Good low-light shooting without help from a flash is a rarely attained goal in the world of compact cameras. The 10.2-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 accomplishes it with three of the company's own components: a new sensor design, a high-end lens, and a fast image processor. But, although the DSC-WX1 is capable of delivering fast performance and some very good photos, those expecting extraordinary results equal to its features will probably be let down. It's available for around £280.
Tiny and light
One of the most remarkable things about the DSC-WX1 is the amount of technology Sony has crammed into such a tiny, lightweight body. Due to its back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor and a fast Sony G f2.4 wideangle lens, the camera has most of the same capabilities as the considerably larger Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. Both the sensor and the G lens are of the quality found in Sony's digital SLR and prosumer camcorder lines.
Sony has managed to get almost all of the controls onto the back of the camera without making it feel cramped and confusing, while also allowing for a secure one-handed grip that doesn't result in accidental button presses or mode-dial changes. There are just three buttons on top: the usual power and shutter-release buttons, and one at the far right for turning on high-speed shooting. Oddly, the power button sits far away from the shutter release, just left of the camera's centre. This makes it easy to accidentally turn the camera off.
A single 'menu' button gives you access to shooting controls, as well as a selection for seeing all settings. Also good is the camera's ability to warn you about adjusting certain settings. For example, if you set the DSC-WX1 to spot meter light, you won't be able to turn on face detection. The DSC-WX1 tells you on the screen that face detection is unavailable because of spot metering being selected. Cameras from other vendors generally make you guess what needs to be shut off in order to turn on a blacked-out option.
Besides a few specialty modes, Sony has kept the shooting options reasonably basic on the DSC-WX1. Although you won't find full control over aperture or shutter speed, there's something on the mode dial for just about every point-and-shoot user.
Going around the dial, there's a movie mode capable of recording 720p video with use of the optical zoom (you'll hear the motor moving, however); program auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus and metering; Sony's 'intelligent auto'; an easy mode that takes away all but a couple of basic shooting options; and 'SCN', which lets you select from 11 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings.