Friday, September 6, 2013

Camera Review: Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX80

(Disclaimer:  This post is going to be pretty long.  There will be a Frisco picture at the end as a reward for reading the whole post.  Sure, you can scroll past everything to get to it, but that's cheating.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I got a new camera for my birthday.  (Thanks, Mom and John!)  I had thought that my old camera was perfectly good until I tried taking pictures of my designs for the Bead&Button Show class submissions.

My friend Judy said that if I had a lightbox, then even a point-and-shoot camera like that one I had would work just fine.  So I researched DIY lightboxes and instantly found a great site:  How to Create an Inexpensive Photography Lightbox.  Lightboxes can cost a lot of money, but this guy said if you make it yourself you can get the same results.  I asked Steve to pick up some tissue paper and a posterboard on his way home from work, and he made me a great lightbox starting with a box we picked up at Sam's Club:

Lift the cardboard top up to get a little more diffused light:

Lift up the tissue paper flap (with a dowel at the edge for added strength!) for full overhead light:

I was so excited and set to work taking pictures using my two Ott (natural light) lamps.  I hated the result.  It looked gray and dark.  The next day we went to Home Depot to get higher-wattage daylight (5000K) light bulbs.  We got two types of the light bulbs - 800 lumens and 1600 lumens - so I could test which would be better.  We then went to Target and got two cheap desk lamps that really aren't rated for the bigger bulbs, but we figured that they'll be used for very short durations, and they'll never be unsupervised.

I spent an inordinate amount of time taking pictures of my Divine Vine bracelet: No light, Ott lights, small daylight bulbs, big daylight bulbs. Flash off or on.  Macro off or on.  Cover off or on.  Settings of Auto, Portrait, ISO, and Soft Snap.  I took over 100 pictures in a specific order, setting the timer each and every time (two button pushes each time - timer 10 seconds, timer 2 seconds) to make sure that I was getting a "clean" shot.  I renamed all of the files identifying all the settings before I even really looked at them.  By the time I was done, my eyes were blurry, and I was completely confused.

Then I looked at the pictures.  Every single one of them was crap.  The ones with the flash were too yellow, and the ones without the flash were too gray.  I did a much smaller set of experiments late at night with no background light (with only the desk lamps on), but those were bad, too.  I thought I was confused because there was a lot of background, so I cropped all of the pictures so I could cycle through and see just the bracelet.  That didn't help.  I separated flash-off pictures from flash-on pictures because I knew the flash-on pics were too yellow.  That also didn't help.

Here is one of the best pictures I took:

This was in a dark room with the big daylight bulbs.  Pretty gray, right?  Steve said, "Why don't you just fix it in Photoshop?"  Unfortunately for my husband, that was the wrong thing to say.  Yes, I could fix it in Photoshop, but from what Judy said and everything I read online (which was a lot), I should be getting nice, clean, white-background pictures using this setup.  For some reason it was/is very important for me to be able to take pictures and NOT have to fix them afterward.

Looking at the scene through the screen of the camera, I could see what happened - turning on the light made the scene very bright, then the camera compensated, darkening the whole thing like the light wasn't even there.  It was very frustrating.

At this point the submissions were due in just a few days (fortunately the Bead&Button Show headquarters - Kalmbach - is where Steve works, so he could take my samples in to work with him - that gave me extra time), and I needed the pictures NOW.  Steve's camera had features my camera didn't have of giving priority to aperture or time, and with those I was able to take pictures that wouldn't make me tear my hair out.

Here's one with the TV (time value) setting:

I think it's a little fuzzier than I would have liked, but it was much better than I was getting.  So I took the pictures I needed, finished the submissions, and sent everything off with Steve to be dropped off with a day to spare.  Whew!

Now you would think that I would have had a solution using Steve's camera, and that might have been the case if his camera wasn't as old as mine was (or even older).  It's bulkier, and it seemed to suck the life out of batteries after just a few shots.

Anyway, I wasn't really in the market to get a new camera because of the whole no-money thing, but I was flipping through the Best Buy flier the Sunday before my birthday and saw a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX80 which was $40 off.  My old one is a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W70, so I was immediately interested.  It had 16.2 mega pixels (old one = 7.2), 8x optical zoom (old one = 3x), HD movie (old one = regular movie), and even a setting for 3D pictures for viewing on a 3D TV.  Not applicable for us, but it's still really cool.  It has settings for facial recognition and smile detection, taking pictures of pets, on-camera picture retouching, and much more.  Oh, and it has Wi-Fi capabilities.

Wi-Fi capabilities!  I instantly fell into a daydream where I was working on a new design, taking process shots for my tutorials, pressing a button on the camera, and seconds later viewing the picture on my computer.  If the process shot looked good, I'd move on.  If it didn't, I'd take another picture and try again.  No more taking a bunch of pictures, hooking up the camera to the computer, clicking a bunch of things to finally get to see the pictures, then copying the good ones to the right folder.  It would cut my time in half (or more!).

Also, my old camera takes a pretty long time between pushing the button and taking the picture.  You have to hold the button until the picture takes, or it just doesn't take.  I have taken a bunch of pictures of the back of cats' heads because of this, and every time someone else uses my camera I have to explain this, or there will be no (or blurry) pictures.

Also also, my old camera has a memory card that needs an adapter to fit into memory card slots.  I always used the cord to hook the camera up because I never know where my adapter is.  Funny story:  I just now tested putting the memory card into the slots on my computer so I wouldn't give you erroneous information.  It pretty much fell in, and I had to tilt the laptop pretty far so it would fall out.  Oops!

So I mentioned to Mom and John about this cool, relatively-inexpensive-for-digital-cameras Sony Cyber-Shot, telling them of all the capabilities that the camera they bought me mumble-mumble years ago didn't have and how amazing it is how cameras have evolved.  They offered to buy me this camera for my birthday, much to my extreme delight.

Now we get to the review.  That was a long time coming, wasn't it?  Sorry about that, but long-time readers are used to this by now.  Must have background before reviewing anything that replaces my old way of doing things.

Here's my old camera:

And here is my new one:

It's the same width, a little shorter, and a little slimmer.  I chose the red because that's the one Best Buy offered online.  Besides, it's fun.  :)

The one thing I really like about it is that you push the button and it takes the picture.  Steve laughed at me when I said that, but it's true.  No longer do I have to wait, and if I get a picture of the back of a cat's head it's because I didn't get him to look at me first.  There is a little bit of a wait if you're using the flash, but it's not nearly as bad.

The picture size is adjustable in the camera, from VGA for social networking (remember that term?  I had to strain to remember it) to pretty large.  Using the Auto setting, my pictures seem to be around 4MB and with the old camera they're around 3MB.  The bigger the picture, the crisper it is, which is good.

The camera takes a standard size SD card which fits into my slot perfectly.  Wait.  That sounded bad.  It fits into my laptop's slot perfectly.  There, that's better.  The thing I wasn't thrilled with was that the camera did not come with a card.  Instead of using an old one, I got the type they recommended, the SanDisk Ultra SD card which will, according to SanDisk's website, "give your digital camera a performance boost with speeds twice as fast as ordinary memory cards, ensuring you'll never miss a moment."  I got a 16GB card for about $20 on sale, but they go up to 128GB.  The card I got will store over 2600 pictures using the largest picture size setting, so that will be more than adequate.  I'm pretty good about downloading and sorting pictures regularly, so I don't foresee a problem with running out of space, and if we ever go on vacation, I won't have to skimp on taking pictures.  If I take over 2600 pictures while on vacation then I'm doing more picture-taking and less enjoying.  If I do run low, I can always switch to VGA and get well almost 40,000 pictures.

(Speaking of memory card size, my first TWO computers didn't have a hard drive at all.  My third computer was a PC and had a 20MB hard drive, and I thought I was in heaven.  How times have changed.)

The camera does have internal memory, so in a pinch you can take a few pictures (8 with the largest picture size setting) without a memory card.  That's a nice feature.

The picture quality in general is really good, and I'm very happy with the zoom.  My old camera had a switch for macro (taking pictures of small items really close up - great for jewelry), but this one switches to macro automatically.  You put the camera close up to something, and it switches.  I think that's nice, but it will take some getting used to.  Not much, however, because I was always taking pictures with macro when I didn't need it and without macro when I did.

I'm still not completely sure I have the jewelry-in-a-lightbox thing figured out, though.  There are an awful lot of settings in the camera I haven't played with yet, so maybe there's something I'm missing.

Here's my Constellation bracelet (Divine Vine is at Kalmbach being juried for classes) using the Superior Auto mode (there's an Intelligent Auto, too):

It's still pretty gray, and the focus needs a little tweaking.  I know that's a setting in the camera I haven't fiddled with yet.

I decided to try the Snow setting, which is "Shoot whitish scene with high brightness":

That's somewhat better, and the focus is even better.  Just for contrast, here's the Snow setting with my old camera:

It's too yellow for my taste.

It will take some time getting used to which setting lets me do what - some settings don't allow you to force the flash with every picture, but some do.  With some of my process shots I like to have the flash for extra light.  I don't use a white background, and it doesn't matter as much if there's a little yellow.  It's more important for everything to be seen clearly.  I'll have to experiment to see if that will still work with this camera as it did with my old one.

I'm very happy with the Twilight setting.  I've tried it with my old camera (for non-jewelry pictures - yes, I do take some of those) but wasn't happy at all with the clarity.  They always seemed grainy, but using the flash sometimes is too bright and harsh.

Steve and I were at a family party last night and took the new camera.  We both posed with our goddaughter, Mackenzie.  I used the Twilight setting, and Steve used the flash:


They were taken less than 10 minutes apart.  I like the one with Steve (using Twilight) better.  It looks more natural to me.  I do wish Mackenzie wasn't looking away on the picture with me, because that would have been a really good picture.  I like my hair.  :)

Let's now get down to the nitty-gritty:  How does the camera work with the computer, corded and un-corded?  It's a little putzier than I would expect.

With the old camera, I plugged in using the cord I always have connected to the laptop, click through the Autoplay options, and get an Explorer window where I can manually get to the folder holding the pictures and do whatever I want with them.

With the new camera, there's a PlayMemories application that I downloaded to configure the Wi-Fi (more on that later), but it seems that it has to be open before I get my option to open the folder in Explorer.  I connect the camera using the cord, and the drives don't appear in Explorer before I open PlayMemories.  Then I get a barrage of questions from installing the WiFi to "do I want to import the pictures".  No, I do not want to import the pictures through the program thankyouverymuch.  I like to have control of where everything goes.  The questions don't always appear, but they do frequently enough to irritate me.

The cord goes into a spot on the side of the camera which has a little door.  The door is flimsy and doesn't really give enough room for the plug, which doesn't really feel "in there" when it's plugged in, if that makes sense.  It works, but it seems tenuous to me.

I can get around all this by putting the memory card into the slot, which is what I'm likely going to do most of the time.

The nice thing about plugging the camera into the computer is that the battery charges.  That didn't happen with my old camera, and if I wasn't a little careful, I would run out of battery.  They both take special batteries that last a long time, but you have to plug them into the charger into the wall (or into the computer with the cord on the new camera) or buy a replacement battery to have on hand.

What about my dreams of near-instant viewing my pictures on the computer using the Wi-Fi connection?  Harrumph.  That's what I have to say:  Harrumph.  I had problems installing the Wi-Fi software in the first place.  It's all a blur right now, but on the camera I had to install it at least three times, and I had to change my Firewall settings on the laptop to get it to work at all.  They do say that might be necessary, but it wasn't made clear until I went searching for it.  The user manual says very little ("follow the directions on the screen"), as does the in-camera user guide.  I was able to find out more information online, but not overmuch.

Once I finally got it installed and set up what folder I wanted the pictures to be sent to, I tested it.  It took a long time to connect to the network and to my computer, and many times I was given an error message that it couldn't find the access point.  I pointed to the laptop and told it, "It's right there, six inches away!" but it just glared at me in reply.

A few times it acted like it was going to send a picture, but before anything showed up in my folder there was a message, "Disconnected from network".  One time - ONCE! - it actually sent something over.  It wasn't the picture I wanted to send, but it was the first one in the card.  After the first one, it disconnected from network unexpectedly.  I tried it again, and that picture disappeared.

I don't know if it's a problem with the camera or a problem with our network.  Everything else Wi-Fi seems to work just fine, so I'm inclined to think I have a setting or something else wrong.  I'll keep working on it, but at this point I'm not impressed.

There's another Wi-Fi capability I had more success with:  Sending pictures to my iPhone and iPad and using the device to control the camera.  It was a bit difficult to get set up and figured out.  The camera said to install the PlayMemories Mobile app and follow the directions, so I did that and got quite a weird error message:

"Search the shooting device from the network setting of the terminal and set it."

Yeah, that's no help.  I clicked OK and...

You gotta be kidding me.  Clicking "Reconnect" gives the same error message.

Back to the web.  Turns out that the camera/device needs its own Wi-Fi, so you have to turn off your Wi-Fi in the device's Settings, turn on the camera and select the option to send the picture to phone, wait for the camera's Wi-Fi to show up in the device's Settings, choose it (entering the password shown on the camera the first time you do this), and go back to the PlayMemories Mobile app.  The camera will send the picture(s) that you chose (you can do more than one, thank goodness), then it automatically switches the Wi-Fi back to what you had before.  I don't know why it can't do the switch automatically to begin with.

The one cool thing is that once you have this connection (if you're not explicitly sending a picture) you can control the camera to a certain extent with the device.  You can take the picture and change a few settings.  I took a few "recursion" shots that I thought were cool:


That's me pointing the camera at the iPad, which you can see in the reflection.

I don't know really how useful this might be except for party tricks or trying to catch someone in the act of something, but you have to do a lot of set up ahead of time (even after you've installed everything) for it to work, and the camera would have to stay on which drains the battery.

Except for the Wi-Fi camera-to-computer thing, I'm really happy with the camera so far.  I know that a lot of time will be needed in experimentation to get the jewelry to look really good, but I'm confident that I'll have much better luck with this camera than my old one or Steve's old one.

Along with the camera we bought a $3 case which clips on to bags or belt loops or wherever:

It's hot pink so Steve will feel all manly with it clipped onto his belt loop like he did last night.  Oops.  I didn't think of that when I chose the color.

We also got a table-top tripod because our old tripod is so old that things break when you look at them, and if you bump what you've tucked into somewhere the camera goes whooshing down, and you have to set it up again.  The table-top tripod is really neat and can even be wrapped around poles:

All those little circles are moveable.

Okay.  I think that's about it (or more than you care to know) about the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX80 camera.

I believe I promised you a Frisco picture:

Iz joolry!


  1. I will have to try the tissue paper on my foam core photobox. I don't know what it is about cats and photoboxes lol.

    1. What a cutie! Thanks for sharing, and it's good to hear from you!

  2. I like your style of writing. You break it down nicely. Very informative post. Keep up the good work.

    Sony - VAIO Pro Ultrabook 11.6" Touch-Screen Laptop - 4GB Memory - 128GB Solid State Drive - Silver

  3. I just bought this camera today. Great post with a customer point of view, btw did you know what is the best configuration to shot at e.g. insects?

    1. Hi, Logan! Thanks for the compliment! Sorry for the delay in responding - I've been SO busy.

      I haven't tried taking picture of insects, but I do take a lot of pictures of jewelry, so I think the two are somewhat similar. If you're outside in the sunshine, I think you'll have better luck than I do. Start with the Superior Auto mode (the icon is an i, a camera, and a +) and see how that looks. It will automatically turn on the macro, which is what you'll need for the insect to be in focus. If that doesn't look good to you, you'll have to do some experimenting, unfortunately - with flash, without flash, different camera modes... Higher exposure settings might help if the pictures are too dark. One setting I tried today and got decent results with was the "Picture Effect" camera mode (the icon is a palette with paintbrush) with the "Pop Color" setting. It's supposed to "shoot in pop and colorful colors". I had to increase the exposure to +1, and the pictures look pretty close to real. I'm going to have to do more experimenting to see if that's the best setting.

      Good luck! If you find a good configuration, please pass it on!

  4. For anyone trying a similar lightbox set up, or when photographing objects against a white background, use your camera's (EV) exposure value compensation adjustment control to increase the brightness +1.5. Your pictures will no longer be gray looking.