The 18-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10V and its 16x ultrawide-angle lens is capable of some very good photos, but it's not without limitations.
The HX10V's 18-megapixel resolution shouldn't be used as a gauge of image quality. It's basically little more than marketing at this point (and that really can be said about most compact cameras). The same goes for ISO sensitivities. Pixel peepers expecting sharp fine details free of noise and artifacts when photos are viewed at full size onscreen won't find that here even at its lowest ISOs.
That said, at reduced sizes, photos do look very good even at higher ISO settings. If most of your shots end up on Facebook or get turned into photo books or 8.5x11 prints or smaller, you'll probably be more than satisfied with the HX10V's results. And as long as you're not going to make large prints with them, there is room to crop and enlarge before things look too painterly.
If you like to shoot close-ups, the HX10V can get as close as 1.9 inches from a subject. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo. At this size, things look good enough for Web use. Viewed at a larger size than this slide, though, and subjects look painterly. But really, if you need to enlarge this much and make prints, you should be buying a digital SLR.
Sony's cameras generally turn out bright and vivid colors, and that's the case here. However, if you're not thrilled with its color processing for a particular shot, Sony's added simple sliders for brightness, hue, and saturation, so you can tune them to your liking. What's better is that they're available in the auto modes, which is unusual but definitely welcomed. They're accessed by pressing down on the direction pad, and you can use the control wheel to adjust them.
Along with the sliders mentioned in the previous slide, there are a few Picture Effects available in auto modes, including Toy Camera (pictured) and Partial Color, which lets you pick a highlight color -- red, blue, yellow, or green -- and turns everything else monochrome.
If that's not enough, in Program and Manual modes you have more effect options. Not pictured are Pop Color, which makes colors, um, pop, and Miniature, which, you guessed it, makes things look like miniatures.
Sony's Clear Image Zoom uses the camera's processor to compare patterns found in adjacent pixels and create new pixels to match selected patterns, resulting in better digital zoom photos. It doubles the optical zoom range and the shots are usable at small sizes (top). However, viewed at 100 percent, it's basically a painting (bottom).
Sony keeps lens distortion under control. There's just the slightest sign of distortion at the wide end (top) and no sign of pincushioning when the lens is fully extended (bottom). Center sharpness is very good, however, there is some softness at the edges and in the corners.
There is a full manual option for control over aperture and shutter speed. It's limited to two aperture settings each at the wide and telephoto ends (using a neutral density filter); f3.3 and f8 for wide and f5.9 and f14 for telephoto. There are a few more sets of stops available through the zoom range, too. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/1,600 to 30 seconds. It would've been nice to have aperture- and shutter-priority modes as well, but some control is better than none at all.
For high-speed continuous shooting, the HX10V has a 10-shot burst setting that captures at up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. Focus and exposure are set with the first shot, however, and once it's done shooting you're left waiting for the images to save until you can shoot again.
To give a more "pro" look to photos, there's a Background Defocus mode that takes two shots, identifies the background, and blurs it while keeping the subject sharp and in focus. Recommended distance from the subject is about a foot (30cm according to what the camera says onscreen) and you can set the amount of blur to low, medium, or high; this sample photo was taken at medium. It works best when your subject is well in front of the background (and not moving; I just got lucky).
For scenery and still subjects, take advantage of the HX10V's Backlight Correction HDR mode that takes photos at different exposures and combines them for one photo for a more balanced exposure. The left photo was taken in Intelligent Auto, the right with the Backlight HDR mode. You can see more of the color and detail of the tree limbs and flowers instead of them being lost in shadows.
Sony has two versions of its Sweep Panorama mode, one regular and one Intelligent. The cameras with a Sony Exmor R sensor get the latter, which includes the HX10V. The benefit is that it does a better job of handling moving subjects.
While the Intelligent Panorama mode is good for small prints and Web use, the HR Panorama mode creates higher-quality results at a resolution of 10,480x4,096 pixels. The files are huge, though; this one is 16MB.
The camera's Dual Rec feature lets you capture 13-megapixel stills while shooting full HD video. Just press the shutter release and you get a shot that's good enough for viewing on a TV or computer screen, or small prints.