When you want to take better photos than your smartphone is capable of, yet donꞌt want to lug around a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a compact camera could be just the ticket. And the 18-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 ($299) is the best choice in its class. Itꞌs easy to use, regardless of your skill level, and with its carry-anywhere compact size, youꞌll never miss a photo opportunity.
Sturdily built, the WX500 measures 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.4 inches and weighs 8.3 ounces — including battery and SD card. It fits effortlessly into pants pockets and purses for easy portability.
A small, textured thumb pad on the rear helps provide a solid grip when holding the camera. The control buttons and dials, although small, are within easy reach, and some can be customized to access frequently used functions.
As is common with compact cameras, thereꞌs no viewfinder, but the 3-inch LCD flips up 180 degrees for low- and high-angle shots and for composing selfies. The display is difficult to see in bright sunlight at its default settings but you can easily adjust the brightness manually to resolve the issue.
Outfitted with a 30x (24-720mm equivalent) Zeiss zoom lens, the WX500 can accommodate group shots of family and friends as well as a photo of the neighborhood hawk nesting in a backyard tree.
The WX500 is well suited for a wide range of experience levels and shooting conditions. An extensive mix of automatic and scene modes do all the work for you, and manual and semi-manual exposure options provide control over picture-taking for more experienced photographers. At the same time, built-in help affords users on-the-fly learning tools to grow their photography skills.
PlayMemories apps provide additional functionality using the cameraꞌs Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities and mobile devices. Apps include time-lapse, smart remote control, portrait lighting and more. Some are paid apps; others are free.
Overall, I was very pleased with the WX500. Itꞌs responsive, can shoot up to 10 frames per second and image quality is quite good, regardless of shooting mode. Exposures were generally accurate, even in challenging conditions such as this beach scene with bright, reflective water and skies.
f/7.1 1/320 sec, ISO 80 Credit: Theano Nikitas
Well-saturated colors and foliage, like those seen below, are the norm. Even in shade, the WX500ꞌs automatic white balance worked well to capture the bright greens and deep purples of this garden scene.
f/4.2 1/320 sec, ISO 800 Credit: Theano Nikitas
The lens isnꞌt particularly fast with an f/stop range of f/3.5-6.4, but its image stabilization works well enough so youꞌll be able to take blur-free shots at slower shutter speeds, such as this night scene, hand-held at 1/60 second. Its ISO range of 80-3200 allowed me to easily bump the ISO up to 800 in this image and still keep image noise well under control.
f/3.5 1/60 sec, ISO 800 Credit: Theano Nikitas
Creative options abound, too, both in-camera and via Sonyꞌs Play Memories apps for iPhone and Android devices. The former includes my personal favorite, the iSweep Panorama, which captures an entire panorama image in one fell swoop, as seen below.
f/3.5 1/1250 sec, ISO 80 Credit: Theano Nikitas
In-camera picture effects run the gamut from black and white (Rich Tone Mono is shown below) to HDR, partial color and more.
f/5.6 1/125 sec, ISO 250 Credit: Theano Nikitas
For video, you have the choice of three file formats (XAVC S HD, AVCHD and MP4), along with various frame rates of 24, 30 or 60 fps, depending on which format you selected. The camera can capture full HD (1920 x 1280), as well as 1280 x 720 HD.
I shot the video of a water garden in AVCHD at 60 fps and converted it to a MOV file for easier viewing. Although you can choose a scene mode for movie capture, all settings are basically automatic. But the footage is clean and crisp, with good (for a built-in microphone) stereo sound.
For a compact camera, the DSC-WX500 lasts a good long time. A fully charged battery can last for as many as 400 images (or 200 minutes).
For $300, you get a lot of bang for your buck with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500. And, its wide feature set and shooting options means that anyone in the family can use it — from snap shooters to savvy photographers. Running a close second is the Nikon S9900, which has a slight edge in autofocus accuracy and gives you more flexibility with its fully articulated LCD. However, itꞌs a hair bulkier, and the Sony WX500 outshines the Nikon when it comes to mobile connectivity and its PlayMemories apps. If you’re looking for a highly portable and versatile camera, the WX500 should be at the top of your list.