Sony TX20 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Resolution: 16.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 4.00x zoom
(25-100mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 125-3200
Shutter: 4-1/1600
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.7 in.
(96 x 56 x 18 mm)
Weight: 4.7 oz (133 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $330
Availability: 05/2012
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony TX20 specifications
16.20
Megapixels
4.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Front side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 digital camera Back side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 digital camera Top side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 digital camera Left side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 digital camera Right side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 digital camera

TX20 Summary

The Sony TX20 flies in the face of its burly, ruggedized waterproof camera competition with James Bond-like class and finesse. It's fun and speedy to shoot, and features a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display.

Pros

Sleek, stylish, slender design; Easy to handle and fast to shoot; Good print quality at up to 13 x 19 inches; Low shutter lag; 10fps burst mode.

Cons

Touchscreen display is hard to see and use in bright light; Inconsistent image exposure; Mild distortion problems; no GPS.

Price and availability

Originally shipped at US$350, but now available as low as US$290. Comes in black, blue, orange, green and pink.

Imaging Resource rating

3.0 out of 5.0

This camera was featured in our Waterproof Camera Shootout 2012. To find out how it compares head-to-head with five other rugged, element-defying compact digital cameras, click here!


Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 Review

by Daniel Grotta, and Shawn Barnett, with
Review posted: November 9, 2012

Want a really life-proof camera, but not a fan of the clichéd, chunky design aesthetic that says "rugged camera?" Well, they're not all made that way. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 has a body that's waterproof up to five meters (16 feet), shockproof to 1.5 meters (five feet), dustproof, and freezeproof to -10°C (14°F). In spite of that, it wouldn't be out of place on the catwalk, with clean lines, a selection of bold body colors, and even some interesting textures on a few color choices.

Effective resolution from the TX20's imager is 16.2 megapixels, and the sensor size is 1/2.3-inch, for a diagonal of 7.7mm. It's a backside-illuminated image sensor, so its light gathering ability should be better than that of a standard CMOS chip. That's because more of the surface area can be devoted to light-gathering, as the circuitry has been moved below the active layer of the sensor. ISO sensitivity ranges from 125 to 3,200 equivalents.

In front of the Sony TX20's sensor sits a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar branded, prism-folded 4x optical zoom lens. The prism allows the lens to be mounted sideways in the camera, to achieve its slim, pocket-friendly form factor. That folded optical design also means that there's no delay to wait for the lens to extend, and the delicate moving parts are kept safe from accidental knocks. 35mm-equivalent focal lengths range from 25-100mm for still images at the native aspect ratio, and maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 to f/4.6 across the zoom range.

On the rear panel of the Sony TX20 is a large 3.0-inch LCD display, with a high resolution of 921,600 dots. That equates to a 640 x 480 pixel array, with each pixel comprised of separate red, green and blue dots. The screen also doubles as an input device, courtesy of a touch panel overlay. As you'd expect given the form factor of the TX20, there's no optical or electronic viewfinder.

In addition to still images, the TX20 can also record high-definition video at up to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution. For movie capture, ISO sensitivity ranges from 125 to 1,000 equivalents, and can be expanded to ISO 2,000 equivalent. At the maximum resolution, videos are saved with AVCHD compression. A 1,440 x 1,080 pixel mode can be saved either with AVCHD or MPEG-4 compression, and plays back at 16:9 aspect ratio, but with reduced resolution on the x-axis. There are also high-def 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) and standard-def VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution options, both of which are saved as MPEG-4 video. The AVCHD video all has a rate of 60 interlaced fields per second, while the MPEG-4 video is at 30 frames-per-second. A built-in microphone provides for stereo audio.

Two different stabilization systems are available for video: either the standard Optical SteadyShot used for still imaging, or a more powerful Active SteadyShot mode that combines optical and digital stabilization, with a resulting increase in the focal length crop. (Translation: wide-angle video is harder to achieve with this enabled, but you can manage an even greater maximum telephoto.) Interestingly, the Sony TX20 can also save 12 megapixel still images during movie capture, without interrupting the video feed. This is achieved using Sony's "By Pixel Super Resolution" technology, a variant of digital zoom that uses both interpolation and pattern-matching to resample the low-res video frame to a much higher resolution.

The Sony TX20 includes a combined USB/AV-out/DC-in multi-connector and a Mini (Type C) HDMI port. Images and movies are stored in a not-so-generous 19MB of built-in memory, or on SD / Memory Stick Duo cards. Supported SD cards include SDHC and SDXC types, while Memory Stick Duo compatibility includes PRO Duo and PRO HG Duo types, as well as Micro and Micro Mark 2 cards with an adapter. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary NP-BN or NP-BN1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, with the former in the product bundle. The TX20 is rated as good for 250 shots on a charge.


Sony TX20 Shooter's Report

by Daniel Grotta and Shawn Barnett

Design. Sony's metal and plastic Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's body is very cool, with the look and feel of a fine precision instrument. Except for a handful of buttons -- shutter, power, movie, and playback, as well as the tiny zoom lens lever on the camera's edge -- everything else is controlled via a high-res touchscreen. We found that a mixed blessing, because, although the function, modes and control icons are highly visible and easy to understand on the Sony TX20, they're also very small and can be hard to zero in on with your finger. Worse yet, in bright light, we could barely see the subject on the screen, much less the controls. The sliding metal door on the Sony TX20's front is a neat design that turns the power on while exposing the lens, flash, illumination lamp and stereo microphones. The side and bottom flaps open with the flick of a fingernail -- sorry, no locks provided. You must plug the Sony TX20 into the provided AC adapter to charge the battery, though there is an optional dedicated battery charger available for around US$50.

Features, functions and modes. Sony has long been a master of miniaturization, and the Sony TX20 fittingly packs a lot of technology into a very slim and trim camera. We found it remarkable to go from zero to 100 by simply flipping open the cover, flicking the zoom lever in the upper right corner, and pressing the shutter button. While it lacks GPS capability, the Sony TX20 has most of the modes offered by its waterproof competitors, and includes some neat settings, such as High Sensitivity, Anti-Motion blur, Handheld Twilight, Backlight Correction HDR, Intelligent Sweep Panorama and Hi-speed Shutter. It also captures Full HD video at 60i. Unfortunately, the Sony TX20 does not feature a histogram display.

Display and menus. Sporting 921K dots, the Sony TX20's 3-inch screen displays far greater resolution than any of the other cameras in our shootout. It's very sharp and bright, and able to display great detail. However, colors are inaccurate, oversaturated and contrasty, with loss of detail throughout the dynamic range. Alas, the Sony TX20's screen is virtually unviewable in bright sunlight. Except for the zoom lever, power, playback and dedicated movie buttons, all other commands are touchscreen-controlled. While text and icons are legible, they're quite small by default, so it can be difficult zeroing in on a specific icon (note, however, Easy Mode enlarges them). And it's impossible to read in bright sunlight. However, we liked the Sony TX20's In-Camera Guide, a series of abbreviated how-tos and helpful explanations.

Handling and operation. The Sony TX20 is a very agile camera, easy to handle and fast to shoot. It was also instantly popular with everyone who handled it. We could even simultaneously press the shutter button and move the zoom lever with the same index finger. Controlling the zoom is another matter, since its short throw means you can't get it to stop precisely where you want. Bootup and shutter delay are fast, though recycling times, especially with flash enabled, are disappointingly slow. But the Sony TX20 offers an excellent burst mode of 10fps, the fastest in our Waterproof Camera Shootout. Under ideal conditions, and despite the diminutive character and text size, the Sony TX20's touchscreen is quite readable and responsive. But we found it all but impossible to see and use in bright light and underwater.

Performance and image quality. Sony's pool shots were somewhat underexposed at times, but had good color. We rate Sony's underwater still images as Good.

The Sony TX20 had a tendency to underexpose some of our underwater shots, but the color was good.

The Sony TX20's videos had excellent clarity, smoothness and accurate color, but weak audio recording. It also underexposed somewhat. Overall, we rate the video quality as Good.

Lakeside
Poolside
When shots were well-exposed the TX20 produced nice contrast and detail.

Terrestrial exposure was inconsistent at times, and contrast a little high. Well-exposed shots also exhibited good contrast, detail and color.

Wide Angle
Telephoto
Compared to wide angle, the telephoto shot was a bit washed out and low-contrast.

Our lakeside shots were again a bit washed out at telephoto. Overall, we rate the Sony's image quality as Good.

 

Sony TX20 Lens Quality

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 features a 4x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 25-100mm lens on a 35mm camera.


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft at upper left
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Strong blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's zoom shows strong blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto, blurring is stronger and extends far in toward center.


Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: Virtually no pincushion distortion

Geometric Distortion: There is moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle (~0.5%), and almost no perceptible distortion at telephoto. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's processor does a good job keeping things under control here.


Wide:
Moderate, bright
Tele:
High, bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though pixels are a little bright. Telephoto shows stronger distortion, with bright red and blue pixels.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's Macro mode captures fairly sharp details at the center of the frame, though with noticeable blurring and chromatic aberration in the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 1.72 x 1.29 inches (44 x 33mm), which is good. The camera focuses so closely that the flash exposure is uneven, with dark shadows in the left corners and hot spots in the top right.


 

Sony TX20 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's LCD monitor showed right about 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is quite good.


 

Sony TX20 Image Quality


Color: Color is fairly natural-looking overall, though bright yellows are muted quite a bit. Strong reds and blues are a little bright, but greens are about right. Hue shifts are apparent in colors like yellow, orange and cyan, and minutely in some greens. Overall hue accuracy was about average. Dark skintones are about right with a hint of red, while lighter skin tones show a small nudge toward magenta. Still, good results overall, though mean saturation isn't boosted as much as typical compacts.


Auto WB:
Good, though slightly red
Incandescent WB:
Too warm
 
Manual WB:
Good, a touch cool

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, though results are a hint cool. Auto came close, but results are too red. Incandescent produced a very warm image.


Horizontal: 2,200 lines
Vertical: 2,100 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 2,100 lines vertically. Extinction occurred around 2,800 lines.


Wide: Dark
Tele: Bright
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows dark results at the rated wide-angle distance of 12.2 feet, though ISO was increased to 500. The telephoto test came out fine at 8.8 feet, though ISO was boosted a lot to 1,600.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light at 1/30 second, ISO to 800. Image stabilization should help with the slower shutter speed, but any movement of the subject could be problematic at slower shutter speeds. (The TX20 does however have motion detection which should reduce subject blur.) Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


125
200
400
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Details are distinct at ISO 125 and 200, but become noticeably soft at ISO 400. Both chroma (color) and luminance noise remain tolerably under control, though detail becomes progressively smudged as sensitivity increases, thanks to noise suppression efforts. See Printed section below for more on how this affects printed images.


Print Quality: ISO 125 shots look good at 13 x 19 inches. A slight haze over some of the detail and noise in the shadows keep us from calling them great, but they're pretty good. We'd have expected a little better from the 16-megapixel sensor.

ISO 200 images are usable at 13 x 19, but a little soft, so we prefer the 11 x 14-inch prints.

ISO 400 images look a little too smudged at 11 x 14 inches, but look just fine at 8 x 10.

ISO 800 shots are a little softer, but still look good at 8 x 10.

ISO 1,600 images look good at 5 x 7.

ISO, 3,200 shots are usable at 5 x 7, but really quite good at 4 x 6.

Overall, the Sony TX20 does well enough for most, though we'd prefer a little better quality from a 16-megapixel sensor.


 

Sony TX20 Performance


Startup Time: The Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 takes about 1.2 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's pretty quick.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is also quite good, at 0.29 second at wide angle and 0.30 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.015 second, among the fastest out there.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is a little slow, capturing a frame every 1.99 seconds in single-shot mode. The Sony TX20's full-resolution burst mode is very fast, though, able to capture 10 frames in one second.


Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 flash recycles in about 6.3 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to about the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was only able to focus to one foot-candle with the AF assist lamp enabled. (Our tester noted that the AF lamp was so bright that it overpowered the AF system in our standard test.)


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's download speeds are moderately fast. We measured 7,501 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Cyber-shot DSC-TX20's battery life has a CIPA rating of 250 shots per charge, which is a bit below average for a waterproof compact.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
  • Battery (NP-BN)
  • AC Adapter (AC-UB10)
  • Multi USB cable
  • Wrist strap
  • Paint pen
  • Instruction manual

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra battery pack for extended outings
  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 16GB should be a minimum. Look for Class 4 or faster.
  • Small camera case

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Clean, cool and slender design, unusual for a rugged digital camera
  • 16.2-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor
  • 4x Carl Zeiss wide-angle optically stabilized zoom lens
  • Very agile operations, easy to handle and generally fast to shoot
  • Powers on quickly
  • Fast AF and low shutter lag
  • 10fps burst mode
  • Useful multi-shot modes (Anti-Motion blur, Handheld Twilight, Backlight Correction HDR, Intelligent Sweep Panorama)
  • Large 3.0-inch LCD display with 921,600 dots of resolution and touchscreen controls
  • Full HD 1080i video recording at 60 fields per second with stereo sound
  • Good print quality up to 13 x 19 inches at ISO 125
  • Wide selection of bold body colors
  • Good Auto white balance performance
  • Fast transfer speed
  • The touchscreen display is hard to see and use in bright light, and navigation through screens can be difficult since icons are so small
  • No GPS or manometer
  • Not much telephoto reach (100mm equivalent)
  • Soft corners
  • High chromatic aberration at telephoto
  • No histogram display
  • Occasional exposure inconsistencies, both over and under, and both with stills and video
  • Waterproof to 16 feet versus 33 or 40 feet for others in shootout
  • Slow single-shot cycle time
  • Dedicated battery charger is optional
  • Battery life is slightly lower than average for a waterproof camera (though not bad for such a slim design)

 

The Sony TX20 turns the image of the rugged, waterproof camera on its head, offering sleek styling and a touch of class. Fast shutter lag and burst speed, good movie mode and good print quality stand out as high points for the TX20. Optical distortion at wide angle and chromatic aberration at both ends were mild problems, as were occasional exposure inconsistencies, both over and under, which is undesirable outdoors. However, we liked that the Sony TX20 turned on the flash in our outdoor portrait test. It made a big difference in the image. This is just how a camera should behave for the snapshooter who simply wants the best shot. Though it doesn't quite rise to the level of a Dave's Pick, we think the Sony TX20 makes for a fun camera on a rainy day.

 

Sony TX20

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