Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 Review

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 is a toughcam in disguise, with sleek good looks and great image quality.

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Introduction

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 is an ultracompact with a secret. Underneath its bright, modern exterior is a rugged tough-cam, built to withstand the fury of both earth and sea. Waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, and coldproof, this slim point-and-shoot is practically immune to the elements.

If it's anything like the older TX5, we can expect great things in terms of image quality and performance—and let's hope that's the case, because handling this tiny thing just isn't fun. Granted, ultracompacts practically never offer excellent handling, but this little thing is especially awkward. This camera is sold for $330, but online sales lower that number considerably.

Design & Usability

A cute little horrible design

Ultracompact's are never great for handling, but a few details make the TX10 even worse. The oversized screen is touch sensitive, so the right thumb must be removed to prevent accidental keystrokes. In order to zoom, the right pointer finger must curl up and away to reach the lever. There went two points of contact. Then, with only one piece of grip real estate remaining (the front panel), support from the left hand is necessary to achieve stability, yet this places the left pointer finger dangerously close to the lens. Handling is therefore never really comfortable.

Like far too many cameras today, this one's menu system is handicapped by a slow touchscreen.

We aren't done. It gets worse. The shutter release is a real brat. Although autofocus lock is possible, the button has no halfway-down stage at all, so users must kinda' sorta' push the button and hope that autofocus kicks in without necessarily snapping the picture first. We have a feeling this is because subtle tactility is hard to pick up when shooting underwater, but this ignores moments of on-land shooting, such as, for example, every other shooting situation ever. Next, since the compact body can't fit an electronic viewfinder, framing is accomplished exclusively with the gorgeous 3.0-inch, 921k-dot LCD. Unfortunately, this beauty is also a touchscreen. Like far too many cameras today, this one's menu system is handicapped by a slow touchscreen. An Apple-style "inverse swipe" method is the only way to scroll through options, but the panel is not sensitive enough to consistently differentiate swipes from clicks, so accidents are frequent. In-camera help is excellent however, featuring both tooltip-style popups and a main In-Camera Guide with categorized help topics and keyword search. This was helpful even for so-called "experts" like us.

Features

Some basics are missing, yet a few advanced features are offered instead.

The closest thing to a manual control is the TX10's hardware zoom rocker, which is located in an awkward spot anyway. Adjustment of ISO and exposure compensation is possible, however this is not a PASM-equipped camera and no full manual mode exists. Mostly, the controls here are typical, but we do love the quick burst mode, which is just screaming fast. The self-timers may come in handy too. A portrait mode even waits till one or two faces are detected before beginning a countdown. Eight shooting modes—including Auto, Panorama, 3D, and more—are selected using a virtual button, and 16 options are available in Scene mode. Some are traditional like Landscape and Pet, but there are also options like Underwater, Anti Motion Blur, and Backlight Correction. Pictures effects mainly consist of silly digital frames and a paint feature and color modes are altogether absent. Also, in-camera editing omits adjustments for color, contrast, and brightness, yet it includes an advanced unsharpening mask.

Though sharp, full resolution video capabilities come with this camera, the color performance is particularly poor and inaccurate.

The lens' short focal range only reaches 4x optical zoom, but that's fairly standard for this category. Digital zoom of up to 16x is available, but we always recommend shutting this option off entirely. The built-in flash is well placed in the top center of the body, but its cast, which Sony claims will reach up to 12 feet, is harsh and glaring. Finally, though sharp, full resolution video capabilities come with this camera, the color performance is particularly poor and inaccurate.

Performance

Though color could use some improvement, the TX10's overall image quality is very strong.

The Sony TX10 doesn't have the best hardware, but its software does fine work, delivering very strong overall image quality. Like most ruggedized cameras, this one oversaturates pictures to a degree, resulting in average color scores. This is an outstanding noise performer though, boasting attractive shots at any ISO. Happily, reducing available light did not detract from this fine quality. ISO options extend from 125 to 3200, and each setting is full resolution. While competing models may boast extra high levels, bear in mind that each of the TX10's ISO settings are legitimately useful—many models cannot boast the same.

This model has the ability to capture full resolution stills in the middle of a video clip.

Resolution performance is among the best in the tough-cam market and the TX10's video capabilities are better than most too, with AVCHD encoding, 1080i capture, and stereo sound. What impressed us even more was the level of control access during shooting. Optical zoom is unlocked (it's nice and quiet too), plus this model has the ability to capture full resolution stills in the middle of a video clip. Autofocus during video is also pretty functional, more than can be said, unfortunately, for many compact cameras.

Conclusion

The ghost of TX's past

With the debut of the previous Cyber-shot TX5, Sony sought to carve out a new sub-category inside the ruggedized camera market. The old TX5 did not offer quite the same degree of disaster-proofing, but it was super slim and so stylish you'd never guess it was a tough-cam. It was a full-time ultracompact, but a tough-cam when you needed it to be—equally at home on the ski slopes or underwater as it was at a nightclub or a kid's birthday party. It was a new concept that turned out really well: a solid point-and-shoot that simply added in some rugged features.

All of this applies to this TX10—but that's actually our biggest gripe. The TX5 and TX10 are practically the same camera. Nearly identical performance, features, form, and everything. Rugged elements have been toughened up a bit more and megapixel count has seen a boost, but almost every other improvement is the result of software, not hardware. We had hoped for more.

Still, it's hard to fault a camera simply for being a little bit better than an already excellent one, so we do recommend the TX10. This model is best for users looking for a simple point-and-shoot that happens to also feature the versatility of water-, cold-, dust-, and shock-proofing. Don't expect comfortable handling though, and if you're already a TX5 owner, then you are already in possession of a high quality ultracompact, and need not upgrade.

Science Introduction

This Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 scored excellently on many of our tests. Images were sharp, noise was handled well, and video capabilities were pretty solid too. Test results revealed some areas for improvement though too, like color accuracy. Overall, image quality is strong on this device.

Sharpness & Resolution

The TX10 is one sharp camera.

The TX10's resolution of fine detail is top-notch. Its sharpness capabilities often perform in excess of 2000 MTF50s at any focal length, which enables this sort of resolution. Some cheating in the form of the always-operating edge enhancement occurs(bright white and dark black lines at high-contrast edges), however Sony so far exceeds the competition that this makes little difference.

Noise

With attractive shots at any ISO, the TX10 proves to be an outstanding noise performer.

Our noise test can be a bit of a liar. Sure, we can detect artifacts and measure their quantity, but does that really equate to a better or worse image? Too often, we find ourselves making a recommendation that the tests don't agree with. However, in this case, the TX10 deserves every bit of its relatively high score. Noise starts off at an imperceptible 0.47% at ISO 125, a very impressive figure. In fact, noise levels don't breach 1.00% until ISO 1600. Some smoothing software appears to kick in at ISO 400, but its application is even-keeled and doesn't damage photos as severely as competitors. Images are attractive throughout the ISO spectrum.

Reducing available light to only 60 lux did not detract from the TX10's noise performance. In fact we actually noticed a slight reduction in overall noise, although the improvement only amounts to 0.05%.

Video Performance

Color temperature is way off, but a complete set of shooting options and excellent sharpness make for a great video mode nonetheless.

The TX10's video capabilities are better than most, and include AVCHD encoding, 1080i capture, and stereo sound. What impressed us even more was the level of control access while shooting. Optical zoom is unlocked (and it's nice and quiet too), plus this model has the ability to capture full resolution stills in the middle of a video clip. Autofocus during video is also pretty functional, which is more than most cameras in this class can boast.

Color accuracy while shooting video is terrible, and while this is true of most ultracompacts, the TX10's performance is especially poor. This has a lot to do with white balance. After depressing the video button, the camera pauses for about five seconds to adjust aspect ratio and begin shooting. During this time, it also locks in automatic white balance, which negatively impacts our test. Colors were way too hot across the gamut, and the color error rating reached a sky-high 9.6.

Sharpness, on the other hand, is a strength of this camera's still performance, and the same is true of its video mode. The TX10 resolved 475 LW/PH horizontally and a whopping 575 LW/PH vertically from our test pattern. This places the TX10 ahead of its predecessor, far ahead of the WG-1, and equal to the Panasonic TS3.

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