Sony DSC-WX1 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Sony Cameras / Sony Cybershot i Express Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Resolution: 10.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.4"
Lens: 5.00x zoom
(24-120mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 80-3200
Shutter: 2-1/1600
Max Aperture: 2.4
Dimensions: 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
(91 x 52 x 20 mm)
Weight: 5.2 oz (148 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $350
Availability: 10/2009
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony DSC-WX1 specifications
10.10
Megapixels
5.00x zoom
1/2.4"
size sensor
image of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Front side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 digital camera Back side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 digital camera Top side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 digital camera Left side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 digital camera Right side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 digital camera
Imaging Resource rating

4.0 out of 5.0

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 Overview

Reviewed by Mike Pasini, Mike Tomkins, Shawn Barnett,
and Dave Etchells
Review Posted: 10/14/09

Extremely small and attractive, the Sony WX1 has a few tricks under its hat that you'd never guess by just looking at it. The new feature this year isn't face detection or smile sensing -- though those things can be found on the Sony WX1--the new feature is low-light capability, allowing you to get shots indoors and at night that you never could before without getting blur from subject movement and camera movement. The Sony WX1 uses both an enhanced sensor, and very fast processing to achieve these tricks, and the results are impressive.

Along with the company's TX1 model, the Sony WX1 is one of the first two Sony Cyber-shot digital still cameras to feature a back-illuminated 'Exmor R' CMOS image sensor. Most sensors are front-illuminated, meaning that light must pass through a metal wiring layer before reaching the light-sensitive pixels. Some of the light is blocked by this wiring layer, reducing the sensor's ability to gather light. Back-illuminated sensors have the wiring layer below the pixels, so they collect more light. This improvement, says Sony, means a 200% increase in sensitivity over a traditional front-illuminated CMOS sensor.

The Sony Cybershot WX1 also includes the ability to stack multiple images shot at high sensitivity into a single exposure, resulting in reduced noise. It's a feature we've seen in the company's previous DSC-HX1 model, that Sony has refined in the WX1. The Sony WX1 is now able to detect subjects that have moved between shots, selecting only the frame in which they are most clear. The Sony WX1 also includes a Sweep Panorama function which automatically assembles panoramas from as many as 100 separate photos captured automatically, while you simply sweep your camera across the scene at the camera's direction. The WX1 is capable of horizontal panoramas covering as much as 256 degrees, or vertical panoramas with up to 175 degree coverage.

You can also shoot a burst of shots at ten frames per second with the Sony WX1 thanks to its high-speed mechanical shutter that prevents the image distortion which can occur in cameras using an electronic shutter.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 is also capable of recording high-definition movies with sound at up to 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) resolution, with a rate of 30 frames per second. WX1 movies are saved with MPEG4 compression, and standard definition 640 x 480 pixel (VGA) movie recording is also possible.

The Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1 ships in the USA from October 2009, and is only available in a black-bodied version for the US market. Pricing has been set at US$350.

 

Sony Cyber-shot WX1
User Report

by Mike Pasini

The Sony Cyber-shot WX1 is something of a sibling to the TX1, both offering the Exmor R sensor and Sweep Panorama, Handheld Twilight, Anti-Motion Blur, and HD video. But there are some important differences between the two -- and they aren't just matters of style.

The Sony WX1 is smaller but thicker. Pictures of the body often hide the darker back half of the camera because it's tapered to emphasize the sleek silver front half. And unlike the TX1's touchscreen interface, the Sony WX1 has a few more buttons and no touchscreen.

But the Sony WX1 has a more traditional, and very wide 24mm G lens with a 5x optical zoom, where the TX1 uses a folding zoom lens. Starting at 24mm is a big advantage over the starting 35mm focal length of the TX1 as is having a 5x zoom get the WX1 to 120mm, which is just short of the TX1's 140mm telephoto (in 35mm equivalents).

So if you're wondering how to decide between these two Exmor R cameras, focus on the interface and the lens. The other features (even the special ones) are pretty even.

Look and Feel. A credit card just about covers the WX1's face (the card is not quite wide enough, otherwise it would). But it's 0.75 inches thick and, with the lens extended, it's 1.5 inches thick.

Still, the Sony WX1 is a very pocketable camera and you'll have no qualms about taking it everywhere you go.

There is no grip to speak of on the little Sony WX1, but the raised "SONY" on the front gives your fingers something to grip. Your thumb on the back panel rests on the Mode dial. That was a problem for me. The Mode dial itself is easily moved and I found myself inadvertently changing modes as I was shooting.

While we're talking about physical inconveniences, I also found the battery door a major headache. It kept opening up. Not unprompted, no, but whenever I lifted the Sony WX1 out of a pocket or even a camera bag. The problem is that the wrist strap eyelet is at the same end as the cover so your fingers naturally grab the cover and lift. But any resistance from the body and that opens the door, which slides in that direction to open.

There were times using the Sony WX1, that I wondered if it wasn't just a bit too small. And if, with a camera this size, it would have been better to forego buttons in favor of a touchscreen like the TX1.

Controls. A few days with the superlative TX1 touchscreen really spoiled me when I had to go back to the world of buttons on the Sony WX1. For one thing, the icons on the buttons are small (and hard for older eyes to read). And the buttons on the back panel are miniscule.

On the top panel, the Power button is flush with the panel but not hard to find and use. A small LED to its left indicates whether the camera is on or off. You can also power up the Sony WX1 with the Playback button on the back (and not extend the lens) but you can't power it off that way. You can only turn off the Sony WX1 with the Power button.

The Shutter button is nicely designed as these things go, rising in a slight arch from the top panel. It's large enough to find without looking for it, too. The Release mode button to its right is so small you'll probably never notice it, leaving the camera on single shot mode (and missing the 10 fps at full resolution that the Sony WX1 can deliver).

The rest of the controls are on the Sony WX1's back panel to the right of the 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD, which has 230,000 pixels. Top right is the Zoom toggle, which racks the G lens out smoothly and slowly enough to make image composition fun instead of frustrating. It doesn't stop suddenly when you release it, though, continuing on for just a moment longer to slow down, much like a good driver at a stop light. That often takes the Sony WX1's zoom beyond where you want it to stop, but once you learn to anticipate that, it's less of a problem.

The slippery Mode dial is under that with eight options: Easy, Intelligent Auto, Program, Sweep Panorama, Movie, Scene, Handheld Twilight, and Anti-Motion Blur. There are no manual modes on the Sony WX1.

Right under the Sony WX1's Mode dial is the very tiny Playback button. It sits right above the four-way navigator with an OK button in the center. Under it sits a wide Menu button and a round Delete button.

Lens. This is a sweet lens on such a compact camera. And the sweetness starts at 24mm, a fairly wide view that can capture a room without backing you into the wall. It also extends to 120mm with a 5x reach that will find you dipping into the up to Smart or Precision versions of Sony's digital zoom variants frequently if you travel much with this compact. Maximum combined optical and digital zoom is 10x.

The Sony WX1's lens has 6 elements in 5 groups, including 5 aspheric elements.

Apertures are limited to f/2.4 or f/7.1 in wide-angle in Auto and the same in Program with the addition of a neutral density filter. Which explains why there's no manual control on the Sony WX1.

Optical image stabilization is provided with Sony's Optical SteadyShot.

The Sony WX1's G lens exhibited moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle but only a tiny amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto. Chromatic aberration was low at both zoom settings. There was noticeable blurring in the corners at wide-angle, though it was pretty much confined to the corners. At full telephoto, contrast and sharpness was lower compared to wide-angle.

Modes. Without manual control, the Sony WX1 offers a wealth of auto modes including Easy, Intelligent Auto, and Program.

Easy mode restricts your options to a very safe few: Image Size and Flash. But it also taps into Intelligent Scene Recognition to optimize camera settings. And it can display helpful but basic instructions on the LCD. Turning the Sony WX1 on in Easy mode, for example, flashes a warning in big letters to let you know just how many more images you can take.

Intelligent Auto adds Burst mode, EV compensation, Scene Recognition (On/Off), Smile Detection Sensitivity, Face Detection options, and Red Eye Reduction options. With Scene Recognition enabled, the camera can set the camera for eight different kinds of situations. Those include Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight using a tripod, Portrait, Landscape, and Macro. A green icon in the top left corner of the screen indicates which one was selected.

The Intelligent Scene Recognition that Easy and iAuto rely on functions in two modes: Auto and Advanced. Auto takes one shot with the optimized settings while Advanced takes a second shot in difficult lighting using alternate optimized settings so you can pick the best result.

Program mode adds a few more controls: ISO control of Auto or from 160 to 3,200, White Balance, Focus (Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF), Metering (Multi, Center, Spot), Bracketing (0.3, 07, or 1.0 EV steps), DRO (Off, Standard, Plus), and SteadyShot (Shooting, On , Off). I found it particularly valuable to have DRO and SteadyShot on my side when shooting with the Sony WX1, so I relied on Program for most of the gallery shots.

I'll discuss the Sony WX1's Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, and Sweep Panorama separately below. They're interesting enough to merit their own reviews.

The Sony WX1's Movie mode captures both High Definition and Standard Definition video. You select between them by choosing one of three image sizes: 1,280 x 720 Fine, 1,280 x 720 Standard, and VGA (640 x 480) all at 30 frames per second. Audio is recorded monaurally. The full 5x optical zoom is available and can be engaged from any focal length. In addition, you can control EV, White Balance, Metering, and SteadyShot.

Click to view movie. MPEG4 player required.

HD Quality Movie. A 5.4MB file lasting 5 seconds. Optical zoom (5x) can be used from any starting position. (Click to download MP4 file.)

While it's wonderful that Sony has finally implemented HD video in its digicams, we are obliged to point out that the Cyber-shot WX1's AV cable doesn't have an HD output (HDMI or component video), just a standard yellow RCA video plug. Because Sony uses a proprietary output port on the bottom of the WX1, you'll need a $39.99 HD output adapter cable from Sony to connect the camera to your HDTV set to fill the TV screen. With the cable that comes in the Sony WX1's box, you'll just get VGA output even with HD video. That's letterbox in a 4:3 frame.

Scene Modes include High Sensitivity (ISO), Soft Snap (blur the background), Landscape, Twilight Portrait (with fill flash), Twilight (tripod recommended), Gourmet ("natural shot of food"), Pet, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, and Underwater.

Handheld Twilight. When I complained in the TX1 review about what Sony has named Handheld Twilight (HHT), I really didn't get it off my chest. This is really handheld lowlight mode. You don't have to wait for the sun to go down. Instead, remember this mode whenever you are staring at a stationary scene and tempted to use the flash.

The gallery shots have many images made with HHT, but the Exif header doesn't distinguish them from the comparison shots. Here's the only clue: look for 1/8 second shutter speeds for the HHT shots.

The camera fires off up to six shots in about a second. I noticed with the WX1 that it didn't always take six shots. Sometimes just three. It seems to depend on the amount of available light. The more light, the less shots required. But don't quote me on that.

Do quote me on this, though: The Sony WX1's Handheld lowlight mode captures shots you have never seen before.

That's because this mode solves two problems that have plagued photographers since we first snapped a shutter: The first is camera shake at slow shutter speeds, and the second is noise from long exposures.

It does this by compositing multiple images of the scene. By first miraculously aligning the images (I watched my hand move during exposures without seeing any blur in the resulting composite) and then averaging the pixel values at the same location, the Sony WX1's Bionz processor manages to build a detailed image with very little noise.

The only catch is that the subject cannot be moving. Moving subjects do not persist from frame to frame and are averaged out.

Anti-Motion Blur. Another strange name. And having had no documentation, it was quite a puzzle to me. If Sony had named it Anti-Blur mode, I would have done better.

Again the Sony WX1 captures up to six images, but this time at a high shutter speed and high ISO (ISO 3,200 in one test shot) to freeze motion. But when averaging the pixels at the same location, the Sony WX1 "then cleverly copies [the sharpest version of] moving objects from only one frame or another," as Dave put it.

This maintains detail and suppresses noise while eliminating subject motion blur.

Not only are these two modes revolutionary (although Casio offers something similar to handheld lowlight), but they are very easy to use. Just press the Sony WX1's Shutter button and hold the camera as still as you can until it stops firing. You'll see a "processing" message and in a few seconds your composited image appears.

You will amaze your friends.

Sweep Panorama. We really enjoyed taking sweep panoramas on the Sony HX1 and TX1. It's the most fun you can have shooting a pano. Just press the shutter, sweep the camera in a half circle and watch the TX1 process the individual shots it fired off into a panorama.

In the Sony WX1's Playback mode, you can magnify the pano and automatically pan it by pressing the OK button. That enlarges the image to the depth of the screen and pans across its width, making a very dramatic presentation.

We have a sample in the gallery, which shows the final image is quite a bit reduced from the maximum image size possible at just 4,912 x 1,080, probably to fit on an HDTV.

Menu System. Sony has greatly improved the menu system deployed on its 2009 models. Menus wrap now. So if you want to get to bottom item from the first, you don't have to step down each item to the bottom. You can just press the Sony WX1's Up arrow and the menu wraps around to the bottom. It's about time.

The Record menu options include the settings made available in Easy, iAuto, and Program, as detailed above. And the special Record modes as well.

The Playback menu accesses the Slideshow settings (which really are a treat on Sony cameras), View Mode (Date or Folder), Display Burst Group (main image or all images), Retouch (Trimming, Red Eye Correction, Unsharp Masking), Delete, Protect, DPOF, Print, and Rotate.

The last item in either Record or Playback mode is Setup, which itself has three tabs: Main Settings (three pages of things like Beep, Language, Video Out, USB Connection), Memory Stick Tool (which includes the handy Format command and can also Copy images from the 11MB of internal memory), and Clock Settings (where you set the date and time, for example).

Storage & Battery. In addition to the 11MB of internal memory, the Sony WX1 uses Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick PRO Duo media. Support for this form factor in printer or USB card readers sometimes depends on a Memory Stick adapter, which is not included.

My image sizes ranged from 2.4MB to 4.1MB using a variety of aspect ratios (16:9 requires less storage than 4:3). I used a 512MB card but would really have preferred a larger one, especially when I ran into situations that called for Movie mode. And if you're going to shoot HD movies, that means a PRO card.

The Sony WX1 is powered by a 3.6 volt lithium-ion InfoLITHIUM G battery which, the company claims, can capture 350 shots on a full charge, or run for 175 minutes. I didn't have any issues with battery life, although I didn't shoot flash shots on my outings with the camera.

In addition, a $39.99 AC adapter is available for the Sony WX1.

Shooting. Yes, it's adorable. Too cute for words. But I was surprised how hard the Sony WX1 was to handle. As I confessed above, I routinely popped the battery cover open when taking it out of my pocket or bag. And I regularly changed modes inadvertently because my thumb grabbed the Sony WX1 right on the Mode dial (yours will too).

Actually taking pictures was fun -- and even rewarding. The red dahlia shot has a nice capture of a fly that retains good detail. And the wide-angle with 16:9 aspect ratio in play made a great shot down a long street.

As the white dahlia shows, there can be noticeable purple fringing from the Sony WX1. Digital zoom (not indicated in the Exif header, unfortunately) fared better than most, even at 100 percent.

Color shifts were marked by oversaturated reds and blues and undersaturated yellows and greens. Our blue wall was blue but not quite that blue. Cyan was pushed toward blue, yellow toward green and some greens toward cyan.

Detail from the Sony WX1's 10.2-megapixel sensor was quite good. The shots of the row of house and the boats in the marine are worth studying at full resolution. You can clearly see detail in the shadow areas of the houses and the lines are well preserved on the boats.

We felt confident enough with the Sony WX1 that we slipped it into our suit coat on the way to a wedding at the Presidio where the theme of the day seemed to be backlighting.

The chapel itself is backlit with a wall of glass behind the altar looking onto the foliage behind the building. And the reception hall was dramatically light with sconces with, again, a wall of windows behind the dance floor.

The professional photographer, of course, used flash (and I have to say was most gracious in taking snapshots with guests' cameras when they asked). And the point-and-shooters around me were using flash, too. It was that dark.

But not me, no. I decided to shoot without flash in Program mode, of all things. Why? Because I wanted to capture the actual ambience of the setting.

And with DRO active, I did that. But what I didn't take into account was that all of the subjects would be moving. Dancing, laughing, hugging, kissing, you name it. There wasn't a wallflower to focus on.

That delivered some very interesting results (including a lovely video of belly dancers in silhouette). But not the stuff you look for in wedding pictures.

With shutter speeds down in the 1/5 second range, everything was a blur.

By the time the cake was about to get cut, it occurred to me that I should be using a Scene mode. I shifted into the Sony WX1's High Sensitivity mode ("Shoot without flash in low light reducing blur," it reminded me on the screen). And I did get some nice shots at ISO 1,600. But then, the cake was right next to the big windows.

What to make of this? Well, the Sony WX1's Exmor R sensor, with its unique backlit design lifted from Sony's camcorders, provides about a full stop more exposure than competing cameras, but we clearly hit its wall with the dramatic lighting. It was, unfortunately, hard to tell during the party but all too obvious afterwards, as you can see in the shot at left.

It would have been nice to have some manual control over the shutter speed to go with the ISO setting. We might have set the shutter for no slower than 1/60 second and the ISO no higher than 400 and let the chips fall where they might. Then the Exmor R might have given us much better results without flash than the other point-and-shoots with it.

 

Sony Cyber-shot WX1 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharpest at center
Wide: Soft, upper left
Tele: Slightly soft at center
Tele: Softest in upper left corner

Sharpness: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1's wide-angle zoom settings shows a moderate amount of softness in the corners of the frame, but it doesn't extend very far into the picture. At the telephoto end of the lens' range, flare reduces sharpness and contrast in the corners a good bit. (Overall, though, this is notably better optical performance than that of the more compact Sony TX1, plus a 5x vs 4x zoom: The Sony WX1 wins on optical quality over the TX1, but the TX1 edges it slightly in color and detail rendering.)


Wide: Noticeable barrel distortion
Tele: A very small amount of pincushion, hardly noticeable

Geometric Distortion: There's noticeable barrel distortion at wide-angle, but at 0.7%, it's actually a bit below average among pocket digicams. At telephoto, there's just a tiny amount of distortion along the edges of the frame (< 0.1%), but it's really minimal, with just a small amount of pincushion visible. (Likely the camera is trying very hard to control distortion with its 24mm maximum wide-angle setting.)


Wide: Low, very slight color
Tele: Low, almost no color

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at both wide-angle and telephoto zoom settings is low both in terms of pixel count and brightness, and really only minimally present in the DSC-WX1's images. As noted above, the flare in the corners at the tele end is unfortunate, but this is a pretty decent little lens overall.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1's Macro mode captures a small minimum area with a good amount of detail, though the image is soft across the frame. Blurring in the corners is also very strong, an unfortunately common limitation of digicam macro modes. Minimum coverage area is 2.28 x 1.71 inches (58 x 44 mm). The camera's flash produced an uneven exposure, partially the result of a deep shadow from the lens. Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots, although the flash should do fine from distances of a foot or so.


 

Sony Cyber-shot WX1 Image Quality


Color: The Sony WX1's color is pretty good and should be acceptable to most consumers, though some shifts in hue are a little stronger than average. For example, cyan is pushed more strongly toward blue than is common; yellow is shifted toward yellow-green, and some greens toward cyan a little. The slight color shift in orange through yellow-green is fairly proportional, though, so colors in that range will look OK when compared with each other, even if the absolute hue is slightly off. In terms of saturation, the DSC-WX1 does push strong reds and blues, yet it undersaturates bright greens and yellows, so expect bright yellows and foliage colors to be a little understated. Lighter skin tones show a marked pink cast, while darker skin tones are pushed toward orange. Overall, still pretty good color, just slightly less than average accuracy. (Oddly, slightly different color rendering than the Sony TX1, even though we're led to believe that the two cameras share the same sensor chip and processor design. The TX1 doesn't do as well optically, but edges the WX1 on color rendering.)


160
200
400
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is pretty good at ISO 160, though definition is already a bit lacking due to anti-noise processing. (This appears to be another area where the TX1 edges the Sony WX1 slightly.) Results aren't much different at ISO 200, though the image is slightly softer. By ISO 400, fine detail is noticeably blurred, though image noise remains fairly low. By ISO 800, noise is much more apparent, affecting color balance slightly, and subtle details appear smudgy. At the highest settings, image noise is pretty obtrusive. See the Printed Results section below for how this affects printed images.

The remarks in this section are based on on-screen viewing of the camera's images at 1:1 size, as seen at right. This sort of analysis helps us understand in detail what's going on with a camera's images as ISO is increased and noise reduction plays a larger role. Printed results can be quite different than what you see on-screen, though: See the Printed Results section below to learn what print sizes are obtainable from the Sony WX1's images at various ISO settings.



Wide: Inconclusive
Tele: Reasonably bright
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing was somewhat inconclusive at the Sony WX1's wide-angle setting, as the stated distance (16.4 feet) takes the camera almost out of the lab, and the exposure is influenced somewhat by the white ceiling tiles close to the camera. The good news, though, is that the camera left its ISO at the base level of 160, so the range it does achieve doesn't come at the expense of high image noise. At telephoto, the camera had to increase the ISO to 640 to get bright results at 6.6 feet, so flash images at that end of its zoom range will tend to be noisy. For average flash exposures, the Sony WX1's built-in flash will perform modestly from a distance, but should be adequate for closer subjects at telephoto, somewhat more distant ones at wide-angle.

Auto WB:
Warm
Incandescent WB:
Also warm
 
Manual WB:
A hint cool, but more accurate

Incandescent: Both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings produced somewhat warm color balances, although the results with Auto were within what we'd consider an acceptable range. The Manual option produced slightly cool-looking but more technically accurate color under our household incandescent lighting. Some users will prefer the warmth of the Auto setting, though, as being more representative of the original lighting, and we think that the Manual option is just a bit too blue-looking. (We wish that the Sony WX1's Auto setting were just a little more neutral, that would have been just right.)


One foot-candle
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ISO
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HHT
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ISO
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Low Light: The Sony WX1's unique EXMOR-R sensor is roughly twice as sensitive as conventional ones of similar resolution and pixel size, reducing image noise at higher ISO settings.

The table at right shows an exposure series, shot at a one foot-candle light level, roughly the amount of light provided by typical city street-lighting at night. The Sony WX1's metering system underexposed this subject a little, but noise levels are in fact quite good for a subcompact digicam.


Normal ISO 1,600, 1/25s: In normal shooting mode, the Sony WX1's noise levels are somewhat better than the competition's, but are by no means up to SLR standards. (Keep in mind that this is a 1;1 crop from a 10-megapixel image, though.)
Handheld Twilight mode, ISO 500, 1/8 sec: Composed from 6 frames shot in rapid succession, then micro-aligned and summed together in the camera, this shot is much cleaner, but shows essentially no blur from camera shake. Even though the subject moves, you can see that this is clearer overall.
Anti-Motion Blur, ISO 3,200, 1/40s: Anti motion blur mode cranks the ISO up very high, but once again "stacks" images to reduce noise. Moving subjects are taken from a single frame, though, rendering them sharply, but with more image noise. This woman moved her head from one frame to the other, so the rest of her is relatively sharp, but her head is quite noisy thanks to the ISO 3,200 setting.
Anti-Motion Blur, stationary subject: Another crop from the same image shown at left, this time with a stationary subject. Notice how low the image noise is, compared to the image of the woman at left. This is how the bulk of the scene looked.
Handheld Twilight & Anti Motion Blur modes: The Sony WX1 also sports two special low-light shooting modes that really take handheld shooting under dim lighting to a new level.

The Sony WX1's "Handheld Twilight" mode captures sharp handheld images under low lighting by snapping six short (and therefore dim) exposures in rapid succession. It then micro-aligns and combines them into a single bright image. Combined with the WX1's Super SteadyShot image stabilization system, the result is sharp handheld images with unusually low noise levels, easily capable of making good-looking 8x10 inch prints.

A second special low light mode called Anti Motion Blur uses higher ISO settings and even faster shutter speeds, detecting moving objects and then taking their images from only a single frame of the six-shot sequence. This makes images of moving subjects more noisy than their surroundings, but renders them much more sharply than would otherwise be the case.

The crops at right show some examples cropped from shots of a typical urban night scene, captured in normal, Handheld Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes. Click on any of the thumbnails to go to the full-size image. The results are pretty unprecedented among consumer cameras, pushing the Sony WX1's capability as a handheld low-light shooter into a realm normally reserved for SLRs. (Keep in mind that the crops here are from 10-megapixel images, displayed 1:1 onscreen. Printed at a normal 8x10 inch enlargement size, the images are remarkably sharp and usable.)


High speed capture: Don't forget the Sony WX1's special 10 fps mode, capable of capturing ten 10.1-megapixel images in rapid succession. This sequence of Charlotte, the ISO-Standard Australian Shepherd catching a flying disk says it all.



Printed Results: ISO 160 is the lowest setting on the Sony WX1, so it's not a surprise that it's slightly soft for a 10-megapixel camera. As a result, 13x19-inch prints are a little too soft for ISO 160. 11x14 cleans detail up well enough, except for low-contrast detail. Softness in the lower left quarter of the lens also shows up at this size. ISO 200 shots are very similar, looking good at 11x14 inches. ISO 400 shots are better kept to 8.5x11 print sizes, and ISO 800 shots are better kept to 8x10 inch prints. ISO 1,600 shots are also usable at 8x10, but with more noise in the shadows, and low-contrast detail is positively blurry, especially among red colors. This becomes less noticeable at 5x7. ISO 3,200 shots make decent 4x6-inch prints, which is also good. Overall the Sony WX1 does fairly well, though it doesn't quite rise to the image quality seen in the Sony TX1.

Handheld Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes were both usable at 8x10 inches, and just as we saw in the TX1, the ISO 500 image looked great at 11x14.


 

Sony Cyber-shot WX1 Performance


Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is quite good at 0.27 second at wide-angle, and also respectable at 0.58 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.008 second, which is exceptional.


Cycle time: The Sony WX1's cycle time is pretty good considering the file sizes involved, capturing a frame every 1.61 seconds in single-shot mode. The DSC-WX1 offers three Continuous modes, with a High setting capturing frames every 0.10-second for 10 frames. Mid speed slows to 0.20-second intervals, and Low captures at about 0.5-second intervals. All times are for 10 frames, and the 10 frame/second speed of the High setting is very fast indeed, matched or exceeded by only a few cameras on the market. (The vast majority of consumer cameras slog along at 2 frames/second or less.)


Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1's flash recycles in a relatively quick 5 seconds after a full-power discharge.


 

Sony Cyber-shot WX1 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent LCD
  • Good 24mm wide-angle lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Better than average high-ISO performance for a compact digicam
  • Astonishing capability for handheld photography in low light
  • Sweep Panorama mode
  • Good resolution for a 10 megapixel digicam
  • Very low chromatic aberration (better than TX1)
  • Low to very low lens distortion (better than TX1)
  • Auto white balance usable under household incandescent lighting
  • Good macro capability
  • Excellent shutter response at wide-angle focal lengths
  • Blazingly fast shutter response when pre-focused
  • Amazingly fast 10 frame/second continuous-mode cycle time
  • 720p HD movies with optical zoom
  • Good battery life
  • Very small buttons are difficult to operate
  • Mode dial turns accidentally under the thumb
  • Battery door opens too easily
  • Flare reduces resolution and contrast in the corners of the frame at telephoto focal lengths
  • We'd like just slightly less yellow in Auto white balance mode with incandescent lighting
  • Only average shutter response at telephoto settings
  • Color and ISO noise not quite as good as in the Sony TX1
  • No manual exposure mode
  • HD output adapter cable not included

 

The Sony WX1 has some magic up its sleeve. Its new sensor sees better in low light and it can grab a handful of shots in the dark and composite them into an image you can't capture with other cameras. Add Sweep Panorama to the picture and the Sony WX1 spells compact fun.

However, the Sony WX1 was a little too compact for me, the battery cover springing open and the Mode dial turning at unexpected times. I also found the buttons too small and the small icons impossible to read in low light. If you're in the same boat, consider the Sony WX1's touchscreen sibling, the TX1.

There was good detail in the images, but the reds and blues were clearly oversaturated. But the Sony WX1's 5x G lens with optical image stabilization wasn't really a liability. In fact, its 24mm wide-angle focal length was a boon in such a small camera. For its extreme low light capability in such a remarkably small package, the Sony WX1 still earns a Dave's Pick, but those without small hands should probably handle the camera first to make sure they'll be able to operate this diminutive digital camera.

 

Sony DSC-WX1

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