The TX66 is the first ultra-compact to offer an 18 megapixel resolution. The tiny TX66 will totally blow away any currently available smart phone when it comes to image quality - and it is noticeably less than half the size of the newest Apple and Samsung smart phones, so it is easily small enough to carry with you all the time. The TX66 isn't cheap, however. With an MSRP of $350 will this camera be able to produce great results from such a small package?
Sony's TX series cameras have been around long enough to accumulate a pretty sizable fan base. Last year's TX55 was very popular with consumers and its successor, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX66, is a dead ringer for its predecessor - the only significant difference between the two is the TX66's boost in resolution from 16 megapixels to 18 megapixels. Lots of camera buyers liked the TX55's minimalist look, ultra-slim and super flat profile, sliding front lens cover and non-protruding 5x zoom lens. Following this logic, the essentially identical TX66 should be just as popular.
Wide Angle, 26mm
Build and Design
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC TX66 is a nifty little camera that (when closed up) looks more like a cell phone than a digital camera. Sony's newest TX series ultra-compact digicam is a well built little point and shoot - 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 TX66 into a tiny flat rectangular package that fits perfectly (and safely) in the back pocket of a pair of jeans.
The TX66 is the first ultra-compact to offer an 18 megapixel resolution (via its 1:2.33 Exmor R2 CMOS image sensor). 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. 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.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Sony TX66 might be the poster child for a whole new generation of digital cameras designed especially to compete with cell phone cameras. Digital cameras these days are smaller, lighter, and thinner than they were just a few years ago and 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 - not because touch screen controls provide a better tactile response or are really easier to use than traditional controls, but because eliminating dedicated controls makes cameras cheaper to manufacture. Consumers like touch screen electronic devices because they are seen as "cool and current" and on the cutting edge of technology. 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.
The TX66's touch-screen is not especially responsive and often requires multiple taps to get to the function you want. With some touch-screen equipped cameras that isn't a problem since they have (in addition to the touch screen controls) redundant traditional controls, but not the TX66. The TX66's ultra-thin and very flat body is blemished by only a few dedicated controls: the power button, the shutter release button, and a jog-stick style zoom rocker switch - all on the right side of the camera's super narrow top deck - everything else is controlled via the touch-screen.
I think it should be obvious by now that I don't like touch screen LCDs and the TX66's is no exception. Especially egregious is the TX66's start/stop video button. First, the video start/stop button is touch screen activated and (as any photographer worth his/her salt knows) if you touch the screen (to trip the shutter button) even the lightest touch will cause the camera to move during exposure. Secondly, the video start/stop button is not especially sensitive (often requiring multiple taps to activate) which results in a lot of missed video starts and lots of jittery movie beginnings. If all that isn't bad enough the video control is on the top left side of the touch-screen, rather than directly beneath the shutter button (the logical placement since the video stop/start button is also a shutter release). That requires right handed shooters to hold the camera (locked on the subject) with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand while tapping the video start/stop button with the forefinger of their left hand. I love digital cameras, but I don't like design flaws that impede the photograpic process. My apolgies to southpaw shooters, I know there hasn't been a camera for lefties since Exacta went belly up, but the start/stop button should be on the right side of the touch-screen - directly under the shutter button.
Menus and Modes
The TX66's menu system is fairly logical and the menus are laid out in a straightforward and graphic 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 DSC TX66 is for auto exposure shooters. Users cannot easily adjust most exposure functions. There is no mode dial, so everything must be done via the touch-screen LCD. Shooting modes include Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, iSweep Panorama, Movie, and Scene shooting modes. Intelligent Auto mode is the same as the Smart Auto modes found on most P&S digicams - the TX66 automatically selects the correct scene mode for the subject based on prevailing lighting and subject to camera distance. 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. Finally, the TX66 provides one of the most comprehensive movie modes in its class, but with the worst video/start control I have ever seen. The camera records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1920x1080i @ 60fps or 1440x1080p @ 30fps video mode and features an HDMI output.
The TX66 (like most currently available P&S digicams) doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. Shooters must relay on the TX66's 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 want larger, sharper, and quicker LCD screens. The TX66's 3.2-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, higher contrast ratios than TFT screens, and accurate color reproduction. The TX66's LCD resolution is an amazing 1229K - making this LCD screen significantly sharper than those offered by the TX66's competition. High LCD screen resolution is very important when checking critical sharpness in macro shots and for assessing overall sharpness, color accuracy, and contrast in other photographic genres.
The TX66'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 the visibly impenetrable smudges around the periphery of the touch screen make the TX66'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 and in bright outdoor lighting the mirror like screen is very difficult to use. Here's some advice for Sony's product development folks - Nikon and Canon both have much better anti-glare/anti-reflection LCD coatings (on lower resolution monitors) than Sony - it's time to arrange for some reverse engineering. The bottom line here is that the TX66 has an exceptional LCD in terms of native resolution, but Sony doesn't allow users to obtain all the benefit of that fantastic screen by utilizing inferior LCD screen anti-reflection/anti-glare coatings.
The TX66 utilizes the standard 4:3 aspect ratio when shooting/reviewing still images, but users get the widescreen 16:9 display on the screen 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.
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