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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300 review:

Very fine point-and-shoot with a 50x zoom lens

If a hot shoe for an external flash or an input for an external microphone are necessities, you're out of luck. There's also no GPS or Wi-Fi built in, which, for a flagship megazoom, is disappointing.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300
Price (MSRP) $449.99
Dimensions (WHD) 5.1x3.8x4.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1 pound, 6.9 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 20 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch Backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/Electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 50x, f2.8-6.3, 24-1,200mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 5,184x3,888 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive; 28Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 310 shots (400 viewfinder only)
Battery charged in camera Yes; via AC wall adapter or USB
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC; Memory Stick Pro Duo

The LCD is large and bright, making it easy to see in bright conditions; you'll still struggle in direct sun, but you can always use the electronic viewfinder, though I found that to be somewhat small. Sony dropped the proximity sensor next to the EVF that allowed the camera to jump from the LCD to the EVF when you brought it to your eye. Instead, you'll just use the Finder/LCD button on top to flip between the two.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For shots above and below eye level, the LCD pulls out from the body and tilts up and down. It doesn't flip out and rotate, though, making it a little more limiting than the screens on other top megazooms.

With all its capabilities, the HX300 can be tricky to use, particularly if you're not familiar with more advanced point-and-shoot cameras. However, the menus are easy enough to navigate, and if you're not sure what something does, there's a full manual stored on the camera. That's good because some of the shooting modes have a lot of settings, even the auto modes. Unless you've used another of Sony's Exmor R-based cameras, you'll want to take some time to get acquainted with all that this camera can do before you head off on a vacation or to an important event.

While you're at it, you might want to invest in an extra battery or two. The HX300's battery life isn't bad at around 300 shots per charge, but the more you use that zoom lens, record movies, burst shoot, or use the LCD, the less life you'll get. Plus, the battery is charged in the camera, so you'll either have to plan ahead with extra batteries or buy an external charger.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Behind a door on the left side are Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports. The latter Sony calls a Multi Terminal, which means it can be used with accessories like the RM-VPR1 remote control.

The camera's battery and memory card slot are under a sliding door on the bottom. The door doesn't lock, so you'll have to be careful of that when storing the camera in a bag. The standard tripod mount on the bottom is just far enough away from the door that, as long as your tripod head is somewhat small, you should be able to get the battery and memory card out without removing it from the tripod.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Easy, Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Program, Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter speed-priority, Memory Recall, 3D Still Image, SCN, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child)
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 7.9 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center, Spot
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Real, Sepia, B&W
Burst-mode shot limit (full resolution) 10 shots

The HX300's shooting options are basically unchanged from the HX200V, which means you're covered for automatic snapshots or for when you want more control. For those who like to leave it in auto, there are three options: Easy, Intelligent Auto, and Superior Auto. Easy mode takes away all options except for image size (large or small) and enlarges onscreen text. Intelligent Auto picks from 33 scene types and turns on face detection, dynamic range optimization, and image stabilization.

Superior Auto takes Intelligent Auto and adds three multishot modes: Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, and Backlight Correction HDR. These multishot modes can also be selected as distinct modes in Scene options, along with 13 others like Soft Skin, Gourmet, and Pet. Note: These multishot modes work by rapidly capturing several images and layering them to remove things like noise and blur from hand shake. However, your subject has to be absolutely still for them to work properly.

In Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto, Sony gives you some extra control over Brightness, Color, and Vividness. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're willing to take control away from the camera, there are Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter speed-priority, and Manual modes for control over aperture and shutter speed. Available apertures are f2.8, f3.2, f3.5, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0 for wide and f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0 for telephoto. (You can't turn its neutral density filter on or off like you could on the HX200V.) Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/4,000 second to 30 seconds. Plus, you get a live view of your exposure so you can see about what you'll get at your chosen shutter speed and aperture settings.

The Program mode will handle shutter speed and aperture while you take care of everything else, including color modes, contrast, color saturation, and sharpness. If you come up with a group of settings you like, the Memory Recall mode lets you store three groups of settings for quick shooting with your preferences.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In these modes you also have access to nine Picture Effects such as Toy, HDR Painting, Miniature, and Watercolor. (A few of these are available in the auto modes, too, and can be used for both photos and movies.) In addition to that, you can make minor adjustments to contrast, saturation, noise reduction, and sharpness as well as shift white balance and chose from five color modes. So, yeah, lots to experiment with in the HX300, and there's plenty that I didn't mention, including the best panorama mode you'll find.

The HX300's movie mode is also one of the best you'll find in its category (though the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 bests it with shutter and aperture controls). It's capable of recording at 1080/60p at 28Mbps in AVCHD. It'll record at lower bit rates in AVCHD too, or you can switch to MP4 format at resolutions of up to 1,440x1,080 pixels. While there is a dedicated movie mode, you can also just press the record button anytime you want to start shooting. Pressing the shutter release while you're recording will grab 15-megapixel stills (though this is not available when recording at 1080/60p).

Like the Nikon Coolpix P520, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC- HX300 is more a point-and-shoot than a full-fledged bridge camera, such as the Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR or Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. The Sony is just a step ahead of the Nikon in terms of performance and it's a better option for snapshooters. Plus, it's got a longer lens.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
Nikon Coolpix P520
Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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