The 12.2-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 is noteworthy for introducing Sony's '3D sweep panorama' functionality to the Cyber-shot range of compact cameras. Sony also claims that it offers dSLR-like image quality. You can expect to pay around £250 for the WX5.
One lens, three dimensions
The sweep-panorama feature allows the user to capture an elongated image by panning the camera in one continuous arc. The resulting image can be either 2D, as on previous Cyber-shot cameras, or three-dimensional, if shooting in the 3D mode. You'll need to view the results on a 3D TV or monitor, using 3D glasses, to notice the effect through. Unlike Fujifilm's 3D-capable FinePix Real 3D W3, the WX5's rear screen only displays images in 2D.
Although images taken using this feature occasionally suffer from jarring overlaps, particularly if subjects were moving through the frame as you panned the camera, the 3D effect is impressive on a big screen. The depth really draws you into the picture. This is all the more impressive given that the WX5 is a single-lens device, unlike the marginally more bulky FinePix Real 3D W3, which has twin lenses.
Another new feature introduced with the WX5 is 'sweep multi-angle'. This shoots a high-speed burst of 15 frames, presenting a final image with a 3D-like effect on the camera's LCD screen. You have to tip the camera from side to side to get the 3D effect. We found it unsatisfying, and were hard-pressed to distinguish a 3D from a 2D image. But you can, again, plug the WX5 into a 3D TV to view a true 3D image.
Even if you dismiss the WX5's 3D capabilities as a gimmick, there's no denying that the camera is impressively small and well-made. It measures 92 by 52 by 22mm, and weighs about 130g. The camera is attractive too, thanks to its brushed-metal face plate.
Pictures and videos are composed via the 2.8-inch LCD display, which is brighter and noticeably clearer than usual, thanks to its whopping, 460,800-pixel resolution. With an optically stabilised focal range equivalent to 24-120mm in 35mm terms, the lens can take in landscapes, as well as pull distant subjects closer.
The WX5 powers up in around 2 seconds. With a half press of the shutter-release button, focus and exposure is determined in a second. A full-resolution JPEG is written to memory -- either an SD or Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo card -- in around 2 to 3 seconds, which is average for the camera's class.
The WX5 packs in plenty of the latest technology, including autofocus tracking and 10-frames-per-second burst shooting, as well as high-definition movie-recording capability.
The WX5 shoots 1080i movies, rather than the 720p films more regularly captured by cameras in this price bracket. It offers stereo sound and its own one-touch video-record button. HDMI connectivity is provided via a port hidden under a plastic flap on the camera's side. We were pleased to discover that the 5x optical zoom can also be adjusted during recording, with any mechanical noise proving almost unnoticeable.
As well as featuring an Exmor R CMOS sensor, first introduced in Sony's digital SLR range, other goodies under the WX5's bonnet include a 'superior auto' mode that combines exposure information from a sequence of up to six images to produce one low-noise, high-dynamic-range shot. The differences between the results we achieved when shooting in the standard intelligent-auto mode and the superior-auto mode were quite negligible, however, even when shooting the same subject and comparing the two images side by side.
If anything, because detail is maintained in the highlights, as well as the shadows, in superior-auto mode, the overall image can look washed-out and lacking in contrast. Sony's claim that the WX5 offers dSLR-like picture quality is, therefore, rather rich.
If you really want images that approach dSLR quality, you'll have to actually get a dSLR or opt for a high-performance compact model, such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. If you treat the WX5 as the snapshot camera it really is, you'll probably be happy with its colourful snaps, however.
Sony claims the WX5's battery is good for about 230 shots on a single charge. That's unremarkable, but par for the course at the lower end of the market.
Shooting hi-def video and 3D stills, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 offers good value for anyone who wants the latest must-have features in a compact package. If it's the WX5's 3D capability you're interested in, though, we'd recommend also checking out the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3, which lets you view 3D images directly on its built-in screen. Having said that, though, the WX5 is about £100 cheaper than the W3.
In terms of ambition, build quality and the creative opportunities it affords, the WX5 knocks the spots off most snapshot rivals around the £200 mark. While occasionally gimmicky, we think the WX5 delivers decent value for money.
Edited by Charles Kloet