March 5, 2013

SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC-TX9 REVIEW


Sony has brought out a stylish super-thin 12.2 MP Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 camera that features a large 3.5-inch touchscreen with tap-to-focus. Well, this is no ordinary Cyber-shot because it has got 3D built into it. The DSC-TX9 is one of the new kinds of digital cameras that are capable of capturing 3D still images using just a single lens. Using the 3D Sweep Panorama mode, images can be viewed on any 3DTV using the HDMI output present in the camera dock.

Thanks to the powerful BIONZ image processor, in addition to the above, this camera supports 1080i AVCHD movie recording with stereo sound. The back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor can capture better pictures even in dark conditions. There is a lot more in this camera, read the review to find out.


Bundle

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9
  • 4GB Sony SDHC Class-4 memory card
  • Paint pen (stylus) attached to wrist strap
  • Camera dock
  • USB cable
  • Battery charger with power cord
  • A/V cable
  • User manual
  • Sony PMB software disc

While the bundle is good, it would have been better to include an HDMI cable to connect to an HDTV. Also, you may find yourself running out of space with the 4GB card, especially while recording HD videos. With such a large touchscreen, it would also have made sense to include a carry pouch with this camera to protect the screen. Incidentally, Sony is giving carrying cases with Cyber-shot cameras as a special Diwali offer, but we hope that they extend this offer indefinitely.

Design and Build



The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 belongs to the stylish T-series of cameras from Sony and is just 17.5 mm thick weighing just 150 g. The other two dimensions being almost similar to that of a credit card, allow you to easily carry it in your pocket. The piece we received has a carbon black brush metallic finish that looks really nice. Clench it in your fist and you will feel that the overall build is quite rugged.

The camera has a smooth vertical sliding lens cover across its breadth at the front, which also acts as the power switch. The sliding mechanism feels solid, so you need not worry that it can deteriorate over time. Once the cover is down, it takes just about 1.7 seconds for the camera to enter the ready-to-shoot mode, which is quite fast. The wide-angle lens is Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3,5-4,6/4,43-17,7 (equivalent to 25-100mm) with 4x optical zoom. The lens is placed on the side, away from where the shutter button is located, which is a smart placement because it reduces the chances of your fingers getting in the way of the lens. A Xenon flash is present at the centre and the focus LED is located in between the flash and the lens. Stereo microphones for left and right are located at the front as well as just above the open lens cover.



Most of the camera controls are crammed at the top right, which is a very small location to place all the controls. There is a tiny power button, which is deeply recessed and you can use it instead of the sliding lens cover if you wish. Just beside it is the shutter button, which is large and protruding to easily detect half-press for focus and full press for click. What is rather inconspicuous is the zoom rocker located at the far right end at the top. In fact, it is so tiny that you may completely miss it and it is almost certainly going to be a problem if you have large hands. In the next row, the first button is the play button, which plays back whatever you have captured, while next to it is a button that lets you toggle the shooting mode between still images and video.





The back of the camera has a generously large 3.5-inch touchscreen with 921,600 dot high resolution, which displays very crisp and vivid images. Being a resistive screen, a Paint pen (plastic stylus) is provided with the camera, which is harnessed to the camera wrist strap, but the screen is perfectly responsive to finger touch and you may rarely find use of this stylus. Being a widescreen display, it leaves space on the left and right for touchscreen controls to be accessed while shooting still images, which mostly use 4:3 aspect ratio.

Frequently used functions are present on the left side and can be pulled up with a finger swipe. Finger swipe in the playback mode lets you sift through the captured images and videos. A battery indicator lets you keep an eye on the battery power left, while there is also an indicator to display the number of shots/time of video recording possible depending on the capacity left in the memory card. The screen tends to get dirty, amassing fingerprint smears as you continue to use it and is also susceptible to scratches unless you are very careful.





At the bottom of the camera, a flap with a latch houses the battery compartment and the memory card slot. This camera supports Sony's MS Pro Duo as well as SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. The slim Lithium ion battery is a proprietary 3.6V Sony N-type NP-BN1 with a typical rating of 630mAh. The battery cannot be charged in the camera and has to be charged with a separately provided charger. Lastly, there is a threaded tripod mount socket too, and this is made of metal rather than plastic, thus ensuring durability.



The camera has a docking port at the center to dock into the camera dock. The camera dock, rather than the camera, has all the different interfaces such as the A/V out to connect to an analog TV, HDMI to connect to any HDTV and the USB port to connect to your PC.

Features and Performance

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 comes with 4x optical zoom, which is obviously because of the ultra-thin frame of the camera.





This is not really much, but is better than nothing.


There are 13 scene modes to choose from, which are High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, Underwater, Gourmet, Pet, and Soft Skin. Notable is the Soft Skin mode, which recognizes skin tones and reduces appearance of blemishes and wrinkles without adversely affecting the rest of the image. The camera takes six successive shots in Hand held Twilight mode to get better image in low light and in Anti-Motion Blur mode to get sharper images without a tripod.





Five rupee coin shot from a distance of 1 cm with an exposure of 1/40 sec at ISO 125 in fluorescent light

If you are one of those who like to shoot macro shots, this camera will delight you. With the super macro mode, you can shoot subjects as close as 1 cm from the lens with perfect focus. The subject can be placed so close to the lens that you may often end up casting the camera shadow on the subject, unless the subject is well illuminated.





Bee on flowers shot from a distance of 3 cm with an exposure of 1/100 sec at ISO 125 in normal daylight

As you can see, the end results are always amazing - they make you feel like a Pro.






Hi-Speed Shutter mode was used to snap this shot of speeding vehicles. The shutter speed was 1/800 seconds at ISO 250 in daylight conditions.



Twilight mode was used to snap this shot under sodium lights. The shutter speed was slowed down to 0.25 seconds at ISO 2500. Though this ISO value cannot be selected manually, the automatic mode can select it. Since the ISO value is high, the shot is noticeably noisy, though not as noisy as many other conventional cameras.

The back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS does seem to work very well with pictures taken in low light environments.



The above picture was snapped without the back-illuminated CMOS and this is how it looks to the naked eye. The exposure is 1 second at ISO 125.



And this is how it looks when the back-illuminated CMOS is in use. Not only is the visibility enhanced, but even the noise level is low. In this case, the exposure is 1/6 second at ISO 3200.

ISO sensitivity modes of 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 can be selected in Programmable mode in addition to the Auto ISO mode. In general, you get good results up to ISO 800, but noise increases noticeably with anything above that, especially in dark shooting conditions.



ISO 125




ISO 200




ISO 400




ISO 800




ISO 1600




ISO 3200


You can see that the sharpness decreases and noise increases as the ISO value is increased.


Natural Flash feature takes a reference shot without flash and then with flash, but corrects the color for more natural color than what is usually achieved with convenient point-and-shoot camera flash shots.

The DSC-TX9 is literally crammed with features that you may find useful.

Intelligent Auto Adjustment mode is one feature we liked the most. It essentially puts the camera in autopilot mode in which the camera decides what parameters to use for getting the best shot. It is very interesting to see how the camera changes the scene modes from Backlight to Twilight as you move the camera to point a subject in brightness shifting to an area of darkness. Then there is a Superior Auto Adjustment mode, in which the camera takes six shots in quick succession and combines them to create an image with low noise and higher dynamic range.

One of the features that we liked is the Background Defocus feature that can blur the background and focus on the subject.



Mushroom in grass shot with an exposure of 1/125 sec at ISO 125 in normal daylight

In the above photograph, the mushroom is in focus, while its background as well as its foreground is blurred out of focus.



Flag shot with an exposure of 1/30 sec at ISO 400 in indoor lighting condition

It does work, but occasionally ends up blurring part of the subject itself.

One of the cons of this camera is that it lacks a full automatic mode. You can neither select the shutter speed nor can you manually focus the lens. The only thing that comes close to manual focus is the "tap-to-focus" and that is not really close.



Due to the lack of manual focus, there can be problems like you can see above. When I tried shooting a subject beyond the grills of the window, the camera could not be focused on the subject as it only focused on the grill.



Sony has managed to keep fringing and chromatic aberration at a minimum. You can see slight fringing towards the top left in the above image, which has been cropped at 100% to show this problem.

Here are a few more shots.





ISO 125 at 1/400 seconds exposure in broad daylight


3D shooting

As stated earlier, this camera allows you to capture panorama images in 3D. To clear the confusion, we must tell you that it is not as simple as point and click to capture a 3D image. That would have been possible if there would have been two separate lenses. In this case, there is a single lens to rely on for capturing what is supposed to be seen with left and right eyes, therefore, "technically", a still stereoscopic image cannot be captured simply by pointing and shooting.

3D image capture is achieved using two different 3D panorama modes in the camera, each involving moving the camera in a horizontal or vertical direction. The first mode is called 3D Sweep Panorama, in which you can click the button and move the camera in the direction indicated on the screen. If you move too fast or too slow, you will be prompted to take the shot again. The camera captures up to 100 images in this mode and creates a panorama. Once you get it right, the resultant 3D panorama image is not only saved as a long JPEG file, but also as a MPO 3D image format, which can be played back on a 3DTV or even using the NVIDIA 3D Vision Photo Viewer, through which you can either view it on a 3D monitor or in anaglyph 3D if you have a normal monitor.

The second mode is Sweep Multi Angle mode, in which the camera is to be moved in a way similar to the previous mode, but in a smaller angle. The camera captures 15 images in this mode and stitches them into a panorama. This image is stored in the JPEG format as well as the MPO 3D image format. Unlike in the previous mode, you can view this 3D panorama right on the camera display - all you need to do is to switch to playback mode and press the "render" button on the screen to combine those 15 shots to render the "3D" image. You can view this "simulated 3D" image by tilting the camera from side to side and see how the perspective changes to give you a feeling of three dimensions.

While we must laud the attempts by Sony to create a consumer 3D camera, we must admit that this is still not "real" 3D photography, in which we expect 3D still images and videos by simply pointing and shooting. These 3D images are not captured instantaneously but are a result of a combination of successive images captured by the camera. It can still be truly achieved by using two separate lenses. Besides, this also has a limitation that the subject has to be considerably near the camera (usually not farther than a couple of meters) with the background being considerably far.

As noted earlier, the camera supports recording full HD video with stereo sound. Movies are recorded in 1080i AVCHD format, which is Blu-ray compatible. Videos can be captured at 1920x1080, which is Full HD in AVCHD format or 60i at 17Mbps and also at 1440x1080 at 30fps 9Mbps in MP4 format for more YouTube-friendly content.  Video quality is good with natural colors and crisp picture quality and sounds. Zooming is possible while shooting videos and it is silent.

The camera comes with Optical SteadyShot image stabilization using a built-in gyro sensor, which detects camera shake and compensates by automatically shifting the lens to prevent blur and preserve image quality. Optical SteadyShot is especially useful while using zoom and shooting videos.

There are other notable features such as Smile Shutter, which detects the subject's smile and clicks photo automatically at the right moment. Face Detection can distinguish between adult and children and can detect up to eight individual faces in a scene and make appropriate settings to get the best shot. There is even an Anti-Blink Function that detects if the subject blinked when the shot was taken and sounds a warning so that you can take one more shot.

Overall, the image quality is good, though the colors can get vivid. The focusing is pretty fast with a rated timing of 0.3 seconds as per the camera specifications, which we found to be true. The camera is very easy to use and anyone without a photography background can easily master it in minutes. The battery takes around 4 hours to charge and is supposed to last for 115 minutes, or around 230 images.

 Verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 is an excellent camera at first sight. The ultra-slim design with a carbon black metallic body is both stylish and rugged and also incredibly lightweight. The images look just right no matter how you click them, and if you make use of the Super Auto Adjustment mode, they are simply brilliant. The Macro mode is brilliant and pictures taken seem like they were clicked by professionals. The wide angle lens can capture a large crowd in your party and can detect up to eight faces at a time. As is claimed by Sony, images captured in low light conditions are indeed nicely enhanced and very much usable. You can also capture full HD videos with stereo sound and play back on your HDTV using the accompanying dock.

One of the major cons of the camera is that it does not have a full manual mode, thus you cannot have manual aperture size or manual shutter speed. What's worse is that it even doesn't have manual focus - you have to rely on autofocus, even if it is using "tap-to-focus". While the 3D thing does work, it is more like a gimmick for us because of two reasons; one, you cannot click 3D photos, and two, you cannot capture 3D videos. You can only capture panorama mode images in 3D, because of the single lens being used instead of a dual lens arrangement for left and right vision capture and then the multiple images in panorama mode are combined into a 3D image. Yet another fault with the camera is that the flash sometimes fails to evenly illuminate the subject.

Overall, this 12.2 MP camera has a very easy to use touchscreen interface for anyone who has no background in photography. Even if you have been into amateur photography for a while, it is still a good camera to get if you don't mind the lack of manual controls. There are several nifty features crammed into this camera - far too many to state in this concluding paragraph. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 is available for an MRP of Rs.20,990. We think that the price is a bit high for what you get, but it is probably for the 3D features that Sony is charging a premium.

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