BUILD AND DESIGN
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC TX100V is a snazzy little point-and-shoot shaped more like a smart phone than a digital camera. Sony's newest TX series ultra-compact digicam is a well built little camera - fit and finish are very good, dust/moisture seals are more than adequate, and this camera seems to be tough enough to go just about anywhere. The sliding front cover not only protects the non-protruding lens when closed - it also converts the TX100V into a small very flat package that fits perfectly (and safely) in the back pocket of a pair of jeans.
The TX100V is the first ultra-compact digicam to offer 16 megapixel resolution (via its 1/2.33-inch Exmor R CMOS image sensor), so unlike some of its competition Sony is still firmly aboard the "more megapixels" bandwagon. Serious shooters know that continuously crowding more pixels onto tiny sensors has consequences; the most obvious of which are an exponential increase in image degrading noise, poor low-light performance (everything else being equal, smaller pixels have less light gathering ability than larger pixels), and a flatter dynamic range.
Canon and a couple of other OEMs are finally jumping off the "more megapixels" bandwagon - hopefully Sony will eventually follow suit. More resolution doesn't actually produce better images, it just generates larger image files. The average P&S digicam user doesn't really need any more than 10 megapixels, since very few of them will be enlarging their images to poster size - so (in most cases) all that extra resolution is wasted anyway.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Sony TX100V could be the poster child for a whole new generation of digital cameras. Digital cameras these days are smaller, lighter, and thinner than they were just a few years ago. Virtually all of them are powered by proprietary batteries, Auto exposure is almost ubiquitous, and let's face it, touch screens are the wave of the future.
Just ten years ago essentially every P&S digital camera manufactured had an optical viewfinder. Not anymore - optical viewfinders are also expensive to manufacture and Americans (who drive the world market in leisure electronics) like cheap products. For casual users touch screen controls may be OK, but photography enthusiasts will likely avoid this camera and others like it. Buttons, knobs, and switches that allow shooters to quickly and precisely control camera operation are a basic requirement for more serious shooters.
I should confess, right up front, that I have a hard time warming up to touch LCDs and the TX100V's is no exception. When I tested the Canon SD3500 (Canons first touch screen P&S digicam) a young friend told me that maybe I was just too old to adapt to the new technology. I'm certainly not a Luddite - I love digital cameras. However, anyone who has ever used a smart phone will probably feel right at home with the TX100V's touch screen.
The TX100's touch screen is not very responsive and often requires multiple taps to get the function you want to come up. With some touch screen equipped cameras that isn't a problem since they have (in addition to the touch screen controls) redundant traditional controls - not the TX100V. The TX100V's ultra-thin and very flat body is blemished by only a few dedicated controls - the power button, the shutter release button, a jog-stick style zoom rocker switch, and the captured image review button - all on the camera's top deck. The TX100V's few dedicated controls are logically placed and easily accessed. Everything else is controlled via the touch screen LCD.
I persuaded an iPhone toting young friend (who loves touch screen devices) to audition the TX100V's touch screen controls and she needed multiple taps to enable every function - just like I did. Finally, the TX100's huge super-shiny LCD screen is subject to above average glare and reflections in outdoor shooting and is also the most incredible fingerprint magnet (there isn't any place on the back of the camera to rest your thumbs without touching the screen) that I've ever seen. Above average glare/reflections and all the visibly impenetrable smudges around the periphery of the touch screen make the TX100V's LCD difficult to use for composition and framing. I had to polish the LCD screen thoroughly with a micro-fiber lens cloth every time I wanted to use the camera.
Menus and Modes
The TX100V's menu system is fairly logical and menus are laid out in a straightforward manner, the problem is getting to them and navigating through them. The camera's touch screen simply isn't sensitive enough to provide seamless interaction between user and device. Sometimes the screen needs two or even three taps before responding. Scrolling is imprecise and it is not a rare event to zoom right past the function you are seeking.
The Sony Cyber-shot TX100V is an auto exposure only camera - users cannot manually adjust aperture, shutter speed or focus. There is no mode dial, so everything is done via the touch screen LCD. Recording mode choices include Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, iSweep Panorama, Movie, Program Auto, Background Defocus, Scene and 3D shooting modes.
Intelligent Auto mode is the same as the Smart Auto modes found on most cameras - the TX100V automatically selects the correct scene mode for the subject. Superior Auto is like Intelligent Auto on Steroids - the camera captures multiple consecutive images of the scene and then combines those images to create one "super" image. Users can also improve dynamic range using the TX100V's backlight correction HDR technology.
The TX100V also provides a Background Defocus mode (for sharp subject -blurred background SLR style portraits), a Soft Skin mode which ameliorates blemishes/wrinkles and smooths out skin texture, and a Natural Flash mode which provides more natural looking flash lighting. Finally, the TX100V provides one of the best movie modes in its class. The camera records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps in the AVCHD format at a 28 Mbps compression rate.
The TX100V (like most currently available point-and-shoots) doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. Shooters must rely on the TX100V's new touch screen OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) LCD screen for all framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. LCD screen resolution has been steadily increasing because consumers kept demanding larger, sharper, and quicker LCD screens. The TX100V's 3.5-inch LCD screen completely dominates the camera's rear deck.
This LCD screen is super bright, hue accurate, very fluid, automatically boosts gain (brightens) in dim/low light, and displays almost 100 percent of the image frame. OLED screens are known for outstanding blacks, high contrast ratios, and accurate color reproduction. The TX100V's LCD resolution is an amazing 1229K dots - making this LCD screen significantly sharper than those offered by the TX100Vs competition - very important when checking critical sharpness in macro shots and for assessing overall sharpness of focus in other photographic genres.
Most casual shooters don't like optical viewfinders anyway and in many shooting scenarios (macro shots and portraits come immediately to mind) it is often easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through a viewfinder. The TX100V utilizes the standard 4:3 aspect ratio when shooting/reviewing still images, but users get the widescreen 16:9 display on the LCD when shooting/reviewing in movie mode. The default info display provides all the data this camera's target audience is likely to want or need.
The DCR test lab measures LCD performance to assist our readers in making more informed buying decisions. Peak brightness for the TX100V (the panel's output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 180 nits and black luminance is 0.00 nits.
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