Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 Performance, Timings, and Image Quality

December 28, 2009 by Howard Creech Reads (2,779)

I have no complaints with the WX1’s performance. I shot pictures with the pocket-sized camera in a variety of low light environments including indoors, outdoors after dark, and in gloomy weather with heavily overcast skies. The WX1 consistently and dependably captures very good images in poor lighting. On the other side of the equation, the WX1 doesn’t manage bright outdoor lighting with the same level of efficacy – sometimes burning out highlights. There are also some minor (and infrequent) auto white balance anomalies that negatively affect color accuracy.

The WX1 is very quick and consistently comes in at (or very near) the top of the list speedwise – noticeably quicker than most of its competition. Shutter lag is 0.01 seconds. AF Acquisition is a very snappy 0.26 seconds. The WX1’s continuous shooting mode (which allows users to capture several images in quick succession) is 11.4 fps.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Score
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 0.01
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 0.01
Canon PowerShot S90 0.02
Nikon Coolpix S640 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Score
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 0.26
Nikon Coolpix S640 0.29
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 0.42
Canon PowerShot S90 0.53

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 10 11.4 fps
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 3 2.6 fps
Nikon Coolpix S640 2 2.2 fps
Canon PowerShot S90 1 fps

Shot-to-shot intervals were impressive at about 1.5 seconds and the WX1 moves its 5x zoom from the wide angle setting to the end of the telephoto range in under 2 seconds. Flash recycle time is 5 seconds (after a full-power discharge).

Shooting Performance
The WX1 provides two Image Stabilization options – first via Sony’s optical SteadyShot IS which functions by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the 5x zoom to compensate for camera movement during exposure. Digital Image Stabilization boosts sensitivity (up to ISO 3200) and increases shutter speed to help freeze subject movement during exposure.

The WX1’s contrast detection Intelligent Auto Focus system provides center-weighted AF, multi (9) AF point Auto Focus, and Spot AF. AF is consistently very quick and dependably accurate. Most Point and Shoot systems provide quick and accurate auto focus outdoors in good light – the WX1 does them one better and provides quick and accurate AF indoors and in poor light as well.

The WX1’s built-in multi mode Flash provides a fairly standard set of external lighting options including Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, and Slow Synch. The Red-Eye Reduction option must be accessed via the Main menu. Sony claims the maximum flash range is (at the wide angle setting) about 16.4 feet at auto ISO.

The WX1 is powered by a Sony NP-FG1 3.6 volt InfoLITHIUM G – Lithium-ion battery. Sony claims the battery is good for 350 exposures. It’s very difficult for me to keep track of the number of exposures I shoot because I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot, but I only had to charge the battery twice in two weeks of fairly heavy shooting so the numbers seem pretty accurate to me.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

Lens Performance
Most ultra-compact digicams sport 3x zooms, so one of the nicest features of the WX1 is its very good and slightly faster than average f/2.4- f5.9 4.25mm-21.25mm (equivalent to 24mm -120mm) 5x Sony “G” (6 elements in 5 groups, including 5 aspheric elements) zoom. The WX1 starts at the equivalent of 24mm – which is impressive, since most ultra-compact digicams zooms start at around 35mm to 38mm.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris style lens cover protects the front element. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn’t notice any vignetting (dark corners) and flare is remarkably well controlled.

Barrel distortion (straight lines bowing out from the center) is very well controlled – check out the Moorish Mausoleum sample image. I shot that image at the 24mm (equivalent) setting and while there is some visible distortion at the edges of the frame, it isn’t egregious at all. Pincushion distortion (straight lines bowing in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the zoom is also very well controlled.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

Contrast is very good at the wide end of the zoom, but at the telephoto end of the zoom contrast and sharpness are slightly lower. The WX1 doesn’t provide a dedicated Macro Mode – minimum focusing distance is 1.9 inches – so this is not a best choice camera for those who like to shoot bugs and flowers. I counted eleven steps in the 5x zoom range. Zooming is smooth, silent, and very quick.

Video Quality
The WX1 really shines in movie mode – 1280×720 fine (720p) at 30fps (9 MBps bit rate) with monaural audio and you can use the 5x zoom in video capture mode. Maximum video duration is up to 29 minutes (about 2GB). Users can also record 1280×720 (720p) at 30fps (6 MBps bit rate) video in the standard HD mode and at 640×480 at 30fps in the VGA mode. Sony doesn’t include an HDMI video cable, so you’ll have to pony up an extra forty bucks to watch HD video on your wide-screen TV. The sample video (of Louisville’s famous cookie lady in action) was shot in a dimly lit old building – so not only can you use the zoom while filming, but you can also utilize all the WX1’s low light capabilities, enable Image Stabilization, adjust white balance, and manipulate the exposure compensation function.

Image Quality

Outdoors the WX1 (like most compact digital cameras) does a very nice job – image quality is dependably very good to excellent. Exposures are dependably accurate, but there is a slight tendency toward over exposure and burned out highlights. Indoor image quality is excellent – equal to or better than anything currently available.

The WX1 provides an impressive selection of white balance options including: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash, Underwater 1, Underwater 2, and One Push White Balance (the WX1’s ONLY manual control) which allows users to manually calibrate WB with a white or gray card.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

The WX1’s auto white balance mode was generally very accurate, however in a couple of cases I came up with some inaccurate colors. Check out the two WB demo images below – the daylight WB setting produced the more accurate color. The WX1’s default color interpolation is actually pretty close to neutral – unlike most of its competition.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Auto White Balance
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Daylight White Balance

Noise levels are quite reasonable up to ISO 800, but noise levels increase noticeably at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. Low light image quality is the WX1’s main claim to fame and this camera offers users unprecedented (for a P&S digicam) automatic noise management. Colors are hue accurate and chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is very well controlled at both ends of the zoom.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 160
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 160, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 400
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 800
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 1600
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 3200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

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