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:
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.
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