There are a lot of shooting options packed into the HX5V, but despite one of them being a Manual mode for adjusting shutter speed and aperture, the rest of them are geared for snapshots. Going around the dial, you have a Movie mode capable of 1080i HD-quality video in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording; Program Auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering; Sony's Intelligent Auto; Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options; and SCN, which lets you select from 11 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings.
Then, there are the more specialized modes. The Intelligent Sweep Panorama option lets you shoot horizontal or vertical panoramas with one press of the shutter release; this is unlike other cameras that require you to take several shots. It's been updated for 2010 on its models that use the Exmor R sensors. This new version--designated by Intelligent--automatically detects faces and moving subjects to avoid distortion. It's definitely one of those features you might not care about until you try it. Once you realize that it's fun and works well, you end up using it all the time. Then there are the Anti Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight modes. Both use the camera's capability to quickly capture six images and combine them into one photo with less blur, lower noise, and better detail than you would otherwise get with just one shot. The results are impressive as long as you don't look too closely at the images at full size. They are quite usable at 8x10 inches or smaller, though. There's also a Backlight Compensation HDR mode that takes two shots at different exposures to help improve shadow and highlight detail.
If you tend to leave it in Auto mode, Sony's Intelligent Auto turned in reliable results, as it picks from nine scene types (branded iSCN) and turns on face detection, dynamic range optimization, and image stabilization. Sony's iSCN can be set to Auto or Advanced, the difference being that in difficult lighting the camera will automatically take two shots with different settings so you have a better chance of getting a good photo. There are three levels of high-speed full-resolution shooting, too, that all live up to Sony's performance claims. However, once the photos are shot, you have to wait for them to be stored to the memory card--roughly 2 to 3 seconds for each photo taken. Also worth mentioning is that the HX5V has exposure bracketing that will take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV.
The Manual mode is limited to two aperture settings each at the wide and telephoto ends; f3.5 and f8 for wide and f5.5 and f13 for telephoto. There are a few more sets of stops available through the zoom range: f4-9, f4.5-10, and f5-11. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/1,600 to 30 seconds. It's not a lot of control, but it's something.
The HX5V's shooting performance is excellent. Shutter lag in bright conditions is very low at less than 0.4 second; in dim lighting it goes up to a more average 0.8 second. Shot-to-shot times without the flash averaged only 1.5 seconds. The high-speed burst mode is capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. But again, once they're shot, you have to wait several seconds while the buffer memory clears before you can shoot again. Even its time to first shot is quick for its class at 1.8 seconds.
The HX5V's photo quality is overall very good. The biggest issue is that at its lowest ISO setting, which isn't all that low at 125, photos are generally soft, not sharp. This is likely a combination of the lens and noise reduction. By the time you reach ISO 400 (a common setting for indoor photos), details are mushy because of the noise reduction. On the upside, there's not a lot of noise until you get up to ISO 3,200. This means that in really low lighting, you'll be able to get usable shots for smaller prints and Web use. (That's without entering into the Hand-held Twilight or Anti Motion Blur modes, too.) However, even if you have plenty of light, you probably won't want to print photos from the HX5V larger than 13x19 inches.
If you need accurate colors, the HX5V isn't for you. Though they are pleasing and very vibrant, they are not accurate, and there's no means for adjusting them in camera. Exposure is very good, though highlights are prone to blowing out. The camera's high-dynamic range mode can be used to help balance the light and dark areas of a scene.
Sony keeps barrel distortion at the lens' widest position and pincushion distortion at its longest setting in check. Also, though there is some purple fringing visible around high-contrast subjects, the amounts are below average for its class. Sharpness is consistent edge to edge, but again, the photos are not all that sharp.
Like photo quality, movies captured by the HX5V are somewhat soft-looking, but still very good for its class. The 60i frame rate makes for some smooth movement, too. It won't replace a standalone HD camcorder, but if you'd like a single device for capturing good photos and videos, this is one of the better options available.
If you're in the market for a compact megazoom camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V is worth considering for its shooting performance and low-light photo quality. Though overall photo quality could be sharper and colors more accurate, the results are generally very good, especially if all you're after is a decent snapshot. Also, while its Intelligent Auto mode is very reliable, you'll need to experiment with the different settings and shooting options (and read the instruction manual thoroughly) to get the most from this excellent camera.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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