The Sony Cyber-shot WX10 is a good-looking point-and-shoot that combines a workhorse of an image sensor with an especially versatile lens. It looks like a casual shooter, but has some advanced capabilities: It can snap 10 full-resolution frames per second, it offers plenty of manual control, and shoots 1080i high-def video.
It uses the same sensor as a handful of Sony's current compacts, including the weatherproof TX10, the long-zooming HX7V and HX9V, and the ultra-luxury TX100V. But the WX10 aims for the more traditional point-and-shoot customer who wants a more powerful camera than a run-of-the-mill easy-snapper. Read on to see how it stacks up.
Body & Design
The Sony WX10 comes in a slick shell that is pocketable, but at nearly an inch thick, it has more girth than a true ultracompact. There are a few half-hearted efforts to provide an ergonomically friendly body -- a slanted edge for a right hand grip, a textured edge on a mode dial where the right thumb rests -- but the WX10 is really designed for convenience over comfort.
The front of the camera features a 24-168mm (7x zoom) Sony G lens, which telescopes outward just over an inch when powered up. The roomy wide angle makes large group portraits and wide landscapes possible, but allows for zoomed-in action shots too; the Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system keeps pictures blur-free and videos bump-free. The lens has a bright f/2.4 maximum aperture that allows a lot of light to pass to the image sensor. This translates to sharper shots, less blur, and better overall exposures.
The back of the camera has a 2.8-inch LCD screen that has a nice 460,000-pixel resolution. The view from all angles is great, the colors pop out nicely, and the feed is so smooth that movements are never choppy or blurred. Several buttons and dials are squished to the right of the LCD. The buttons are so small that you’ll almost have to sharpen your fingernails to use them. Both the mode dial and multi-selector dial are also tiny, but turn nicely, rotary-style. Along the top of the camera are the typical characters: the shutter release button, surrounded by the zoom ring, and sidled up next to the power button. The layout is intuitive, but undersized.
Performance & User Experience
The Sony WX10 sits above the horde of boring point-and-shoots thanks to a high-performance backlit CMOS sensor. It's not quite an "advanced" compact, but it is in a semi-elite category of cameras with fancy image sensors, fast processors, and bright lenses that lead to better images. This is a trend we hope will continue and develop, as thus far the results have been well-built, fast cameras that create better images, particularly in low light.
Like its peers, the WX10 offers both automatic and manual control. Choosing an ISO, shutter speed, or aperture is simple using the multi-selector and set button. The aperture is only available in two stops at a time -- for instance, either f/2.4 or f/7.1, nothing in between – so that's of limited use. But the shutter speed has a wide range from 1/1600th of a second to 30 seconds.
If you want great pictures but aren’t interested in manual exposure controls, there are other options: Program, Superior Auto (which employs a noise and blur reduction algorithm), Intelligent Auto, 15 scene modes (including the background defocus mode that shows a dSLR-esque, shallow depth-of-field effect), 3D shooting, and sweep panoramas.
The WX10 starts up quickly and has virtually no shutter lag -- a rarity for most point-and-shoots, but a standard among newer backlit-CMOS-based cameras. Another standard among these cameras is the quick full-res burst mode. The Sony WX10 leads with an impressive 10 frames per second, but the Nikon P300 is close behind at 8 fps and the Canon ELPH 500 is still respectable at 3.4 fps. The Sony WX10’s nine-point autofocus system is very effective. There is also a tracking mode that is easily set and performs exceptionally well.
This camera comes with a skinny lithium-ion battery that took about 180 pictures, a dozen videos, and spent about 15 minutes in the playback mode before showing it was half-charged on its on-screen battery graphic. Battery life is impressive, which is a good thing with its in-camera charging method. You have to hook the camera up to a wall-mount charger via USB cable, and the battery charges inside. I don’t prefer this method because it takes the whole camera out of service while the battery is charging; I prefer to have an extra battery and a wall-mount charger to avoid missing any photo-ops.
I had high hopes for Sony’s Portable Media software; it was touted to make file transfers easier, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. I got the pictures off the camera just fine, but I couldn’t get the WX10’s .mts (AVCHD-format) videos to download to my computer. After hours of downloading the software included in the box (what’s the point of the “portable” software if you still need the disc?) and still not having any success, I uploaded the videos directly to YouTube from the camera.
Image & Video Quality
The WX10’s images confirmed the hype around backlit-CMOS-based cameras: Pictures from the WX10 look great. The colors are realistic -- perhaps a little embellished, but in a good way -- and the subjects are sharp thanks to a great lens, optical image stabilization, and the effective autofocus. The pictures show near-perfect exposure, even indoors when most compacts tend to produce dimmer shots that blur subjects easily.
The 16-megapixel resolution is a bit excessive and it shows in large prints or when inspecting images closely, but the WX10 is able to produce great prints up to 8 x 10 inches and even larger, depending on your viewing distance. The pictures don’t necessarily look grainy up close, but the edges look garbled, like they’ve been over-processed by the noise reduction system. The WX10’s ISO can be set up to 3200, and while noise increased and details faded with each step up the ISO ladder, it performed exceptionally well when compared with other point-and-shoot cameras.
The Sony WX10 comes with 1080i, 60fps HD video. The feed is smooth and blur-free, and the stereo audio captured perfectly. Zoom is available while shooting, and it moves smoothly and quietly -- also rare on compacts. Check out some sample videos here and here.
This camera is conveniently small, packed with features, and offers image quality and performance fair for its $279 price. It's not quite a serious camera, but of the "fun" point-and-shoot class, it's a strong bet. It does have some close competitors, though.
The Sony WX9 retails for just $219, but comes with the same 16-megapixel sensor, 3D sweep panoramas, 10 fps burst and full HD video, though no manual control. But the WX9 has a 5x-zoom Carl Zeiss lens and 3-inch 920k-pixel LCD screen, packed into a skinnier body. The maximum aperture is f/2.6, which is still brighter than most of the point-and-shoot competition but one stop down from the WX10.
The Nikon Coolpix P300 also goes for the big three: backlit CMOS sensor, sweet processor, and bright lens. The P300 carries 12 megapixels and has a 4.6x optical zoom lens with a brighter f/1.8. It has a 3-inch, 921k-pixel LCD screen and a similar 1080p HD movie mode. It will appeal more to serious shooters than the WX10, but it also costs more, at $329.
Then there's the Canon ELPH 500 HS, which has a 12 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, and comes with a 4.4x zoom lens that has a bright f/2.0 max aperture. It takes great pictures, but it has a clumsy 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD interface. It goes for $300.