The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V produces excellent photos for a compact megazoom both indoors and out, though pixel peepers probably won't agree.
If you're considering buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'd be disappointed. There's plenty of usable resolution, though, 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 HX30V'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.
Sony's Handheld Twilight mode has generally been excellent for grabbing handheld low-light pictures with reduced noise and blur from hand shake. That's the case with the HX30V, even with the lens extended some. The bottom is a 100 percent crop from the top picture. It's soft, but with a little bit of sharpening applied -- either in camera or with editing software -- you can get some very nice low-light photos.
The HX30V can focus as close as 0.4 inch from a subject. Most of the macro shots I took with the camera looked very good at 50 percent to up to about 75 percent of their full 18-megapixel resolution. Above that, subjects will look a little more painterly and you'll see more noise and artifacts.
I did manage to get a couple of shots that looked decent at full size. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo, and while you wouldn't want to make a larger print of it, the quality is good enough for Web use at small sizes.
The default Standard color mode produces pleasingly bright, vivid colors, but they might not be accurate enough for some users. If you want more-accurate colors, the HX30V does have a Real color setting and three other color modes in addition to Standard. Unfortunately, it's not available for all shooting modes. There are also adjustments for contrast, saturation, and sharpness.
This is an example of what I meant by colors not always being accurate. On the left is a spiderwort flower shot in Standard color mode (what is used in most modes by default). On the right is the camera's Real Color mode, and it is, in fact, the correct color of the flower. Again, if you're after accuracy, you may want to skip this camera or just make sure you've changed to Real Color when you're not getting the colors you want.
If you're willing to take control away from the camera there is a Program mode as well as Manual with 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): f3.2 and f8 for wide, and f5.8 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 second to 30 seconds.
Sony's Clear Image Zoom uses the camera's processor to compare patterns found in adjacent pixels and creates new pixels to match selected patterns, resulting in better digital zoom photos. It doubles the zoom range, and the shots are usable at small sizes. However, viewed at 100 percent, it's basically a painting. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo.
A few of Sony's shooting modes use multishot processing, in which the camera consecutively takes several shots and then combines them into one, which, depending on the mode, will do things like improve noise or exposure. However, it does not work well when the subject or the user moves.
In this case, I had the lens fully extended to 500mm and my hand moved slightly, which messed up the processing, resulting in a lot of blocky artifacts.
There's little evidence of barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens, and there's no sign of pincushioning with the lens extended. The lens is nice and sharp at its center, but it does get a little soft out to the sides and in the corners. Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is minimal for the most part, though you can see it if you view photos at larger sizes.
The HX30V has nine live-view Picture Effects that let you see what the photo will look like before you shoot. This was taken with its Partial Color effect, which you can use to highlight one color and turn the rest of the shot monochrome.
Sony has two versions of its Sweep Panorama mode, one regular and one Intelligent. The cameras with a Sony Exmor R sensor get the latter, which includes the HX30V. The benefit is that it does a better job of handling moving subjects.
The camera's Dual Rec feature lets you capture 13-megapixel stills while shooting full HD video. Just press the shutter release and you get a shot that's good enough for viewing on a TV or computer screen, or small prints.
Since a big part of why you would consider the HX30V is the 20x zoom, at the suggestion of one of our readers, what follows are several photos all taken with the lens fully extended to 500mm (35mm equivalent). You will also find a link to view the images at their full 18-megapixel size. These files are large, though, so it might take time for them to load after you click the links.
As mentioned in the review and earlier in this slideshow, the HX30's photos don't look good when viewed onscreen at 100 percent.