Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Group test: Waterproof Compact Cameras
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10
16.2MP | 25-100mm (4X) ZOOM | $329/£292
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 replaces the DSC-TX5 and inherits its weatherproofing along with the characteristic body design of the T-series, including the distinctive sliding lens cover. Compared to the TX5 though, the TX10 is more robust and significantly better specified. Like the HX9V, reviewed in our recent group test of travel zoom compact cameras, the TX10 features a 16mp back-illuminated CMOS sensor. Compared to conventional CMOS, back-illuminated CMOS sensors are designed to offer better low-light sensitivity whilst maintaining the high framerates required for video and fast continuous shooting.
In terms of video specification the TX10 cannot match the HX9V's 60p video mode, but 1080i movie recording still puts it at the top of the cameras in this group, joint in terms of specification with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3.
Apart from its compact, stylish body, perhaps the most interesting feature of the TX10 is its capacitive touchscreen. the TX10 has only four buttons, including the shutter and on/off switch, so its screen is the primary method of interaction with the camera's feature set. Typically, capacitive touch-sensitive screens are faster and more responsive than pressure-sensitive screens, but they don't work very well (if at all) in wet conditions. A curious choice, then, for a camera rated for use at up to 5m (16 ft) underwater.
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Design / Key Features
Waterproof compact cameras can look rather chunky and utilitarian, but like the Ricoh PX, the TX10's minimalist design and clean lines contrast with the rest of the competition.
The TX10's 3 inch, 921k-dot LCD display is gorgeous, especially so when recording or viewing movies or panoramas, when the full 16x9 screen space is put to use. But in regular still shooting, only the central 4:3 portion of the screen is used, leaving shooting info and menu options overlaid on black space at either side of the scene. As a result, despite the TX10 having the joint-largest LCD screen of any camera in this review, the actual size of the image on its screen usually ends up being frustratingly small.
In addition to all of the usual shooting and scene modes we've come to expect from modern digital compact cameras, the TX10 has a few standout features worth discussing. Sony's 'Sweep' panorama isn't new, but it is the easiest to use panorama function in this test, as it does not require the user to do anything other than move the camera. Like any panorama mode, it takes a little getting used to (if you pan too fast or slow, your panorama may display visible stitching errors), but the TX10's ability to identify faces in panoramas and keep them free of distortion is impressive.
Another interesting mode is 'Background Defocus', which is designed to do pretty much what it sounds like - to blur backgrounds. In this mode, the TX10 takes two photos, identifies the main subject and blurs everything else. In our experience in scenes with little depth of field, the camera will struggle, but in the types of situations where a DSLR would be handy to get narrow depth of field, this mode is surprisingly effective.
|The TX10 features two burst shooting modes, both taking up to 10 shots at either 10 fps or 2 fps. After taking photos at either burst setting, you can play back the resulting shot sequence in an animated fashion by tilting the camera back and forth. Watch the video to the left to see how this looks on the back of the camera.|
In common with several other cameras in this group, the TX10 also has a dedicated HDR mode that takes several photos in quick succession and combines them for optimal dynamic range. 'Superior Auto Mode' is similar, but blends six photographs together for both high dynamic range and decreased noise. The trade-off when using this mode over the regular Intelligent Auto is that the TX10 takes a few seconds to process the image after the burst. The TX10 also has the ability to shoot at 10 fps at full resolution in burst mode. This is a pretty impressive feat for this class of camera. When playing back a burst of images, a built-in accelerometer lets you scroll through the pictures in sequence by tilting the camera back and forth.
- 16.2 effective Megapixels
- 25-100mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
- 3.0 inch LCD with 921,000 dot resolution
- 1080i HD video and HDMI connection
- ISO sensitivity up to 3200
- Waterproof to 5m (16 ft)
- Freezeproof to -10 °C (14 °F)
- Shockproof to 1.5m (5ft)
- 10 FPS burst mode at full resolution (16 mp)
- 'Sweep' Panorama Mode
- 3D still and panorama images
- 17 Scene Modes
Performance and image quality
So, about that touchscreen. Before we ever took the TX10 underwater, we found ourselves struggling with the touchscreen at times. Whether using the supplied stylus or just fingertips, we couldn't get the screen to respond consistently - a matter not helped by the fact that some of the menus require using a very slim scrolling sidebar, which can be really tricky to engage effectively. We really enjoyed many of the TX10's many shooting modes and features, but since all of them must be selected via the touch screen, we opted for the standard Intelligent Auto mode (which automatically sets what the camera believes is the appropriate scene mode) more than we might otherwise have done. We were not surprised to find that when the TX10 is used in the rain, or underwater, its touch screen becomes virtually impossible to use. Sony's solution? Set the camera up before you get it wet.
On the positive side, the TX10 powers on quickly, and pictures can be taken almost immediately. The TX10's auto focus is also very quick, and there is barely any perceptible shutter lag, making the shooting experience feel very responsive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the TX10's video recording ability, which takes a full 6 seconds to begin recording after the record button is pressed, far and away the slowest in our test, and a real hindrance for spontaneous video 'grab' shots.
The TX10 sensor uses Sony's 'Exmor-R' processing engine, which in our experience with both the TX10 and the HX9V, produces images with great color and contrast, but employs a very aggressive noise reduction algorithm. With the TX10, there is definitely evidence of strong noise reduction at all ISO sensitivities with images even at ISO 100 exhibiting a slightly 'plastic' look when examined closely.
Compared to the competition though, there is a lot of high contrast detail visible throughout the frame at lower ISO sensitivities, especially in our studio scene comparison. Where the noise-reduction is problematic and most visible with the TX10 is in low contrast areas of a scene, like grass, foliage, or distant landscape details. By comparison, images from the Panasonic DMC-TS3 are a little noisier than those from the TX10, but exhibit less noise-reduction induced smearing, and as a result render scenes a bit more accurately upon closer inspection.
In bright daylight conditions, the TX10's metering and white balance work very well, producing rich and accurate colors, and exhibiting respectable dynamic range. In most indoor environments the TX10's metering and auto white balance continue to perform very well, only faltering occasionally when the flash is turned off. Overall, for most purposes, the TX10's files should work really well due to their saturated colors and sharpness. Head over to our samples gallery to see how the TX10 compares to the competition.
The Sony TX10 produces the best quality videos of the cameras in this group test, and better than most of the ultra-compact cameras available today. Although the Panasonic DMC-TS3 shares the same top-level video specification, there are several areas where the TX10 outperforms the TS3, namely at full zoom and in poor light. We recorded two videos of waterplanes taking off roughly 10 minutes apart, this one with the TX10, and this one with the TS3. The TX10 video is sharper. The TX10 also was able to expose this underwater scene with accurate colors and without significant noise, despite the fact that the available light was very low.
In the first sample below, the TX10 was only a few feet underwater and there was a good amount of sunlight illuminating the scene. We are very impressed with the colors and detail visible in the footage. The second clip showcases the TX10's sound recording ability, courtesy of its built-in stereo microphone. Audio reproduction is impressively crisp and clear.
|1920 x 1080 30 fps, .MTS file, 24 sec. 63 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
|1920 x 1080 30 fps, .MTS file, 26 sec. 69 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
The Sony TX10 is the smallest, lightest, and sleekest camera in our test. It has an impressive feature set that includes an excellent high-resolution LCD screen and full 1080i HD video recording, all within a genuinely rugged body. We're a little baffled though by Sony's decision to incorporate a capacitive touch screen in the TX10, and to make it so integral to the camera's operation. In wet conditions, or when underwater, it simply doesn't work. Given that the TX10 is specifically designed for use in these conditions, a pressure-sensitive screen would have been a more logical (and arguably more sensible) choice.
Touch screen woes aside, the TX10's image quality is definitely above average compared to the competition, and photographs are sharp, well-saturated and vibrant. Its performance in our studio scenes is impressive, but edge sharpness isn't quite as high as we'd like and noise reduction can take the edge off fine detail towards the high end of its ISO sensitivity scale. If it had a more usable touchscreen, quicker movie recording, and better edge sharpness, the TX10 would easily sit at the top of this group of cameras. Even with its various flaws though it is an impressive camera, and one of the most fun to use (on dry land, at least).
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
'Go anywhere' shooting - the TX10 is equally at home at a cocktail party and white-water rafting.
Not so good for
Quick 'in-depth' operation. The menu system is frustratingly hard to navigate with a sometimes unresponsive touchscreen.
The Sony TX10 offers the widest feature set of all 'rugged' compact cameras released in 2011. It also boasts some of the best image quality and the best video quality in its class, performing especially well in low light situations. Unfortunately its rather clumsy touchscreen is required to control just about every aspect of the camera's operation.