On the surface -- and even a little beneath it -- the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is the same as its predecessor,. It has the same 30x zoom lens, 3-inch ultrahigh-resolution tilting LCD, and controls and shooting options, including manual and semimanual modes.
It does, however, have a new 18-megapixel sensor and image processor, giving you benefits like improved image stabilization when recording video; high-resolution stills while shooting video; and Sony's Clear Image Zoom, which digitally extends the zoom range to 60x. You also get more creative control in Intelligent and Superior Auto modes and nine creative picture effects. Its GPS functionality is improved, too, with support for logging your path while you shoot (though powering it on and off still requires too much digging through menus).
Most importantly, its autofocus system is faster, giving you a better shot at capturing sharp photos even when the lens is fully zoomed in. Overall, it is a better camera regardless of appearances.
The photo quality from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is very good to excellent, though it really depends on your needs and expectations. If you're considering buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'd be disappointed. Like all of Sony's 2012 18-megapixel Cyber-shots, most pictures viewed at full size aren't impressive. However, there's plenty of usable resolution here, particularly if you're shooting with plenty of light.
Below ISO 400, shots look good printed up to 10x13, which is more than most people need. Getting a very good 8x10 with some enlarging and cropping is certainly possible, too. And if you never print your shots, the HX200V's photos look great on a computer screen or HDTV.
As the camera goes above ISO 400, subjects do get noticeably softer, but shots are usable at small sizes up to ISO 1600. If you want better low-light shots of still subjects, Sony's Handheld Twilight mode still produces some of the best high-ISO photos I've seen from a point-and-shoot. However, I wouldn't bother using the two highest ISOs, as they look more like artist's renderings than photos and have off colors.
Again, the HX200V is not a dSLR (it doesn't even have the capability to capture raw images), but for people looking for a long lens and some better control over results than the average point-and-shoot offers, it's a safe bet.
The HX200V's video is as good as its photos. With plenty of light you get nice-looking, smooth video when recording at the camera's maximum AVCHD resolution of 1080/60p. There is very little trailing on moving subjects or judder when panning the camera, though some is noticeable when viewed at larger screen sizes. In low light, movies do have more visible noise and artifacts and look softer, but are still very good. You do have use of the zoom lens, which you may hear moving in quieter scenes. Audio quality in general is very good, too, but unfortunately you're limited to the stereo mic on top.
This is a fast-performing camera for its class. Its shot-to-shot times are on par with other CMOS sensor-based megazooms -- about 1 second without flash, but slowing down to about 3 or 4 seconds with the flash in use. Its shutter lag, though -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is almost nothing in bright lighting. It was almost as good in dimmer conditions or with lens extended. You will notice some slowdown in autofocus speeds with the lens extended and in low light, but it's still better than others in this class.
The HX200V's burst setting allows you to capture at full resolution at up to 10 frames per second for 10 photos. 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, generally a second or two per photo.
In comparison, thecan shoot at up to 10fps without continuous autofocus and 5fps with autofocus and it doesn't need to stop nearly as long to store images. Overall, though, the Sony's speed, particularly its shutter lag, is excellent for a point-and-shoot and the megazoom category on the whole.
Design and features
Though it's not the biggest full-size megazoom I've tested this year, the HX200V is by no means small. It is, however, comfortable to use with a well-formed right-hand grip and enough weight, thanks to the hefty lens, to help you keep the camera steady.
While it may not seem like it has many direct controls over settings, it actually does. There's a zoom control around the lens barrel, which is good for small zoom adjustments and can be used for manually focusing the lens, too. You'll also find a programmable Custom button on top, right behind the shutter release and zoom ring that can be used for an exposure lock, white balance, ND filter, metering, and Smile Shutter, Sony's smile-activated shutter release.
Next to that is a Focus button that can change your autofocus mode or, if you're manually focusing, gives you a focus check so you can see if your subject is actually in focus. Lastly, there's a jog dial to the right of the thumb rest for changing ISO, exposure compensation, shutter speed, and aperture. You have to press in on the dial to advance through until you arrive at the one you want to change. If you make a lot of changes to these things, it can get tiresome.