- Great low-light shooter
- Excellent 5x zoom
- 720p movie mode
- Dense menus
- Some overexposure
- Auto exposure only
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Point and shoot digital cameras have come a long way in the past decade – most are now capable of capturing high quality images outdoors in good light. But digital cameras generally don’t do as well in low-light situations, indoors, and after dark. Digital images shot in low light environments often show lots of noise and display flat, dull colors. Sony’s new Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 was designed to change that.
The WX1 utilizes an innovative new back-illuminated CMOS sensor that Sony claims will capture sharper, more detailed images in low/dim lighting – images with less noise and more vibrant colors than those shot with standard CMOS and CCD sensors.
Standard front-illuminated CMOS sensors are constructed so that light (after passing through the lens) must then pass through a metal wiring grid before striking the light-sensitive pixel receptors. Consequently, some light is lost. Back-illuminated sensors position the wiring grid beneath the light sensitive pixel receptors – increasing light gathering capability by up to 200% over traditional CMOS sensors. This makes the diminutive WX1 a superb tool for capturing images in available light environments – an especially useful ability indoors, after dark, and in poor weather.
BUILD AND DESIGN
Design-wise the WX1’s main claim to fame is its innovative Exmor R CMOS sensor, which works hand-in-glove with Sony’s new faster Bionz processor and Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization system to produce high quality images in dimly-lit shooting venues. The metal-alloy bodied WX1 appears to be robustly built and seems tough enough to stand up to typical wear and tear.
The “minimalist” look WX1 is an attractive (my test unit was black with silver trim) little digicam – diminutive, quite thin, and easily pocketable. The WX1 supports Memory Stick Pro Duo image storage media and provides 11MB of built-in memory.
Ergonomics and Controls
The svelte (0.75 inches thick) lozenge-shaped WX1 looks similar to just about every other ultra-compact “thin” digicam out there. It’s comfortable to use over long periods and it feels solid in the hand. The WX1 is a pocketable digital camera that can easily be taken along everywhere the user goes. Sony’s newest Cyber-shot is an auto exposure only digital camera with no manual exposure capability, however the WX1 does permit some user input into the image making process.
Even though the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed (in Program mode) users can manipulate sensitivity (ISO), white balance, and exposure compensation. The WX1’s flat body is smooth with no protrusions – meaning no handgrip or thumbrest – so keeping the wrist strap looped around your hand when using the camera is probably a good idea.
The WX1 is a small camera, but the control array/user interface does not seem busy or cluttered. Dedicated controls have been kept to the minimum. All controls are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters. The WX1’s on/off switch is too small and often requires a second push to power up or power down the camera. The compass switch (4-way controller) is also a bit too small and gives off a fiddly tactile feel – which doesn’t inspire confidence (especially for users with large fingers) in its responsiveness. The mode dial is located in the exact spot where most right-handed shooters will rest their thumb when shooting (and the mode dial is easily turned) meaning users will have to suffer through occasional accidental mode changes.
I like the placement of the menu and review button, and both functioned exactly as expected. The delete button is also conveniently placed – but users can’t immediately delete an image – images can only be deleted in review mode.
Menus and Modes
The WX1’s menu system is logical, user-friendly, and fairly easy to navigate, but it isn’t as simple in use as most of the competition. The reasonably large 2.7 inch LCD and sensible font size make reading the various menus painless. The WX1’s playback menu provides a nifty Retouch mode allowing users to crop and sharpen captured images.
Here’s a breakdown of the WX1’s shooting modes:
- Easy: Point-and-shoot mode – the camera selects all exposure parameters – coupled to Sony’s Intelligent Scene Recognition (Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight with tripod, Portrait, Landscape, or Macro) technology to optimize camera settings for the specific scene (and conditions) in front of the camera and displays basic advice/useful information on the LCD.
- Intelligent Auto: Auto exposure incorporating Intelligent Scene Recognition plus Burst mode, EV compensation, Smile Detection and Face Detection options, and Red Eye Reduction. Sony’s Intelligent Scene Recognition technology (available in Easy and iAuto modes) provides users with two options – Auto or Advanced. The Auto setting captures one exposure with optimized settings while the Advanced setting captures one exposure identical to the auto setting and a second exposure with an alternate set of optimized settings.
- Program: The camera selects exposure parameters, but allows substantial creative input – users control sensitivity (ISO), white balance, metering, focus, image stabilization on/off, and exposure compensation.
- Scene: High sensitivity, soft snap (blurs the background), landscape, twilight portrait, twilight, gourmet, pet, beach, snow, fireworks, underwater.
- Hand-held Twilight: The camera captures up to six exposures and then combines them – via pixel matching – to create a composite image with minimal noise.
- Anti-motion blur: Similar to Hand-held Twilight, except the camera captures up to six exposures at the highest practical shutter speed and the highest practical sensitivity (up to ISO 3200) and then combines them – via pixel matching – to create a composite image to freeze motion.
- Sweep Panorama: This shooting mode doesn’t have a dedicated position on the mode dial – users must decide first whether the panorama they want to shoot is horizontal or vertical and whether it goes from left to right or from right to left – then just press the shutter button and sweep the camera in a half circle arc and the WX1 will combine all the captured exposures into a single seamless extra wide panorama.
- Dynamic Range Optimizer: The DRO mode (menu enabled) is designed to improve shadow detail and contrast in images captured in difficult lighting. There are three options: Off, Standard (D-R), and Advanced [D-R+). I tried DRO a couple of times and didn’t notice any obvious differences – in my opinion judicious use of the Exposure Compensation function will accomplish more dependable (and predictable) results.
- Movie: The WX1’s Movie mode captures HD (High Definition) and Standard Definition video clips – 1280×720 Fine (720p), 1280×720 Standard, and VGA (640 x 480) all at 30fps (with monaural audio). The 5x zoom can be used during video capture. Users also control White Balance, Sensitivity, Metering, DRO, and Image Stabilization settings in video capture mode.
Like most currently available point and shoots, the WX1 doesn’t provide an optical viewfinder – so the LCD must be used for all framing and composition, image review, and menu access. The WX1’s 2.7 inch wide-viewing angle LCD is relatively sharp (230k pixels), fairly bright, and fluid, but colors displayed on the LCD (in review mode) are not the colors you’ll see when reviewing the images on your monitor.
The differences are not major, but saved images (when seen on your computer monitor) will have more intense colors than those seen on the LCD. The WX1’s info display provides all the data most of the camera’s users are likely to need. The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and can be adjusted to the individual shooters’ brightness preferences.