Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot WX150 Review

The 10x-zooming WX150 is the best no-nonsense point-and-shoot we've seen so far this year.

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Introduction

The Sony WX150 falls in the middle of the 2012 Cyber-shot lineup. It's built around a better sensor and a longer zoom range than any of Sony's lower-end ultracompacts, though unburdened with any high-end bloat such as GPS, WiFi, or touch control. With so many all-around capable smartphones eating away at the market, this is probably the right approach. Compact cameras really need to work on becoming better cameras, first and foremost.

That said, the WX150 is a straightforward point-and-shoot for casual, novice, and generally easy-going photographers. As a result, users get a great deal of value for their dollar here. For such a small, plain device, this Sony Cyber-shot delivered some surprising results in the lab. The WX150 will be available in mid-May for $249 in black, silver, red, and blue.

Design & Usability

Handling is the boxy, slippery affair you always get with a point-and-shoot, but navigation is a walk in the park.

The advantage of the WX150's compact size is, of course, portability. It isn't the smallest camera we've seen (that honor goes to the Sony TX66), but it's slim enough for your pocket. Sure, your smartphone's smaller, but does it have a 10x zoom? The WX150 does. With no grip or true thumb-rest, though, this camera is a bit too slippery. Also, a little built-in flash sits right in the way of errant fingers. On the bright side, it's incredibly light and navigation is a cinch.

Best of all, beginners can use a direct-access key to open one of the best in-camera help guides we've ever seen.

The menu system is easy to traverse, especially with an on-screen quick menu that appears at the press of a button. Best of all, beginners are given a dedicated help key to open one of the best in-camera help guides we've ever seen. This aid offers extensive shooting tips, photography tutorials, an index, and more—all in a graphics-oriented format.

Features

Beginners will love the simplicity of the WX150, unburdened as it is from the usual mass of complicated features that so often weighs on other point-and-shoots.

One of the WX150's strengths is that it's free from the bloat of extra "features" such as in-camera WiFi or touch controls. That is not to say that fan favorites were left behind, though. By our count, there are 15 distinct scene presets, running from Landscape and Beach to Soft Skin and Anti Motion Blur. Since no point-and-shoot is complete without picture effects, the WX150 offers nine: HDR Painting, Miniature, Pop Color, and more. In-camera editing is modest, though, and color modes are entirely absent.

The WX150 [...] maxes at an enormous 18.2 megapixels—the biggest pocket-cam shot out there right now.

Novice and casual photographers will enjoy two auto modes, one of which (Superior Auto) takes more processing liberties and is ultimately the better choice. Enthusiasts may bore quickly though, as there are no aperture/shutter priority modes outside of direct exposure control via EV compensation. The WX150 does not support RAW, but it maxes at an enormous 18.2 megapixels—the biggest pocket-cam shot out there right now, aside from a few other Sony Cyber-shots with the same sensor. And speaking of hardware—this camera features a healthy 10x-zoom lens, a 1/2.3-inch, 18.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, and a 3-inch, 460k-pixel LCD that serves in place of a viewfinder.

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Performance

The feature-light WX150 can bolt through 10.87 frames per second, and its images quality is very competitive.

Well, Sony stuck with the basics and delivered some strong image quality with the WX150. Resolution is particularly strong, with excellent sharpness and few of the distortions that so often plague compact cameras with sizable zooms. Color and noise performances were less impressive, but still very respectable. In many reasonable viewing sizes, the WX150 does a great job creating clear, clean, attractive pictures in just about any shooting situation. This is thanks in part to a strong sensor, a decent lens, and some clever, effective processing.

We measured a blazing-fast top speed of 10.87 frames per second at the highest setting [...]—incredible for an entry-level point-and-shoot.

Lastly, HD video capability is on offer, but recording quality is just average, and the backlit-CMOS sensor affords speedy shooting and an array of drive modes to help users grab that difficult-to-capture action moment. We measured a blazing-fast top speed of 10.87 frames per second at the highest setting. The buffer fills up after one second, but that's still 10 or 11 shots in one burst—incredible for an entry-level point-and-shoot.

Conclusion

The WX150 may not put on much of a show for the feature-obsessed, but there is far more to this little camera than meets the eye.

Smartphones are ever looming, but capable, no-nonsense point-and-shoots that aren't crippled by cut-rate components are fighting back. The WX150 doesn't dally with GPS and touchscreen. It delivers strong image quality, anchored by an 18.2-megapixel CMOS sensor. Colors are punchy, resolution is great, and details are clean in most shooting situations. This sensor enables effective multi-shot modes that can snag decent low-light shots and bring balance to overly bright scenes—and it's all automated. Best of all, all of this, plus a respectable 10x zoom (25-250mm equivalent), a brilliant in-camera help guide, and a pack of fan-favorite extras, are packaged in a body that's slim enough for your pocket.

The few complaints we do have are just minor quibbles. The pixel count is much higher than necessary, so details look pretty soft at the full size—but using a full, 18 megapixel shot is a rarity. Most shots are scaled down to more usable sizes (think Facebook, or even up to 8x10 prints), and they look great that way. Price is the only other minor issue; we haven't tested the Panasonic SZ7 yet, but it looks very, very similar on paper, and it costs $50 less.

Any casual, novice, or otherwise easy-going photographer should be happy with this $249 camera in their pocket.

All told, the WX150 is a fun, very beginner-friendly pocket camera. It'll be a solid companion for a night out, a day at the park, an afternoon around the house with grandma, or even a week on vacation. There aren't any buzzworthy features, but it's a better product because of that. We'd knock about $50 off the price tag if we could, but any casual, novice, or otherwise easygoing photographer should be happy with this MSRP $249 camera in their pocket.

Science Introduction

The WX150 is little, it's simple, it's aimed at beginners—but it also fires a fine-looking frame. Overall image quality was very competitive. Images turned out sharp and clear, and distortions are minimal. Noise handling and color accuracy are acceptable as well, but both show room for improvement.

Sharpness

Thanks to clever software and solid hardware, sharpness scores are great.

The WX150 earned great scores in our sharpness test—an overall average of 1691 LW/PH at MTF50 across all focal lengths and areas of the frame, maxing out at 2700 LW/PH in the center of the frame at the wide-angle setting. Part of the success is a quality lens, part of it is the high pixel count, but as is almost always the case with point-and-shoots, software is a big part of the score.

At regular viewing sizes, details look crisp. Up close, things are a bit fuzzier. The lens and sensor, solid as they are, have a tough time resolving all 18 megapixels of detail. But the WX150's processor is smart enough to recognize edges and enhance the sharpness. That lends a punchy, contrasty look to the shots, which makes them look "sharp" viewed on computer screens and medium-sized prints. This couldn't work without decent optics, which the WX150 has, and it's very typical for long-zoom cameras. The enhancement is applied well, without causing too much unintentional haloing (too-white areas along edges). It might be a problem for photographers who make huge prints on a regular basis, and pixel peepers won't like it either, but we think that the WX150 basically deserves the score.

Noise

The WX150 shows solid noise performance for an entry-level point-and-shoot.

The noise percentages starts at a barely there 0.71 percent at ISO 100 and stays under 1 percent until right above ISO 800. It maxes out at about 1.7 percent at ISO 3200, before diving back down to about 1 percent at ISO 6400 and ISO 12800—those top two settings both use multi-shot noise reduction to smooth out the image quality without sacrificing the extra sensitivity, so the figures are artificially low.

By cramming 18.2 megapixels onto a 1/2.3-inch sensor, Sony guaranteed that they'd need to apply a healthy dose of noise reduction. Viewed at the actual size, it's clear that noise reduction is at work even from the base ISO setting. But scaled down to a regular viewing size, it's impossible to tell, and the shots just look clean and crisp. The overall profile is a judicious balance of cleanliness and natural detail retention.

Color Accuracy

The WX150 earned a decent color score.

We measured a minimum color error of 3.24 (under 3.5 is good, under 3.0 is excellent) and 115 percent saturation, which incurs a small over-saturation penalty (anything between 90 and 105 percent, we let slide). Reds and blues are very exaggerated, and greens are a bit overzealous as well, but pretty much every other shade is within striking distance of perfect accuracy. This is actually pretty typical for a Sony camera—punching up grass and leaves, the sky, and flowers. It's not a bad look, just a bit cartoonish perhaps.

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