Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot TX66 Digital Camera Review

This tiny pocket camera takes solid photos for sharing online, but the price tag is hard to swallow these days.

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Introduction

Think of ultra-thin, ultra-stylish cameras, and Sony Cyber-shots should spring to mind. The TX66 is one of the newest models in the fashion-forward lineup—neither here or there, just kind of floating around amongst the shock- and waterproof TX20 and the TX200V kitchen-sink spectacular. It's really a showpiece for a 3.3-inch OLED touchscreen (prized for their sharp pictures and vibrant colors) and Sony's new 18.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor.

Ostentatious? Yeah, and wicked expensive, too. We'll cut to the chase: $350 is a lot of money for a point-and-shoot. If you have any sense of value, steer clear. But if you're the kind of person for whom: a) money is no object, b) a camera is an accessory rather than a photographic tool, and c) by some fat chance don't already have the latest iPhone (or something like it), then the TX66 actually has a handful of redeeming values. Read on for more.

The Sony Cyber-shot TX66 is available now for an MSRP of $349 in white, silver, pink, and violet shades.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

• Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX66 digital camera

• AC adapter

• rechargeable lithium-ion battery (Type N)

• proprietary USB cable

• wrist strap

• paint pen

• tripod adapter

Lens & Sensor

The lens is an all-internal, Zeiss-branded piece with optical SteadyShot stabilization, 5x optical zoom (26-130mm equivalent), and a modest f/3.5-4.8 maximum aperture

Typical of a point-and-shoot, the TX66 is built around a 1/2.3-inch sensor, weighing in at a class-leading 18.2 megapixels. It's one of Sony's Exmor R backside-illuminated CMOS sensors, which generally offer solid low-light performance and speedy burst shooting.

Display(s)

The TX66 is equipped with a 3.3-inch OLED display. These screens are prized for their vibrant colors and high contrast. Blacks are blacker, whites are still bright, and red, blues, and greens pack an extra punch. This particular screen also has a higher resolution than most camera LCDs (1.2 million dots instead of the typical 230k or 460k), so details are sharper and movement crisper.

OLEDs are also incredibly expensive to manufacture. We'd guess that the display is a big chunk of the camera's $350 price tag. It's a nice feature, and you can see where you spent your money. But it doesn't fundamentally change the user experience or make the TX66 a better camera—it's just a slightly cooler gadget.

Flash

The TX66 has a tiny flash built into the front panel next to the lens. It's rated for a measly 10 feet of effectiveness—enough to highlight close-up objects, but not much else. The TX66 is pretty good in crummy lighting anyhow, so the flash might not get a whole lot of usage, which is for the best.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Connectivity

Like most cameras these days, the TX66 comes with a USB port and an HDMI port. The USB port is some proprietary Sony shape, and its micro HDMI jack is not to be confused with the more common mini HDMI hookup. Both ports are exposed on the bottom of the camera, so they're likely to collect dust and other grit—proper maintenance is a virtue.

Even the tripod mount is on a smaller scale. Sony graciously includes a tripod thread adapter so that the TX66 can fit on a standard mount—just be careful not to lose it.

Durability

The TX66 is not rated for any kind of water resistance or shockproofing. It doesn't even feel like it's built to withstand light bumps and bruises, and we somehow managed to scratch the front panel during testing. Handle with care. If you like the design and form-factor but want something a bit hardier, check out the TX20 or TX200V instead.

Image Quality

Typical of a pocket camera, the TX66 takes photos best suited for sharing online. At small and medium viewing sizes (think Facebook), the image quality is very good in any shooting situation, even low light. Colors are vibrant, and shots are clean and smooth up through ISO 800, then again at ISO 6400 and 12800 thanks to a smart multi-photo composite feature. At larger viewing sizes, its limitations become much more obvious. Photos are so clean because noise reduction buffs away fine details and textures, and the lens appears to be pretty soft in the first place. As long as you don't make huge prints, you won't notice. By that logic, this might as well just be a 10 or 12 megapixel camera instead, but consumers have demonstrated time and again that a big number is the best number.

Sharpness

As usual with pocket cameras, the TX66's sharpness is a mixed bag. It earned a respectable score in our software-based lab tests, but on close inspection, edges look fuzzy.

This is a common phenomenon. The TX66 applies a heavy dose of pixel sharpening (notice in the crops how the borders tend to be darker than the centers of the wedges), which compensates for the inherent softness of the lens. It boosts the contrast and makes edges look crisper from a distance. So at small viewing sizes, it's tough to see how fuzzy the borders really are, and the extra contrast makes subjects pop a little bit more (and fools our software to a certain degree).

Just about every pocket camera uses this technique, and we've seen applied much more egregiously, like with the Samsung MV800 or Sony TX10 among this comparison group alone. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

The SteadyShot optical stabilization is always activated on the TX66, so we can't test stabilization for this camera; there's no "off" setting for us to use as a control.

Color

The TX66 has just one color mode (lets get creative and call it "the default") and it can't be adjusted. We measured a minimum color error of 3.17 (under 3.5 is decent, and under 3.0 is excellent) and 111% saturation (anything under 90% or over 110% incurs a penalty, so the TX66 takes a small hit here). Most colors are fairly accurate, but reds are very exaggerated, and blues to a lesser extent. 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.

Color is incredibly subjective, so scoring a camera based on color accuracy can be a bit deceiving. It's best to just look at some sample photos and decide which profile suits your personal taste. That said, of the pocket-cam comparison group, the Canon ELPH 100 HS can produce the most technically accurate hues, and it also offers the most color modes and user control.

White Balance

The white balancing system on the TX66 gets the job done without much fuss. Auto white balance is more accurate than we usually see from point-and-shoots, especially under warm lighting (like incandescent bulbs). Custom white balance isn't as effective as it should be, though it's still a more accurate option than auto white balance.

White Balance Options

Eight white balance presets are available, including auto white balance, Daylight, Cloudy, three Fluorescent settings, Incandescent, and Flash. There's just one custom setting at a time, and no fine adjustments can be made.

Noise Reduction

The simplified, conventional wisdom is that point-and-shoots (built around 1/2.3-inch sensors) with more megapixels are noisier because each receptor is smaller. It's much, much more complicated than that, and the rise of backlit CMOS sensors has mitigated the issue to a degree. But for the sake of simplicity, yes, more megapixels usually means more noise.

Weighing in at an absurd 18.2 megapixels, the TX66 has the densest sensor of any point-and-shoot right now. Looking at the crops of Rosie below, the quality starts to degrade pretty rapidly at ISO 800, and by ISO 6400 and up, our girl is barely recognizable. But it actually earns a respectable noise score. What gives? More on how we test noise.

Detail Loss

As we discussed, the TX66 earns a solid noise score because it has no qualms about scrubbing fine details to get rid of noise. The effect is pretty mild through ISO 400, but starts to become obvious at ISO 800, problematic at ISO 1600, and exaggerated at ISO 3200 and above. Any of the settings will produce a usable small snapshot, but if you have to use the photos at larger sizes, then stick with ISOs 400 and below.

ISO Options

By pocket-cam standards, the TX66 has a huge ISO range. It runs from ISO 80 up through ISO 12800 in full stops (including ISO 100), all at full resolutions. At ISO 6400 and 12800, the TX66 takes a burst of a few photos and creates a composite image to keep noise levels down. It's a trick, sure, but the photos are still full-res, and they look pretty good, too. ISO can be set to auto, or in Program mode, selected by hand.

Dynamic Range

More on how we test dynamic range.

Low Light Performance

By the limited expectations of point-and-shoots, the TX66 is a strong low-light performer. The higher ISO settings are clean enough to take decent snapshots in dim situations, and the smart multi-shot composite feature that kicks in at ISOs 6400 and 12800 can pull useful photos from places that no pocket camera could've attempted a few years ago.

Basically, for folks who enjoy the nightlife, this camera will get the job done better than most.

Noise Reduction

The simplified, conventional wisdom is that point-and-shoots (built around 1/2.3-inch sensors) with more megapixels are noisier because each receptor is smaller. It's much, much more complicated than that, and the rise of backlit CMOS sensors has mitigated the issue to a degree. But for the sake of simplicity, yes, more megapixels usually means more noise.

Weighing in at an absurd 18.2 megapixels, the TX66 has the densest sensor of any point-and-shoot right now. Looking at the crops of Rosie below, the quality starts to degrade pretty rapidly at ISO 800, and by ISO 6400 and up, our girl is barely recognizable. But it actually earns a respectable noise score. What gives? More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

By pocket-cam standards, the TX66 has a huge ISO range. It runs from ISO 80 up through ISO 12800 in full stops (including ISO 100), all at full resolutions. At ISO 6400 and 12800, the TX66 takes a burst of a few photos and creates a composite image to keep noise levels down. It's a trick, sure, but the photos are still full-res, and they look pretty good, too. ISO can be set to auto, or in Program mode, selected by hand.

Focus Performance

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

As expected, low-light sensitivity was also a weak point. The TX66 is basically blind under 34 lux. This is also common for pocket cameras.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is somewhat problematic. There's visible fringing in our test crops across the focal range and in most parts of the frame. In real-world photos, it crops up at the edges of buildings and along tree-branches. Most of the "softness" in our shots can be chalked up to mediocre sharpness, but the chromatic aberrations certainly don't help matters.

Distortion

Distortion isn't usually a problem for point-and-shoots anymore—most of them earn a perfect score in our test. But the TX66 struggled mightily at the wide angle. The res chart looks like it's smiling. We measured 2.4% barrel distortion, which is huge. The problem disappears at the middle and telephoto ranges, but the obvious warping at the wide angle drags down the score quite a bit.

Motion

The Sony TX66 earned pretty solid performance scores in our video tests. Motion at 1080/60i (the top resolution) was smooth and clean. The most obvious defect we noticed was some frequency interference—color bleeding, basically. There was some slight artifacting and trailing, but really pretty good by point-and-shoot standards. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

In bright lighting, sharpness was very respectable as well. We measured 575 horizontal and 475 vertical lw/ph—both strong scores for a small-sensor camera with an internal lens. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Performance drops off pretty significantly in low light, down to 175 horizontal and 300 vertical lw/ph. Those are still decent scores for the class, but this isn't a strong low-light camera.

Low Light Sensitivity

As expected, low-light sensitivity was also a weak point. The TX66 is basically blind under 34 lux. This is also common for pocket cameras.

Usability

The TX66 is a simple snapshot camera meant for casual photographers, nothing more. The control scheme is almost entirely automatic, and it's better that way. Shooting is quick, easy, and reliable, which is all that we look for in camera like this. Its capacitive touchscreen is fine—it stays out of its own way, basically. We'd trade 0.3 inches of screen space for a few physical controls, but the kind of folks who would use the TX66 probably don't spend much time in the menu system aside from playback, where the touch interface actually works quite well. The tiny, glossy body is tough to handle, but it is incredibly portable.

Automatic Features

The TX66 is a snapshot camera, so it's almost entirely automated. There are two auto shooting modes: Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto. Both are incredibly easy to use—just point and shoot—though Superior Auto offers less user control and uses multi-shot modes more often (usually to clean up noise).

Other auto-powered modes include an iSweep Panorama and Background Defocus (which takes a few consecutive shots to fake a shallow depth of field effect).

Buttons & Dials

The 3.3-inch OLED takes up the entirety of the rear panel, so the only physical buttons on the TX66 are an on/off switch, a shutter, and a zoom tilter. All the other controls run through the touchscreen interface. It certainly encourages hands-off automatic operation.

The menu system is very graphics-oriented, no surprise considering the touchscreen interface. As usual with touchscreens, it misfires from time to time, and scrolling is frustrating, but it works fairly well overall.

Instruction Manual

A printed quick-start guide comes with the TX66, but there's no CD-ROM with a full PDF version.

Handling

The TX66 is probably the smallest camera we've seen—the length and width of a credit card, and only a half-inch thick. As such, it's not very comfortable to handle. The glossy coating is tough to grip. It's scaled for female hands, an even then, it's on the small side. There isn't much real estate to rest a second hand, or even extra fingers from your shooting hand. It's made for quick one handed snapshots, preferably in auto mode without futzing around in the menu.

Handling Photo 1

The upside is that it's super-light, and small enough to carry in a tight pants pocket. It's more compact than most smartphones, even thinner than some. If space is an issue, this is a compact solution.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

The 3.3-inch OLED takes up the entirety of the rear panel, so the only physical buttons on the TX66 are an on/off switch, a shutter, and a zoom tilter. All the other controls run through the touchscreen interface. It certainly encourages hands-off automatic operation.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The TX66 is equipped with a 3.3-inch OLED display. These screens are prized for their vibrant colors and high contrast. Blacks are blacker, whites are still bright, and red, blues, and greens pack an extra punch. This particular screen also has a higher resolution than most camera LCDs (1.2 million dots instead of the typical 230k or 460k), so details are sharper and movement crisper.

OLEDs are also incredibly expensive to manufacture. We'd guess that the display is a big chunk of the camera's $350 price tag. It's a nice feature, and you can see where you spent your money. But it doesn't fundamentally change the user experience or make the TX66 a better camera—it's just a slightly cooler gadget.

Image Stabilization

The SteadyShot optical stabilization is always activated on the TX66, so we can't test stabilization for this camera; there's no "off" setting for us to use as a control.

Shooting Modes

There are two auto shooting modes: Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto. Program mode is offered. Special options like iSweep Panorama, 3D-assist shooting, and Background Defocus are available as well. Picture Effects and Scene Selection round out the still-photo modes.

Focus

As it should be, the TX66 is an autofocus-only camera. Typical modes like full-frame, center, and spot focus are here, as is the eminently useful touch-to-focus feature. Face recognition is supported as well.

Focus is speedy and fairly accurate in most lighting. As we expected, it struggles more in dim lighting and low-contrast settings, but the overall performance is fine by point-and-shoot standards.

Recording Options

The TX66 maxes out at an enormous 18.2 megapixels in a standard, 4:3 aspect ratio—the biggest pocket-cam shots, aside from a few other Sony Cyber-shots with the same sensor. Other sizes include 10-megapixel, 5-megapixel, and VGA settings in 4:3, and 13-megapixel and 2-megapixel sizes in a widescreen 16:9 format.

Speed and Timing

Thanks to its backlit CMOS sensor, the TX66 is a speedy camera with a few different drive modes available, and some extra timer settings.

The TX66 offers two continuous settings, high and low, as well as a single-shot setting, of course. All settings support full-res shots.

Backlit CMOS sensors have been kicking around for a few years now, so it's not really a surprise to see speedy burst rates anymore. The TX66 can crank out 6.67 frames per second by our measurement. Not the fastest out there, but quick enough for most purposes. The buffer fills up after 10 shots.

The standard 10 second and 2 second settings are available. The camera's face-recognition tech also supports self-portrait timers for one or two people—it waits until it sees the appropriate number of faces in the frame, then shoots.

Focus Speed

As it should be, the TX66 is an autofocus-only camera. Typical modes like full-frame, center, and spot focus are here, as is the eminently useful touch-to-focus feature. Face recognition is supported as well.

Focus is speedy and fairly accurate in most lighting. As we expected, it struggles more in dim lighting and low-contrast settings, but the overall performance is fine by point-and-shoot standards.

Features

Most of the cool features on the TX66 fall under the banners of regular hardware or shooting modes. There's no WiFi, GPS, or optional viewfinders available here, so we've covered most of the extras in other sections of the review. Move along, nothing to see here.

Conclusion

Remember when pocket cameras were fashion accessories? That was back when MySpace was still a thing and text messages cost 10 cents each. Now the style-conscious, gadget-accessory of choice is a smartphone, most of which take good enough photos for sharing on MySp—oops, Facebook. That revelation puts cameras like the TX66 in an odd place. It's expensive because it's small and looks cool, not because it takes better photos than a $200 camera. What's the point?

We'll, let's start with the good parts. It's definitely slick, no doubt. The 3.3-inch OLED screen looks great, and the touch interface actually works pretty well. This thing is so thin that Sony had to equip it with an undersized tripod mount (they graciously included an adapter). It's notably smaller than pretty much any cell phone or camera we've seen. And for sharing photos on the web, the picture quality is actually very strong, even in dark settings—yes, obviously better than a smartphone camera.

But for anyone serious about taking high-quality pictures (y'know, most people who buy cameras these days) the TX66 falls short. Photos tend to have the texture of a watercolor painting—smooth, vibrant, but very soft. The bloated megapixel count may or may not hurt the overall photo quality—there are too many factors to say for sure—but in any case, the file sizes are unnecessarily huge: typically 5MB per photo, even up to 7MB. That'll fill up your memory card pretty fast.

Since the shots are so soft at full resolution, the photos might as well be just 10 or maybe 12 megapixels instead‚ saving storage space, processing time, and all the hot air released by the armchair analysts who love to chime in about more megapixels being bad. In terms of handling...well, touchscreens never improve the user experience; the best ones manage to stay out of the way. In this case, yeah, it stays out of the way, but we'd trade 0.3 inches of screen space for a few real, physical buttons.

The TX66 is way overpriced, and we're struggling to figure out why we'd recommend this to anybody. If you already have a smartphone, just stick with that. The picture quality is probably fine, and you can share photos instantly from anywhere. If you have your heart set on a camera and you like the form factor, the ruggedized TX20 looks like a better bang for the buck; at least your expensive toy can stand up to a few bumps, bruises, and days at the beach. And if you can't live without the OLED screen, then money is obviously not a problem for you, so pony up for the TX200V, which is also ruggedized and also includes on-board GPS. Overall, the TX66 is a decent pocket camera with some nice features, but that doesn't get it very far in the current camera climate.

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