Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V

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The Good Speedy shooting performance; compact, lightweight design; plenty of fun, useful features; very good low-light photo quality for a compact camera.

The Bad Soft photos, videos; limited manual controls; GPS can't quickly be powered on and off.

The Bottom Line The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V has shooting options for solving common snapshot camera issues, but some users still won't be thrilled with the results.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

Sony has again used its backside-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor, Bionz image processor, and a Sony G lens to try to solve two of the most common complaints about compact cameras: shooting performance and low-light photo quality. This time around they're in the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V, a compact wide-angle megazoom. The camera has a lot to offer particularly to those with the time and desire to get the most from it. However, if you're a stickler for photo quality, you'll likely want to give it a pass.

Due to the megazoom lens, noise reduction, or both, the results just aren't very sharp. The photos are otherwise decent, though, and its low-light photos are better than you're going to get from those of the competition. Plus, the HX5V's shooting speeds are excellent for its class with low shutter lag, short shot-to-shot times, and a burst mode capable of 10 frames per second. The camera is packed with plenty of fun, useful features, too, including a built-in GPS receiver and compass. It's overall an excellent compact megazoom camera, but like most point-and-shoots the photos aren't going to please everyone.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.4-inch CMOS (backside illuminated)
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, f3.5-5.5, 25-250mm
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVCHD
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 59.94i
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 310 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media Memory Stick Pro Duo; SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software Picture Motion Browser 5.0, PMB Portable 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Macintosh), Music Transfer

The HX5V looks like a larger version of Sony's WX1. It's a simple black box for the most part (you know, except for the obscene amount of branding) with a slight cylindrical grip on the right side giving you a place to rest your fingertips in front and thumb in back. The body is very compact and lightweight considering its long zoom and wide-angle lens; most of its weight seems to come from that and the battery pack. (The lens, by the way, is a Sony G lens, which are used in the company's dSLR cameras and advanced HD camcorders.) Overall it's nicely designed, but not quite perfect.

Controls are fairly easy to master. On top is the shooting-mode dial; shutter release and zoom ring; power button; and a button to turn on and off burst shooting. The burst and power buttons are flush with the body, making it difficult to find the power without looking as well as mistaking one for the other. Also on top are the stereo mic openings, which are so far to the left that they're easily blocked by a finger if you're not careful. The sliver of a flash on the front right side can be at least partially covered by careless fingers. On back to the right of the 3-inch LCD (which gets reasonably bright, but some will still struggle to see it in direct sunlight) are the remaining controls. There's a dedicated movie record button, so there's no need to change shooting modes to quickly capture video. Below that is a Playback button; directional pad with a select button at its center; Menu button; and Delete button. Along with navigating menus, the directional pad turns on the camera's smile- and timer-activated shutter release options, changes flash settings, and changes the brightness of the LCD as well as what information it displays. Unfortunately, the icons for each are just engraved in the pad, making them a little difficult to see in dim lighting.

The single Menu button accesses all settings, except shooting modes handled by the dial on top. Press Menu, and a column of shooting-mode-specific settings appear on the left. At the end of the list is a toolbox icon for accessing general settings. What's also nice is the camera's capability to warn you about adjusting certain settings. For example, if you set the HX5V to spot meter light, you won't be able to turn on Face Detection. The HX5V tells you onscreen that Face Detection is not available because of Spot metering being selected. Cameras from other vendors generally make you guess what needs to be shut off in order to turn on a blacked-out option.

The HX5V features a couple of interesting technologies beyond its back-illuminated Exmor R sensor. For those who like to know exactly where they were when a photo was taken, the camera has a built-in compass and GPS receiver. 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. 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.

The other technology is TransferJet. The feature allows for wireless photo and video transfers between the camera and TransferJet-compatible devices. No pairing is necessary, but the two products must be within about an inch of each other. Of course, you'll need some extra stuff to take advantage of the feature. For starters, you'll need a Memory Stick with TransferJet; an 8GB card runs just less than $100. You'll also want to have something with a TransferJet receiver. Sony has laptops with the feature, or you can pick up a Sony USB TransferJet Station that sells for about $150. The feature will work with other TransferJet cameras, too, should you want to transfer up to 10 photos to someone else's camera.

The feature is best suited for those with lots of cash to burn and already living a Sony-made lifestyle. In fact, if you own a Web-connected Sony HDTV, the experience is great. Connect the TransferJet Station to the USB port on the TV and set the camera down on top of it, and it nearly instantly starts a slideshow of your photos. The wireless connection was fast enough to playback AVCHD movies without issue, too. Plus, pictures that have 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. And if you take a lot of photos and don't want to mess with cables or taking your memory card in and out, you simply connect the Station to your computer, place the camera on top, and start the transfer. (It's a long way to go and a considerable expense to avoid using a cable or card reader, though.)

Like all of Sony's 2010 Cyber-shots, the HX5V accepts both Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SD/SDHC cards for memory. There's a single slot for both card types next to the battery located in a compartment in the bottom of the camera. The battery cannot be charged in the camera, and the door covering the compartment doesn't lock and slides open a bit too easily (something to keep in mind if you keep the camera loose in a bag). Next to the compartment is a proprietary multifunction port for connecting a USB/AV cable or the supplied HDMI dongle.

One last note about features: the camera has both standard optical image stabilization and an Active option that helps to suppress shake while the shooter is moving with the subject (e.g., running alongside someone playing soccer). It does help and is definitely worth switching on if you're in this or a similar situation.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Underwater 1, 2, and Custom, Custom
Recording modes Easy, Intelligent Auto, Program, Manual, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Scene, Backlight Correction HDR, Anti Motion Blur, Hand-held Twilight, Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF
Metering modes Multi, Center, Spot
Color effects None
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10

There are a lot of shooting options packed into the HX5V, but despite one of them being a Manual mode for adjusting shutter speed and aperture, the rest of them are geared for snapshots. Going around the dial, you have a Movie mode capable of 1080i HD-quality video in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording; Program Auto with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering; Sony's Intelligent Auto; Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options; and SCN, which lets you select from 11 scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings.

Then, there are the more specialized modes. The Intelligent Sweep Panorama option lets you shoot horizontal or vertical panoramas with one press of the shutter release; this is unlike other cameras that require you to take several shots. It's been updated for 2010 on its models that use the Exmor R sensors. This new version--designated by Intelligent--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 it all the time. Then there are the Anti Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight modes. Both use the camera's capability to quickly capture six images and combine them into one photo with less blur, lower noise, and better detail than you would otherwise get with just one shot. The results are impressive as long as you don't look too closely at the images at full size. They are quite usable at 8x10 inches or smaller, though. There's also a Backlight Compensation HDR mode that takes two shots at different exposures to help improve shadow and highlight detail.