BUILD AND DESIGN
The WX9 makes a very good first impression. At 3.74 inches wide, 2.2 inches tall and 0.79 inches thick (94.6mm x 56.3mm x 19.8mm) it’s about the size of a credit card with the thickness of a smartphone. It is lightweight, only 4.9 ounces (139 grams) including its battery. It has rounded corners and a mostly metal body, except for the large, LCD at the rear. The various buttons and dials are flush to the surface, which makes it easier to fit in a pocket.
The body is very solid and seems that it will stand up to repeated use but, like all small digital cameras except for the specially made “tough” cameras, dropping it will probably cause damage, so using the wrist strap is essential. The WX9 is certainly an attractive little camera.
Ergonomics and Controls
The overall layout of the WX9 is very good. The flash and combination auto focus assist and timer lamp are located at the top center of the camera’s front plate, a good place that’s not likely to be covered by your fingers while operating the camera. The top of the camera contains the on/off switch, the shutter button with a zoom control ring around it and two stereo microphones.
One side of the camera includes the wrist strap attachment and a plastic latch that covers a port for an HDMI cable. On the bottom portion you’ll find holes for the speaker, a tripod mount (plastic, unfortunately, rather than the more rugged metal), a port for the USB cable, and a battery/memory card compartment with a fairly sturdy plastic latch.
At the rear of the camera, the controls are all bunched on the right side. From top to bottom they consist of a dedicated movie button, a selector switch that allows you to choose shooting mode, panorama mode or movie mode (a good place to grip the camera with your thumb), a rotating circular controller with a selector button in the middle, buttons that activate the menu and trash can (to delete an image or movie) and a dedicated playback button.
The dedicated movie and playback buttons are very useful. It is much easier to catch the action when you want to shoot a movie when all you have to do is press a button, rather than search through a menu. The playback button is a helpful feature that is appearing more frequently in digital cameras. It allows you view your pictures without having to turn on the camera and go through its start-up procedure, which involves extending the lens.
While the control system of the WX9 is set up well, I sometimes had a problem actually operating the controls. For instance I often had to press the on/off button several times to get it to activate. The shutter button is small and does not protrude, which improves the camera’s appearance but makes the shutter button harder to press. The control ring rotates to permit scrolling through the menu but I found that feature difficult to use.
Menus and Modes
The WX9’s menu is activated by pressing the menu button. The menu is logically laid out on the left side of the screen via large icons, with selectable options extending across the screen. When the information option is selected, each menu icon is explained on the screen. It is an excellent menu system, one of the best I’ve seen. It is especially good for those who are newcomers to digital cameras.
The menu includes a record mode with six possible shooting sub-modes:
- Intelligent Auto: The camera automatically recognizes the shooting conditions and selects the best possible settings. It will select what it considers the appropriate white balance and ISO. It will also select among scene modes including Portrait, Infant, Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Backlight Portrait, Backlight, Landscape, Macro, Spotlight or Low Light. You have the option to select advanced scene recognition, where in scenes of Twilight or Backlight, the camera will take an additional shot at a slightly different setting, giving the user the option to select the best one.
- Superior Auto: The same as Intelligent Auto but with one significant difference. The camera will also utilize modes that record multiple frames, such as a mode that will simultaneously take six shots and create a composite of the images using HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology. In theory the camera will even out areas of dark shadow and excessive brightness, as well as lower noise. Superior Auto takes a couple of seconds to shoot and process the images, so it is probably not a mode you would want to use all the time.
- Program: Users can select various shooting options such as white balance and ISO, although shutter speed and aperture cannot be directly changed.
- 3D Still Image: You can create a 3D image that can be played back stereoscopically on a 3D TV.
- Scene Selection: You can choose from among 14 scenes including Soft Skin, Soft Snap, Anti-motion Blur, Landscape, Backlight Correction HDR, Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Handheld Twilight, High Sensitivity, Gourmet, Pet, Beach, Snow and Fireworks. The camera will automatically select what it considers the best settings for the particular scene. When Soft Skin or Soft Snap are selected and the subject blinks while you are shooting an image, the camera automatically shoots two images consecutively. The camera will select the image in which the blink does not occur.
- Background Defocus: The camera will automatically blur the background of an object that the camera focuses on. This only works if the camera is close enough to the foreground object and the background is sufficiently far away.
Among the other menu options are an Easy mode, which increases screen brightness and font size and prevents access to menu items, face detection and smile shutter, which automatically takes the picture when the camera detects the subject smiling. The WX9 utilizes Sony’s “SteadyShot” optical image stabilization system, which is apparently on all the time as there is no menu option to turn it on or off.
As in several other Sony digital cameras, the WX9 contains a “Sweep Panorama” mode, where wide angle panorama shots can be easily taken by sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically. It is a fun feature, though the images it creates are in the form of a thin strip.
The WX9 has a very high performance movie mode, which allows you to record movies in the AVCHD format, at 1920 x 1080 pixels at 60 frames per second, 1440 x 1080 pixels at 30 frames per second, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second and 640 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Movie mode can be used in conjunction with seven possible scene modes. Optical zoom is usable during movie mode as well. Movies can be shot for as long as 29 minutes for each session. The maximum size of a movie file is up to approximately 2GB.
The WX9 does not include any means for altering the image prior to taking the picture, such as increasing or decreasing color saturation, sharpness or contrast. Nor does the WX9 include various filters such as vivid, natural, sepia and black and white. As these options are present in so many similar cameras, their absence from the WX9 is surprising.
The WX9’s LCD monitor has a 3.0-inch diameter in a 4:3 aspect ratio with approximately 921,000 dots of resolution. It can be adjusted to one of five different brightness levels. It is a beautiful screen, which is not surprising considering the experience Sony has making LCD televisions. There is no viewfinder.
DCR tests cameras for LCD screen quality, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCD monitors have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and at least 500 nits. The LCD monitor of the WX9 was found to have a contrast ratio of 575:1 and to measure 437 nits for peak brightness and 0.76 for dark, which are good scores. I found the monitor to be excellent in normal lighting conditions but more difficult to see in the bright sunshine.