Originally Posted: November 16, 2009
Last Updated: March 29, 2010
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 ($349) is an ultra-compact, point-and-shoot camera that uses a new "back-illuminated" CMOS sensor, which promises better higher sensitivity and less noise than traditional CCDs. Throw in a wide and fast 5X zoom lens, HD movie recording, and a fair number of point-and-shoot features, and the WX1 looks like it could compete against the reining low light champ, the Fuji FinePix F200EXR.
The WX1 is quite similar to the DSC-W290 (see our review), with a smaller body and the new lens/sensor combination. Here's how the two compare:
You can see that in some respects, the WX1 is actually a step down from the cheaper W290. It has a smaller LCD, the lens is slower at full telephoto, it doesn't support conversion lenses, and it has fewer playback mode features. Aside from that, though, the DSC-WX1 wins the spec war versus its less expensive sibling. Some of the WX1's features (such as sweep panorama) won't be found on any of its competitors.
The WX1 has some tough competition, not only from the Fuji FinePix F200EXR, but also the Canon PowerShot S90 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. How well does it perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 has a pretty standard bundle for a point-and-shoot camera. Inside the box, you'll find the following:
- The 10.2 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 camera
- NP-BG1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB + A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Picture Motion Browser software, Cyber-shot handbook and Step-up Guide
- 59 page basic manual (printed) plus 135 page full manual (on CD-ROM)
Like all of Sony's recent cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 has built-in memory, in lieu of having a memory card included in the box. The WX1 has a paltry 11MB of onboard memory, which holds just two photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to get a memory card, and fast. The DSC-WX1 supports Memory Stick Duo cards, and I'd recommend a 2GB card at the very least.
The WX1 uses the familiar NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has 3.4 Wh of energy, which is about average for a camera in this class. The WX1 also supports the NP-FG1 battery, which has the same amount of juice, but adds InfoLithium technology, which allows the camera to provide a minute-by-minute countdown of battery life. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect from the DSC-WX1:
As you can see, the DSC-WX1 comes in second place in the battery competition. Despite not taking the gold medal, the WX1's battery is still well above the group average.
I should point out a few things about the proprietary lithium-ion battery used by the WX1 and every other camera in the table above. Proprietary batteries tend to be more expensive than their AA counterparts, with a spare NP-FG1 costing at least $27. In addition, should that battery run out of juice, you can't pick up an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day.
When you're ready to charge the WX1's battery, just pop it into the included charger. And then you might want to find something else to do for the next four or five hours, as that's how long it can take to charge the battery. If you want a faster charger, Sony would be happy to sell you one.
And on that note, here's the list of accessories available for the DSC-WX1:
One of the big differences between the DSC-WX1 and the other cameras in the W-series is that it does not support conversion lenses of any kind. It also supports one underwater case, instead of three.
Sony offers tons of cases for the WX1 -- too many to list.
Sony includes version 4.3 of their Picture Motion Browser software with the DSC-WX1. This software remains Windows-only, so Mac users will have to use something else (iPhoto works just fine). The first part of the software you'll probably encounter is PMB Launcher, which is the gateway to all of PMB's functions. Here you can import photos, upload them to popular photo/video sharing sites, burn a CD or DVD, or just jump right into the photo browser.
Speaking of which, above you can see the actual Picture Motion Browser software. On the main screen you'll find the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos in a calendar format, as well. You can sort photos by date, whether they contain people, smiles, or scenery, by label, and more. From here you can also e-mail, print, or upload your photos to sharing sites; a slideshow option is also available.
Editing in Picture Motion Browser
Double-clicking on any thumbnail brings you to the edit screen. The tools here include auto correction, brightness/contrast/saturation adjustment, redeye removal, and trimming (cropping). You can even adjust the tone curve, with wasn't available on earlier versions of PMB. If you want to print the date on your photos, you can do that as well.
Another part of Picture Motion Browser allows you to transfer music from your computer (or a CD) to the camera for use with the slideshow feature. Sony includes a standalone Mac application for doing this, as well.
Look and Feel
The Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 is an ultra-compact camera with an all-black, mostly metal finish. Build quality is very good for the most part, though the mode dial feels a bit cheap. Ergonomics are just okay. While the camera can be held with one hand, your right thumb sits right on the mode dial, which isn't terribly desirable. The controls on the back of the camera are quite small, most notably the four-way controller. The burst mode button is oddly placed on the top of the camera and is difficult to locate.
Now let's see how the WX1 compares to other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the DSC-WX1 is the smallest and lightest camera in the group. One may ask why I chose the DMC-LX3 over smaller Panasonic cameras, and the answer is simple: the LX3 is famous for its low light shooting abilities.
Ready to tour the WX1 now? So I am, so let's get started!
The first thing to see on the front of the WX1 is its 5X optical zoom Sony "G" lens. Sony says that this lens is superior to the "Carl Zeiss" lenses typically found on their compact cameras (which aren't made by Zeiss in the first place), and we'll see how it performs later in the review. This lens is a bit faster at wide-angle than your typical lens, with a maximum aperture of F2.4. By the time you hit the 5X position, the lens is on the slow side, with an aperture of F5.9. The focal range is quite nice: 4.25 - 21.25 mm, which is equivalent to 24 - 120 mm. The lens is not threaded and, unlike the cheaper W-series cameras, conversion lenses are not supported.
Comparison of traditional sensors and the back-illuminated Exmor R sensor
Diagram courtesy of Sony
Behind the lens is an all-new sensor design, which Sony calls "Exmor R". This CMOS sensor is back-illuminated, which means that all the wires and circuits have been moved behind the photo diodes (which receive the light coming through the lens). This allows the sensor to collect more light, leading to higher sensitivity and less noise. And, being a CMOS sensor, you also get very fast continuous shooting, which Sony has taken advantage of in a number of ways (but more on that later).
Inside that lens is Sony's optical image stabilization system, which they call Optical SteadyShot. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can shake the camera just enough to blur your photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilization systems can't work miracles: they won't freeze a moving subject, nor will they allow you to take night photos without a tripod. Even so, they're still way better than nothing at all. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
I took both of the above photos at 1/8th of a second, right around the midpoint of the zoom range. It's pretty obvious that the IS system helped a great deal here, though I think I may have had too much caffeine in the first shot. You can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode, and you can judge its effectiveness in this brief sample movie.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp also serves as a visual indicator of the self-timer and Smile Shutter features.
Moving to the opposite side of the lens we find the built-in flash and the microphone. The flash on the WX1 has typical numbers for an ultra-compact camera, with a working range of 0.2 - 5.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the DSC-WX1, unless you count the macro ring light.
On the back of the camera you'll find a 2.7" LCD display with 230,400 pixels. I was a bit disappointed to find a relatively small screen on Sony's flagship compact camera -- a 3-inch display would've been nicer. Sony does provide another option for those who want a larger screen, and that's the DSC-TX1. This camera has the same Exmor R sensor as the WX1, a 3-inch touchscreen LCD, and a more conventional 35 - 140 mm lens. Anyhow, I found the screen on the WX1 to be bright and sharp, with a wide viewing angle. I found outdoor visibility to be very good, though the same can't be said for low light visibility -- it was frequently very difficult to see anything in those situations.
You don't have to be a professional digital camera reviewer (whatever that is) to notice that the DSC-WX1 lacks an optical viewfinder. The fact is, nearly all ultra-compact cameras are in the same boat. Thus, if you want a viewfinder, you'll need to buy a larger camera.
Now let's talk about all those buttons and dials to the right of the LCD. The first is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.8 seconds. I counted eleven steps in the 5X zoom range, which is fewer than I would've liked.
Below that is the somewhat plasticky mode dial, which has the following options:
As you can see, the DSC-WX1 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with no manual controls to be found. You've got your usual set of scene modes, and in the Intelligent Auto and Easy modes, the camera will pick the scene mode for you. Intelligent Auto mode also has an Advanced mode in which the camera will take two photos in certain situations. For example, if it is using the backlight portrait scene, it will take one photo with the flash, and another with the dynamic range optimizer set to the "plus" setting.
If you want to select a scene mode yourself, you have several options to choose from. The only one I want to mention is the high sensitivity scene mode, which cranks the ISO up as high as 3200, which can result in some pretty noisy photos (even with the new sensor design).
Now let's talk about the three features that take advantage of the camera's Exmor R CMOS sensor. The most fun is called sweep panorama, and it allows you to create a huge panoramic image simply by panning the camera from left-to-right (it works in other directions, too). A guide displayed on the screen assists you with the process, making sure you capture the whole scene. In the background the camera is taking photos in rapid succession, and automatically stitching them together. You can create a "regular" panorama (4912 x 1080), or an even wider one (7152 x 1080). The results are generally quite good, with the only caveats being that you don't have the individual images to work with if the camera itself didn't do a great job, and that the lens is locked at the wide-angle position.
The next two features are very similar. Both anti motion blur and handheld twilight mode work by taking six photos in rapid succession (often at high sensitivities), and then combining them into a single photo. The point of these features is to produce a sharp photo in situations where low light or a moving subject would otherwise result in blurring. The feature does produce a sharp photo, but they're quite noisy, as you can see in the handheld twilight sample above, as well as in this photo taken in anti motion blur mode (the camera used ISO 3200 for each of them). These two samples are too noisy for even a 4 x 6 inch print, though you may have better results if the camera uses a lower sensitivity.
Getting back to the tour now, the next item of note is the button for entering playback mode. Under that is the four-way controller, which I found to be too small. In addition to its menu navigation duties, the does the following:
- Up - Display - Toggles what's shown on the LCD
- Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Left - Smile shutter (on/off)
- Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow sync, flash off)
My niece's has sent the smile detector over the threshold -- a photo is about to be taken
Smile Shutter is Sony's name for smile detection. If I'm not mistaken, Sony was the first to put this feature on a digital camera. When Smile Shutter is activated by pressing left on the four-way controller, the camera will wait until a person in the frame smiles (it only takes one smile). It will keep taking photos of smiling people until the memory card fills up, or you press the left button again. You can select how sensitive the system is via the record menu. I'll have more on the WX1's face detection system a bit later in the review.
Below the four-way controller are buttons for entering the menu system and deleting a photo.
There's not a whole lot to see on the top of the WX1. On the left is the speaker, followed by the power, shutter release, and burst mode buttons.
I can't think of a better time to talk about the burst mode on the DSC-WX1, so here goes. The camera's CMOS sensor allows it to take photos at frame rates as high as 10 frames/second, for up to ten shots. And yes, that's at full resolution. There are three speeds to choose from on the camera: low, medium, and high. The camera performed exactly as advertised, firing away at 2, 5, and 10 frames/second for each of those speeds, respectively. The LCD keeps up very well with the action, so tracking a moving subject is a piece of cake.
Buried in the burst mode menu is the WX1's AE bracketing option. This will take three photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be 0.3, 0.7, or 1.0 EV.
And that's it for the top of the camera!
Nothing to see on this side of the camera. The lens is at full wide-angle here.
There's nothing on the other side either, unless you count the wrist strap anchor. The lens is at the full telephoto position in this shot.
On the bottom of the WX1 you'll find a metal tripod mount, the multi-connector port, and the battery/memory card compartment. The multi-connector port is where you'll plug in the included A/V+USB cable, as well as the optional A/V+USB+power and component video out cables. The plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment is of average quality, and you should be able to open a tripod, unless your quick release plate is very large.
The included NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery can be seen at left.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
It takes about 1.2 seconds for the DSC-WX1 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty snappy.
A live histogram is available in record mode
The WX1 focuses quickly and accurately for the most part. At wide-angle, focus times of 0.2 - 0.4 seconds were common, with telephoto delays ranging from 0.6 - 0.9 seconds. In low light situations, focus times stayed around a full second, and the camera was able to lock focus on subject that you couldn't even see on the LCD.
Shutter lag wasn't a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it can sometimes occur.
Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent. You'll wait for a little over a second before you can take another shot with the flash off, and for about 2 - 2.5 seconds with the flash on.
You cannot delete a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter playback mode first. Something that bothers me about the WX1 and other recent Sony cameras is how quickly it retracts the lens when you enter playback mode. If you want to make a quick check of a photo you just took, the lens retracts in probably 30 seconds. When you press the shutter release to return to shooting, the zoom goes back to its default (wide-angle) position. Quite frustrating when you're trying to keep things consistent!
Most cameras let you adjust both the size and the amount of compression applied to photos, but the DSC-WX1 only lets you do the former. Here are the available image sizes on the camera:
And now you see why I recommended that you buy a large memory card right away.
The DSC-WX1 does not support the RAW image format, which isn't entirely surprising.
Let's talk menus now. If you're shooting in Easy Mode, then you'll see the menu above. It doesn't get much simpler than that!
Standard record mode menu
In the other shooting modes you'll have a more traditional overlay-style menu. There's a brief description of each menu option, so you'll have an idea as to what each of them does. Keeping in mind that some of these options will be unavailable in certain shooting modes, here's the full list:
- Scene selection (High sensitivity, soft snap, landscape, twilight portrait, twilight, gourmet, pet, beach, snow, fireworks, underwater) - only shown in SCN mode
- Movie shooting mode (Auto, underwater) - only shown in movie mode
- Shooting direction (Right, left, up, down) - for sweep panorama feature
- Image size (see above chart)
- Burst (Off, high, mid, low, bracket) - discussed earlier
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- ISO (Auto, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1/2/3, incandescent, flash, one push)
- Underwater white balance (Auto, underwater 1/2, one-push)
- Focus (Multi, center, spot AF) - no manual option here, unlike most other Sony compacts
- Metering mode (Multi, center, spot)
- Bracket settings (±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0 EV)
- Scene recognition (iSCN, iSCN+) - whether camera takes two shots in Intelligent Auto mode; discussed earlier in the review
- Smile detection sensitivity (Slight, normal, big smile)
- Face detection (Off, auto, child priority, adult priority) - see below
- Dynamic range optimizer (Off, standard, plus) - see below
- Anti-blink (Auto, off) - see below
- Redeye reduction (Auto, on, off) - discussed later
- SteadyShot (Shooting, continuous, off)
- Settings - see below
The only manual control you'll find on the DSC-WX1 is for white balance. You can use the one-push option with a white or gray card, which allows for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting. Strangely enough, the WX1 lacks the pseudo-manual focus of Sony's other compact cameras.
The WX1 found all six faces
The WX1 supports face, smile, and blink detection. The camera is capable not only of finding up to eight faces in the scene -- it can also differentiate between adults and children, and give one or the other focus priority. Sony's implementation of this feature works exceptionally well, with the camera easily finding all six faces in our test scene. By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you can select a face to track as they move around the frame.
There is also a blink detection feature on the WX1. In normal shooting modes, the camera can put up a warning that one of your subjects had their eyes closed (Blink Alert). If you're using the soft snap scene mode and turn on the Anti Blink feature, the camera will take two photos, and will save whichever one is blink-free.
I told you about the Smile Shutter feature a bit earlier in this article.
The Dynamic Range Optimizer feature attempts to improve overall image contrast. The default (DRO standard) setting is your everyday auto contrast system. When you have more difficult exposures you may want to set the camera to DRO plus, which breaks the image into smaller segments, adjusting the contrast for each individually. I've tested this feature many times on the WX1 and other compact Sony cameras, and have been hard-pressed to see much of a difference between any of the DRO modes (which is why I don't bother posting an example).
The last thing I want to mention is the SteadyShot option in the record menu. Continuous mode has the IS system running all the time, so you can compose your photo without the effect of camera shake. Shooting mode only activates IS when the picture is actually taken, which results in more effective stabilization. You can also turn the IS system off entirely, which is a good idea if you're using a tripod.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessible via the record and playback menus. Here are the options that you'll find there:
- Shooting Settings
- AF illuminator (Auto, off)
- Grid line (on/off)
- Digital zoom (Off, precision, smart) - see below
- Auto orientation (on/off) - whether portrait photos are automatically rotated
- Blink alert (on/off) - warns you if your subject's eyes were closed
- Main Settings
- Beep (Off, low, high, shutter only)
- Language setting
- Function guide (on/off) - describes each menu setting
- Demo mode (on/off) - for stores, I guess
- Initialize - returns camera to default settings
- Component (HD/1080i, SD)
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- USB connect (Auto, PictBridge, PTP/MTP, Mass Storage)
- Download Music - transfer music from your computer for slideshows
- Format Music - or get rid of it
- Memory Stick Tool
- Create folder
- Change folder
- Delete folder
- Copy - from internal memory
- File number (Series, reset)
- Internal Memory Tool
- File number (Series, reset)
- Clock setting
- Area setting (Home, destination)
- Date and time setting
The only thing worth mentioning here are the digital zoom options. Precision digital zoom is the one I always tell people to avoid. It just blows up the center of the image, which results in a noticeable drop in image quality. If you're going to use digital zoom, use Smart Zoom. You'll have to lower the resolution, but you'll be able to get more zoom power without a loss in image quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 3 Megapixel, you can get a total zoom power of 8.9X.
Alright -- enough menus, let's talk photo quality now.
I wasn't very impressed with how the DSC-WX1 performed in our macro test. First, color accuracy was a big problem. Using the custom white balance setting (which is what you see above), the image comes out too blue and washed out, while the auto and tungsten settings were way too brown. This tells me that the WX1 may not be a good choice for those of you who shoot in mixed or unusual lighting conditions. The second issue is softness near the top and bottom of the figurine. I took the photo countless times, checked to make sure image stabilization was off, and cleaned the lens, and it didn't help. Looking at the photos in the gallery, softness around the edge of the frame seems to be par for the course! The whole image has a soft, fuzzy feel to it, as well.
The DSC-WX1 doesn't really have a dedicated macro mode. It can focus on close subjects, but there's no button you need to press to do it -- it all happens automatically. Sony doesn't actually tell you what the minimum focus distance is, but after some digging around, I think it's 5 cm at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto.
Since the DSC-WX1 doesn't have any manual controls, the only way you can take a night scene like I normally do is use the scene modes. In iAuto mode, the camera detected that I was taking a night portrait on a tripod, which I assume disables the image stabilizer. Whether shooting in Program, iAuto, or twilight portrait mode, the results were the same: too dark. It seems that the slowest shutter speed the camera will use is 2 seconds, which isn't nearly enough for this kind of photo. You could trying cranking up the sensitivity, but that's just going to eat details. Since the image isn't terribly bright it's hard to draw a lot of conclusions about the WX1's performance in these kinds of photos, but the buildings seem relatively sharp and purple fringing is nonexistent.
I was unable to perform the low light ISO test, due to the lack of manual controls on the WX1. Look for the studio ISO test in a moment.
Considering how wide its lens is, the WX1's barrel distortion isn't that bad. As I mentioned in the macro test discussion, the WX1 has pretty substantial corner blurring, as illustrated in this photo. So much for the "Sony G" lens! At least vignetting (dark corners) wasn't a problem.
Straight out of the camera
After using redeye removal tool in playback mode
The WX1 uses the standard pre-flash method of reducing redeye in your flash photos. If you're using face detection, it'll usually do the pre-flash routine automatically, but you can also force it to happen manually, as well. Unfortunately, this method of reducing redeye almost never works on compact cameras, as you can see in the first crop above. Thankfully the folks at Sony were kind enough to put a tool in playback mode that removes it digitally, and it worked here -- maybe a little too well.
And now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare the photos from camera to camera. One note before we go on: when the camera reached ISO 800, the image got a lot darker, so I bumped the exposure compensation up a third of a stop to keep things consistent. Alright, on with the show!
Normally I don't have much to say about the photo taken at the base ISO, but that's not the case with the DSC-WX1. The first thing to note is that the base ISO is higher than you'll find on most cameras, starting at ISO 160. The second thing (which requires actually viewing the full size image) is that the photo quality isn't all that great at the base setting. You'll see the blurry edges and heavy noise reduction that make the WX1's photo quality less-than-appealing (and there's something that bothers me about the contrast, too).
Going up to ISO 200 doesn't really change things, though at ISO 400 detail loss becomes more noticeable, and there's a drop in color saturation, as well. ISO 800 is where you get the drop in exposure (my 1/3-stop adjustment may not have been enough) and even more noise reduction artifacting. Once you get the exposure figured out, you could probably make a smaller sized print at this sensitivity, but I wouldn't go any higher than that. The ISO 1600 shot has a lot of detail smudging, and a even bigger drop in color saturation. I wouldn't even bother with ISO 3200.
Since Sony advertises the DSC-WX1 and its Exmor R sensor as "high sensitivity", I thought I'd put it to the test. In this comparison, I'll show you the studio test at ISO 400, 800, and 1600 from the WX1 and three other cameras: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 (with a normal CCD), the Fuji FinePix F200EXR (the reigning low light champ), and the Canon PowerShot G11 (filling in here for the PowerShot S90). Let's see how things shake out:
At ISO 400, the best looking photo comes from the FinePix F200EXR. The PowerShot G11 is probably in second place, though the image is a bit soft. It's kind of a toss-up between the Sony W290 and WX1: the W290 has nicer color but has a soft and fuzzy appearance, while the WX1 has dull color and noise reduction artifacting. The FinePix F200EXR continues to be the best of the bunch at ISO 800, with the G11 again in second place. Here the WX1 surpasses its sibling, though it's still way behind the F200 at this point. ISO 1600 is rarely useful on compact cameras, and all four of the cameras faired poorly here. The F200EXR could still pull off a small print at this setting if you were using the high sensitivity / low noise mode (sample), though the resolution is "only" 6 Megapixel. The bottom line here is that the DSC-WX1 doesn't break any new ground in high ISO photography, at least in this reviewer's opinion.
Overall, I was disappointed with the image quality on the DSC-WX1, especially given the hype about the Exmor R sensor and the Sony G lens. I was hoping for low noise and a tack-sharp lens, and both were a let down. On the exposure front, the WX1 tends to overexpose by at least 1/3 of a stop, and it clips highlights fairly easily, as you can see here and here. Color was a mixed bag: sometimes I was happy with it, while other times photos seemed "washed out". Subject detail is probably the biggest image quality issue on the WX1. At the base ISO of 160, you'll find heavy noise reduction (which smudges details and makes the sky blotchy), lots of shadow noise, and blurring around the edges of the frame (see these examples). At midrange ISOs (400-800) the camera performs somewhat better than conventional compact cameras, but you need not bother with the highest sensitivities. On a somewhat more positive note, purple fringing levels were low in most situations.
Don't take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, view some full size images, and maybe print a few of them if you can. Then you should be able to decide whether the DSC-WX1's photo quality meets your expectations.
After being disappointed by the DSC-WX1's image quality, I was pleased to see that it does a lot better when it comes to movie recording. The camera can record video at 720p -- that's 1280 x 720 -- at 30 frames/second. Sound is recorded along with the video. You can record continuously for up to 29 minutes, which is quite a while for an HD mode. There are two HD qualities: fine and standard, with 9 and 6 MBps bit rates, respectively. At the highest quality setting, the file size tops out at around 2GB when the time limit hits. If you don't need HD video, you can also record at 640 x 480 (30 fps), as well.
Much to my surprise, the WX1 lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. The lens moves slower than it does when you're taking still pictures, and it's fairly quiet. Even so, you may hear the zoom motor in your videos if you;re recording a quiet scene. As you'd expect, you can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode.
Movies are saved as MP4 files, using the efficient H.264/AVC codec. For those of you using card readers, you won't find the movies in the usual spot: they're in the MP_ROOT folder on the memory card.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. The quality is pretty good in my opinion!
Click to play video (12.3 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-WX1's playback mode is fairly standard, and a step down from what's offered on the less-expensive DSC-W290. Basic features here include DPOF print marking, image protection, slideshows, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge a photo (by as much as 8X) and then move around in it -- perfect for checking for proper focus, closed eyes, etc. The slideshow feature is on the fancy side, with transitions and the background music of your choosing.
Images can be viewed one at a time, as thumbnails, or by date (broken down by month or day). The WX1 can't filter for images with faces like the W290 could. In terms of editing tools, there are just a few. You can rotate or crop an image, sharpen it, or remove redeye. No fancy special effects here, again unlike the W290. There aren't any movie editing tools, either.
The camera shows you a decent amount of information about your photos in playback mode, including a histogram. Something that's always irked me about Sony cameras of late is that they don't display the histogram if a photo has been rotated automatically by the camera.
The DSC-WX1 moves through photos without delay.
How Does it Compare?
Like many of you, I was quite intrigued by the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 when it was announced. Sony combined a fast lens (at least at wide-angle) with a new sensor design that promises "twice the sensitivity of traditional image sensors" and put them into a compact point-and-shoot camera. Unfortunately, the WX1's image quality is lacking, the lens is a disappointment, and the camera is missing the features found on cheaper W-series models (save for the HD movie mode). While the new Exmor R CMOS sensor allows for fast continuous shooting and a cool sweep panorama feature, there's only a modest improvement at higher ISOs compared to "regular" cameras. All-in-all, the DSC-WX1 didn't live up to the hype for me, which is why I have a hard time recommending it.
The DSC-WX1 is an ultra-compact camera with a body made mostly of metal, and it feels pretty solid. Ergonomics aren't great: your thumb rests on the mode dial, the four-way controller is very small, and the power button is easy to press accidentally. One of the big selling points for the DSC-WX1 is its 5X, 24 - 120 mm Sony "G" lens. That's a nice range, and the lens is a bit faster than normal at wide-angle (F2.4). That said, the lens is slow at the telephoto end of things (F5.9), and there's a lot of blurring around the edges of the frame (especially the corners). The camera has an optical image stabilization system that reduces the risk of blurry photos -- and it'll smooth out your videos, too. On the back of the WX1 is a 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 pixels. Considering that the cheaper DSC-W290 has a 3-inch screen, I would've expected the same on the WX1, but no dice. The LCD offers good outdoor visibility, but I found it difficult to see my subjects in low light situations. Like all ultra-compact cameras, the WX1 lacks an optical viewfinder.
Despite being the top-of-the-line camera in Sony's W-series line, the DSC-WX1 feels a bit striped-down in terms of features. The essentials are covered: you've got an Intelligent Auto mode that selects a scene mode for you, a Program mode with full menu access, and face, smile, and blink detection (all of which work very well). The only manual control is for white balance, and the WX1 lacks most of the image retouching options found on the DSC-W290. Some unique features that are available thanks to the camera's CMOS sensor include sweep panorama, handheld twilight, and anti motion blur. The first one is a favorite of mine: you simply point the camera at your starting point, press the shutter release, and then "sweep" the camera in the desired direction. The result is an automatically stitched panorama that looks pretty good. The handheld twilight and anti motion blur features are quite similar in that they both take six photos in rapid succession and combine them into a single, blur-free photo. While the feature reduces blur, the resulting images are very noisy. The WX1 has an excellent HD movie mode, which is able to record 720p video and sound for up to 29 minutes. Both the optical zoom and the image stabilizer are available while you're recording.
Performance is one of the DSC-WX1's strong suits. It starts up in 1.2 seconds, focuses very quickly, and has no shutter lag of note. Shot-to-shot delays are brief, even with the flash. The WX1 has the same burst mode as the DSC-HX1 super zoom, which means that it can take photos continuously at frame rates as high as 10 frames/second (there are 2 and 5 fps options, as well). Regardless of the selected shooting speed, the camera always stops after taking ten photos. The image on the LCD keeps up well with the action, which will allow you to track a moving subject with ease. Sony cameras always post good battery life numbers and the DSC-WX1 is no exception -- it does quite a bit better than other cameras in its class.
The area in which the DSC-WX1 disappoints the most is where I was hoping it would excel, and that's image quality. At its base ISO of 160, the WX1's photos show noticeable detail loss (due to noise reduction), lots of shadow noise, and substantial blurring near the edges of the frame. At sensitivities between 200 and 800 the WX1 performs somewhat better than conventional cameras, but the Fuji FinePix F200EXR still does a lot better. At ISO 1600 and above, the DSC-WX1's images have too much detail loss to be of much use. The camera also tends to overexpose (not too common) and clip highlights (common). Colors were generally pleasing, though on some occasions things just looked washed out to me. As with nearly all ultra-compact cameras, redeye is a problem, but the WX1 does offer a tool in playback mode to get rid of this annoyance. Purple fringing levels were fairly low.
The last couple of things that I want to mention are mostly bundle-related. First, I'm not a fan of the basic manual in the box + full manual on CD-ROM thing. The manuals aren't terribly detailed, either. Second, the 11MB of built-in memory isn't much, so you'll need to factor in the cost of a Memory Stick Duo card into the initial price of the WX1. Speaking of memory, there's no way to adjust the amount of compression applied to an image, as you can on nearly every other camera. The included battery charger is very slow, and the only Mac software included is for transferring music to the camera for use in slideshows (the camera works fine with iPhoto, don't worry).
In the end, the Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 just didn't do it for me. I like its performance, well-implemented face and smile detection system, cool sweep panorama feature, and HD movie mode. However, the WX1's disappointing image quality and so-so ergonomics coupled with the fact that it costs more than the DSC-W290 but has fewer features makes me think that your money could be better spent on another camera.
What I liked:
- Modest improvement at middle ISOs over conventional sensors
- 5X, 24 - 120 mm lens in an ultra-compact body
- Lens is faster than average at wide-angle
- Optical image stabilization
- Snappy performance, great burst mode
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene mode for you
- Cool sweep panorama feature
- Impressive face and smile detection features
- 720p movie mode with long recording time, use of optical zoom and image stabilizer
- Above average battery life
- Optional underwater case
What I didn't care for:
- Heavy noise reduction and lots of shadow noise at base ISO
- Significant blurring in corners (and sometimes edges) of frame
- Camera tends to overexpose; colors can sometimes be drab
- Redeye a problem, though you can remove it in playback mode
- Lens is slow at the telephoto position; not many steps in 5X zoom range
- Ergonomics aren't great; thumb sits on mode dial (which you can accidentally turn), four-way controller is tiny, power button easy to bump
- Many features found on cheaper DSC-W290 missing here: manual focus, photo retouching, 3-inch LCD, conversion lens support
- More manual controls would be nice
- No optical viewfinder
- Can't adjust image quality (compression)
- Very little built-in memory
- Slow battery charger
- No Mac software included; Full manual only on CD-ROM
Some other compact, mid-zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S90, Casio Exilim EX-FC100, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, Nikon Coolpix S640, Olympus Stylus 7010, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, and the Samsung TL320.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 and its competitors before you buy.
See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!