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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 Review
by Andy Stanton -  4/20/2011

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 is Sony's latest offering in its high-performance WX series, cameras which contain a backside illuminated CMOS sensor for improved low light ability and faster performance. The 16.2 megapixel WX9 succeeds the 12.2 megapixel WX5. Although both cameras have a 5x optical zoom, the WX9 has a slightly narrower angle of view at the wide end of the lens range (28-140mm) compared to the WX5 (24-120mm) (35mm equivalent).

Sony Cyber-shot WX9


One of the WX9's most compelling features is its high performance video mode capable of 1920 x 1080 (1080i) pixel resolution at 60 frames per second. The WX9 also has quick continuous shooting ability of 10 frames per second at full resolution (according to Sony) as well as sophisticated features such as a "Sweep Panorama" mode and a "Superior Auto" mode which uses HDR technology to layer six shots for better dynamic range and lower noise. The WX9 has an ultra-high resolution 921,000-dot, 3.0-inch diameter LCD screen.

The WX9 does not allow independent control of shutter speed or aperture, but it's clearly not aimed at photographers who want to control every aspect of their picture taking. Rather it is geared towards the consumer looking for an easy-to-use camera with good performance and great video. Further, the WX9 has a very reasonable list price of $219.99 and is currently available for less than $200 at many retailers.

The WX9 comes in a package containing a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a USB cable and wall attachment for plugging in the cable for recharging, a wrist strap, a CD containing the user guide and Sony's PMB photo organizing software and a brief, paper instruction manual. The WX9 can use either SD/SDHC/SDXC or Pro Duo memory cards. The WX9 is available in black, silver and red - we tested the silver and red versions.

I was looking forward to trying out the WX9 but I had to deal with some extreme weather. Fortunately there were a number of days that were sunny and I was able to photograph some of the beautiful spring foliage.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The WX9 makes a very good first impression. At 3.74 inches wide, 2.2 inches tall and 0.79 inches thick (94.6mm x 56.3mm x 19.8mm) it's about the size of a credit card with the thickness of a smartphone. It is lightweight, only 4.9 ounces (139 grams) including its battery. It has rounded corners and a mostly metal body, except for the large, LCD at the rear. The various buttons and dials are flush to the surface, which makes it easier to fit in a pocket.

Sony Cyber-shot WX9

The body is very solid and seems that it will stand up to repeated use but, like all small digital cameras except for the specially made "tough" cameras, dropping it will probably cause damage, so using the wrist strap is essential. The WX9 is certainly an attractive little camera.

Ergonomics and Controls
The overall layout of the WX9 is very good. The flash and combination auto focus assist and timer lamp are located at the top center of the camera's front plate, a good place that's not likely to be covered by your fingers while operating the camera. The top of the camera contains the on/off switch, the shutter button with a zoom control ring around it and two stereo microphones.

Sony Cyber-shot WX9

One side of the camera includes the wrist strap attachment and a plastic latch that covers a port for an HDMI cable. On the bottom portion you'll find holes for the speaker, a tripod mount (plastic, unfortunately, rather than the more rugged metal), a port for the USB cable, and a battery/memory card compartment with a fairly sturdy plastic latch.

Sony Cyber-shot WX9

At the rear of the camera, the controls are all bunched on the right side. From top to bottom they consist of a dedicated movie button, a selector switch that allows you to choose shooting mode, panorama mode or movie mode (a good place to grip the camera with your thumb), a rotating circular controller with a selector button in the middle, buttons that activate the menu and trash can (to delete an image or movie) and a dedicated playback button.

Sony Cyber-shot WX9

The dedicated movie and playback buttons are very useful. It is much easier to catch the action when you want to shoot a movie when all you have to do is press a button, rather than search through a menu. The playback button is a helpful feature that is appearing more frequently in digital cameras. It allows you view your pictures without having to turn on the camera and go through its start-up procedure, which involves extending the lens.

While the control system of the WX9 is set up well, I sometimes had a problem actually operating the controls. For instance I often had to press the on/off button several times to get it to activate. The shutter button is small and does not protrude, which improves the camera's appearance but makes the shutter button harder to press. The control ring rotates to permit scrolling through the menu but I found that feature difficult to use.

Menus and Modes
The WX9's menu is activated by pressing the menu button. The menu is logically laid out on the left side of the screen via large icons, with selectable options extending across the screen. When the information option is selected, each menu icon is explained on the screen. It is an excellent menu system, one of the best I've seen. It is especially good for those who are newcomers to digital cameras.

The menu includes a record mode with six possible shooting sub-modes:

Sony WX9 Sample Image
Intelligent Auto
Sony WX9 Sample Image
Superior Auto

Sony WX9 Sample Image

Among the other menu options are an Easy mode, which increases screen brightness and font size and prevents access to menu items, face detection and smile shutter, which automatically takes the picture when the camera detects the subject smiling. The WX9 utilizes Sony's "SteadyShot" optical image stabilization system, which is apparently on all the time as there is no menu option to turn it on or off.

As in several other Sony digital cameras, the WX9 contains a "Sweep Panorama" mode, where wide angle panorama shots can be easily taken by sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically. It is a fun feature, though the images it creates are in the form of a thin strip.

Sony WX9 Sample Image

The WX9 has a very high performance movie mode, which allows you to record movies in the AVCHD format, at 1920 x 1080 pixels at 60 frames per second, 1440 x 1080 pixels at 30 frames per second, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second and 640 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Movie mode can be used in conjunction with seven possible scene modes. Optical zoom is usable during movie mode as well. Movies can be shot for as long as 29 minutes for each session. The maximum size of a movie file is up to approximately 2GB.

The WX9 does not include any means for altering the image prior to taking the picture, such as increasing or decreasing color saturation, sharpness or contrast. Nor does the WX9 include various filters such as vivid, natural, sepia and black and white. As these options are present in so many similar cameras, their absence from the WX9 is surprising.

Display/Viewfinder
The WX9's LCD monitor has a 3.0-inch diameter in a 4:3 aspect ratio with approximately 921,000 dots of resolution. It can be adjusted to one of five different brightness levels. It is a beautiful screen, which is not surprising considering the experience Sony has making LCD televisions. There is no viewfinder.

DCR tests cameras for LCD screen quality, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCD monitors have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and at least 500 nits. The LCD monitor of the WX9 was found to have a contrast ratio of 575:1 and to measure 437 nits for peak brightness and 0.76 for dark, which are good scores. I found the monitor to be excellent in normal lighting conditions but more difficult to see in the bright sunshine.

PERFORMANCE
Overall performance of the WX9 is good. The camera starts up fairly quickly in about two seconds, and takes only a bit longer to shut down. Menu operations are adequately quick and accurate. Shot to shot time is excellent. I was able to take an unlimited number shots as quickly as I could press the shutter button. Using the flash slowed things down to about three seconds between shots, which is very good for a small point and shoot camera like the WX9.

Shooting Performance
The WX9 is consistently quick in acquiring and locking focus, even in low light. According to the performance tables below, produced by the DCR lab, the camera measured 0.01 seconds for shutter lag when the camera was pre-focused, and 0.25 seconds for auto focus acquisition, the time it takes from pressing the shutter to taking the shot. Both times are very good, among the faster times I've seen for point and shoot cameras. The WX9 achieved an excellent continuous shooting speed of 9.8 frames per second in full resolution, although it can shoot in only one burst of 10 shots.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
Camera Time (seconds)
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 0.01
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 0.01
Sony Cyber-shot WX9 0.01
Nikon Coolpix S9100 0.01

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S9100 0.18
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 0.20
Sony Cyber-shot WX9 0.25
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 0.48

Continuous Shooting
Camera Frames Framerate*
Nikon Coolpix S9100 5 15.0 fps
Sony Cyber-shot WX9 10 9.8 fps
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 3 3.5 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 1.3 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.

According to Sony, battery life is 210 shots. This may be true if no other camera functions are used, but since I was constantly accessing the LCD and taking movies, my battery life was significantly less. It would be wise to purchase a second battery for backup.

Lens Performance
The WX9 uses a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with a focal length of 28-140mm (35mm film camera equivalent), or 5x optical zoom, which provides good versatility, especially for such a small camera.

Sony WX9 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Sony WX9 Sample Image
Telephoto

The WX9 includes the option of digital zoom, which Sony refers to Smart Zoom and Precision Zoom. Smart Zoom will increase magnification while lowering the camera's resolution, supposedly without image deterioration, while Precision Zoom may lead to image deterioration. I generally do not use digital zoom, as I find that cropping the image after it is taken will achieve the same effect and give me more control over the results.

Lens performance is good. The camera produces images that are sharp in the center though less sharp in the corners. Vignetting and chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast areas are not a problem. There is some barrel distortion at wide angle but no pincushion distortion at maximum zoom.

Sony WX9 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Sony WX9 Sample Image
Telephoto

Video Quality
The WX9 produces excellent HD movies with realistic color and stereo sound. Movies can be easily recorded with one touch of the designated movie button, which makes it a very simple process. Seven scene modes can be used while shooting movies as well as the camera's optical zoom. The movie below, shot at 60 frames per second, shows smooth motion, accurate color and good sound. I also tried out the optical zoom, which worked well.

Download Sample Video

Image Quality
The WX9 produces sharp images with strong colors. I enjoy taking pictures of flowers and the WX9 did a good job with them. Colors are well saturated although I found the reds to be a little too hot, at the cost of some definition.

Sony WX9 Sample Image Sony WX9 Sample Image

The WX9 has white balance settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1 (white), fluorescent 2 (natural white), fluorescent 3 (day white), incandescent, flash, one push and custom. I used auto white balance in all of my pictures with good results.

Sony WX9 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The flash has settings for auto, on, slow synchro (brightens the background) and off. There is no flash setting for red-eye reduction. Flash coverage is approximately 0.16 to 17.39 feet (0.05 to 5.3 meters) at wide angle and 3.28 to 7.22 feet (1 to 2.2 meters) at telephoto. The flash is effective in giving appropriate brightness to the subject.

Sony WX9 Sample Image

The camera's back illuminated CMOS processor is designed to produce low light images with less noise than conventional CCD sensors and I found that to be case here. I've included images taken at 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 ISO, which show a gradual deterioration in quality, though even at 3200 ISO the image is still acceptable for small images, such as those posted on various websites.

Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 400
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 800
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 3200

The DCR lab's ISO test results shows images with good color and minimal noise through 800 ISO, with noise becoming more of a factor at 1600 through 3200 ISO. These are very good results and confirm my own impressions set out in the photos above.

Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 100
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 200
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 400
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 800
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Sony WX9 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images
Sony WX9 Sample Image Sony WX9 Sample Image
Sony WX9 Sample Image Sony WX9 Sample Image
Sony WX9 Sample Image Sony WX9 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Sony Cyber-shot WX9 is a very attractive small camera and is a good choice for beginners, thanks to its clear, colorful menu system and dedicated controls for movies and playback. It has many points in its favor - it takes sharp, colorful pictures and excellent HD videos with stereo sound, its large LCD screen has excellent sharpness and clarity, performance is quick and dependable, the lens is of high quality and produces little distortion and its low light ability is quite good for such a reasonably priced camera.


There are a few things about the WX9 I didn't care for. Some of the camera's controls are quite small and I found them hard to use. While I appreciated the camera's strong colors, reds were a little too strong, detracting from image definition. I was surprised that the camera lacks the ability to adjust color saturation, sharpness and contrast and does not have certain creative filters, features that are found in most small cameras. On the other hand the WX9 has some features rarely found in other cameras, such as a Sweep Panorama mode, Superior Auto and Background Defocus.

All told, the Cyber-shot WX9 is a camera that I can strongly recommend to those who are looking for a small, high quality digital camera at a reasonable price, especially to those who may be intimidated by the complicated menu systems of most digital cameras.

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