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The body had some actual style—previously a rarity for this type of camera—and nobody could tell by looking at it that the exterior was armored. While it wasn't as durable as the competition, the protection was adequate for spilled drinks, dunks in the pool, or drops to the floor.

These qualities made the TX10 a pretty easy recommendation for young shooters that didn't want their camera to break on them, despite some problems with design and image quality that were at times severe. Recognizing the potential of this series, we hoped the TX20 would improve on the TX10, and solidify itself as the go-to casual tough-cam. Sadly, that's not the case.

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

The TX20 is available now in black, orange, blue, green, and pink shades for an MSRP of $329.

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Box Photo

• Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 digital camera

• rechargeable battery

• USB cable

• USB wall socket adapter

• touchscreen stylus

• instruction manual

• warranty information

The TX20's small lens is situated at the upper right corner of the front panel, behind an oversized sliding lens cover. This cover was one of our biggest criticisms of the TX10, and it has not been fixed. It's nearly impossible to get any sort of traction on this smooth surface, and although some of the model's colors have texture (such as our green one), the whole thing is just comically slippery. When your camera is a pain simply to turn on, that's a problem.

The position of the lens is another major issue. It's directly behind where the left fingertips want to be, and you'll accidentally obscure the frame many times before acclimating.

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All of the rear panel is taken up by a 3-inch, 16:9 touchscreen monitor. We generally hate touchscreens, but more on that later.... This is a gorgeous display, but responsiveness is slow and this makes shooting moving objects almost impossible. Glare is also a problem and default brightness isn't sufficient for outdoor shooting in full daylight. A menu setting can improve this, but no automatic option is available.

Two ports are available on right side of the body, underneath weather-sealed gaskets. There's a miniHDMI port here, for streaming content directly to a TV (great for AVCHD videos), as well as a proprietary USB port for connectivity with a computer.

The body is certified waterproof down to a maximum depth of 16 feet, shockproof from a 5 foot drop, and dustproof—which sort of goes hand in hand with the rest.

Strangely, the camera is not advertised as coldproof, even though its minimum operating temperature is a respectable 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

At least the color accuracy is spot on. Shots from the TX20 fall victim to luminance noise and pixelation even at the lowest sensitivity levels. The low quality lens is unsharp and permits severe fringing.

While the TX20's tiny lens can manage a modicum of sharpness at the center of the frame, elsewhere you'll find details very soft. Even at the center of the frame, we notice that some of what sharpness does exist has software enhancement to thank, not the genuine quality of the hardware. This can be observed in the chart below by looking at the center crops, and paying particular attention to the thick dark lines and fake highlights where black meets white.

Sony T-series cameras aren't known for their sharpness, in fact these results are worse than last year's TX10, and about even with the TX-66, a non-ruggedized model. Nikon's AW100 is the best toughcam for this test, far surpassing Sony. More on how we test sharpness.

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Since SteadyShot cannot be turned off while using this camera, we have no way to establish a control group for testing, and therefore cannot award a score here. Anecdotally, the stabilizer seems effective in practice, especially for framing and video shooting.

Of all our image quality tests, the TX20 performed the best here. The color gamut was extremely accurate for a small camera, resulting in an error rating of only 2.29, which is on par with many SLRs. The worst errors occurred in red and blue shades, however these were far from severe. Saturation was also very accurate, over by only 3.5%. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

This score is among the best of any toughcam, far surpassing Sony's current T-series offerings, as well as the Nikon AW100 and even the Pentax WG-2.

The TX20's white balance algorithm follows the same pattern we're used to from most cameras across the industry. Incandescent indoor light is very challenging for the automatic system, and produced the worst errors. Fluorescent light isn't quite as bad, but of course daylight is best.

When using your own custom white balance, both incandescent and fluorescent light are handled much more accurately, and daylight produced the best scores of all. No surprises here.

In context, the TX20's automatic white balance scores are just about average, while the custom scores are slightly below.

White balance options are available from the main menu by default. Here you may select from one of seven presets (including three fluorescent varieties and a flash setting), plus automatic white balance or "One Push" custom, which would've been convenient if it weren't for the clumsy touchscreen interface.

The TX20's handling of noise has strange characteristics, however most often they result in noisy photographs. There is no practical different between image noise levels at ISO 125, 200, 400, or 800; at least as far as our test is concerned. In reality, shots become noticeably muddy by ISO 800, and get worse from there. Noise increases pretty drastically at ISO 1600 and 3200, however noise levels are never lower than a full 1.00%, including minimum sensitivity. This is quite a high amount, even for a compact camera. More on how we test noise.

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The ISO range reaches from 125 to 3200 with no extended options available. From what we can tell, this includes the "High Sensitivity" scene mode, which seems to offer no additional benefit.

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Chromatic aberration is terribly severe, and this is very obvious from the crops below. Note the bright blue and orange fringing that occurs in high contrast areas. This problem is normally associated with a low quality lens, and given the severity here, we'd guess Sony is using a plastic lens instead of a glass one.

Fringing also affects many of our sample photos, which may be found here.

If you're concerned about barrel distortion, just zoom in. It's as simple as that. For some reason the TX20 produces extremely severe distortion at the closest focal length, but the problem completely disappears halfway down the focal range. Perhaps some software is compensating here, that's fairly common, but for whatever reason distortion is simply gone after 2x. We can hardly complain.

We're not sure what to make of the TX20's motion test. Although recorded videos are silky-smooth when played back on the rear LCD, the same content is subject to judder when played back on any other device. Otherwise, the videos are great. Trailing is absent, artifacting is nonexistent, and frequency interference is only noticeable in certain scenes. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The sensor is capable of good sharpness during video recording. While using a tripod in non-panning scenes, we discerned 600 lw/ph of detail horizontally and 500 vertically. That's about equal to the Sony TX66. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Dim ambient light tends to worsen video sharpness, however this was barely the case for the TX20. This time was observed 550 lw/ph horizontally and 500 vertically. Another excellent score.

The sensor is not sufficiently sensitive for low light videography. In order to gather 50 IRE of image data, the TX20 required a full 40 lux of ambient illumination. True this is better than many compact cameras, but still not enough for us to award a very high score.

When are we going to do away with all-touch interfaces? Seriously, they're terrible. Physical handling of the TX20 is slippery and uncomfortable, while the menu makes basic setup a chore.

Three separate automatic shooting modes are available, which are ironically intended to make the experience simpler. Program Auto is where we spent most of our time, but there's also Intelligent Auto, which is fully automatic, and Superior Auto, which incorporates HDR techniques.

Aside from all of this, an "Easy Mode" menu option exists and once activated it simplifies the entire interface at the expense of detailed control.

Buttons? Ha! Since we're living in the future, most of the interface is handled by the rear touchscreen. This advanced technology allows you to select shooting options with twice the delay and half the precision of regular old buttons.

16 scene modes are available and the most useful one is Backlight Correction HDR, which uses the TX20's fast burst capabilities to compensate for its low dynamic range. 7 picture effects are also available, including the popular miniature effect, as well as toy camera, pop color, and more.

The menu system is not an improvement over the TX10's, and therefore represents another addition to the list of touchscreen cameras with atrocious interfaces. Accessing the option you want is a slow, multi-step process; and each time you select one, the menu kicks you back out to the shooting screen to start over. Since the panel is so imprecise, there's always the danger of selecting the wrong option too. Scrolling uses an Apple-style swiping motion, however the software isn't always smart enough to distinguish scrolling from selecting, and that's another reason you'll find yourself choosing the wrong setting. Very frustrating.

A short printed manual ships with the TX20 but it isn't very high quality. Plenty of basic information was missing, and no table of contents or index was included.

The TX20 is a perfect example of a camera designed to look fancy without regard for actual usage. The smooth, featureless body is difficult enough to grip, but with the entire rear surface dominated by the touchscreen, and the lens way off to the left of the front panel, this leaves very little surface area available to even hold the thing. Plus, the sliding lens cover is a huge pain to move, and if your hands are greasy from suntan lotion, it won't move at all.

Handling Photo 1

Sony has wisely removed all touchscreen features from the upper right corner of the panel, so you'll be able to rest a thumb there without worrying. Well, almost without worrying. Place your thumb a little too far to the right and you'll start triggering touch focus.

Handling Photo 2

Buttons? Ha! Since we're living in the future, most of the interface is handled by the rear touchscreen. This advanced technology allows you to select shooting options with twice the delay and half the precision of regular old buttons.

Buttons Photo 1

We almost always hate touchscreens, and would've preferred a less chic but more usable layout for the TX20. What buttons do exist are restricted to the right corner of the top panel. Here you'll find a shallow and error-prone shutter release, keys for playback and video recording (both of which are too small), and a tricky zoom lever that lacks precision.

All of the rear panel is taken up by a 3-inch, 16:9 touchscreen monitor. We generally hate touchscreens, but more on that later.... This is a gorgeous display, but responsiveness is slow and this makes shooting moving objects almost impossible. Glare is also a problem and default brightness isn't sufficient for outdoor shooting in full daylight. A menu setting can improve this, but no automatic option is available.

Since SteadyShot cannot be turned off while using this camera, we have no way to establish a control group for testing, and therefore cannot award a score here. Anecdotally, the stabilizer seems effective in practice, especially for framing and video shooting.

Nine shooting modes are available from a shortcut "key" on the right side of the touch panel. Program Auto is the most useful, but we also get a dedicated movie mode, background defocus mode, a variety of scene and effect modes, a 3D shooting mode, and two fully automatic modes.

Six image resolutions are available in either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. They vary in size and therefore quality, but compression settings cannot be adjusted and the camera does not support RAW encoding.

The TX20 can be very fast. High and low speed burst modes are available, however they're each limited to ten consecutive shots and trigger a long delay as the buffer writes to memory.

Just like the TX10, we clocked the maximum full resolution burst speed at exactly 10 frames per second. Again, this is very fast for a compact camera, even if the resulting delay is annoying.

The self-timer supports 10 second and 2 second countdowns, as well as two face-detecting automatic modes for one or two person self portraits.

We had a bit of adolescent fun playing with the various picture effects, scene modes, and in-camera editing options found in the TX20. Sony was wise to include such fun and games, given the camera's apparent target audience.

16 scene modes are available and the most useful one is Backlight Correction HDR, which uses the TX20's fast burst capabilities to compensate for its low dynamic range. 7 picture effects are also available, including the popular miniature effect, as well as toy camera, pop color, and more.

Videos may be captured using either MP4 or superior AVCHD encoding. All AVCHD videos are shot at a 60i frame rate, in either 1920x1080 or 1440x1080. MP4 content is recorded in 30p, however resolution is limited to 1440x1080, with options for 720p or 480p. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Auto Controls

Intelligent Auto will be sufficient for most recordings, however the TX20 also supports 8 dedicated scene modes for use with video.

Zoom

Both optical zoom and digital zoom are unlocked while a recording is in progress, a feature we always appreciate. Sony's "Clear Zoom" feature is not available.

Exposure Controls

Exposure compensation may be configured independently for videos however, just like still shooting, aperture and shutter cannot be manually set.

The built-in stereo microphones actually record decent sound, especially underwater. A wind cut feature is also available from the main menu.

We can't call the Sony TX20 a plainly "bad" camera. We scored some fairly attractive shots, particularly when taking advantage of the fast burst mode. Plus, the idea of a moderately rugged camera inside a chic body is a lead that other manufacturers should follow. Yet, what else can we really say about a camera that makes no improvement on its predecessor?

The only reason to buy a TX20 is because the TX10 is no longer widely available. It's insulting to the consumer base (bigger numbers are better, right?) and a big disappointment, for us at least, because the TX10 was so exciting but still flawed. Instead of capitalizing on the unique, ingenious positioning of the TX10, Sony has left the door wide open for every other manufacturer. We may see a high-quality, stylish tough-cam in 2012, but it isn't this one.

Redeeming qualities include great color accuracy, which can lead to flattering portraits. Video recording is also very competent, thanks to Sony's credentials in this area, though we did notice some problems with motion. The body is certainly slim too, all other arguments aside, and fits easily inside a pocket, purse, or wristlet.

For the TX30, should one ever arise, we hope to see an end to the all-touch interface. The body could also use a few (or any) ergonomic features, like a thumb rest for example. The buttons that do exist should also be improved, especially the terrible shutter release.

If history is any indication, we'll probably end up recommending the TX20 to friends and family who don't know better and don't care to, just like we did for the TX10. But if you are in any way serious about photography, look to this camera's competitors instead.

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

Meet the tester

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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