Sony Cyber-shot TX7 Review

by on March 22, 2010

in Sony

The Sony Cyber-shot TX7 is an ultra-compact point and shoot camera that is packed full of powerful features.  To find out if the stellar feature list and spec sheet makes for a worthwhile camera, check out the review below.

Sony TX7 Key Features

  • 10.2MP Exmor R CMOS Sensor
  • 3.5″ Touchscreen LCD
  • 4x Optical Zoom
  • 1080i Full HD Video in AVCHD Format
  • ISO 125-3200
  • Optical SteadyShot
  • iSweep Panorama Mode
  • 10 fps Burst Mode

Sony TX7 Handling, Ergonomics and Control

The Sony TX7 is small.  It’s definitely a pocket camera.  And, it’s not the kind of pocket camera that fits tight in your pocket and makes it awkward to walk around.  It’s a “which pocket did I put my camera in?” kind of small.

There’s a sliding panel that covers the lens when not in use.  The panel also covers the AF illuminator, which aids with focusing in low light, along with the built-in flash and stereo microphones.  And, when you slide the panel down, the TX7 powers on automatically.

Buttons for the TX7 are few.  You get an On/Off button, shutter release, zoom rocker, a quick preview button and a button for switching quickly between photos and video.

The main interface with camera settings is through the rear 3.5″ LCD panel.  The 921,000 dot resolution screen is very pretty.  Better yet, the touchscreen interface is awesome.  Some touchscreens have hiccups and poor response; however, Sony nails it with the TX7 for a totally seamless interface.

In the below video you can get a little idea of how well the touchscreen interface works and how you navigate around some of the shooting modes in the Sony TX7.

Let me note that I misspoke regarding the High ISO mode.  The TX7′s max ISO setting is ISO 3200, which is available in all shooting modes.  What the High ISO mode appears to do is give you a higher ISO setting in favor of a faster shutter speed.

One thing that annoys me about the TX7′s design is how dust and lint accumulates around the edges of the front panel.  If you carry the camera in a pocket, every time you open the front cover, you’ll be wiping away a line of dust from the top edge of the camera.  That said, this quirk never interfered with shooting.

Other than the minor dust issue, I don’t really have any bad marks for the TX7′s design.  It even comes with a wrist strap attached, which saved it from more than one drop by yours truly.

Shooting With the Sony TX7

Just last month, I talked about how much I enjoyed shooting with the Canon S90.  Well, it didn’t stay on the top of my list for too long, because I like shooting with the Sony TX7 even more.

While the touchscreen interface is great and all, the image quality and available shooting modes make the TX7 a phenomenal carry-around camera.  I wore out the Backlight Correction HDR mode while gathering shots of all the cameras and other photo gear at PMA earlier this month.  Other modes like the Handheld Twilight and iSweep Panorama make the TX7 a blast to carry.

The close up macro focusing on the TX7 lets you put the camera practically up against your subject to snap a shot.

With the powerful low-light capabilities in the TX7, I found myself using flash a lot less than other point and shoot cameras. However, when necessary the TX7′s flash performance was admirable.  Sony has been doing a great job with balancing the flash output and ambient light on their point and shoot cameras that I’ve used over the past couple of release cycles.  The TX7 continues this trend with a pretty smart use of its flash.

While the camera can do a lot for you in Intelligent Auto mode, you would be doing yourself an injustice not to explore other modes of the camera.  For run of the mill shooting, I kept the camera in P mode; however, once you go low light, the Anti-Motion Blur or Hand-held Twilight can really help you out.  By blending multiple exposures together, these modes help you get shots that most other point and shoot cameras would miss.

Check out the below example of Hand-held Twilight.  The top image was shot in P mode, while the bottom image was captured with Hand-held Twilight mode.

It wouldn’t be a Sony point and shoot review here without commenting on the iSweep Panorama mode.  This is for everyone that’s ever wanted to take a bunch of photos and stitch them together in Photoshop, but never will.  It’s just plain fun, and it’s so easy to use.  Just hold the camera up, press the shutter and pan it from one side to the other.

Click here for full size version of panoramic shot.

Another great feature is the touch-to-focus ability on the LCD.  If you’ve framed up the scene the way you want it, you can touch the person or part in your scene that you want in focus and the TX7 takes care of it.  And, no matter where your chosen focus point is at, the auto focus speed is almost instantaneous, which is followed up by a very quick shutter response to capture the moment you intended to capture.

I also think the video from the TX7 looks great.  I actually found myself using the TX7′s video capture more than my Flip video camera – and I’m very fond of my Flip camera.  The TX7 will capture 1080i HD video in AVCHD format and will also capture 1080, 720 and 480 resolutions in MP4 format.

While the AVCHD video is stunning and there’s a clear difference from the MP4 format, I generally found myself using the MP4 format due to the hassle of working with AVCHD.  Sony’s included software isn’t quite user-friendly (and that’s putting it nicely) for working with AVCHD and iMovie doesn’t support this format natively.  As a result, I’m afraid that many TX7 owners will also sacrifice the quality of the AVCHD format for the convenience of using the familiar, well-supported MP4 video capture.

Speaking of the Sony software . . . if the TX7 has any major faults, it’s the poor software and documentation in the box.  I have to dock Sony a several kudos for not including a user manual in the box.  While there is a quick-start manual, it doesn’t come close to providing answers that more curious enthusiasts will ask.  The full manual is included on a CD in the box, which must be installed.  And, since I couldn’t get the program to install the manual on my Vista computer, I had to dig through the file tree on the CD to find the PDF version of the manual.  One of the main points for having a manual is to be able to refer to it while you are shooting and learning your camera; however, you can’t put a PDF in your camera bag.

Even if you manage to get the manual on your computer, the software documentation for working with photos, and particularly videos, is very poor.  The help menus in the programs themselves are not much more helpful either.  While it’s likely that you will get by without needing additional editing software for the JPEG image files given the widespread availability of image editing programs that are either included with your operating system or available for free download, the poor video file handling is a rather embarrassing point for the TX7.

I’m not even going to try to explain the voodoo that I worked on the Sony PMB software program to get the AVCHD file exported to YouTube, and I’m not sure I could repeat the process anyway.  That said, I’ve embedded a short video shot with the TX7 in AVCHD format.  Obviously, there has been some file conversion performed at the point of export and upload.

Sony TX7 Image Quality

As noted above, I was very pleased with the images produced by the Sony TX7.  Sony does a good job with its in-camera processing, which makes for sharp and low-noise images throughout the ISO range.

Obviously, the 10MP sensor is a lower resolution than many other point and shoot cameras touting 14MP sensors these days.  Rather than criticize this point though, I applaud it.  The Exmor R CMOS technology that Sony is throwing into its upper-end point and shoot cameras lately is stellar.  This very sensitive image sensor allows for solid performance throughout the ISO range.  While you will encounter a lot of noise at the upper-end of the ISO range, the TX7 packs quite a punch for a compact point and shoot.

I’ve made several images available for download via the links below. Feel free to download these images for personal inspection by right-clicking and choosing “Save link as…”

ISO 125

Full-res ISO 125 Image

ISO 200

Full-res ISO 200 Image

ISO 400

Full-res ISO 400 Image

ISO 800

Full-res ISO 800 Image

ISO 1600

Full-res ISO 1600 Image

ISO 3200

Full-res ISO 3200 Image

So, at these low resolutions, I think that it’s safe to assume family album shots are going to work at 4×6 sizes no matter what the ISO is set at on the camera.

Finally, I’ve included a couple of images that show the power of the Backlight Correction HDR mode.  The normal exposure is on the left and the Backlight Correction HDR exposure is on the right.

Note the differences in the trees and grass in particular, as well as the shadowy area under and behind the chair.  There is also more detail in the clouds in the top right corner in the HDR version.

Sony TX7 Accessories

Sony NP-BN1 Battery – The Sony TX7 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.

Memory cards – I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the Sony TX7, which worked well so long as you aren’t shooting AVCHD video.  If you’re shooting AVCHD with the TX7, you’ll need to step up to at least a Class 6 card in order to handle the data rate transfer.  SanDisk Extreme III and Lexar Professional 133x cards are both Class 6 SDHC cards. The TX7 is compatible with all SD and SDHC cards – but not SDXC cards.

Note that the TX7 will also accept Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick format cards; however, I find these to be more expensive for the same quality of product as you get out of SD cards. As a result, I personally stick with SD cards due to the price and universal compatibility.

Sony TX7 Conclusions

As I said earlier, the Sony TX7 has become my new favorite point and shoot camera, pushing the S90 off its throne.  I feel like I can take the TX7 on any casual outing and trust it to perform as well as just about any other point and shoot.  And, while it won’t replace my DSLRs, I’m happy to have a pocketable compact alternative when the occasion fits.

The intuitive and effective touchscreen interface is almost magical on the TX7.  The powerful and creative shooting modes provide a versatility not commonly found in such a small camera.  Sony has put all the pieces together in the right place to make the TX7 an outstanding compact camera.

Aside from my quibbles about the included software and documentation, the TX7 easily earns a highly recommended mark.

The Sony TX7 is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Sony TX7 at B&H Photo

By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.

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{ 11 comments }

1 Michael April 24, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I’m not sure I understand what you mean about iMovie not supporting AVCHD format. it says that it does indeed import movies shot with this format on their website. You said “Natively” so do I assume that it encodes it to another format?

2 Parth May 18, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Also, you said the TX7 does not support SDXC cards. Indeed it does:
http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10151&catalogId=10551&langId=-1&productId=8198552921666073335#specifications
Click on the Specifications tab

General
* Recording Media : 5MB internal Flash Memory, optional Memory Stick Duo™ Media, optional Memory Stick PRO Duo™ Media, optional Memory Stick PRO Duo™ (High Speed), optional Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo™, optional SD/SDHC/***SDXC*** media [13]

3 Eric Reagan May 18, 2010 at 9:18 pm

@Parth – Thanks for pointing out the discrepancy.

The SDXC support was not documented in the TX7 manual, nor in Sony’s press release for the camera. Both sources specifically reference SD and SDHC cards only.

I’ll get in touch with Sony and see what they have to say about the conflicting documentation.

4 Pedro June 7, 2010 at 10:26 pm

This camera also shoots video in MP4 format and iMovie supports MP4 format.
but its doesnt shoot MP4 at 1080 full HD only in 720 HD

5 Steve August 1, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Hi, thanks for an informative review. I will be purchasing this camera. Just 2 things. Can you confirm for me that it’s only 720 in MP4? Because if so, one would be inclined to use the more difficult AVCHD to get 1080, no?

And also, just for ur feedback….since I love the pocket-size and portablilty of the TX7 I was wondering….do u use a case with the camera? In my mind, that would lose some of the “freedom” and spontaneity, but at the same time I don’t want to completely ruin my investment!

6 Eric Reagan August 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm

@Steve – The TX7 will record at 1080 in MP4. It uses a 1440 x 1080 recording format. I asked Sony to clarify how this works and here’s the response that I got:

“When playing back on TV, the camera creates 1920×1080 images from 1440×1080 by duplicating missing pixels horizontally. Sony would term this Full HD 1080, however it is possible to call it 1080p because we support the movie recording MP4 1440×1080 progressive. In addition to this, we have 1440×1080 interlace (AVCHD).”

Hope this helps.

7 Judy P August 21, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Steve,
The best case I’ve found for this camera is the innovative Sony LCJ-THD. This great case attaches via the tripod screw on the bottom of the camera, but once on, stays on during shooting. It’s actually rather hard to describe, but it rolls down and out of the way while remaining attached to the camera. Shot taken, it rolls right back up and fastens at the top of the camera with a strong magnetic strip, which securely keeps the case closed. The case can be flipped open in a second, and closed just as quickly which makes it much more likely that I will consistently protect the camera with a case. Detractors have said that the tripod attachment is awkward because you must remove the case to swap out batteries or memory cards. I do both frequently, and have never considered it difficult or time-consuming (and no damage to the tripod mount, either!). I got the camera when it first came out in early February, and it is my favorite of the Sony Cybershot line so far (to date I’ve had the Cybershot U, T1, T9, T100, and T700, and now TX7). When I left my T700 on a flight to London, I was almost as distressed to lose the forerunner case to the LCJ-THD (which I had bought in Paris) as the camera itself. So glad to find this one for the TX7! Hope this helps – check it out.

8 Judy P August 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Love the panorama and the supermacro – one of my favorite of the Cybershot options. I’ve taken many terrific shots folks can’t believe came from this tiny package (including stunning panoramas of the tulip fields in Holland this April). My only issue with the camera is that I typically always download my pics and videos by taking the card out of the camera and inserting it into my laptop. This has worked great with all previous Cybershots – and all other digital cameras I’ve used, actually. However, with the TX7 this does not download the videos, just the photos. Very strange. Didn’t realize it the first few times. Any suggestions – short of hooking it to the laptop via the Sony docking station – what a hassle! Any suggestions or explanations greatly appreciated. The documentation on this point was nonexistent.

9 ramy August 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm

wat’s the max size of memory card i can insert in this camera? and does it differ with the type weather it’s SD or Pro Duo???

10 Angie August 28, 2010 at 11:39 am

I purchased this camera in June and overall, have been extremely happy with it. However, i’m surprised no one’s mentioned that the 4x zoom is a little lacking, especially in comparison with the other features the camera has to offer. I primarily use the camera for snapshots of friends & family, but many of these occur at concert and similar events – unless I manage to get down front in the pit, forget any decent shots of the band with this camera. Fabulous crowd shots with the panoramic mode, great shots of the light show with the twilight mode, but I wish I had had a little heads up on how lacking the zoom really would be..

11 miha December 29, 2010 at 9:42 am

I have this camera for a month now and I am very happy with it.
It is quick, simple, reliable and gives really outstanding performance in low light in this compact range of cameras. I can’t stop thinking about TX5, because it is same thing but water, dust and shock proof.
Really bad side about Sony in general with this camera:
Simple USB cable for transferring pictures to PC is not provided. Taking out memory card frequently is IMO not good idea and it is not practical if you must use big stand for AV/PC connection that comes with this camera. In mine area only available USB cable was 1.8m long and it was not only USB but AV cable to. So it is about same size as the delivered stand so idea of having practical, small and simple cable only for PC connection is hard to materialize in mine case where we actually have big and strong Sony centers.
Other big issue is that camera can’t take power from USB ports, requires special power supply. This is so irritating. It is really not a big deal to spend 50EUR on extra power unit but what about practicality of having so many accessories for this small great camera?
Huge downside I can’t find car battery charger through local Sony center and in manual it is stated to avoid power transforms 12/24VDC to 220/110AC because they can damage Sony equipment.
I am thinking how hard it was to make camera capable of charging battery and/or to supply extra charger that can work on all standard power sources, AC, USB, 12V CAR power. If I am not wrong whole idea of this camera is to point and shoot, to have it with you where ever you go and then I have huge problem to recharge the battery when I am traveling.
Beside these complaints to Sony I am very happy with this camera.

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