Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX20 £309
17th Aug 2012 | 14:18
A tough camera doesn't have to be ugly
Sony's latest 'tough' compact camera, the TX20, boasts a pretty comprehensive feature-set, with a 16.2MP 1/2.3-inch Exmor CMOS sensor, Carl Zeiss 4x optical zoom lens, a 921,000-dot, 3-inch touchscreen LCD screen and Full HD movie recording.
On top of these features, photographers investing in the new Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX20 get the added benefit of being able to submerge the camera underwater (to a depth of up to 5m), drop it from a height of up to 1.5m and keep using it in temperatures as low as -10C (14F).
While these specifications may not quite match up to the top-notch tough credentials of the Olympus TG-1, for instance, the water/shock/dust/freeze-proof design of the Sony TX20 should provide more than adequate protection against the rigours of everyday life – with the added bonus of being presented in a stylish and compact body.
The Sony TX20 replaces the older Sony TX10, but there's little, if anything, to tempt owners of the previous model into upgrading.
But for those looking to invest in a rugged compact camera for the first time, the Sony TX20 - priced at £309 in the UK and $329.99 in the US - represents a keen contender in its field.
Build quality and handling
Far less chunky and cumbersome than your average rugged compact camera, the Sony TX20 is slim, stylish and perfectly pocketable. Just like its predecessor, the new camera sports a slender profile and neat sliding cover that conceals the lens, flash, stereo microphones and AF-assist lamp on the front of the camera when it's not in use.
Sliding the cover downwards reveals these hidden features and simultaneously powers the camera on, although you can also activate it using the power button on the top panel.
Outwardly, there's nothing to distinguish the Sony TX20 from the older TX10, save for the altered decals bearing the new model's name.
The controls – consisting of just the power button, plus a shutter release, zoom lever, playback and movie record buttons – remain in the same logical positions and are well-proportioned, making it easy to pick up the Sony TX20 and start shooting right away.
Around the back, the same 3-inch, 921,000-dot touchscreen from the TX10 remains in-situ. As before, the entirety of the widescreen-format LCD's surface area is only used when shooting movies. The rest of the time you're restricted to using the central portion of the screen, with black bars filled with interactive icons flanking it on either side.
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From here you can access and tweak most of the camera's key functions, including options such as the focus mode, flash control, burst mode and exposure mode, for instance.
The main menu icon in the top left-hand corner offers a quick route to the rest of the options on offer, with a stylish and clearly laid-out menu page materialising instantly.
The interface remains pleasingly simple, and the touchscreen is responsive enough to allay our fears brought on from past experiences with frustratingly nonreactive screens. However, the nature of the capacitive touchscreen means that its functionality is limited somewhat when operating the camera underwater.
But our main concern is that – in spite of Sony's assurances about the toughness of the Cyber-Shot TX20 – we can't help but feel that the build quality isn't quite up to the calibre of some rivals. The sliding cover remains a concern when it comes to the possibility of getting dust, grit and/or moisture trapped beneath it, increasing the chances of inadvertently scratching the lens or the area surrounding it.
Likewise, the plastic covers protecting the SD card/battery compartment and the connection ports – although they do sport rubber seals to guard against water and muck getting inside – don't offer the same reassurance provided by the double-locking mechanisms on some competitors.
Since the Sony TX20 incorporates the same 16.2MP BSI Exmor sensor and 4x optical zoom lens as its predecessor, there's little to report in terms of the newcomer's imaging abilities.
Where Sony does claim to have focused its attention is with regard to improving speed and performance. Without a Sony TX10 to race the camera against, it's difficult to say exactly how much of an improvement has been made in this area, but we can happily report that the Sony TX20's focusing proved to be both reliable and speedy under good lighting conditions.
Low light does slow down this camera's reflexes, but the built-in AF-assist lamp helps with finding a lock on dimly lit subjects at close quarters.
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More obvious changes are seen in the array of exposure modes that the Sony TX20 offers, with an improved panorama mode enabling you to shoot seamless shots encompassing a field of view of up to 360-degrees.
Some beginner-friendly creative Picture Effects – comprising HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Monochrome, Miniature, Toy Camera, Pop Color, Partial Color and Soft Hi-Key – offer a fast, fun way of spicing up your shots in-camera, with an additional array of automatic and Scene modes sitting alongside Program Auto, 3D and Background Defocus options.
With the most advanced mode on offer being Program, options for more advanced photographers are limited, reinforcing the Sony TX20's status as a go-anywhere, beginner-oriented compact camera.
But while it's quick to start up and simple to operate, the Sony TX20 doesn't fare quite so well when it comes to image quality.
The internal lens isn't all that fast in comparison to some rivals, and sharpness tended to be lacking in JPEGs taken straight out of the camera.
Noise is pretty well controlled throughout the camera's sensitivity range, but a rather overzealous noise reduction system robs images of a lot of detail the further you push up the ISO. As a result, to capture the highest level of detail possible, we'd recommend keeping it at ISO 400 or below wherever possible.
Full HD movies prove to be more detailed overall, but softness – particularly around the edges of the frame – is still prevalent.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX20, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 125 the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX20 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 125, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
Here, JPEG files from the Sony TX20 are very similar to those from the Canon D20 and Panasonic FT4, achieving a slightly higher signal to noise ratio at every sensitivity, but reacting in the same sort of way to changes in ISO settings. The Olympus TG-1's images show a higher signal to noise ratio than the Sony's at every ISO aside from ISO 800 and ISO 3200.
JPEG dynamic range
The picture here is different, and more diverse, with the Sony TX20's dynamic range results most closly resembling the Olympus TG-1 and Panasonic FT4's up to ISO 800, before they then move to almost match those of the Canon D20 at higher ISOs.
Colour reproduction in JPEGs taken straight out of the camera is spot-on, with vibrant yet faithful hues remaining true to life under most conditions.
While noise is fairly well suppressed at mid-high ISO sensitivities, the camera's noise reduction system can sadly also rob shots of fine detail when viewing shots at 100% or printing at larger sizes.
The Sony TX20 doesn't sport the closest focusing capabilities that we've seen, but still manages to do a pretty good job of capturing frame-filling close-ups and abstract shots.
The Sony Cyber-Shot TX20's Auto White Balance system performs pretty well under most lighting conditions, meaning there's often little need to adjust colours post-shoot.
In spite of some softness around the edges of the frame being a common feature, centre-sharpness in shots can be very good indeed.
The camera's AF system slows down in dim conditions, but the camera's image stabilisation feature helps to keep moderate levels of camera shake at bay, and colour reproduction remains very good.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 125 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Best rugged compact camera
In the style stakes, the Sony Cyber-Shot TX20 is streets ahead of the competition, marrying its ruggedness with a slim, aesthetically pleasing design that's certainly a lot less utilitarian looking than most of its tough rivals.
While some aspects of this camera's design lead us to question just how apt the Sony TX20 is to resisting dust and water ingress (we're thinking of the sliding front cover in particular here), overall the attention to detail in terms of the menu layout and ease of use are right on the money.
The touchscreen interface works well and the controls are beginner-friendly, with a decent array of exposure modes – plus some in-camera creative features – helping to broaden the Sony TX20's appeal further.
The Sony TX20's responsive, user-friendly touch screen interface works well and the camera's AF system proves to be both quick and reliable. The slim, stylish design and good range of exposure modes adds further to the camera's appeal.
The Sony TX20's lens isn't the best performer when it comes to sharpness and the overly aggressive noise-reduction system is of further detriment to the camera's ability to record fine detail at higher ISOs. At £329 it's a bit pricey compared to some competitors.
While it may not be a leading light in terms of the image quality it's capable of producing, as an everyday camera the Sony TX20 is a pretty good all-rounder, with the added bonus of being able to withstand more punishment than your average compact.