It's not the size of your camera that counts, but the length of your superzoom. Sony's wading into the long-zooming arms race with its new Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V. It packs a 30x optical zoom and a bunch of 3D goodies to boot. We've gone hands-on in advance of a full review to let you know what to expect when it hits the shops in late April, priced around £400.
Holding the HX100V in our hands, we reckon it feels quite sturdy. It filled our palms nicely, and we didn't notice any immediate creaking in the camera's chassis. We'll need more time with it, but this gives us reason to be positive about the build quality on offer here.
It weighs 525g, and measures in at 122 by 87 by 93mm. It didn't feel too heavy to us, and we were able to comfortably hold it in one hand and still take reasonably steady shots.
There's an odd texture covering the body of the camera, that gives the impression the camera has been sprinkled with water. We suppose it's to give the HX100V an 'outdoorsy' look, or even to help you grip the camera, but we suspect it will drive neat-freaks absolutely nuts -- your camera will perpetually look a little speckled with moisture.
The HX100V's headline feature, of course, is the 30x optical zoom that fires out of its front. It squeezes out like a solid cylinder of Play-Doh when your finger hits the zoom rocker.
We were impressed by this lengthy lens in several respects. First of all, it's quite fast. Zooming the full distance doesn't take too long, so if you spot something interesting in the distance, you'll be able to square it in the viewfinder before it flies off, or vanishes or succumbs to the weathering powers of rain.
Secondly, even when zoomed in the full distance, our photos came out remarkably sharp. This is more to do with the camera's autofocus and blur-reduction tech, but it's still heartening -- hopefully you'll be able to snap objects really far away without the pictures coming out a horrible messy blur.
The processing speed is also impressive -- we were able to take a snap, and then take another in swift succession, without having to wait an age for the camera to polish up the image. Useful.
The lens in question is a 27mm Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T lens, with a 16.2-megapixel sensor. We were told that our demo units weren't final kit, so the resulting image quality could be subject to change, but on the whole we were pleased with the photos we took, and at a glance they look sharp, and appear vivid without looking lurid. This camera can also shoot 1,920x1,080-pixel video footage, and there's a dedicated button round the back for doing just that.
Also on the HX100V's posterior, you'll find a 3-inch LCD screen that rocks back on a tilting mechanism for taking slightly awkward shots. If that's a little new-wave for your tastes, there's a good old viewfinder just above.
There's some 3D tech rammed in for good measure. Sony's big into 3D right now across its whole tech range, so it's no surprise to see some three-dimensional features creeping into its cameras. You can take 3D photos with the HX100V, though you can't view them in 3D on the camera itself -- you'll need to hook the camera up to a 3D-enabled TV or laptop. There's also a tool for taking 3D panoramic shots.
We haven't had a chance yet to look at our own test photos on a 3D telly, but we did see some other photos taken in 3D using similar tech, and we must say we're a little sceptical. Taking 3D photos is handled by the camera taking two separate images from slightly different focus positions, rather than from two different lenses as we've seen on other 3D cameras. The test photos we saw on the big screen looked quite dark, and the 3D didn't appear too accurate. Still, we'll bite our tongues until we get the HX100V in for the proper review treatment.
We may not be sold on the 3D gubbins, but the superzoom element of the HX100V is promising, and if the image quality measures up in our lab tests, this could be a great snapper for amateurs taking their first steps into the crazy world of high-end photography, and a great choice for anyone who needs to pap things from far away -- birdwatchers come to mind.
The HX100V is out in late April, and will be priced around £400. Stay tuned for a full review.
Edited by Nick Hide