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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 Ken McMahon, December 2010
 
 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 review

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 is a 12.2 Megapixel compact with a 4x zoom lens and a 3.5 inch touch-screen. The TX9 was Launched in July 2010 alongside the Cyber-shot WX5, which has a similar specification with a 5x zoom and a smaller conventional screen and the T99, a budget version with a 3 inch touch-screen and 14 Megapixel CCD sensor. The TX9 replaces the TX7 at the top of Sony's TX range and, like the TX7, features Sony's Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor, now with an extra 2 Megapixels of resolution. This provides it with some very capable burst shooting modes and composite noise and blur reduction features as well as full HD video all neatly packaged in a very slim tablet design with an integral lens and flash concealed behind a vertically sliding front panel.

The market for touch-screen compacts is growing and competition is increasing. In addition to models from Canon, Panasonic and Nikon have released touch-screen models that are in direct competition with the Cyber-shot TX9. Here we've put the TX9 up against Nikon's COOLPIX S80 - a very similar looking model which also features a 3.5in touch-screen - and Panasonic's Lumix FX700 which has more conventiuonal styling and a 3in touch-screen. As well as offering compactness and ease of use, all of these touch-screen models have optical image stabilisation and a range of features designed to appeal to both point-and-shoot snappers as well as more ambitous photographers. Read our full review to see if the Cyber-shot TX9 has what it takes to stay ahead of the game, or whether your money might be better spent on one of the alternatives.

   
 

The Cyber-shot TX9 is a available in three colours – dark grey, gold and red, and at 17mm thick and weighing only 149g including the battery it's undeniably petite. Though not the best place to keep it, the TX9 is perfectly proportioned to slide in to the back pocket of your jeans and we had to continually resist the temptation to do this, lest we end up sitting on it.

Sliding the front cover down turns the camera on and reveals the lens in the top left corner and alongside it the AF lamp and flash. You need to be very careful with this type of design to make sure that your left index finger doesn't obstruct the lens, but you quickly learn to keep your digits away from the top left corner.

 
 
 
 

The slimmest of top panels accommodates an on/off button, shutter release and, on the corner, a zoom rocker. A bevelled section behind it has two buttons, one for toggling playback and shooting modes and the other for switching between still and movie capture. These functions are replicated with touch-screen controls, but switching modes via the menu takes longer and you can power up the camera in playback mode using the playback button.

The entire back of the camera, with the exception of a narrow thumb rest running the length of the right side, is given over to the screen. As you'd expect on a touch-screen camera, Sony has kept the physical controls to a minimum, and, like Nikon with the COOLPIX S80, has made the most of the space to make the screen as big as possible.

A spring loaded door on the base of the camera pops open to reveal the combined battery and memory card compartment. Like all recent Sony compacts, in addition to Memory Stick Pro Duo media the Cyber-shot TX9 also accepts SD(HC) and goes one better than the TX7 with support for high-capacity, high-speed SDXC cards. In common with some other Sony compacts including the TX7, the TX9 isn't equipped with data transfer ports but connects via a proprietary connector on the base to a 'Multi-output stand' with USB, HDMI and AV out ports.

The Cyber-shot TX9 has a built-in flash unit located slightly off-centre at the top of the front panel to the right of the lens and AF illuminator. It has a maximum range of 3.8 metres at the wide angle lens focal length on the auto ISO sensitivity setting. In Program exposure mode you can set the flash to fire automatically, force it on or of and there's a Slow Synchro mode for using the the flash in combination with ambient light.

The flash takes around five seconds to recharge ready for the next shot, if it's not ready a recharging icon flashes on the screen to let you know, and if you press the shutter all the way down while the flash is recharging the camera will fire off a shot as soon as the flash is ready. The flash strobes prior to exposure to reduce red-eye and there's a red-eye correction filter in the retouch menu. You can turn the red-eye strobe off, or force it on in the settings menu.

The Cyber-shot TX9 uses a Sony NP-BN1 Lithium Ion battery. The battery is charged outside the camera using the supplied charger and on a full charge provides enough power for 230 shots using the CIPA (Camera Imaging Products Association) standard tests. Remaining battery life is indicated by a four-segment screen icon.

The Cyber-shot TX9 has the same 4x optical zoom lens as the older TX7. The 25 to 100mm equivalent is the ideal range for a 4x zoom, providing a super-wide angle view that's ideal for landscapes, interiors and big group shots. The 100mm telephoto is ideal for portraiture and will get you a little closer to the action if you're not that far away to begin with, but if you love to photograph wildlife or sports events, or just like the idea of getting in really close to distant action, the TX9 will fall short of the mark. Both the Lumix FX700 and COOLPIX S80 outreach it, the latter, with a 175mm maximum telephoto, by a long stretch.

     
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 coverage wide
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 coverage tele
4.43-17.7mm at 4.43mm (25mm equivalent)
  4.43-17.7mm at 17.7mm (100mm equivalent)

When you slide the front cover down the camera powers up and is ready to shoot in around a second and a half. The single-speed zoom rocker covers the range smoothly in about the same time. With a little practice you can nudge the zoom through around 20 discrete steps in each direction but it doesn't feel very responsive. This may be due, at least in part, to its small size and position on the corner of the camera body. One positive aspect of the zoom is that it is near-silent which means that you can use it while shooting video without worrying about motor noise on the audio.

The Cyber-shot TX9 has Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation which shifts the lens to compensate for camera movement helping to eliminate camera shake at slow shutter speeds. Sony's approach to image stabilisation options differs from most of its competitors. The Nikon COOLPIX S80 allows you to enable or disable image stabilisation as does the Panasonic Lumix FX700 which also offers a choice of modes. On the Sony Cyber-shot TX9, though, Optical steady Shot is enabled by default and can't be disabled or otherwise configured, though we believe it automatically switches off when the camera is placed on a tripod.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9: Optical SteadyShot, Anti Motion Blur and Hand Held Twilight mode
100% crop, 4.43-17.7mm at 17.7mm, 1/15, 125 ISO, Program mode.
 
100% crop, 4.43-17.7mm at 17.7mm, 1/250, 1250 ISO, Anti Motion Blur mode.
 
100% crop, 4.43-17.7mm at 17.7mm, 1/100, 420 ISO, Hand-held Twilight mode.

As the Cyber-shot TX9's Optical Steady-shot image stabilisation can't be turned off, we took three hand-held shots in the same low-light outdoor conditons using Program auto exposure mode, Anti Motion Blur, and Handheld Twilight scene modes. For all three exposures the lens was set to its maximum telephoto focal length of 17.7mm (100mm equivalent). The crops above show the results. Thanks to Optical SteadyShot, we were able to handhold at 1/15th of a second without camera shake. In this situation, Program mode has produced the best results, with Hand-held Twilight mode coming second and Anti Motion Blur third with a very soft crop. That's not to say these scene modes don't have their uses, though, and in situations where you'd need a much higher ISO setting in Program mode to get a workable hand-held shutter speed they provide a very useful alternative. See the high ISO noise results pages for more examples.

The Cyber-shot TX9 has face detection auto focusing which also influences the flash, exposure, white balance, and red-eye reduction settings. Face detection can be configured to work automatically, or when you touch the screen to focus. Up to eight faces are detected and tracked, and the priority face, indicated by an orange border, can be changed by touching another face on the display. The TX9 cleverly remembers the priority face and selects it for subsequent shots if it appears in frame again.

Face detection and tracking is fast and accurate and manages to hold onto subjects pretty well. Like all Face AF systems its performance deteriorates as the light drops and it's better with subjects that are closer to and facing the camera.
The TX9 retains the Smile Shutter option of previous models which automatically fires the shutter when a grin is spotted. A smile meter at the bottom of the screen provides a live readout of detected smiles and you can select one of three threshold setting simply by clicking on the appropriate smiley face icon. These might be said to correspond to mild smirk, self-conscious grin and full-beam. On a point-and shoot camera like the TX9, Smile shutter provides a novel way to get good results and have a lot of fun in the process

 
 
 
 

In the absence of faces and in Program mode the TX9 defaults to a nine-area auto focus system. There are two options, Centre AF and Spot AF, both of which designate a central portion of the screen as the focussing area. A half-press on the shutter release activates and locks the focus on whatever is in that central area and you can then recompose before shooting.

By virtue of its touch-screen the TX9 has another focusing option. In any of the AF modes you can focus on an object anywhere in the frame simply by touching it. It's quick, simple and it works every time. It's also a key advantage touch-screen cameras like the TX9 have over conventional models.

Like The TX7, the TX9 has a 16:9 format touch-screen measuring 3.5 inches diagonally with 920k dots in a stretched grid measuring 640 x 480 pixels. The wide aspect ratio is perfect for shooting HD movies and in 4:3 still shooting modes the view is centred with black bars down either side accommodating a dual array of touch icons. The COOLPIX S80 OLED screen is exactly the same dimensions, but has a slightly different layout which is better in some respects – it has flyout icon panels, and worse in others - it doesn't make the most efficient use of the available space. The Panasonic Lumix FX700 has a single black bar down one side in 4:3 modes and overlays many more touch icons on the image view.

The TX9's screen boasts a resolution of 920k pixels, making it one of the highest resolution screens on any compact. The competition is catching up fast though, with the Nikon COOLPIX S80 packing in 819k dots and only Panasonic opting for the more run-of-the-mill 230k dot LCD screen for the Lumix FX700.

There's no denying the TX9 screen looks good, particularly for playback of HD movies. It also has a very wide viewing angle both horizontally and vertically, with none of the illumination fall-off typical in lower cost panels. In bright sunlight though, it fairs little better than lower resolution LCD panels. Inevitably, it also picks up more than the usual amount of finger prints and smears and, because it occupies the entire rear panel, there's a tendency, when starting out at least, to accidentally activate the touch icons. But they don't go off at the merest hint of a touch, you need positive contact. The TX9's screen-based controls almost always respond first time, and we didn't feel the need to make use of the included plastic stylus.

As we mentioned, in 4:3 shooting modes the TX9's touch icons are arrayed on vertical black strips on either side of the image area, in 16:9 modes they're overlayed on the image. Some thought has gone into the layout, with information icons grouped on the top right of the screen, mode and shooting/playback toggle bottom right.

     
     

The left column contains the menu icon, movie recording icon, flash, self-timer and continuous shooting settings. About the only thing we'd change here is to move the movie recording button to the bottom right where it makes more sense logically and is an easy target for your right thumb.

     
     

Though the TX9 has no 'quick' menu per se, first press of the menu button displays a page of icons for frequently used settings Regardless of the mode, the first menu option is always the same – Easy mode. This puts the camera into an auto shooting mode with limited access to settings and a simpler menu system with enlarged text. Others include Smile Shutter, Image Size, ISO sensitivity, White Balance, focus and metering modes. This page can be customised, so you can add or remove icons to create your own personal setup. Pressing a toolbox icon takes you to the main menu proper where you'll find, depending on the mode, up to 28 settings arranged on four tabs – Shooting Settings, Main Settings, Memory Card Tool, and Clock Settings. If you're not likely to need the touch screen icons, you can get rid of them with a quick swipe.

In playback mode the layout remains the same with the capture controls substituted by navigation controls on the right and on the left below the Menu icon calendar display, index view, slide show and a delete icon. The menu icon displays an initial screen with, among others, basic painting and retouching tools, 3D viewing options protection, DPOF printing functions, and display settings. As with the capture menu, touching the toolbox icon displays the main menu tabs, this time without the Shooting Settings.

You can, of course, navigate through images by dragging with your finger, scrolling back and forth through a folder or in date view by dragging left or right. Double-tapping an image zooms in and you can then pan around by dragging with your finger.

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In intelligent Auto and Easy modes the Cyber-shot TX9 sets the exposure automatically, using multi-pattern exposure metering in combination with scene recognition. There are nine recognized scene modes - Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight using a tripod, Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Close Focus, and Portrait. The camera generally does a quick and accurate job of identifying a scene and the appropriate scene icon is displayed in the top right corner of the screen.

In advanced scene recognition mode, the camera can take two shots with different settings in Twilight or Backlight modes. For example in Twilight mode the first shot is made with the flash in slow synchro mode and a subsequent one with increased ISO sensitivity. This is a clever extension of the scene recognition idea that improves your chances of getting the desired shot in situations where artificial intelligence does the bulk of the work, but you get to make the final call. If you prefer, you can manually select a scene preset from the choice including High Sensitivity, Soft Snap, Landscape, Gourmet, Pet, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Underwater and High Speed Shutter.

In Program mode the default multi-pattern metering is employed, which takes readings from all regions of the frame. You can also select centre-weighted and spot metering for situations where they would provide a more accurate exposure (backlit subjects for example). Although there are no manual exposure controls outside of exposure compensation, you can manually set the ISO sensitivity in Program mode.

The TX9 adds some interesting new exposure options to the range previously available in the TX7. The first is another clever extension of the sensor's fast continuous shooting capabilities to provide a better result using a composite of several images than would be possible with a single shot. Superior Auto Adjustment mode, like Anti Motion Blur and Hand-held Twilight, combines a series of six exposures to produce a 'superior' result with, according to the manual, less subject blur and noise.

If you own a 3D TV you'll be particularly interested in the Cyber-shot TX9's new 3D shooting modes and if you don't, well, the TX9 still has a 3D mode that might interest you. 3D Sweep Panorama mode works in the same way as the TX7's 2D iSweep panorama mode – as you pan the camera a series of exposures is made which are then automatically stitched to produce a wide-angle panoramic shot. The difference is that, viewed on a 3D TV, the scene is rendered in glorious 3D – on the camera and other devices you'll just see a 2D image. Sweep Multi angle produces a 3D effect which can be viewed on the TX9's screen by tilting the camera horizontally left and right. It's a little underwhelming but, with the right subject the parallax-style effect really does provide an added dimension to the images.

 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9: Panorama sample (click for original version)
 




Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 Movie Mode

An increasing number of high-end compacts are offering full HD video recording and the TX9 is no exception, in fact the video modes are exactly the same as those of it's predecessor, the TX7. You can choose to encode video in one of two formats – AVCHD or MP4. AVCHD offers 1080i resolution at two quality settings, 17Mbps (1920 x 1080) and 9Mbps (1440 x 1080 stretched to 16:9 during playback). Both AVCHD options deliver interlaced video at 50Hz for PAL regions or 60Hz for NTSC regions.

Switching to MP4 mode records progressive video at 25fps in PAL regions or 30fps in NTSC regions, with the choice of 1080p (again at 1440x1080, stretched to 16:9 during playback), 720p (1280x720) and VGA (640 x 480). Our test videos here were shot in the best quality 1080p 17Mbps AVCHD mode. Registered members of Vimeo can download the original files for evaluation on their own computers. The TX9 has stereo audio mics and, as we mentioned earlier, you can use the near-silent optical zoom during video shooting without fear of motor noise ruining your sound; Class 4 SD cards or higher are recommended.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 sample video 1: outdoors, sunny conditions, handheld panning with zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

The Cyber-Shot TX9's zoom is very quiet in operation and holds the focus pretty well as you can see in this hand-held shot.

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 sample video 2: outdoors, sunny conditions, tripod panning with zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

In this tripod-mounted panning shot, the Cyber-shot TX9 does a great job of maintaining good exposure in difficult conditions. Though there's a little bit of flare, the CMOS sensor copes well with the into-sun pan.

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld panning
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

And in this indoor low light example, the Cyber-shot TX9 also does well, with good exposure and white balance control.


Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9 Continuous shooting and sensor

The Cyber-shot TX9's Exmor-R CMOS sensor provides very impressive fast continuous shooting options which Sony has made ingenious use of to provide better low-light performance as well as straightforward high speed burst shooting at up to 10 frames per second.

The Burst settings menu provides three speeds; Lo (2fps) Mid (5fps, and Hi (10fps), at each of which a sequence of up to ten frames is shot when the shutter is held down . We tested all three speeds and each was right on the button, matching the specified frame rate exactly. Such impressive burst shooting capabilities are a rarity on compacts and the TX9's delivers exactly what it promises, the only downside being the short wait involved while the camera writes the images to the card. The sequence below was shot using Hi mode to shoot 10 frames in one second.

       
                 
       

That the Cyber-shot TX9 sticks with the Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor of its predecessor, the Cyber-shot TX7 comes as no surprise. With the new model though, Sony has packed in an additional 2 million photosites providing a maximum image resolution of 12.2 Megapixels. Full size images measure 4000 x 3000 pixels and are JPEG-compressed to an average file size of around 4.5MB. The sensitivity ranges from 125 to 3200 ISO at the full resolution and the shutter speed ranges from 2 seconds (1 second in Program mode) to 1/1600th of a second. The camera has 32MB of internal memory.

To see how the quality of the Cyber-shot TX9 measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.

 

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