Sony is one of the major producers of high-tech electronic equipment. Its products usually blend the latest technology with a great sense of style. The new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7 combines both characteristics. Of course for just under $400, it does so at a high price.
The TX7 is small and slim, measuring 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches and weighs 5.3 ounces, including the battery and memory stick. It features Sony's 1/2.4 inch, 10.2 megapixel EXMOR R CMOS sensor, designed for superior low light performance, and a very wide angle lens (25mm, 35mm equivalent) with 4x optical zoom that uses folded optics so it does not protrude from the camera body. The TX7 has a 3.5-inch high resolution LCD screen, a menu system using touchscreen technology and many interesting image modes, some of which are found in only very few of the most recently released digital cameras. They include a true HD movie mode (1920 x 1080) using the latest AVCHD technology to achieve 60 interlaced frames per second (or 30 progressive recording in MP4), a sweep panorama mode, anti-motion blur mode, a handheld twilight mode, a backlit correction HDR mode and a high speed continuous shooting mode.
The TX7 certainly delivers in the style department, with a very attractive brushed metal front panel that incorporates a sliding lens cover which turns the camera on when opened and off when closed. Does all this new technology and style add up to a first rate camera? Let's find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The TX7 has an elegant, slim, metal body that's very sturdy. It comes in three colors: silver, dark blue and red, which was the color of the camera I used for this review. Its front is dominated by a smoothly sliding lens cover and its rear by an all-encompassing 3.5-inch LCD. When the lens cover is up, the front of the TX7 is completely protected, though the large LCD at the rear remains vulnerable. To protect the LCD, it would be a good idea to purchase a slim camera case, even though that may make for a tighter fit in the pocket.
Ergonomics and Controls
A downside of the TX7's sleek body is that it's not easy to get a good grip. There's a slim ridged border on the right side of the LCD that can help. If you want to use your left hand to steady the camera, as I prefer to do, you could have a problem since the lens is very close to the top front right edge; I frequently found myself covering up the lens with my left hand. Next to the lens is an auto focus assist lamp and to the left of that is the flash. Slightly below the flash are two microphone holes that enable the TX7 to record in stereo. The left side of the camera contains a metal holder for the wrist strap but other than that, there aren't other controls or ports on the sides.
The top of the camera contains a recessed on/off button and a slightly protruding, oblong shutter button. Next to the shutter button on the corner is a small switch that controls optical zoom, which moves left for wide angle and right for telephoto. The zoom switch does not work as well as a control ring, which I prefer, but it does the job. Also at the top of the camera are dedicated buttons for record mode and movie mode.
The rear of the TX7 contains only the 3.5 inch high-resolution LCD. The bottom of the camera contains a sturdy metal tripod mount. Next to it is a connection for an output stand that the camera is placed onto to transfer data and other functions; it's an interesting feature. The stand contains ports for DC in, the USB cable, an HDMI cable and A/V out. Next to the output stand connection is the opening for the combination battery/memory card compartment. The compartment cover is much sturdier than that typically found in small point-and-shoot cameras. The camera uses an NP-BN1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery that Sony says has a capacity of 230 images. The TX7 accepts both Sony memory sticks and SD/SDHC memory cards.
The TX7 comes with a 30-page instruction manual (in English and Spanish) that explains how to use the camera's basic functions. A comprehensive 168-page handbook is located on a CD, which also contains Sony's PMD Picture Motion Browser, a program for uploading and managing your photos and videos.
Menus and Modes
The TX7's menu system is operated by using the touchscreen (except for the dedicated photo and movie buttons referred to earlier). The basic menu functions are located on the left and right sides of the screen and vary somewhat by the shooting mode you're in. The upper right corner contains icons for battery life, number of images, and size. These are not affected by the touch screen so that area is a good place to put your thumb if you find the ridged border is insufficient to get a good grip. Beneath that is the mode icon, which lets you control the TX7's recording modes. Beneath the mode control is the icon that will put the camera into picture review mode.
On the left side of the screen is a menu icon, which, depending on the recording mode, will lead to links for Easy mode and other functions. The shooting settings menu is also accessed here. Below the menu icon are icons for accessing the camera's movie mode, flash settings, the self timer button and the camera's burst mode (continuous shooting mode). Although the menus do not mention optical image stabilization, the TX7 does have it, according to Sony's website. After a short learning curve, I became comfortable using the touchscreen menus, especially in conjunction with the audio cues that you can select in the settings menu.
Here are the TX7's basic shooting modes:
The TX7 also has some special shooting modes: sweep panorama, anti-motion blur, handheld twilight and backlight correction HDR.
The sweep panorama mode is very easy and fun to use. Set the camera to sweep panorama mode, press the shutter, and slowly pan the camera horizontally (or vertically if you choose). You'll see on the screen how far you have to move the camera to create a full panorama shot. Once you've panned far enough, the camera records the image. Here's an example:
When anti-motion blur is set, the TX7 captures six images in a fraction of a second and combines the data from of them to eliminate subject blur. Handheld twilight mode also involves the camera quickly taking six images to obtain sharp images in low light shooting situations. In backlight correction HDR mode, the camera takes two pictures at different exposure settings and combines them to correct for problems in high-contrast scenes where backgrounds are overexposed and shadows lack detail. Below are pictures of a high contrast image with and without backlight correction HDR mode enabled:
Backlight Correction HDR enabled
Backlight Correction HDR not enabled
The TX7 does not have a viewfinder, but has a 3.5-inch 920,000 dot LCD in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is ideal for viewing HD movies. The LCD brightness level can be adjusted, but it's probably better to leave it somewhere in the middle to avoid shortening battery life. Although I enjoyed the sharpness and fine resolution of the screen indoors, I had a problem viewing it in bright sunlight.
The TX7 takes only a couple of seconds to start up and shut down. Shutter lag is not a problem, as the performance tables below readily show. Focus acquisition times are very short, and this held true in my own experience with the camera. I rarely had problems finding focus, even in low light. The TX7 is also very quick when taking successive photos. I was able to fire off a shot every two seconds or so for 15 shots without having the camera pause to write to the memory card. Using the flash slowed shot-to-shot times by about a second or two. As the studio timing shows, the TX7 has an extremely fast continuous shooting mode of 11.4 frames per second, but the camera pauses thereafter for about 15 seconds to write to the memory card.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7||0.01|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S640||0.04|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7||0.27|
|Nikon Coolpix S640||0.29|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||0.39|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||0.43|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7||10
|Nikon Coolpix S640||2||2.2 fps
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||3||1.8 fps
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||infinite||0.9 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The TX7's flash can be set to auto, on, off and slow syncro, where the camera uses a slow shutter speed in combination with the flash that allows for more background detail. Sony states that the effective flash range is 0.08 to 3.8 meters at wide angle, or 0.5 to 3.1 meters at telephoto, when using automatic ISO sensitivity. Red-eye reduction (through the use of the flash) can also be set. A self timer can be set for 2 or 10 seconds to allow the photographer to get in the picture or to avoid camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button.
The TX7's NP-BN1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery is supposed to last for 230 shots, but I noticed the battery level going down after fewer than 100 shots. I did spend a considerable amount of time searching through the menus, which probably shortened battery life.
I found images from the TX7 to be consistently good, if a bit soft, with just occasional blurriness in the corners and no vignetting (darkening at the corners). As usual with small cameras, purple fringing occasionally appears in high contrast areas, such as on the borders of the white portions of the boats below.
There is slight barrel distortion at wide angle, but no pin cushion distortion at maximum zoom.
The TX7 produces excellent AVCHD video, especially if you have the equipment to view the 1080i HD videos properly. The stereo sound is very good, and the sounds of quacking ducks and rushing water came through very well in my test videos.
At this time not every video player is equipped to play AVCHD videos without software add-ons, though this is likely to change as AVCHD coding gets more popular.
*Editor's Note: Since 1080i AVCHD videos are difficult to get online without a lot of compression, we didn't post the sample videos for this review. The TX7 records in the much more web-friendly MP4 format at 1080p and VGA resolutions as well.
I'm pleased with image quality produced by the TX7. Colors are pleasing, while not being overly saturated.
The TX7 does tend to overexpose highlights more than I would have liked.
The camera has white balance settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1 (white fluorescent lighting), fluorescent 2 (natural white fluorescent lighting), fluorescent 3 (day white fluorescent lighting), incandescent, flash, one push (which will adjust the white balance depending on the light source) and one push set (memorizes the basic white color that will be used). The TX7 also has underwater white balance settings when using the camera with an optional underwater housing. Auto white balance works well.
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light
As shown below, the TX7 produces sharp images with good color and virtually no noise through 200 ISO. Noise intrudes a little at 400 ISO and becomes a problem at 800 ISO. Shooting at higher than 800 ISO should only be done in an emergency.
ISO 125, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
The Sony DSC-TX7 is a delight to use. It's solidly constructed for such a small, thin camera and has a beautiful appearance. It's a very quick performer and has a slick and functional touchscreen interface. I really enjoyed trying all the cool features, especially the sweep panorama mode, and I predict that a year from now, all new cameras being released (except those at the lower end of the price scale) will have this very useful function.
The TX7 has a terrific movie mode and while image quality is good, the combination of slightly soft images and overexposure detracts from the overall quality of the photos. The issues can probably be corrected in-camera by increasing the sharpness and decreasing EV compensation, but they take away some of the luster from what is, in all other respects, an outstanding small camera.