As everyone's well aware at this point, one of the key advantages point-and-shoots have over smartphones is their zoom lenses. Sony's out in front for 2013 with the 30x zoom Cyber-shot HX50V and the 20x zoom Cyber-shot WX300. Though both are small enough to fit in a pocket, the WX300 is compact and light enough to comfortably stick in a pants pocket or carry with you every day in a bag.
Also, because of how much Sony has pared down its Cyber-shot lineup, the HX50V is really targeted at those who want more control and features, while the WX300 is for those who want a better shooting experience than you get using a smartphone. At providing that, the WX300 definitely succeeds.
Its built-in Wi-Fi makes it possible to shoot and send to an Android or iOS device on the go, so if you do get a shot you want to share, you don't have to run back to a computer to do it. The wireless also allows you to remotely control the camera with a mobile device, making it an easy way to capture group or self-portraits. It can even be set to snap and save a low-res version to your device for fast sharing.
Those looking for significantly better image quality than a smartphone gives, though, might want to step up to the HX50V or forgo long zoom lenses for a higher-end enthusiast compact. While the WX300 turns out good results, there are some trade-offs that come with getting a 20x zoom lens into a camera so small.
In order to make a 25-500mm lens for a body this small, Sony took one of its 1/2.3-inch type 20-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensors and used only the center 18.2 megapixels of it, basically making an already small sensor even smaller. Pixel and sensor size are important to better image quality -- the larger, the better -- so having a small sensor that's packed with pixels isn't great.
That said, the WX300's photos are very good as long as you're not planning on doing a lot of enlarging or heavy cropping and don't really care about what your shots look like onscreen at 100 percent. Though photos appear soft even at its base sensitivity of ISO 80, detail is good up to ISO 800. Still, with the lens' slow f3.5 aperture at the wide end and f6.5 aperture when zoomed in, this camera is best used outdoors with good lighting. Noise and softness only get worse above ISO 800, but photos are good enough for sharing online at small sizes (well, maybe not ISO 3200) and certainly better than what you'll get from a smartphone.
The camera's ISO settings do include 6400 and 12800 settings, but they're reached by taking multiple shots and combining them. Unfortunately, the results are not good and I would avoid using these settings unless it's an emergency.
The WX300 also captures movies very well, on par with an entry-level video camera. The 60i frame rate and image stabilization make for some smooth movement, too. As with photos, it's good but not great in low light and really needs bright light to get the best results when you're using the zoom lens. If you'd like a single, small device for capturing good photos and videos, this is a decent choice. For the best results you'll want to record in AVCHD, but for Web sharing there is the option to record in MP4 format. The optical zoom does work while recording (though you will hear it moving in quiet scenes), and there is a fairly good stereo mic on top.
For the most part, the WX300 offers very good shooting performance. From off to first shot in our lab tests averaged 2.1 seconds with the lag between shots coming in at just 1 second. Turning on the flash in our tests seemed to always require some extra processing time, which gave us a shot-to-shot time with flash of 3.9 seconds. The time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing was only 0.2 second in bright conditions, so shooting felt near-instantaneous. It slowed down some in low light and with the lens extended, but was still good at 0.6 second.
The camera's burst shooting mode is capable of up to 10 frames per second. However, this burst shooting sets focus and exposure with the first shot, and once you've fired, you're stuck waiting for the camera to save the photos -- 8.6 seconds in our tests. There is no option to shoot continuously with autofocus.
Overall, it's a pretty fast camera, but it's not going to be perfect for shooting active kids and pets, especially in low light or when using the zoom lens indoors. Also, some of its modes require additional processing time, which can make performance feel slower.
Design and features
Prior to the WX300, the longest lens in the Cyber-shot W-series ultracompacts was the 10x 25-250mm on the WX150. To double the zoom range, Sony had to increase the body size of that model. It's only slightly larger, but enough so that Sony could put a shooting-mode dial on top and put more space between the buttons and control pad on back.