantly across the 5x zoom range, closing to a max aperture of f/6.3 in full telephoto. This means it's likely that low-light images shot at full zoom will be noisier and less defined than photos captured at wide angle.
Ultimately, the configuration of the Sony WX9's Zeiss lens holds promise, though its output falls significantly far short of expectations.
Interface. The graphic structure and orientation of the menus on the Sony WX9 is organized, clear, and instructive. A shooting menu overlay allows real-time adjustments to the live composition. This is particularly helpful when trying to determine the best color balance setting for the shot. Sony has maintained clean menus with an inviting graphic user interface. New users will adapt to the menus quickly.
The user is given control over the information that is displayed over the live and captured shots. This element is consistent with most competing models.
A standard left-tabbed menu system accesses all the rest of the controls, accessible with the suitcase menu at the bottom of the main overlay menu. I found the white and pink menu styles to be a bit jarring on my eyes, but some may find the blast of color enticing. Either way, it is adjustable by the user, so you can easily select the design to best suit your style (as we did for this animation at right).
Modes. Sony leaves a conventional mode dial off of the diminutive WX9 to keep the camera trim and unfettered, instead using a combination of a Mode switch and the Rear dial to select your shooting mode. A vertical switch on the back of the camera quickly selects among three shooting modes: Still Image, iSweep Panorama, and Video capture. In Record mode, turning the Rear dial brings up a virtual dial that slides out from the right of the screen. Once it appears, rotating the dial selects among Program, Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto, Background Defocus, Scene selection, and 3D. You can also immediately begin capturing video by depressing the Movie Record button just to the right of the Mode switch.
Little manual control is given to the user over specific exposure settings, but there are many special modes for different subjects, and helper modes designed to achieve specific goals. For instance, Sony includes a background defocus setting that blurs the background, mimicking a shot with a large aperture. Since there are no aperture blades on the Sony WX9 (nor on many pocket cameras), the camera uses a unique trick, focusing on the foreground and background, then capturing and combining two images, one in-focus, the other out, and the camera makes an educated guess which is the foreground object and which the background, essentially cutting out the foreground and laying in the blurred background image for that "SLR-like" effect. The effect is not always that perfect, especially with unusual objects like the teapot. The bottom half of the teapot's handle at left is blurry, as are parts of the desk, while other nearby elements are still sharp.
3D Stills If you've recently picked up a 3D TV, the WX9's 3D shooting just might make it all the more useful. With the WX9, along with other current Cyber-shot models, you can snap 3D stills and panoramas and display them with full dimensionality on your new television. Sony does, however, caution users that 3D viewing is not intended for long durations and warns against children with still-developing vision using the feature.
Backlight Correction HDR Shooting dark subjects in front of a bright background is one of the most difficult shooting situations for photographers. Typically, you would attempt to solve this issue in the field by switching to “Spot” metering and exposing for the foreground subject. This tactic will ensure that your subject is properly exposed, however, it nonetheless comes at the expense of the background (which is typically washed-out). Sony takes an advanced approach to this within the WX9, instantly snapping three consecutive images at bracketed exposures and combining them into a single file. The camera takes the highlights, shadows, and mid-tones from each frame and fuses them into a single, tone-optimized image. The result is a proper exposure for both the subject and background.
iSweep Panorama Shooting panoramic images with current Cyber-shot cameras is effortless. You merely have to switch into the iSweep Panorama shooting mode, hold down the shutter button and pan the camera horizontally. The integration and interface are smooth and astonishingly effective.
The panoramic setting is easily one of the WX9's best features, and in my opinion, the interface should become the standard for in-camera panoramas across all digicams. The iSweep Panorama mode differs from Sony's Sweep Panorama modes, in that the camera detects moving objects and tries to prevent clipping of these objects in a scene, as often happens in the less sophisticated version.
Though the WX9 doesn't offer a High Resolution sweep mode, it does offer 3D Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Multi Angle. Multi-angle is particularly unique, creating a 3D image that you can view on the back of the camera by tilting the camera horizontally as you look at the LCD.
It should be noted, however, that the very process of merging exposures in this fashion decreases the total contrast in the image and may not appear to have quite the same visual “pop” of images shot with the camera's native tonal range.
10fps shooting Consistent with other models in Sony's Cyber-shot line, the WX9 includes a remarkably fast, 10 frames per second (fps) shooting mode. You can capture up to 10 full-resolution images in a single burst sequence, a feat that also had been previously relegated to DSLR shooting. Viewing high-speed burst sequences in the camera's Playback mode, you can review the photos as single, high-resolution files, or you can hit the selection button and view the 10 shots as an active composite which you can move through by tilting the camera left and right, as you do to view a 3D Multi-angle image.
The real value of the feature is being able to capture a 10-shot sequence in full resolution. Previously, point-and-shoot cameras were basically useless for action shots due to the slow shot-to-shot speed and drawn-out shutter lag. The WX9's burst mode and its mechanics overcome these issues and make high-speed shooting possible in a pocket camera.
Storage and battery. Consistent with other Cyber-shot models, the Sony WX9 is outfitted with a dual media port the records to Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo media or the more prevalent SD media. Sony lists restrictions on what can be written to certain media: “Memory Stick Duo” (No movie recording), “Memory Stick PRO Duo” (Mark 2 only for movie recording), “Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo”; SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards (all Class 4 or higher). There's also approximately 19MB of internal memory, good for about three full-resolution images.
The slim camera is powered by a 3.6v lithium-ion battery (model NP-BN1), which purportedly captures 210 shots per charge. In my experience with the camera, I found it easily endured for over 200 images or so, though it still falls short of what I would expect. The battery charges inside the Sony WX9 via the included USB charging cable. An AC to USB power adapter brick is included.
Connectivity. A USB 2.0 port is provided via Sony's propriety multi-use terminal (Type 3b) at the bottom of the camera. A/V and Component HD video is available with an optional cable. The WX9 includes a mini HDMI port and works with CEC, which allows control of the camera via a television remote control.
Shooting with the Sony WX9
The WX9's mechanics allow for quick operation, but the camera's reaction time can vary considerably depending on which mode you're in. Setting the Sony WX9 to Superior Auto seems to sap some of its brain power in an effort to analyze the scene, slowing the camera's responsiveness to user input to the point of nuisance.
Autofocus speed is impressive for a point-and-shoot, though it's not as accurate as we'd like to see. It shoots consecutive images every 1.93 seconds, which is fairly pedestrian, and the full display takes about two seconds to become available on power-up.
Buttons are a little small, particularly the Menu, Playback, and Movie Record buttons. The Menu button is a little too close to the rear dial, making it difficult to press without activating the Self-timer mode instead (the bottom button on the rear dial).
As we mentioned, shooting in Superior Auto for just a few minutes was enough to make us turn it off and switch back to Program mode. Thank goodness that's there, or the Sony WX9 would be more too cumbersome to use. It's a pity, because the Superior Auto mode offers automated access to some of the WX9's more useful modes, like Anti-Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight. It can be a little surprising when you go to take one shot and the camera fires off three times, but the improved results are hard to dismiss. Perhaps Sony should have reserved this mode for a camera with a little more processing horsepower.
Image quality. The creative feature set and aesthetic appeal of the Sony WX9 is strong; but under the hood, the camera doesn't impress. A wide ISO range up to ISO 3,200 is selectable for low light shooting situations. Unfortunately, printed images from the WX9 only maintain reasonable image quality up to ISO 800, when printed at 8x10 or smaller.
Optical performance from the WX9's 25-125mm zoom lens, particularly at wide angle, is unspectacular. Corners are soft at 25mm, with considerable blurring on the right edges of the frame. Print quality shows inconsistent focus and blurring along the bottom and edges of the frame. In telephoto images, the center of the composition also gets somewhat softer than at wide angle.
Movies. Recording movies with the Sony WX9 is pretty easy, and there are many modes to choose from. AVCHD recording is the default format, and several recording qualities are available. FX records AVCHD 1080i at 24Mbps, FH records at 17Mbps, and HQ records at 9Mbps. In MP4 mode, you can 1080p at 12Mbps, 720p at 6Mbps, and VGA at 3Mbps.
While it's great that you can zoom optically while recording, the lens mechanism is so loose that the lens jiggles while you zoom, resulting in very bouncy video. It's not bad for the money, but it's not the best we've seen, either. When you start to zoom, there's a little sound like a distant car squealing its tires that gets recorded to the video. After that, zooming is fairly quiet.
The Sony WX9's image quality falls significantly short of expectation, even when compared to other models in the Cyber-shot line. The substandard picture quality delivered by the WX9 dramatically offsets the value created by its pleasing design, feature set, and price. We think it would serve the casual snapshooter fairly well nonetheless, but we'd recommend something else for the discerning shooter.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft at upper left
Tele: Soft at center
Tele: Very soft, upper right
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9's zoom
shows noticeable blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center,
and blurring extends fairly far in toward the center of the frame. At telephoto, the entire image is soft, though blurring is stronger in the right corners. (The left corners are actually a little sharper than everywhere else.)
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; noticeable but slight
Tele: A tiny amount of pincushion distortion, barely visible
Geometric Distortion: We measured only moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle (~0.5%), and almost no perceptible pincushion distortion (~0.05%) at telephoto. The Cyber-shot DSC-WX9's processor is no doubt hard at work here.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate
in terms of pixel count, though pixels are very bright and noticeable. Telephoto, however,
shows less distinct distortion, with faint reddish pixels suggested.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9's Macro mode captures a lot of fine detail, though details overall are a bit soft. However, corners softness and chromatic aberration are better than average here (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras
in macro mode). Details on the dollar bill are best defined, while the brooch and coins are fuzzy. Minimum coverage area is 2.52 x 1.89 inches (64 x 48mm), which
is about average. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in an uneven exposure with a strong hot spot on the brooch.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is excellent.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 Image Quality
Color: Overall color looks pretty good, though bright yellows are somewhat
muted, and strong reds and blues are pumped a little high (blues much more so than
reds). Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow, orange and cyan. Dark
skin tones are slightly warm, and lighter skin tones move toward magenta. Still, good results overall.
Very good, but a hint cool
Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting much better than the Incandescent and Auto settings, which resulted in warm and reddish casts, respectively. Though results with Manual are a tad cool and greenish, overall color is best.
Horizontal: 2,100 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,100 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 2,000 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,800 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive at 17.4 feet. The telephoto test came out a little dim at 8.2 feet, despite a big ISO boost to 800.
Auto flash produced almost overly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining a small amount of the ambient light by using a slower shutter speed of 1/40 second, and raising ISO to 500. At this shutter speed, subject motion blur could be an issue, but the WX9's image stabilization should help avoid blur due to camera motion. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is already a bit fuzzy at ISO 100 and with increasing softness from there. Chroma (color) noise isn't overly strong, but luminance noise does continue to increase in visibility.
By ISO 800 on up to 3,200, detail is basically gone and images are very soft. See Printed section below for how this affects prints.
Print quality is where a lot of cameras with questionable onscreen image quality are vindicated; unfortunately, that's not the case with the Sony WX9, whose optical quality steps in to do a little extra damage.
ISO 100 images have enough detail that they would be usable at 13x19, but the entire bottom of the image is out of focus due to a problem with the lens. This doesn't become acceptable until 8x10 and 5x7. The overall image looks better at 11x14. (We requested a second unit from the company, and the result was the same.)
ISO 200 images are usable at 11x14, but better at 8x10, though the bottom still looks pretty blurry.
ISO 400 looks good at 8x10.
ISO 800 looks good at 8x10.
ISO 1,600 usable at 8x10, but better at 5x7.
ISO 3,200 usable at 5x7, strong blurring in solid colors.
The printed results show that without the lens problem, the Sony WX9 would be a decent pocket digital camera for the price; however, the lens problem itself will render the bottom of horizontal images quite soft most of the time.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 Performance
Startup Time: The Sony WX9 takes about 2.2 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's not bad for its class.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.25 second at wide angle and 0.39 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.014 second, incredibly fast.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is on the slower side, capturing a frame every 1.93 seconds in single-shot mode. However, High-Speed Burst mode captures up to 10 frames at 10 frames per second, which is much faster than average.
Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9's flash recycles in about 7.6 seconds after a full-power discharge, on the slow side of average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was only able to focus down to the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9's download speeds are moderately fast. We measured 6,528 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 camera
- Rechargeable battery pack NP-BN1
- Multi-use terminal USB cable
- AC Adaptor AC-UB10/UB10B
- Wrist strap
- CD-ROM (Cyber-shot application software, User Guide)
- Instruction Manual
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SDHC or Memory Stick PRO Duo memory card. These days, 4GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 8GB should be a minimum.
- Camera case
Sony WX9 Conclusion
Sony has consistently produced attractive point-and-shoot cameras with snapshot-oriented features and optical image stabilization. Performance and usability are generally strong. Priced at $199.99, we expected the 16.2-megapixel WX9 to be a strong contender. It had high resolution, backside illumination for good performance in low light, special multi-frame scene modes to take that goodness even further, and even special 3D and easy panorama modes. But it was the WX9's still image quality--partially damaged by the lens, partially by noise suppression, that disappointed us so. If a camera can't capture a simple, sharp still image, it doesn't meet its basic purpose. The user wanting to exploit its more interesting features without thinking about them would do well to put the WX9 into Superior Auto mode, but the camera slows to unbearable levels, making it frustrating to use. We still think it will serve anyone looking for a basic snapshot camera, printing only smaller images, but the discerning camera buyer will want a little more.
Follow Imaging-Resource.com on twitter!