Lastly, there are three 3D-shooting modes. The 3D Sweep Panorama works just like the Intelligent Sweep, but creates both a normal panorama shot and one that can be viewed in 3D on a 3D-enabled HDTV. As you sweep the camera it shoots separate photos for the left and right eyes, which is how it's able to create 3D images with just one lens. The Sweep Multi Angle works similarly by taking 15 photos at different angles as you sweep across a scene. The camera then converts those into one photo. By tilting the camera back and forth during playback, the camera's built-in gyro sensor displays the image in a 3D-like view on the camera's LCD. Finally, there's the 3D still image mode that quickly takes two shots, analyzes subject distance between foreground and background, and creates a single 3D photo. The results are OK, but there's definitely room for improvement. For example, the modes can't handle anything moving, so it's really just for landscapes or stationary subjects. Also, it's pretty easy to see the image slices that are stitched together. Still, if you were already planning to buy a compact megazoom and have already started collecting 3D equipment, this is one more reason to pick up the HX7V.
As for shooting performance, the HX7V is on par with other CMOS-based compact megazooms. From off to first shot is 1.7 seconds with a shot-to-shot time of 1.4 seconds. Turning on the flash, though, slows the camera down to 3.2 seconds between shots. Its shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is good at 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim conditions with less subject contrast. The camera's burst shooting mode is capable of up to 10fps, but in our more demanding test it averaged 7.6fps, which is still very good. However, this burst shooting sets focus and exposure with the first shot, and once you've fired, you're stuck waiting for the camera to save the photos, generally a second or two per photo. Though its speed is excellent for a point-and-shoot, that doesn't mean it's going to be perfect for shooting active kids and pets. Especially since the multishot modes it uses require still subjects.
With all its capabilities, Sony managed to keep the overall design pretty simple. The body slips easily into a pocket or small bag. The screen is large and bright, making it easy to see in bright conditions (you might still struggle in direct sun, though). There's a nice rubberized grip on the front and an indent on back for your thumb.
Menus are easy enough to navigate, and if you're not sure what something does, there's a full manual stored on the camera accessible at the push of a button. Though most people familiar with digital cameras will have little trouble using the HX7V out of the box, some of the shooting modes have a lot of settings and need to be used in specific ways; it might take some time to get acquainted with all this camera can do. Also, the interface is a little sluggish, especially when changing shooting modes. I'm not sure if this was just my review camera, but it was frustrating during my testing.
There are a few design things that were less than perfect. The flash on front is positioned on the far right-hand side. If you're not careful with your grip, your fingers can partially block it. The buttons on back are very tiny and could potentially be too small for some to press easily. Similarly, the movie record button is small and you can barely feel when it's been pressed. Moreover, since it takes a couple of seconds for the camera to start recording, there were times when I pressed it and wasn't sure it was recording, only to have it start and stop because I had pressed it a second time. So part user error and part design problem with that.
There are a couple of other design things to be aware of. For some of its 2011 Cyber-shots, including the HX7V, Sony switched to charging the camera battery in the camera via USB. You can charge it by connecting to a computer or the included wall adapter. However, it's a proprietary port on the camera, so if you lose the cable, you'll have to buy one from Sony. Also, the battery life is a CIPA-rated 300 shots. If you're shooting a lot of video, have the display brightness cranked up, or are using a lot of the multishot modes or burst shooting, this will cut into your battery life. If you buy a backup battery you'll probably want to buy an external charger as well, or just plan ahead.
Lastly, with all of this camera's capabilities it's easy to forget that it has a built-in GPS receiver and compass. In fact, Sony even neglects to mention it on the HX7V's product page on its site. Turning on the receiver requires digging into the main menu system (since it cuts into your battery life, it really should be easier to turn on and off), but once it's on it'll start searching for satellites. That can take up to several minutes depending on how much open sky is above you. The tagging abilities aren't as full-featured as those in Panasonic's Lumix DMC-ZS10, 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.
If you're in the market for a compact megazoom camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V is worth considering for its shooting performance, fun features, and low-light photo quality. Though overall photo quality could be sharper and colors more accurate, the results are generally excellent, especially if all you're after is a decent snapshot. Also, while its auto modes are very reliable, you'll want 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)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Find out more about how we test digital cameras.