(Pocket-lint) - Updating last year’s WX5, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 is around £50 cheaper than its near numerical doppelganger in the current waterproofed DSC-TX10, though it’s unable to withstand the wet and the cold in the same way. Both cameras share a 16.2 megapixel effective resolution from a 1/2.3-type back illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor, pictures written to a choice of Memory Stick Pro Duo or SD, SDHC or SDXC media cards which share a slot at the base.
For us though, if you don’t need the destruction proofing, the WX10 has the edge for style - something the Cyber-shot range has long majored in. Feeling sturdy in the palm too thanks to a largely metal build, and marginally wider than the most svelte of compacts, the WX10 offers portable dimensions of 95 x 53.5 x 23.3mm plus a weight of 126g when housing card and battery.
It’s not merely a pretty fascia however. On the WX10 we also get SteadyShot image stabilised 7x optical zoom, so it almost strays into “travel zoom” territory, with a wideangle 24-168mm focal range in 35mm terms and bright F/2.4 maximum lens aperture. Happily the optical zoom can be deployed when shooting video too, but it’s far slower to move through the focal range than when framing up a still photo - no doubt to cut down on any distracting mechanical noise.
Said video here is Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels utilising AVCHD compression, though there’s a resolution drop to 1440 x 1080 if opting for the slightly more widely compatible MPEG4 capture instead. Stereo sound is provided courtesy of twin microphones sunk into the top plate while a dedicated camcorder style record button features on the Sony’s backplate. Indeed, while from the front the camera looks trés chic, at the back the accent is on beginner friendliness, courtesy of dime-sized eight option shooting mode wheel and multi directional control pad. The attendant display, menu and delete/camera manual buttons do however almost require a microscope to find.
HDMI output for hooking up to a flat panel TV is offered via a side flap, whilst AV and USB connectivity is via a joint unprotected port at the base. There’s barely any concession to a handgrip on the WX10, just a sloping edge to the side of the faceplate, the thumb coming to rest on a familiar shooting mode dial top right hand side of the backplate. Though we didn’t feel in danger of dropping it, our fingers did skate around a bit.
In any event, with a press of the top plate power button the DSC-WX10 readies itself for the first shot in around 2 seconds. The lens extends from flush to the body as the LCD screen blinks into life accompanied by an audio flourish. Pictures and video are composed via the 2.8-inch, 460,800-dot resolution LCD, presented in 4:3 aspect ratio; the display is therefore cropped top and bottom when recording 16:9 ratio video.
Background defocus and HDR (High Dynamic Range) modes among the scene options further raise the WX10’s status, though in truth this is still closer to flashy point and shoot for the occasional photographer than premium enthusiast model, such as the Panasonic Lumix LX5. Still, give the shutter release button a half press and focus and exposure are determined almost instantly, AF points highlighted in green, so that the taking of a shot is pretty much one continuous, fluid motion.
Going some way to suggesting that the DSC-WX10 is a notch above your average sub-£300 “style cam”, its manufacturer is underlining the fact by also making a pitch for DSLR-like speed this time around. Not only do we get up to 10 frames per second continuous shooting at maximum stills resolution, we’re also provided with a magnetic coil focusing mechanism - resulting in a back-and-forth as opposed to rotational motion - for, suggests Sony, a lightning fast response.
If you own a 3D TV, then the WX10’s more otherwise gimmicky features may well be of added interest. Its predecessor in the WX5 was one of Sony’s first compacts to introduce 3D shooting; specifically the 3D “Sweep Panorama” feature. So, unsurprisingly, the WX10 builds on the stereoscopic functionality by including not just the lenticular print-like “cheat” of the multi-angle mode, allowing the camera to be tilted left and right for a “3D-like” effect, but also a new 3D stills mode proper. This option takes two consecutive shots - one for each eye - and combines them. If you haven’t got the requisite TV, then 2D panoramas can still be captured by hitting the shutter release and “sweeping” with the camera in an arc as indicated by the on-screen arrow, the resultant elongated picture automatically stitched together in-camera.
Thus, with barely any skill required at all except perhaps a steady hand, some really quite effective results are achievable, largely avoiding tell-tale unsightly joins or overlaps unless you are deliberately shooting a fast moving crowd at rush hour (yes, we tried).
Apart from 3D and panorama functionality, the other six options on the shooting mode dial include the shot-enhancing Superior Auto, scene and subject recognising intelligent auto plus regular (and more expansive) Program auto option. Also blessed with dedicated settings are a manual shooting mode which allows aperture and shutter speed to be tweaked, video (in addition to that dedicated record button), plus separate scene modes. There are 15 of the latter in total, covering the usual range of daylight and night portrait and landscape options. It all adds up to a comprehensive feature set that will prevent those trading up from an inauspicious snapper - but who don’t want to go the whole hog and opt for an enthusiast compact - from getting bored.
With battery life good for 360 shots according to CIPA standards, the WX10 will also last you for that weekend break - incidentally, said battery being charged in-camera rather than via the aid of a separate adapter.
We were fairly impressed with the DSC-WX10’s image quality - again given that this is a merely a soup-ed up snapshot with a small lens and physically small sensor. Edge-to-edge sharpness is well maintained and even on default auto settings, colours are realistically vibrant. If on occasion we got slightly de-saturated results when opting for the Superior Auto setting as it attempted to preserve highlight and shadow detail, we found it easy enough to turn the shooting dial to intelligent auto, program auto or manual instead. And though results at the top ISO setting of ISO 3200 are a little smudged and a little noisy, we’d still be very happy stretching to this option if the shot required it. In the case of the WX10 we want results straight from the camera that require little or no adjustment, and for the most part that is exactly what it delivers.
Offering brains as well as beauty, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 falls between your auto everything snapshot and enthusiast-targeted premium compacts such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Canon PowerShot S95 et al. It offers a best of both worlds, providing reliable results when all you want to do is just point and shoot, with the added extra of limited manual control - and a whole host of gimmicky effects - when you do occasionally want to, if not exactly push, then possibly stretch the envelope.
The mostly metal build and sophisticated styling go some way to justifying a price tag heading towards (but just under) £300, but to be honest once you’ve used the camera for a bit these just become mere icing on an already appetising cake.
Product photos by Stuart Miles, for our original hands-on with the camera.