Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
What We Like
- Decent photo quality for its class
- Stylish, ultra-thin metal body
- Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, and dustproof
- Large and sharp 3.3-inch touchscreen OLED display
- Fast autofocus in all lighting
- HDR feature improves contrast, can be used without a tripod
- Nice iSweep Panorama feature (save for high resolution mode)
- Useful in-camera help guide
- Records 1080/60i video with stereo sound, ability to take 13M stills at same time
What We Don't Like
- Fine details are smudged and mottled at low ISOs
- Touchscreen does not work underwater
- Display is difficult to see outdoors
- Lacks the GPS of similarly priced competitors
- Lens easy to block with fingers
- Large screen leaves no room for your thumb; its also a magnet for scratches
- Very weak flash
- Poor battery life
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 is a nice departure from the chunky, industrial designs of its peers. It has an ultra-slim metal body, which you can easily slide into the smallest of pockets. Its touchscreen OLED display is one of the best in this class - at least indoors. The TX30 also has a host of useful features that work very well. Unfortunately, it also has some serious flaws.
Design and Handling
The DSC-TX30 inherits the design from previous T-series models. It's thin, metal, and has a sliding lens cover that you'll either love or hate. The TX30 has one of the longer zoom lenses in its class, covering a range of 26-130mm. As with most of its peers, the lens is fairly 'slow', with a maximum aperture range of F3.5-4.8. You need to watch where you place your fingers, as they can easily end up blocking the lens and ending up in your photos. A pair of LED lamps surrounding the lens can be used to illuminate your subject when taking extreme close-ups. To the left of the lens is one of the weakest flashes you'll find on a rugged camera, with a range of just 0.8 meters at wide-angle (at ISO 400).
It may not look like one, but the DSC-TX30 has specs comparable to its bulkier competitors. It's waterproof to 10 meters, shockproof from 1.5 meters, freezeproof to -10C, and dustproof. We didn't freeze it or drop it on the ground, but it handled a few dips in the ocean and swimming pool without a leak.
On the back of the camera is a large widescreen 3.3-inch OLED display. The screen has nearly 1.3 million dots (though you can only take advantage of all those pixels when viewing images at 16:9), with vibrant colors and a wide-viewing angle. Its touch-enabled, which allows you to tap the subject on which you wish to focus swipe through photos like on your smartphone. The 16:9 aspect ratio is very nice for recording movies, but when you're taking 4:3 stills (which is the default), you'll have margins on both sides of the image.
That's about where the good news about the TX30's display ends. It is quite difficult to see outdoors and underwater, though cranking the brightness to the highest setting makes it tolerable. Speaking of underwater, the capacitive touchscreen cannot be used when its wet, which means that this camera is not suited for snorkeling or diving. If Sony had a pressure-sensitive display or provided physical controls, this wouldn't have been an issue. The display is also a magnet for scratches. Our review unit got several noticeable scratches in regular use, and consumers have echoed that sentiment, as well.
If there's one area in which the Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 doesn't disappoint, its features. The camera has a pair of Auto modes, both of which will select a scene for you. The Superior Auto shooting mode goes a step further, and will automatically use the multi-shot HDR or Hand-held Twilight features when necessary. If you'd rather choose those manually, you'll find them in the Scene Mode menu. The HDR feature is especially nice, as it improves the overall contrast of an image, without the need for a tripod. As you'd expect, the TX30 also has numerous special effects to apply to your photos.
Sony was the originator of the 'Sweep Panorama' feature, and it continues to be the best one out there. It works very well, with no noticeable seams or 'duplicate people'. One issue we did run into is vertical banding, but only in the 'high resolution' mode.
A big omission on the DSC-TX30 is a GPS receiver. Essentially all of its similarly priced competitors have one, which lowers the TX30's value against its peers.
The TX30 has the ability to record video at 1080/60i for up to 29 minutes using the AVCHD codec. Sound is recorded in stereo, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content, and the optical image stabilizer will reduce extreme camera shake. Videos look very good, but since they're interlaced, you may see thin horizontal lines when viewing movies, especially on fast-moving subjects. There is plenty of software out there, such as Handbrake, to deinterlace your movies.
Performance and Photo Quality
The TX30 is a snappy performer in most respects. It starts up in about a second, and focuses very quickly in both good and not-so-good light. Shot-to-shot delays are minimal without the flash (about a second), and average with it (3-4 seconds). The TX30 can shoot up to ten photos in a row at either 2.1 or 10 fps. The one weak point is battery life, which is well below average for its class at 250 shots per charge.
Sony has been leading the megapixel war for a few years now, so it shouldn't be too surprising that the TX30 has an 18 megapixel sensor. All those pixels on a 1/2.3" sensor isn't going to lead to incredible image quality, and that's the case with the the TX30 - at least when viewed at 100%. If you're not doing that, then you'll find that the TX30 renders color well, exposes accurately, and doesn't clip highlights too often (and if it does, HDR will help). If you do look more closely, you'll find smudged details and mottling in areas of low contrast. It doesn't get a lot worse until you reach ISO 800, after which point things go downhill rapidly.
Just to reiterate what we've said throughout this series of reviews, you have to put the image quality results into context. The vast majority of rugged camera buyers won't be viewing photos at 100% on 30-inch monitors, nor will they be making 13x19-inch prints. They'll more likely be sharing photos with friends on Facebook or perhaps making small prints, which makes analyzing image quality at the pixel level somewhat irrelevant.
The ultra-thin Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 shows that you can be both stylish and rugged. The camera is responsive, has a beautiful screen (indoors, at least), and has a nice selection of features. Its main problems are mostly related to its display. It's very difficult to see outdoors, scratches easily, and the camera becomes nearly useless underwater, since the capacitive touchscreen does not function. In conclusion, the TX30 is a fine choice if you want a rugged camera that can occasionally get wet. If you're looking to take something into the pool or ocean, you'll want to consider another model.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
Those seeking an ultra-thin rugged camera with a fun feature set that can get a little wet.
Not so good for
Serious underwater photographers, those taking flash photos or shooting in bright outdoor light. People who want a built-in GPS.
The Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 is an ultra-thin rugged camera for those who don't want to worry about the camera getting a little wet. It's certainly not for divers, as the touchscreen display does not work underwater. The otherwise beautiful OLED display is also difficult to see outdoors. The flash is very weak, and battery life is poor. Photo quality is decent for its class, though details are smudged when viewed full size. Since it lacks the GPS of its peers, the TX30 isn't a great value, either.
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 Samples Gallery
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