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Sony Brings New Low-Light Tech to Cyber-shot Pocket Cams

"After Midnight...We're gonna give an exhibition," promised Eric Clapton in his famous goodtime-party song. But if you bring your digital camera, you probably won't get any good pictures of shows that take place in backstage lairs, smokey clubs, or other dark, dusky hep-cat hangouts.

Until now, promises Sony, thanks to its new WX1 and TX1 Cyber-shot models with a new, 10.2-megapixel sensor that's billed to be twice as sensitive to light. The tech, called "back-illuminated CMOS" basically takes a bunch of wires that used to partially obscure the pixels and moves them to the back of the sensor. Sounds like a no-brainer, but Sony spent years figuring out how to do it.

The tech debuted earlier this year in Sony's camcorders, which these still models sort of are, too -- each captures 720p HD video at 30 frames per second. With this sensor tech, Sony promises that these shooters, with thumbnail-sized sensors, will grab shots up to ISO 3200 light sensitivity -- the dark-room performance associated with high-end SLRs sporting sensors several times larger.

Other Tricks

The traditional-looking WX1 and anorexic TX1 also bundle tech goodies that were first seen this spring in Sony's HX1 superzoom. Chief among them is the ability to shoot 10 frames per second (fps) -- using a mechanical shutter. (It's a technical subtlety, but the upshot is that shapes aren't distorted as when a camera just reads data off the sensor without covering it up between photos.)

The coolest trick with 10fps is "sweep panorama." Just push the shutter down and pan across a scene (covering up to a 256-degree arc with the WX1 or 185 degrees with the TX1). The camera automatically stitches all those photos into a panorama of up to 7152 by 1080 pixels. With high-speed capability, the camera can also combine multiple shots to extract even better detail on low-light photos or combine the steadiest portions of each photo to reduce blurring in the final image. (Both cameras also have optical image stabilization.)

Equipped with traditional controls and a 5X zoom lens, the WX1 is targeted at photo nerds. The style-conscious TX1, with a 4X zoom, is for socialites who want good party pics without thinking about it. For the iPhone generation, the TX1 uses a three-inch touchscreen LCD instead of traditional buttons. (Fashion bonus: Color choices are silver, gray, pink and blue.)

Robo Photo

If you really don't want to think, just plop either camera on the DS1 "Party Shot" dock. It randomly rotates and tilts up and down, using the cameras' face and smile detection technology to decide when to snap off a candid picture. This robo-photographer runs on its own batteries and sells for $150.

The DSC-WX1 will list for $350 when it debuts in October, and the TX1 will sell for $380 in September.

Sony WX1 and TX1

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