These days, it seems like a camera's zoom is becoming the number one selling point for manufacturers. After standard, slightly bulky compacts saw their zoom power seriously boosted, more stylish, more compact, more mid-range models are now starting to head upwards of 10x. The Sony WX100 is the latest such model, with a 25-250 mm zoom lens packed into a sleek 22 mm thick casing.
HandlingSome new cameras are newer than others, and the Sony WX100 is one of those same but different kind of models.
From the outside, the WX100 looks and feels almost exactly like the WX7. In fact, from the back, it's practically a straight copy, with an identical set of buttons, the same rounded-off edges, the same feel under your fingers and the same black frame around the screen.
Obviously, though, the cameras aren't 100% identical, after all, the symbols and labels have been switched from grey to white. Plus, the strange crevice on the left-hand side of the WX7 screen has been removed in this model. These, however, are minor details, and while some may appreciate Sony's efforts to standardise its compacts (coherence in a range is always important), our criticism of the buttons and control wheel in the WX7 can be carried over to this model, as no improvements have been made on that front.
Worse still—the WX100 screen has taken a turn for the worse compared with the WX7. While the tech specs haven't budged, the LCD is now based on a different type of underlying technology and—you guessed it—it's a TN screen panel! The onscreen image therefore looks like a darkened negative when you view the display from below, which means you won't be able to line up shots easily with the camera above eye level (for shooting over a crowd of people, for example). What's more, it automatically limits this camera to a three star review (see our review criteria). On top of that, an excessive contrast washes out light greys to white, dark greys have a blue overtone and colours aren't reproduced with any kind of accuracy—even when you're looking at the screen straight on!
It's a bit of a shame that Sony chose to use this sub-standard display, as the camera's interface is otherwise clear and pleasant, with a handy shortcut straight to the Panorama mode.
ResponsivenessThis really is the strong point of the WX100. The autofocus is fast and reliable in all situations and the camera can snap photo after photo with barely a second's wait between them. Like in other Sony X-series compacts, the continuous shooting mode can capture 10 frames in a second.
With many current compacts takings over two seconds to get going, by far the most impressive thing about this snapper is its start-up time, as pressing the On button to shooting a first photo takes just a second and a half. That's certainly above average, and it's much faster than most superzoom compacts. In fact, the WX100 starts up in nearly half the time it takes the super-stylish Canon Ixus 500 HS to switch on.
Picture QualityThe WX100 uses the same 18-Megapixel sensor as seen in the new HX10V. The lens, however, hasn't been seen before—it has an identical focal range to Sony's HX7V lens but it's not the same.
The ISO test results don't hold any surprises. Like the HX10V, images retain more texture and look less heavily processed than with Sony's 2011 cameras. Even up to 800 ISO, picture quality is still very good. At 1600 ISO smoothing is more visible, however, and the effect is less subtle than in the HX10V—perhaps the slightly less sharp lens (see below) affects the internal software's ability to make out textures and details.
The lens certainly isn't bad, and the WX100 is easily on par with recent classic compacts. In fact, its lens is even slightly better than the HX7V lens, which we didn't really think got the best out of the camera's 16 Megapixels.
At wide angle settings, the image isn't quite as sharp as in the HX10V, but quality is still very consistent across the frame, and 8" x 10" prints look impeccable. At telephoto settings, sharpness drops slightly in the middle of the frame but holds up well around the edges. Here too, though, it's nothing too serious and it won't be a problem on standard-sized prints. Only users who do a lot of cropping or make large-sized prints will really notice any difference in quality compared with higher-end Sony superzooms.
VideoOut of the box, the WX100 films 1440 x 1080 interlaced video. You can also switch to 1920 x 1080 resolution, but it's still an interlaced format. For progressive scan video you'll need to look to Sony's high-end cameras like the HX200V. The image is sharp, smooth and pleasant to watch. Plus, light, bright parts of the picture aren't overexposed.
Sound is good too ... so long as there's not too much of it! Low levels of sound are recorded accurately, but as soon as there's more than one noise going on and the volume starts to rise, the mics saturate and voices sound confused and hard to identify.