Check out an examination of photo quality and capabilities of Sony's 2011 top-of-the-line compact megazoom, the 16-megapixel, 16x zoom HX9V.
These are 100 percent crops from our test scene. When viewed at full size, you can see there's little difference from ISO 100 to ISO 400. The only real issue I have is that photos aren't very sharp even at its lowest ISO. Noise reduction kicks in more at ISO 800, which softens details more and dulls color a bit. There's a noticeable increase in noise and noise reduction at ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 making colors more washed out and subjects appear painterly; you'll probably want to reserve these two highest sensitivities for emergencies when you need to shoot in low-light conditions or get a faster shutter speed regardless of the results. But, as with all of Sony's cameras with Exmor R sensors, there are shooting options for improving low-light/high ISO shots, so what you see here isn't the whole story.
The 16-megapixel resolution is completely unnecessary and doesn't get you much more room to crop or enlarge. If you're looking at buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'll be disappointed--especially at higher ISO sensitivities. That said, prints at 13x19 at ISO 800 with the lens fully extended still looked good, just soft. Overall, anyone looking for a snapshot camera for regularly making 8x10 prints or smaller or viewing on a TV or computer screen should be more than satisfied with the HX9V.
The HX9V is a capable macro shooter, able to shoot as close as 1.9 inches from a subject. The results are a little soft when viewed at full size, but you can heavily crop and still get a good-looking photo.
If you want more accurate colors, the HX9V does have a Real color setting in addition to three other color modes in addition to Standard. There are also options for increasing and decreasing color saturation, contrast, and sharpness. However, these things are not available in all shooting modes.
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 HX9V has a 10-shot burst setting that captures at up to 10 frames per second. 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. The results are less impressive when you view them at full size, but if your subject isn't moving fast, they'll be better than what you see in this shot.
While the HX9V's lens isn't the longest or widest available on a compact megazoom, its range is certainly very good for its size. It goes from an ultrawide-angle 24mm to a long 384mm (35mm equivalent).
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.
Fringing on high-contrast subjects isn't a big issue with the HX9V, but it is there. It is worse off to the sides and in the corners, such as in this example. Also, it's only really visible at larger sizes.
This camera is capable of capturing 3-megapixel photos while shooting video at all but the highest resolution, 1080/60p. At full size, they look like frame captures, but under ideal conditions (i.e. outside in bright conditions) they're good enough for small prints and Web use.
But wait, there's more! Consumers must've been complaining that the regular panorama shots from Sony's cameras were too small. Sony answered back with a high-resolution option that uses the full 16-megapixel camera resolution to produce a higher quality panorama photo. Just like the regular iSweep Panorama mode, you just sweep the camera horizontally across your scene, but this time the camera is turned vertically.
The results are better, but the final file is huge with a resolution of 10,480x4,096 and 14MB. I reduced the file size so you can take a closer look.
For scenery and still subjects, take advantage of the HX9V'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 Program mode, the right with the Backlight HDR mode. You can see the sky is actually blue instead of blown out and the sidewalk and hair detail are visible, too.
In an attempt to give users 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 on screen) and you can set the amount of blur to low, medium, or high; this was taken at low. It works best when your subject is well in front of the background, but even then it's not perfect. For example, in this shot part of the background on the right didn't get blurred. At small sizes, though, it can be convincing.