Party goers and nightclubbers haven't been forgotten in the 2009 crop of compact cameras. Sony's TX1 adds a curious feature to the mix with the inclusion of its Party Dock, which also works with the WX1.
We've seen cameras like Samsung's ST550 come with a range of "social lubricants" as standard. The other drawcard this year has been tweaks to internal specifications. In Sony's case, it's the Exmor R CMOS sensor — claiming increased sensitivity, clearer night-time shots and better noise performance.
Design and features
Sharing a similar look and feel to other touchscreen cameras in Sony's Cyber-shot range like the T90, the TX1 has a brushed metal exterior with a sliding cover that moves down from the top of the camera to the bottom to reveal the lens. It's an incredibly svelte body, with just 1.65cm in depth, the only noticeable protrusions being the wrist strap holder on the side. It weighs just 119g without battery or memory card.
At just 16.5mm deep, the TX1 is a svelte fashionista. (Credit: CNET Asia)
Common controls are within easy reach, such as the zoom rocker at the top right-hand side — small but nicely positioned — and the shutter button and power switch alongside each other at the top. At the bottom, a Memory Stick Pro Duo and the Lithium-ion battery slot in neatly next to one another, and there's a proprietary dock connector on the base as well.
Seeing as the compact camera market is getting so crowded with manufacturers touting the latest and greatest technologies, the TX1 has to have something interesting enough to grab a consumer's attention, and in this case it's what's on the inside that counts. It has a 10.2-megapixel Exmor R sensor, using the same technology that's trickled down from the HX1, which claims to have improved low-light capabilities, improved noise control and is supposed to be twice as sensitive as a traditional CMOS sensor.
Another technology that's made the journey from the HX1 superzoom is sweep panorama that allows you to pan the camera either along a horizontal or vertical axis and it will automatically stitch together a vista of the scene in-camera.
The lens performs all the zooming operations within the camera so there's no protrusion as it extends and retracts to its 4x optical zoom reach. It's a disappointingly small aperture (f/3.5) at the wide end — which is incidentally only 35mm, no wide-angle optics here. HD video is provided at 720p like it was on the T90.
All common shooting functions and menu options are relegated to the touchscreen interface, which hasn't really changed from previous iterations that have appeared on cameras such as the Cyber-shot DSC-T90. The touchscreen is relatively straightforward to use, but the 3-inch unit doesn't provide that much space to position the options around the screen without a little squashiness. In terms of functionality, the TX1 lets you touch the screen to select a point of focus if you'd rather take control.
Let's get ready to party!
Like any good addition to a soiree, the TX1 brings a pleasant guest to the proceedings — an optional party dock (AU$229). Put the camera in this thing, turn it on, and like one of those vacuum cleaners that scoots around the room autonomously, the TX1 will pivot back and forth, up and down looking for its next victims — or should that be smiling faces — to photograph. It can be tethered to mains power or via two AA batteries.
When it finds an appropriate target the camera will snap an image automatically. In the intervening time, the lights underneath the dock flash and glow and the unit rotates constantly in the never-ending search for incriminating situations. We put it to the test in our podcast and found that the camera accurately snapped those smiling, happy faces for posterity.
Like the T90, the TX1 isn't the quickest camera off the mark — shutter lag measures 0.3 second, and in the high-speed burst mode the TX1 captures 10 frames in rapid succession, at an interval of approximately 0.1 second between each shot. It takes a fair while for the camera to process the shots in one go afterwards though, during which time the camera is inactive for other shooting.
Sony rates the battery for the TX1 at 250 shots which is about average for a camera of this class with a touchscreen.
Images at full magnification appeared a little soft, though colours were very natural and weren't over-saturated. In abundant light, such as outdoor situations, the camera was able to achieve some very pleasing results, and white balance on automatic settings was accurate. Under studio lighting and fluorescents, the TX1 was also very good with its white balance. The flash produced a bit of an oversaturated effect on colours.
As for low-light performance the TX1 performs very well in its native "Twilight" setting without a tripod, and we were able to get down to a shutter speed as low as 1/10 second at ISO 1600 without discernible handshake at full magnification (see image below).
The TX1 proves it's ideal for tourists, then. (Credit: CBSi)
The TX1 certainly coped better than most other compact cameras in these low-light situations, achieving true blacks and retaining quite a bit of detail. That said, noise control at regular ISO levels wasn't as good as we expected from the sensor, though observing a crop of an image at full magnification reveals this could be as much a fault of the camera over-processing the JPEG as actual noise.
Funnily enough, when we pitted the touchscreen Sony T90 against its Canon touchscreen counterpart, the IXUS 200 IS, the Canon delivered the better exposure to our eyes. For the TX1's comparison test, we pulled out another Canon, this time the 110 IS, and the TX1 won this round with a more even exposure, better colours and a more accurate representation of the scene. Check out the comparison below — the TX1's image is at the top and the 110's image is at the bottom.
Sony DSC-TX1 (top) and Canon IXUS 200 IS (bottom) (Credit: CBSi)
Sony's DSC-TX1 is an exciting step forward in the compact camera space, pushing for better low-light performance and image quality rather than more megapixels. There's still some way to go in terms of image processing and improving the optics (like including a wide-angle lens), but this is a stellar attempt in one of the sleekest, most unobtrusive camera bodies we've seen in a while.