Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 Review

September 7, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Image Quality

Sony’s 1/2.3-inch, 18.2-megapixel Exmor R sensor and Bionz X image processor proved themselves a very capable combo in last year’s WX350, and the same pairing gives the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 equally impressive image quality.

Consistently accurate exposure metering and vibrant colour reproduction makes for immediately appealing shots, and they’ll also stand up to close scrutiny thanks to the high level of detail that’s captured in good lighting conditions. If you really pixel peep then you’ll a little grain covering images taken even at low ISO sensitivities, but this is normal for a small 1/2.3-inch sensor. The alternative would be to implement more aggressive noise reduction processing, but this usually has the side effect of smearing detail. The WX500 manages to avoid this, preserving distant fine detail in landscape shots and avoiding the painterly appearance that can often plague images from small sensor compact cameras.

In low light, ISO 800 images have impressively low levels of grain noise and no colour speckling. There’s a slight increase in both at ISO 1600, but plenty of detail is retained and photos still present well when viewed at full size. ISO 3200 is the highest standard sensitivity setting, but here there’s a more marked downturn in image quality, with a significant increase in grain and detail softening, though colour speckling is well controlled. Select the Multi Frame NR ISO setting and the camera can go as high as ISO 12800, though the results aren’t pretty.

Raw capture is absent from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500, which seems a shame given the Panasonic TZ70 can shoot raw, but this is more beneficial on paper than in the real world. Cameras like DSLRs are equipped with large sensors that can capture significantly more dynamic range and colour data than JPEG compression can retain. However, the tiny sensors in cameras like the WX500 have extremely small light-gathering photosites that are much less able to exceed the limitations of JPEG compression, therefore reducing the benefit of shooting in raw. Raw capture can also be useful if a camera smooths away fine detail through overzealous noise reduction processing, but the WX500 doesn’t fall into this trap, so it’s unlikely that shooting raw and applying your own noise reduction would preserve more detail.

Optically the 24-720mm-equivalent zoom lens performs very well. Corner sharpness is high and chromatic aberration low. Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation works well in bright light, although you’ll need to have a steady hand indoors when shooting at long focal lengths.

Noise

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 has seven standard sensitivity settings available at full resolution in single-shot mode, ranging between ISO 80 and 3200. There’s also a Multi Frame NR feature which enables ISO 6400 and 12800 sensitivities by compiling multiple consecutive exposures into a single image with supposedly reduced noise levels.

ISO 80 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

iso80.jpg iso100.jpg
   

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

iso200.jpg iso400.jpg
   

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

iso800.jpg iso1600.jpg
   

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

iso3200.jpg iso6400.jpg
   

ISO 12800 (100% Crop)

 
iso12800.jpg  

Focal Range

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500’s 30x zoom lens achieves a focal range of 24-720mm when converted into a 35mm camera format. Here you can see just how big a zoom range that gives you, covering almost any shooting scenario. The lens is also capable of a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide-angle, which is unremarkable but fairly typical for a superzoom optic. It means the lens can’t open particularly wide to let light through to the sensor, hence the camera must compensate with longer shutter speeds and higher sensor sensitivities.

25mm

720mm

focal_range1.jpg focal_range2.jpg

File Quality

Two JPEG compression quality options are available to accompany all image sizes: Fine and Standard, with file sizes around 6.5MB and 4.5MB respectively.

Fine

Standard

quality_fine.jpg quality_standard.jpg

Macro

Sony quotes a minimum focus distance of 5cm for the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500, which is not particularly impressive. We however were able to focus down to around 3cm with the lens at maximum wide angle. This is still no match for the increasing number of compact cameras able to focus as close as 1cm, but given how tricky it is to avoid casting unsightly shadows when so close to a subject, a 3cm macro focus distance isn’t a deal-breaker.

Macro

Macro (100% Crop)

macro1.jpg macro1a.jpg

Flash

Four flash settings are available: Autoflash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync and Rear Sync. A separate menu option controls whether or not red-eye reduction is active. When disabled, our testing revealed a hint of red-eye, but red-eye reduction successfully eliminates this. The flash itself is reasonably powerful, but there is some vignetting visible at wide angle from a distance of 1.5m.

Suppressed Flash - Wide Angle (25mm)

Forced Flash - Wide Angle (25mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64
   

Suppressed Flash - Telephoto (720mm)

Forced Flash - Telephoto (720mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots.

Forced Flash

Forced Flash (100% Crop)
flash_on.jpg flash_on1.jpg
   

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)

flash_redeye.jpg flash_redeye1.jpg

Image Stabilisation

Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation system does a good job of ironing out any camera shake when shooting in good light. In darker conditions some slight blur can show up in some shots if you’re not being extra careful to hold the camera still. Like many other Sony compact cameras, the WX500 doesn’t let you disable image stabilisation, but you can adjust it between Intelligent Active, Active, and Standard modes.

Intelligent Active

Active
antishake1.jpg antishake2.jpg
   

Standard

 
antishake3.jpg  

Night

Night-time landscapes can be captured in three ways: Night Scene mode captured this scene with a 1/8th second shutter speed at ISO 2000. The default Superior Auto mode tries to be clever and shoots multiple frames to reduce image noise. However the exposure metering is way off and the result is far too bright. Finally, you can switch to shutter priority mode to record a long exposure. This option was used to shoot the last of our three night-time test images and the result is a 1-second exposure at ISO 200.

Night Scene Mode

Night Scene Mode (100% Crop)

night_scene_mode.jpg night_scene_mode1.jpg
   

Night Superior Auto

Night Superior Auto (100% Crop)

night_superior_auto.jpg night_superior_auto1.jpg
   

Night Long Exposure

Night Long Exposure (100% Crop)

night_long_exposure.jpg night_long_exposure1.jpg

Picture Effects

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 contains thirteen Picture Effects, some with additional sub options: Toy camera (normal, cool, warm, green, magenta), Pop color, Posterization (colour, mono), Retro photo, Soft high-key, Partial color (green, blue, yellow, red), High-contrast mono, Soft focus (low, mid, high), HDR painting (low, mid, high), Rich-tone mono, Miniature (top, middle horizontal, bottom, left, middle vertical, right), Watercolor, Illustration (low, mid, high).

Toy Camera

Pop Color

Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect01-Toy_Camera.jpg Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect02-Pop_Color.jpg
   

Posterization Mono

Retro

Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect04-Posterization-B_W.jpg Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect05-Retro_Photo.jpg
   

Soft High Key

Partial Color Green

Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect06-Soft_High-key.jpg Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect08-Partial_Color-Green.jpg
   

High Contrast Monochrome

Soft Focus

Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect11-High_Contrast_Mono.jpg Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect12-Soft_Focus.jpg
   

HDR Painting

Rich Tone Mono

Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect13-HDR_Painting.jpg Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect14-Rich-tone_Mono.jpg
   

Miniature

Watercolor

Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect15-Miniature.jpg Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect16-Watercolor.jpg
   

Illustration

 
Sony_Cyber-shot_WX500-Picture_Effect17-Illustration.jpg  

iSweep Panorama

Sony’s iSweep Panorama mode gives horizontal and vertical panning options. Three horizontal widths are available: Standard (roughly 120 degrees), Wide (180 degrees) and a full 360-degree pan. There’s no ability to simply stop panning at will though. Whichever width you choose, the result is a seamless panorama with a consistent exposure, albeit considerably downsized to 1080 vertical pixels. To be fair to Sony, most competing compact cameras with sweep panorama modes have similar limitations. If you’re after something more spectacular, you’d be better off manually snapping adjacent overlapping images and stitching them on a computer with additional software.

Standard

panorama1.jpg
 
Wide
panorama2.jpg