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 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.
As an example of the softness I'm talking about, the top photo was taken at ISO 125. The same photo is below it, but processed by the camera's Unsharp Masking feature. The bottom one is now a bit oversharpened and crunchy, but it allows you to see how areas like the shirt, face, and hair are soft and almost smeary-looking in the original.
This is a photo of part of our standard testing scene. The only light in the room is coming from the carousel. The top photo was taken with the Hand-held Twilight mode that rapidly fires off six shots and then compiles them into one photo in order to reduce blur and noise. The bottom shot was under the same conditions but in Intelligent Auto. Both are at ISO 3,200. Overall the HHT mode turns out the better results significantly cutting back on noise and improving sharpness. Thought the carousel is in motion, the mode is meant for stationary subjects. The Anti Motion Blur mode works the same, but is better for indoor shots with subjects that might move slightly during the shot. Don't count on it to capture the erratic movements of a pet or small child, though.
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.
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 has a high-dynamic range mode that combines two shots taken at different exposures to help balance the light and dark areas of a scene.
Sony keeps barrel distortion at the lens' widest position (top) and pincushion distortion at its longest setting (bottom) 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.
The HX5V's shooting performance is excellent. The high-speed burst mode is capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. Unfortunately, once they're shot you have to wait a little more than one second per shot while the buffer memory clears before you can shoot again.
Sony updated its Sweep Panorama feature for 2010 on its models that use the Exmor R sensors. This new version--Intelligent Sweep Panorama--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 all the time.
With all the stuff this camera can do, it's easy to forget that it has a built-in compass and GPS receiver, too. The tagging abilities aren't as full featured as those in Panasonic's Lumix DMC-ZS7, but the Sony's longitude and latitude information seems more accurate.
The camera seamlessly adds the information to a photo's EXIF data, so you can use software like Picasa or Google Earth to see where you were when you took your photos. What I also discovered while testing it with an Internet-connected Sony HDTV is that the GPS data will trigger the TV to open a small Google Maps image so you can see just where the picture was taken while you're viewing your photos.