With its high-resolution backlit sensor and full HD movie recording, is this the pocket powerhouse for the discerning user?
Sony Cyber-shot WX7 review – Features
Compact cameras are becoming increasingly deceptive these days, with backlit sensors, expensive focal ranges and other impressive technology being shoehorned into the smallest bodies. Sony’s Cyber-shot WX7 is one example of this, with a smart, pocket-friendly form packed full of functionality, and some pretty confident claims from Sony as to its abilities.
Its 16.2MP Exmor R CMOS sensor only measures 1/2.33 inches, but its backlit design is said to be responsible for a doubling of its sensitivity next to conventional sensors. This, Sony claims, allows it to produce images with half the noise, while a Superior Auto mode combines a number of images into one to help extend dynamic range. These and other technologies allow it to produce ‘DSLR-like picture quality’, something we’ll be looking at later on.
The lens spans a healthy range from 25-125mm, while Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation is on hand to keep stills and movies sharp. Movies themselves are recorded in high definition to the 1080i standard while sound is recorded in stereo. Elsewhere, Sony has focused on developing its Sweep Panorama technology, with the WX7 providing separate options for high-resolution and 3D panoramas, as well as an Intelligent option which is even suitable for capturing moving subjects.
The camera focuses with the aid of nine points in the centre of the frame, while a tracking option can also be quickly selected to keep a lock on moving subjects.
The usual Cyber-shot mix of Face and Smile-oriented technologies are present, as is a Background Defocus mode which is designed to replicate the shallow depth of field effects of DSLR cameras. Thanks to its backlit sensor, the camera can also shoot an impressive 10fps at the sensor’s full resolution.
The camera’s 2.8in LCD screen isn’t particularly impressive in size, although its 460,000dot resolution does at least bring it up a level from the more common 230,000 standard we’re used to seeing. Images and videos are recorded to the user’s choice of SD, SDHC, SDXC and MS media formats, while HDMI and USB 2.0 ports allow images and videos to be transferred to other devices.
Sony Cyber-shot WX7 review – Design
The Cyber-shot range has also stood out as being one of the more attractive compact lines, and from the front the WX7 barely differs from the styling set out by the previous WX5 model. It’s on the rear where the major changes have taken place, with the previous model’s dials now dropped in favour of a single dial and a switch, and a handful of additional buttons. This means that options are now accessed primarily through the graphic user interface, although, thankfully, the commonly-used playback and delete buttons have remained as physical controls.
The menu systems itself is easy to understand, and has been designed on the common two-way navigation principle. A column on the left hand side houses all main features, and each produces a row options when selected. Most are accompanied with a brief description of their purpose and suitability, while the in-camera help guide contains a surprisingly comprehensive level of information as to the camera’s various features and operation.
There isn’t anything particularly difficult about the camera’s operation, and all controls are marked clearly. As a relatively small compact, though, those with larger hands are likely to find it a little awkward to use. A more minor criticism is that the door at the base of the camera, which provides access to the battery and memory card slots, feels a little loose and flimsy.
Performance & Image Quality
Sony Cyber-shot WX7 Review – Performance
The WX7 takes around a second to full power up and just a touch longer to turn itself off, which is about average for a camera of its class. Its focusing speed, however, is far more impressive, with its nine central points picking out details quickly and notifying the user with bright green boxes. Only in particularly poor light and against low-contrast details does it struggle to match this pace, but even here it manages to focus where other compacts simply give up.
Images are quickly captured and displayed on the LCD screen, which has a good brightness on standard settings but slightly saturated colours. Its high resolution, which is still uncommon among compacts at this level, makes it easy to scrutinise image details, and its viewing angle is excellent. In strong light, however, the camera still suffers from the same visibility issues which plague practically all compacts.
The burst setting options works well, quickly capturing ten shots in a second and maintaining the feed as this happens. It also doesn’t take long for these to be recorded to the memory card either, only around five seconds with a Class 10 SDHC card in place.
Sony Cyber-shot WX7 Review – Image Quality
With a backlit sensor we should expect lower noise levels than on similar compacts, and while the WX7’s images show far less chroma noise than expected (there really isn’t any), much of this is likely the result of in-camera processing. Images throughout the sensitivity range display a coarse texture and processing artefacts, while oversharpening suggests that the camera is trying to compensate for the detail lost through this process. That’s not to say that images don’t show good detail, as they do, it’s just the finer details appear to be lost through noise reduction and other processing.
Elsewhere, the camera fares much better. The metering system does impressively well to balance a range of lighting conditions, and only errs slightly towards under and overexposure when we would expect it to do so. The auto white balance also does a good job under both natural daylight and artificial sources, and colours are saturated enough to give pleasing results but not so much to remove them from reality.
There’s a touch of distortion at the wideangle end of the camera’s lens, although the aspherical elements in the optic appear to correct for most of this, given the slightly uneven distortion which results. Some chromatic aberration is also visible, although this is largely confined to the edges of images with high-contrast details.
Sony Cyber-shot WX7 Review – Verdict
The WX7 is a small but highly-specified compact, with a competent performance matched with decent image quality. It’s only its noise and processing issues which mar its overall score – otherwise it’s a winner.