Whatever happens next, the TX7 is an excellent example of today's ultra-compact digital cameras, with a flat design, a gorgeous 3.5'' touchscreen with 920 000 pixels, a 4x wide-angle zoom and the latest 10 Megapixel Exmor R sensor.
The Sony TX7 is a sexy little camera, and its exceptional build quality and ultra-flat body both seduced us. However, when you actually pick it up, things are a little less impressive. The zoom wheel is too small and ended up proving hard to control. The screen takes up all of the back of the camera and it's hard not hard to rest your fingers on it while taking a photo. As a result, you end up with lots of greasy fingerprints on the display, and it's not uncommon to accidentally adjust a setting onscreen just by picking the camera up.
The screen itself is good quality, and has a resolution of 920 000 pixels. It's still useable even in bright sunlight, but looks overexposed but is still reasonably fluid in low light levels. It doesn't reproduce colours very accurately and the colours on screen aren't that striking. The TX7 only has very few direct controls: power, shutter release, the ridiculously smalls zoom and switches for video and playback mode. For everything else, you have to go via the graphical interface on the touchscreen.
It's easy to use and is responsive, apart from in certain circumstances (see inset), but doesn't support multitouch gestures which can be useful when zooming in, for instance. The menus are a little (too) traditional, with icons pointing the way to different settings, but we would have rather seen a more interactive interface, rather than one where the traditional physical buttons are mocked up on the screen.
It's easy to identify the object or area you point to focus on just by tapping the screen, and other useful modes include the scrolling panorama mode (move the camera while holding the shutter release down), HDR mode and the 10 photo per second burst mode.
The TX7 has the same proprietary connections as its predecessors, meaning you'll have to use the cables supplied with the camera. The good news, though is that it can use SD cards alongside Sony's traditional Memory Sticks.
The TX7 isn't the fastest point-and-shoot camera out there right now, and you need to allow a little under two seconds for it to switch on, and almost the same again between two photos.
The autofocus is pretty fast when going is going, but slips when light levels fall. Overall, this camera is pretty fast, but some of its competitors are faster, with the TX7 most likely suffering from having a relatively slow lens.
We weren't really surprised by the photos produced by the TX7, because we're already very familiar with its 10 Megapixel, 1/2.4'' Exmor R sensor, which is found in the WX1, TX1 or, more recently, the waterproof TX5.
It has the same strengths and weaknesses as all these other cameras. Outdoors, photos don't have much contrast and can seem a little dull and flat. The electronic noise handling can be too enthusiastic and fine details are sometimes lost. On the other hand, noise handling is quite effective, with grain almost invisible up to 400 ISO (blocks of colour are very even). You need to move up to higher sensitivities (800 and 1600 ISO) to really see grain take over, but it doesn't feature much colour and is quite attractive on prints up to A4 size.
Under natural light, the white balance is pretty decent, while under tungsten bulbs, photos look a little too orange, preserving the right atmosphere. The majority of manufacturers react in the same way. The sensor suffers from bloom and heavily contrasted subjects often ended up with heavy purple fringing. The 4x 25-100 mm lens isn't very fast (f/3.5-4.6), but is sharp in the centre. Things are a little more dicey around the outside, with the edges particularly blurry both in wide-angle and telephoto. For a 25 mm wide-angle lens, the distortion is not too pronounced, thanks no doubt to some on the fly correction.
Compare the Sony TX7 to other digital cameras in our Product Face-Off
There's nothing to add about the video mode: the TX7 quite simply has the best of what's available on a compact digital camera today. It boasts a 1080 HD video at 50 interlaced frames per second (AVCHD, .MTS) and a bitrate of 17 MB/s. Anybody with a camcorder will be jealous of its 25 mm wide angle, something that's almost unheard of in the world of amateur film-making. When light levels drop there's a little bit of clouding, but the results are amazing when you play them back on a HD TV, with great quality pictures and decent sound thanks to a quality stereo mic and a very quiet zoom lens. You can also fall back to a 1440 x 1080 pixel, 25 fps mode (MP4, 12 Mbit/s), which takes up less space and is a lot easier for smaller memory cards to handle.