When it comes to point-and-shoot compacts for taking on holidays and nights out, many people want a decently specified camera that's both easy on the wallet and pocket-friendly. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7, sibling to the DSC-TX5, is just such a camera. Like the TX5, the TX7 offers slender proportions and a metal body, with a sliding face-plate mechanism that covers the lens when not in use. It's available now for around £280.
Sliding open the face plate powers up the camera in just over a second, and sliding it shut turns the camera off. There's also a dedicated power button, should you wish to review photos or video without exposing the lens. The camera weighs a portable 133g, and is only marginally larger than a business card, at 98 by 60 by 18mm. It's available in blue, silver and pink.
The TX7 offers a 1/2.4-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor (Sony's flagship chip), and a 10.2-megapixel resolution. It can capture 1080p AVCHD video at 50 frames per second and still photos at 10fps. It also offers Sony's intelligent 'sweep panorama' function, which produces an extra-wide image if the user sweeps the camera in an arc.
Sweep panorama is a fun feature that's supposed to detect any movement in the shot and stitch around it to avoid unsightly joins. In practice, the joins aren't always seamless, but it's still a useful feature.
The camera's response times are near instantaneous. Navigating the touchscreen interface is as fluid an experience as you could wish for.
Minimalist looks, maximum impact
An internally folded 4x optical zoom mechanism ensures that the lens never protrudes from the body. Unfortunately, its positioning at the top right-hand corner of the face plate means it's all too easy for your fingertips to creep into the frame. Since the camera's smooth, shiny surface and lack of anything approaching a grip can make it difficult to hold rock-steady, the optical image stabilisation is welcome.
A large, 89mm (3.5-inch) touchscreen swallows up the entirety of the TX7's rear, so there are very few physical buttons. There's the main shutter-release button, another for playback, one for alternating between photo and video modes, a power control, and a lever for operating the zoom. The positioning of the zoom lever means it conveniently falls under the forefinger. The action of the zoom is smooth, steady and near silent, and, fortunately, it can be used for recording video as well as stills. It's quite slow, though, taking a leisurely 4 seconds to drift through the breadth of the camera's focal range.
Back in black
Sony suggests its 'TruBlack' screen technology minimises reflections and boosts contrast for richer detail, even when outdoors in bright sunlight. We used the camera almost exclusively in sunny conditions and never felt the need to cup our hands around the screen to see detail.
You'll still find yourself constantly wiping it clean of fingerprints, though. Sony does provide a plastic stylus that can be attached to a wrist strap, but, if you're like us, you'll find a simple finger prod a faster method of getting to your chosen destination. Also, while the wide screen is a boon for reviewing video, in 4:3 stills-capture mode, black bands appear to the left and right of the image. These disappear once you've hit the video-record button.
The touchscreen controls are clearly labelled and easily navigated, so, for once, this feature doesn't feel like a triumph of form over function. Everything is pretty much where you'd expect to find it, so you don't have to waste time hunting around.
The inclusion of the camcorder-like red button on the screen is a pleasing touch. It allows you to hit 'record' and begin filming right away if an opportunity suddenly presents itself. It must be said, though, that older PCs and Macs will struggle with playing the AVCHD video files, if they'll be able to access them at all.
There are seven different photo-capture modes. An 'intelligent auto' mode will prove mostly reliable for those who just want to point and shoot, and a program auto setting is also available for those who want to get more hands-on.
As well as the sweep-panorama mode, there's an anti-motion-blur setting, a useful 'handheld twilight' mode, and an equally handy and reliable 'backlight correction HDR' mode for shooting against the sun while maintaining both shadow detail and highlights. Finally, there's a scene-selection mode that grants access to 12 pre-optimised settings for photographing pets, fireworks, underwater scenes and even the food on your plate. In terms of low-light performance, light-sensitivity settings stretch from ISO 80 to ISO 3,200, matching what we now expect at this level and price point.
Our main gripe with the TX7 is that its pictures can look rather washed-out and flat. Its battery life is also unimpressive, lasting just 130 shots for us. As operation is reliant on the touchscreen, and its large size frequently tempts you to review detail in captured images, the battery can be drained quickly.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7's asking price feels fair given its build quality, general level of sophistication and usability. But, in many respects, the very similar Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR still feels like the better deal.
Edited by Charles Kloet