Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Clever compact with painless panoramas
Review Sony is renowned for its stylish compacts, and the DSC-WX1 is no exception. It not only looks smart, but contains some interesting technology too. At around £300, the DSC-WX1 is aimed at the top-end of the compact market, but do its features and performance justify the price?
Broaden your horizons with Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
The DSC-WX1 is one of the first Sony cameras to feature a new Exmor R CMOS chip, which is back illuminated to improve low-light performance and reduce noise – or so it says on the tin. The 1/2.4in sensor offers 10.2Mp (effective) performance. Other features include a 5x optical zoom in the shape of an f/2.4-5.9, 4.25-21.25mm Sony G lens. This equates to a 24-120mm lens on a 35mm camera, so you can get a decent wide angle performance with this camera.
The DSC-WX1 also offers an ISO range of 160-3200, shutter speed range 2-1/1600sec. HD movie recording is has a 1280 x 720 resolution and is captured at 30fps in the MPEG-4/H.264 AVC format. And there’s more, including a continuous shooting speed of 10fps in full resolution. That kind of performance would be impressive on a DSLR; on a compact, it’s simply mind blowing.
Twilight Hand-Held and Anti Motion Blur are shooting modes which fire off six frames and combine them to improve picture quality when shooting in low light without flash, and last but not least, there’s Sony’s Sweep Panorama system. We first saw this on the DSC-HX1 , and it’s a neat way of taking panoramic shots.
Instead of having to take a shot, align the next one, take another shot, and so on, you just press the shutter and pan, and the camera automatically stitches the frames together. The shooting angle for panoramas has been increased to 256 degrees when panning the horizontally, so you can really pack a lot of scenery into your shots. You also get Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation system.
Multiple shooting modes, but no manual control
So far, so good, but the DSC-WX1 is lumbered with a couple of proprietary features. While world plus dog has opted for SD memory cards, Sony insists on sticking with its Memory Stick format. What’s more, you’ll need miniature Memory Stick Duo cards for this camera. And a full-size Memory Stick adaptor if you want to use the Duo cards in a card reader or adapter (no surprise that Sony provides neither card nor adaptor with the DSC-WX1). Oh, but you do get 11MB of internal memory – enough for two full resolution images.
The other pain is that Sony uses a proprietary AV and computer interface and cable, which combine AV and USB functions. Sony provides the special connecting cable, but the cable does not offer HDMI out. You can’t use a standard mini HDMI cable (price £10), so you have to fork out £33 for a special cable from Sony.
Proprietary interfacing pushes up the overall price
At least with the DSC-HX1, Sony provided an HDMI dongle for use with HDMI cables. It wasn’t elegant, but it did save you a lot of money if you already owned an HDMI cable and wanted to playback movies in HD resolution directly from the camera. Sony’s Picture Motion Browser software is provided, but it only works with Windows PCs. And the full instruction manual is only available as a PDF file on the supplied CD-Rom.
The DSC-WX1 is really dinky – measuring up at 90.5 x 51.8 x 19.8mm and weighing a shade less than 150g with the lithium ion battery and card – it easily slips into your pocket. There are half a dozen shooting modes: Easy has only very limited control; Intelligent Auto combines scene, face and smile detection technologies while Program lets you adjust parameters such as ISO speed, exposure compensation and white balance.
There are eleven Scene modes including, snow, landscape and twilight and then there’s Sweep Panorama, Hand Held Twilight, Anti Motion Blur and Movie. Yet the WX1 offers no manual focus, aperture or shutter speed control. A neat touch is a tiny button that lets you change the drive mode very quickly.
However, you have to navigate the functions menu if you want alter sensitivity, white balance and exposure compensation. We think it would have been more useful to put the exposure compensation control on the multi-controller at the back of the camera and consign the Smile Sensitivity control to the menu.
Pocket-friendly, but those with sausage fingers will find it a fiddle
Considering its price tag, we were a little disappointed to find that the DSC-WX1 has a 2.7in LCD screen composed of 230,000 dots whereas its sister camera, the DSC-TX1, has a 3-inch touch screen. By the way, there is no RAW shooting either. The small black power button is hard to see in low light and the DSX-WX1 is slightly awkward to handle, especially if you have large hands.
Snow scene mode
Handheld Twilight mode: six exposures at 1/6th sec summed to one image
Click for a full-resolution crop 
Anti motion blur mode: six exposures at 1/10th sec summed to one image
Click for a full-resolution crop 
Another thing we didn’t like was the fact that the camera doesn’t automatically display your most recent shot during playback; you have to hunt through sub-folders to find it. This is a pain if you simply want to delete your last shot or show someone a shot you’ve just taken.
Sweep Panorama is a boon, but overall performance could be stronger
Gripes over, the DSC-WX1 does have some good things going for it. Switch on is fast - the camera goes from power-on to first shot in about 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag is minimal, and the AF system, swift and responsive. The menu system is very friendly and includes text descriptions. The Sweep Panorama system is a delight to use. We also liked the fact that the tripod bush is mounted to the left of the camera bottom, so you can change the battery or card without having to remove the DSC-WX1 from a tripod.
We were a little underwhelmed with the DSC-WX1’s performance. The camera’s exposure system tends to overexpose, but even worse, we were disappointed with the creeping noise levels on images with ISO speeds as low as 200. Low light performance was pretty good using the Twilight scene mode, but high ISO settings produced lots of noise. The Hand Held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes can produce good results, but many shots in these modes were blurred as a result of slight camera shake as the DSC-WX1 fired off six successive frames.
Video performance suffered a little from judder and the AF system was sluggish at times. On a brighter note, the wide angle lens is really good to have, and the Sweep Panorama system worked a treat. It’s a bit flakey if your subjects are moving, and resolution is reduced, but otherwise, you’ll love the system. Likewise, the continuous shooting mode was superb, although you have to wait more than 15 seconds for the DSC-WX1 to clear its buffer.
All in all, the DSC-WX1 is a bit of a curate’s egg. You get a dinky camera and some nice features like, Sweep Panorama and high-speed, full resolution continuous mode, but at £300, its performance is a bit lacking. We also think Sony should swallow a bit of corporate pride and start offering compacts that use SD cards and standard AV interfaces. ®
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