Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30

18.2MP | 26-130mm (5X) Zoom | $348/£302/€326
>> Click here to read full review

Where most rugged cameras seem like something you'd throw in the glove compartment of your 1-ton truck, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 has a thinner, more stylish appearance. It has an ultra-slim metal body that should be familiar to anyone who has seen a Sony T-series camera in the last few years (non-waterproof models are no longer manufactured), complete with a sliding lens cover and huge touchscreen display.

The TX30 has most of the traits of other high-end rugged cameras, with one big exception: it has no GPS.

Specification Highlights

  • 18.2 effective megapixel 'Exmor R' BSI-CMOS sensor
  • F3.5-4.8, 26-130mm equivalent 'Carl Zeiss' zoom lens (5X)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Waterproof to 10m, shockproof from 1.5m, freezeproof to -10C, dustproof
  • 3.3 inch widescreen touch-enabled OLED display with 1229K dots
  • Built-in LED lamp for close-up macro shooting
  • 1080/60i movie mode with stereo sound
  • Dual Record allows user to shoot video and take stills simultaneously

The two standout features here are the touchscreen display and Dual Recording feature. We'll dip into those a bit more later in the review.

The Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 has one of the longer zoom lenses in the rugged camera group, with a range of 26-130mm (5X).

As with most of its peers, the lens has a 'slow' maximum aperture range of F3.5-4.8. Those LED lamps around the lens can be used to illuminate a close-up subject.

The Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 has a design that's very similar to its T-series predecessors. That means that the body is extraordinarily thin (just 15.4mm / 0.6 in) and made entirely of metal. Because of its size and relatively light weight, the TX30 doesn't feel quite as rugged as its competitors, but we aren't about to drop it on the floor to find out how it will hold up.

The TX30 has the same sliding lens cover design from earlier T-series models that some people love, and others can't stand. This door doubles as a power switch, in addition to protecting the lens.

One big frustration we had in the real world with that sliding door is that water and sand tend to get caught under it. Since there's no way to actually get under that door, you cannot clean it. If you close the door, which you'll want to do eventually, the water and the sand gets transferred to the top part of the camera, around the lens and flash.

The TX30 is indeed very slim, but we didn't like how all the buttons felt the same. in addition, the zoom controller is small and awkward. One big problem with the TX30's huge touchscreen is that there's nowhere to put your thumb. That makes it very easy to accidentally press something on it.

The location of your thumb isn't the only thing to watch out for. The fingers on your left hand can easily end up in the photo if you try to support the camera, since the lens is placed on the edge of the camera body.

The TX30 has a large 3.3-inch OLED display on its backside, and absolutely zero buttons.

The screen is gorgeous when indoors - with vivid color, a wide viewing angle, and 1.23 million dots. This display is far from perfect though, as you'll find out below.

One thing that nobody will argue with is how sharp photos are on the TX30's widescreen OLED display. This screen has over 1.23 million dots, though you'll only get to take advantage of all that resolution when shooting or viewing photos at 16:9. Unfortunately, this OLED display - which is so appealing indoors - falls short when you head outdoors. In bright sunlight, visibility is very poor, and you'll need to max out the brightness in order to see anything. Results are similar underwater.

Sony's biggest mistake on the TX30 - as well as its predecessor - is making a 'tough' camera with a capacitive touchscreen display. While it works just fine above water, offering touch focus, menus, and the ability to 'swipe' through photos in playback mode. The problem is that becomes completely useless once you get it wet. Want to change a setting, such as the flash or white balance, while snorkeling? Sorry, you're out of luck. Even if the camera has a few drops of water on the display, it will be unresponsive or not act is intended. In other words, this camera is not for serious underwater use. If Sony put some physical buttons on the camera - or used a pressure-sensitive touchscreen, the story would be very different.

One final thing to mention about the OLED display on the TX30 is that it's a magnet for scratches. We were pretty gentle on our TX30 sample, and it had numerous scratches on the display - and we're not the only one to have this issue. Some of the lettering on the front of the camera also started to rub off after a few weeks of usage.

The TX30 has a very small flash, which has a range of 0.1 - 3.3 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 2.4 m at telephoto. That's at Auto ISO, which you may not want to use in low light.

Above the flash is the AF-assist lamp which, as its name implies, helps the camera focus in low light.

The DSC-TX30 has an extraordinarily weak flash. The maximum range listed above is at Auto ISO, which tops out at ISO 1600 - a sensitivity you probably want to avoid. If you drop the ISO down to a more reasonable 400, the flash range is just 0.8 m at wide-angle and 0.6 m at telephoto - not good at all.

As with all weatherproof cameras, there's a rubber gasket that keeps water and dust from getting inside the camera.

Just because a camera looks delicate, it doesn't mean that it can't take a beating. Sony says that the TX30 can spend up to an hour underwater at depths of up to 10 meters (33 feet). It can be dropped from 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) if a bout of clumsiness strikes. As you might expect, the TX30 is also dustproof.

Shooting Modes

The Cyber-shot TX30 is very much a point-and-shoot camera, with very little manual control. It has a pair of Auto modes, plenty of scene modes, and the requisite collection of 'Picture Effects'. The only manual controls are for exposure compensation and white balance. Unlike many of its competitors, there's no underwater white balance mode on the TX30.

All of the items in the 'margins' of the photo composition screen are shortcuts to camera options. The items on the left can be customized to your tastes. The main menu has large 'buttons' that cover the most important shooting items. There's a more conventional setup menu available by pressing the 'suitcase' icon at top-left.

The Intelligent Auto mode is nice, with automatic scene selection, but the Superior Auto mode goes a step further. It'll still pick a scene mode for you, but widens the selection to include three 'layered' modes: Hand-held Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, and Backlight Correction HDR. Each of these modes take several exposures in a row and then combines them into a single image, with the aim of improving contrast or reducing blur. You'll find a demo of the handy Backlight Correction HDR feature in our full review of the TX30.

Movies

The DSC-TX30 is able to record video at 1080/60i with stereo sound, for up to 29 minutes using the AVCHD codec. While the video is very smooth, you'll notice the problem with interlaced videos: rows of horizontal lines, especially on moving subjects. The good news is that you can "deinterlace" videos using software on your Mac or PC (we used Handbrake with pleasing results). If you want to save some space on your memory card, you can opt for a lower bit rate (17Mbps vs 24Mbps), or a smaller resolution (1440 x 1080).

If you'd rather using something other than AVCHD - which can be difficult to share without editing it first - the TX30 also offers the MPEG-4 codec. You won't be able to record Full HD video, with the highest resolution being 1440 x 1080 (at 30 fps).

The optical zoom can be used while you're recording, and the camera will keep things in focus as your subject moves around. The image stabilizer is also available, with a special 'Active' mode to reduce severe shake. A wind cut filter is available for shooting outdoors, though it wasn't a huge help, as you'll see in the sample on the next page.

Another neat trick the camera can perform is to take up to ten 13 megapixel stills while simultaneously recording video - even at the highest resolution.

The TX30 doesn't offer the ability to trim or split movies, which is a shame because that's always handy.