Design and features
A few years ago, the phrase "stylish tough camera" was considered an oxymoron. Fortunately, camera makers have started to heed our cries for an attractive camera that can survive both the surf and snow parties, with Nikon and Sony pushing the aesthetic boundaries.
The TX20 is a very slender camera, almost looking too delicate to be classified as a tough performer. Looks can be deceiving, though, and in this case they definitely don't give away the secret that it can dive down to 5 metres, is shockproof from 1.5 metres and is dust and freeze resistant.
Like the earlier tough range from Sony, the TX20 sports a 3-inch high-resolution touchscreen that takes up the entirety of the back panel, as well as some tiny buttons that will challenge even the most delicate digits. The front panel is a slide-down design, which both covers the lens element and turns the camera on. It's a rather pedestrian 4x optical zoom, but it does the job for most snapshots.
A range of the picture effects available on the TX20, including HDR, monochrome, selective colour and toy camera.
While style is certainly something that we value in a camera, the price you pay for attractiveness may often come at the cost of usability. Unfortunately, in the case of the TX20 it's just so small, and its surface just so slippery, that even on dry land it can be difficult to get a firm grip. There's a wrist strap provided in the box, but it's not enough to stop it from falling out of your hand when underwater.
The touchscreen, when clean and dry, responds well and provides an easy way to change shooting settings. There's a stylus provided in the box just in case your digits have trouble selecting anything on the screen. Underwater, it becomes impossible to use the touchscreen, so you have to ensure that all of the shooting options are set when the screen is dry. The sliding cover also tends to attract both water and dirt underneath it, so if you are using it on your Splash Mountain adventures, make sure to thoroughly clean and dry it as per Sony's recommendations.
Modes are all of the automatic variety, but you do get almost all the same controls on non-rugged Cyber-shot cameras. The TX20 offers an intelligent as well as superior auto mode, a program auto mode, panoramic shooting, background defocus, scene, 3D and picture effects.
The TX20 offers USB charging, which is useful for when you're near a computer, but not so great for on the road. It's also got a proprietary port, which can make it tricky if you lose the included cable.
|Olympus Tough TG-1||Panasonic Lumix FT4||Sony Cyber-shot TX20||Nikon AW100|
|12-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS||12.1-megapixel CCD||16.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS||16.0-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS|
|3-inch OLED (610,000-dot)||2.7-inch LCD (230,000-dot)||3-inch touchscreen (921,000-dot)||3-inch LCD (460,000-dot)|
|Waterproof 12m, shockproof 2m||Waterproof 12m, shockproof 2m||Waterproof 5m, shockproof 1.5m||Waterproof 10m, shockproof 1.5m|
|4x optical zoom||4.6x optical zoom||4x optical zoom||5x optical zoom|
|25mm wide angle||28mm wide angle||25mm wide angle||28mm wide angle|
|GPS tagging||GPS tagging||No GPS tagging||GPS tagging|
|HD video (1080p)||HD video (1080p)||HD video (1080i)||HD video (1080p)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Nikon Coolpix AW100
Panasonic Lumix FT3
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Panasonic Lumix FT3
Nikon Coolpix AW100
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The TX20 is a nimble performer, so it responds and focuses quickly. This means that you're more likely to get the shot than not, particularly compared to some other, slower rugged cameras that suffer from prolonged shutter lag. Note that the TX20 takes 10 shots in a row in its high-speed continuous mode (as measured above) before stopping to process the photos.
Sony rates the battery at 250 shots, but with the continuous use of the touchscreen and recording video, it didn't last as long as predicted in our tests.
The TX20 may have most of the same shooting modes and features as any other regular Cyber-shot camera, but its overall image quality unfortunately doesn't equal that from its counterparts. For casual snapshots and web use, the images are great — expect punchy and saturated colours, particularly strong in the blue channel. This is something you would expect from an underwater camera.
At reduced resolution, photos look good. Looking a little deeper, though, shows that the TX20 has plenty of over-processing issues that exhibit themselves as smeared detail, so images look soft.
Given that the lens is so wide at 25mm, there's bound to be distortion. It is so pronounced, however, that shooting architecture or anything with straight lines at the widest end makes the scene look very bendy.
A visual comparison showing how close the 4x optical zoom can get you. In the top image (at the 25mm wide-angle reach), you can see there's some very prominent distortion.
Apart from the over-processing, the lens exhibits very good sharpness at the centre of the frame, though it does drop off rather dramatically to the sides. The camera does do a good job of helping you get a clear, shake-free shot, even when extending the optical zoom to its farthest reach.
Video quality is good. The video image is reasonably sharp with good colours; there's only a small amount of blown highlights if you look closely, and the stereo microphones at the front of the camera are able to deliver well-defined sound. You can shoot in either AVCHD at 1080/50i or MP4 at 25p.
Exposure: 1/400, f/5.6, ISO 125
Exposure: 1/640, f/5.6, ISO 125
Exposure: 1/50, f/4, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/125, f/4.5, ISO 125
The TX20 is a tough camera that doesn't look like one. Casual shooters and anyone wanting to bring a touch of style to the seaside will be pleased with its images. Pixel peepers and those wanting to make serious enlargements from its prints will probably want to look elsewhere.
We like the TX20, but can't help feeling a bit disappointed that this is not the successor we would have expected, given how well its predecessor, the TX10, performed.