HandlingIf we were lazy, we'd send you straight over to the equivalent section of our test of the Sony TX7 as nothing at all in the camera's design has changed. It still has the same excellent metal design and excellent-quality finish, the same large touchscreen with a good definition (920,000 dots) and wide viewing angles etc.
There are no major changes to the camera interface. Sony does a very good job of making touchscreen cameras with, for example, nice list-style menus that you can flick through with your finger, just like in certain touchscreen mobiles. This means you don't have to use scroll buttons. However, the screen could still be improved to bring it in line with the kind of quality, user-friendly control seen in smartphones. First of all, the screen doesn't track the movement of your finger entirely smoothly or entirely accurately, and second, it doesn't feature multitouch control (which could be useful to zoom in on a photo in playback mode).
Two new 3D shooting modes have, however, made an appearance: a Sweep Panorama mode and a Sweep Multi-Angle Mode. Both modes work by the user moving the camera around in the direction of an on-screen arrow. This allows the camera can capture a series of images that it then sticks together.
In 3D Sweep Panorama mode, two images for the right and left viewpoints are created to make a stereoscopic image, saved in an MPO file. To view it back, you'll need a 3D TV or monitor that's compatible with stereoscopic images.
Sweep Multi-Angle Mode takes a series of shots at high speed from various angles (also saved in an MPO file) that are stitched together to create a 3D effect. Here too, to get the best out of your shots they're best viewed back on a 3D TV, although it doesn't have to be stereoscopic. You can even preview the 3D images on the camera's LCD or on a regular TV by tilting the camera from left to right. This displays the various pictures taken from different angles in quick succession, giving an impression of depth. Take a look at it in the video below.
The TX9 has two different Auto modes: Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto. As well as the regular automatic scene selection function, the Superior mode allows you to take several photos of the same scene and then reconstitute them into one shot, which can be handy for keeping detail in shots of highly contrasted scenes. However, we think that having two separate Auto modes can be confusing for some users.
ResponsivenessHere, there are some changes in store. The TX9 autofocus hasn't changed much, and remains within the current market standards. In practice, you won't feel like you're waiting around for it to do its stuff, but we've definitely seen other cameras do better. On the other hand, saving photos is half a second faster; an improvement that's noticeable and which pushes photo saving time under two seconds.
Picture QualitySony is claiming that picture quality is exactly the same in the TX9 as in the TX7, in spite of the increase in the sensor's resolution (and the consequently reduced size of the photodiodes). It's true that at commonly used sensitivity settings, it's difficult to tell pictures taken by the two cameras apart. At 1600 ISO, the picture looks a little grainier in the TX9 but smoothing also looks a little less prominent. In any case, the cameras certainly give very similar results.
The lens holds no surprises either, as it has already been used in the TX5 and TX7. Picture quality is good in the centre of shots, but sharpness is lost towards the edges, particularly in wide-angle mode. On the whole, it does its job very well for 8" x 10" photos, and most users rarely print pictures larger than that.
VideoAs with the previous model, the TX9 has the excellent video mode found in all the latest Sony compacts. The TX9 films AVCHD in 1080i and at 50 half-frames per second, or MP4 in 1080p at 25 frames per second. The results are excellent, in spite of visible noise in low light and an image width limited to 1440 pixels. The zoom can be used while filming and sound is recorded in stereo. Plus, the sound is pretty accurate for a digital camera.
The only real downside is that the distortion correction that's automatically applied to photos (see left) isn't available in video mode, leading to heavy barrel distortion at 25 mm (see right).