Sony Cyber-shot TX200V

After ranking a distant third or fourth to camera-making rivals Nikon and Canon, Sony has recently surged in popularity thanks to increasingly powerful point-and-shoot and DSLR models—sensor and software improvements have done wonders for the company’s reputation. Now Sony has debuted the Cyber-shot TX200V ($500), a premium waterproof camera that features an iPhone-like all-glass face, reducing its thickness and eliminating the need for lens protection. The pitch: 16-foot submersibility, full dust resistance, 18.2-Megapixel shots at 10 frames per second, 1080/60p video, and a 5X optical zoom lens. If you’ve been wondering how pocket cameras could survive in the iPhone 4S era, the TX200V offers a pretty clear answer.

Though it’s not obvious from pictures, Sony’s ever-improving software is the real star of the show here. Look past the 3” rear screen and the sharp Carl Zeiss lens, which are common enough on Sony cameras these days, and consider what the TX200V does with its processor and backlit Exmor R CMOS sensor. In addition to tricks such as automatic background defocusing using two overlaid shots, intelligent smile detection, and a wickedly fast panoramic stitching mode that assembles ultra-wide images in near realtime, the TX200V has iPhone-like GPS and compass features, as well as automated modes that make pointing and shooting easier than ever. One hiccup: you’ll need to use Memory Stick Micro, microSD or microSDHC memory cards, small but fringe formats. This is a modest price to pay for an otherwise impressive new camera, planned for release in March.

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