It might look dainty, but the super-slim Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 is as hard as nails. You can drop it from 1.5m, freeze it, and dunk it in up to 3m of water, and it'll keep coming back for more. It boasts Sony's latest hi-tech features too, including 'intelligent sweep panorama', 10-frames-per-second shooting and 720p high-definition movies. For around £280, that doesn't sound at all bad.
The TX5 lets you have your cake and eat it. Despite its ruggedised construction, it's just as slim, dainty and elegant as any other Sony ultra-compact camera. It comes in five different colours (silver, black, red, pink and green), and has a supremely fuss-free exterior, with nothing on the front except brushed steel, and nothing on the back except a big, 75mm (3-inch) LCD touchscreen.
To start the TX5 up, you slide down the lens panel on the front. It's slightly tricky, but, then again, it doesn't exactly matter if you drop the camera. This powers up the rear LCD and its touchscreen interface.
Camera touchscreens don't always work particularly well, but Sony's judged this one to perfection. The sensitivity is just right, and a tiny chime provides audio feedback to confirm your actions. The interface takes some getting used to, though, and it's less than obvious how to use the mode setting in particular. Once you've got it figured out, though, everything becomes much more straightforward.
That's when you start to appreciate this camera's rather special qualities. There's the autofocus speed, for a start, which, as usual with Cyber-shot compacts, is exceptionally fast. The 10fps continuous-shooting mode is quite a revelation, too, since most compacts struggle to surpass 1fps at full resolution. The only drawback is that the camera takes several seconds to empty the buffer after a high-speed burst, and you can't take any more shots until it's finished.
The 'sweep panorama' mode is rather good too, especially now that it's 'intelligent'. It can now stitch frames together seamlessly even if there are people moving in the frame. It doesn't save panoramas at full resolution, but they're big enough, at 4,910x1,080 pixels, and the joins are remarkably good given that everything's done in-camera in just a few seconds.
Both the sweep panorama and the 10fps shooting modes are down to the 10.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor. It's good to see that Sony's going for quality rather than quantity, concentrating on processing speed rather than megapixels. This allows for a couple of other neat features. The 'twilight' and 'anti-blur' modes combine a series of shots taken in very rapid succession to counter subject movement and camera shake. For a compact camera, the TX5 performs exceptionally well in low light.
The 4x, super-wide-angle, 25-100mm zoom is super-practical, especially in tight spaces, and both the zoom and the autofocus remain active when you're shooting HD movies.
Paucity of flaws
Is there anything about this camera that isn't good? There's not much, frankly. Its design makes it a rather slippery little customer, especially in the cold and wet conditions that it's been designed to survive. The 'backlight HDR' mode, which combines two separate exposures, looks slightly wishy-washy too.
There's also a sudden drop in quality between ISO 800 and ISO 1,600, unless you use the twilight mode. The TX5 is such a good camera in every other respect, though, that these niggles don't really matter very much.
Looks can be deceptive. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 comes across as little more than a fashion accessory, but it turns out to be tough, versatile and really rather clever. The compact-camera market is overcrowded with stale, me-too clones, so it's really refreshing when a manufacturer comes up with something different and impressive, like the TX5.
Edited by Charles Kloet