With a body measuring about the width and height of a stack of business cards, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 point-and-shoot camera packs a surprising amount of features into a slight frame.
It offers not only (very limited) manual controls for shutter and aperture, but also a buffet of futuristic extras: three separate ways to capture 3D images, 1080i video capture at a smooth 60 frames per second, and modes for low-light shooting, panorama images, and backlight correction. What's more, it has a 7X-optical-zoom lens, which is slightly mind-boggling given the camera's size.
Although it shoots good-quality photos and videos, they're not amazing; the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 doesn't take the sharpest pictures, and its price is a bit high. But if you value genuine put-it-in-your-pocket portability as well as innovative in-camera extras, the WX10 is among the leaders of the ultra-compact class.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10: Hardware and Design
The Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 boasts a 16.2Mp Exmor R CMOS sensor; like most recent Sony CMOS-sensored point-and-shoots, it does a good job in low-light situations. Its optically stabilised 7X-optical-zoom lens offers an ultra-wide 24mm at the wide-angle end and 168mm at full telephoto (in 35mm film equivalent), with maximum apertures of F2.4 at the wide-angle end and F5.9 at full telephoto.
The WX10 provides decent but not outstanding performance in macro mode: You need to be about 2 inches away from your subject to capture a crisp shot. Even though most images taken with the WX10 look great on the camera itself and at smaller sizes, photos tend to appear soft once you offload them to a computer and view them at full size.
At 3.9 by 0.9 by 2.0 inches (width by depth by height), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 is a very small camera. As such, the physical controls are small and slightly cramped - the major trade-off for its ultra-compact size. The mode dial offers eight selections, but the dial rests flat on the back of the camera, making it hard to adjust correctly at times.
Likewise, the WX10's combination directional pad and scrollwheel, which you use to navigate menus and dial in manual settings, is somewhat small and tricky to operate. Four more buttons - a dedicated movie record button, a playback button, a menu button, and a delete button - reside on the back of the camera. The power button, shutter button, and zoom controls all sit on the top of the camera, and an HDMI-out port (covered by a plasticky door) is on the side.
Overall the camera's back-mounted controls feel a little finicky and cheap, even though the overall camera body construction is more solid. It has no handgrip, but you will find a slightly raised lip along the edge of the camera.
The eight options on the mode dial consist of Intelligent Auto mode, a Superior Auto mode that makes digital antiblur adjustments, program mode, a very limited manual mode that lets you adjust the shutter speed and aperture settings (but only two f-stops per focal length), Sweep Panorama mode, the scene-mode menu, movie mode, and a 3D menu that lets you select from three different 3D-shooting modes (more on that in the "Shooting Modes" section below).
The Cyber-shot DSC-WX10's battery charges inside the camera, which is a bit odd. What's more, charging and offloading images from the camera to a computer is handled via a proprietary-to-USB connector included with the camera. The WX10 accepts both SD/SDHC/SDXC and Memory Stick cards, and it's also compatible with TransferJet devices for wireless transfer of images and video clips.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10: Shooting modes
Along with its longer-than-average zoom lens, the WX10's scene modes and special features are what elevate it from "just another ultra-compact camera" to "significantly more interesting than most ultra-compact cameras."
The fun extras start with a few modes that you can find in other Sony point-and-shoots: Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Handheld Twilight, Background Defocus, and HDR Backlight Correction. In Sweep Panorama mode, you can take an instantly-stitched-together panorama just by pressing the shutter button and panning the camera from side to side. It's especially effective when you hold the camera vertically while using the mode: That results in a 16:9 image that fills up the screen when you view it on an HDTV, and you don't have to pan a full 220 degrees to complete your shot.
Handheld Twilight, Background Defocus, and HDR Backlight Correction modes all employ similar tactics to grab better-looking shots in tricky situations. They're bracketing modes at heart: Handheld Twilight fires up to six shots in rapid succession at different exposure levels, Background Defocus simulates a focus-bracketing mode to make foreground subjects crisp and background objects blurry, and HDR Backlight Correction enhances visibility of foreground subjects by overexposing them a bit while underexposing brighter backgrounds.
In addition to a 10fps burst mode at full resolution, you get a handful of 3D-shooting modes that are limited to still images only. Along with 3D Sweep Panorama and Sweep Multi-Angle modes, which require panning the camera from side to side while taking a shot, the WX10 has a new 3D Still Image option, which allows you to snap 3D images as you would normal photos. The camera takes two shots in rapid succession, and then combines them into a single .mpo image that you can view on a 3D TV set if you connect the camera via HDMI.
You need a 3D TV to view the output from the 3D Sweep Panorama and 3D Still Image modes correctly, but you can view Sweep Multi-Angle shots in a simulated three dimensions by tilting the camera back and forth during image playback.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 also records 1080i high-definition video at 60 fps, which is a faster frame rate than most cameras offer, ultra-compact or otherwise. Even though its video looks a bit smoother than usual, we have seen better overall video quality from competing cameras. For the camera's size, however, the WX10 packs in an impressive arsenal of shooting modes.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10: Performance, image quality and video quality
In PC World US's subjective lab tests for image and video quality, the Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 put up some good (but not great) numbers. While the camera scored well in most categories, image sharpness was a major shortcoming. We use 8x10in prints for our lab tests, and in my hands-on trials I also noticed quite a bit of softness when viewing the camera's images on a computer monitor after transferring them from the camera.
The WX10 received word scores of Good for exposure quality, colour accuracy and lack of distortion in our tests; we rated its sharpness as Fair. The camera's overall performance score is Good, but considering the disappointing sharpness rating, you're definitely paying more for automated in-camera versatility than overall image quality.
Wide-angle test shot
As for video, the WX10 captured some of the smoothest 1080i AVCHD video we've seen out of a pocket camera, but the video itself exhibited problems with white balance and autofocus.
Through the course of our bright-light test shot, the WX10's autofocus appeared to "breathe" in and out while trying to lock on to moving objects within the frame, and the scene's white backdrop looked noticeably grey. That said, even though the AF system searched in and out a bit, the camera never lost focus, and the on-screen action remained crisp and smooth. In low light, the WX10 was less impressive, as it failed to brighten up the scene enough for us to see much of what was going on. In the end we gave the camera an overall video score of Good, and rated the audio it captured through its top-mounted stereo microphones as Very Good.
Battery performance earns a Good rating, as the WX10 is CIPA-rated for 360 shots per charge of its lithium ion battery. As noted before, the battery charges inside the camera, which may or may not rub you the wrong way.