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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V (Black) review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V (Black)

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Sony waited a good, long while before updating its full-size megazoom, the HX1. That camera, announced back in March 2009, was ahead of the competition at the time--at least technologically. A lot's changed since then, though, with manufacturers like Nikon, Fujifilm, and Panasonic jumping ahead. The HX100V, however, brings Sony back in line with the competition, in terms of technology, photo and video quality, and zoom range.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V (Black)
7.8

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V (Black)

The Good

The <b>Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V</b> is overflowing with shooting features, has excellent photo and video quality, and solid shooting performance for its class.

The Bad

The HX100V might actually be too much camera for some users and it has a couple minor design issues.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V has a lot of features and a lot of lens with photo and video quality that's just good enough to back up its hefty price tag.

The camera packs (for better or worse) a 16-megapixel Exmor R sensor, a 30x wide-angle 27mm-equivalent lens, and a high-speed linear focusing system. It shoots video in full HD at 60p. It has a GPS receiver for geotagging photos while you shoot. Shooting modes go from a stripped-down Easy auto mode right up to full manual. It is one of the most capable full-size megazooms I've tested.

That said, it's not always the easiest camera to use simply because there are so many features. Also, if you're expecting digital SLR-quality photos and performance, you can forget it. This is still a compact camera and behaves like one (though it is an excellent one). But, if having something that's part camera and part gadget sounds appealing to you, check out the HX100V.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V
Price (MSRP) $449.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.6x3.5x3.6 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1 pound, 4.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/Electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 30x, f2.8-5.9, 27-810mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive; 28Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 410 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; via AC wall adapter or USB when connected to computer
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC; Memory Stick Pro Duo; Eye-Fi Connected support
Bundled software Picture Motion Browser 5.5, PMB Portable 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Mac), Music Transfer

Considering this camera's price and size, the photo quality is excellent. Or should I say, it can be excellent if you take full advantage of all the HX100V's shooting options. But even left in auto it turns out very good photos. When viewed at full size, you can see there's little difference from ISO 100 to ISO 400. The only real issue I have is that photos aren't very sharp even at its lowest ISO. Noise reduction kicks in more at ISO 800, which softens details more and dulls color a bit. There's a noticeable increase in noise and noise reduction at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, making colors more washed out and subjects appear painterly; you'll probably want to reserve these two highest sensitivities for emergencies when you need to shoot in low-light conditions or get a faster shutter speed regardless of the results. But, as with all of Sony's cameras with Exmor R sensors, there are shooting options for improving low-light/high ISO shots, so what you see here isn't the whole story.

The 16-megapixel resolution is completely unnecessary and doesn't get you much more room to crop or enlarge. If you're looking at buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR or interchangeable lens compact, you'll be disappointed--especially at higher ISO sensitivities. That said, prints at 8x10 at ISO 800 with the lens fully extended still looked good, just soft.

On the other hand, if you're shooting a stationary subject, the HX100V's Handheld Twilight mode improves low-light results by reducing noise and blur from hand shake. In fact, there's a mode to help with just about every typical shortcoming with point-and-shoots. You might not be able to make huge prints or do a lot of heavy cropping, but for snapshots the results are excellent.

The default Standard color mode produces bright, vivid colors, but they aren't terribly accurate. Most people will find them pretty pleasing, though. If you want more accurate colors, the HX100V does have a Real color setting as well as three other color modes in addition to Standard. There are also options for shifting white balance and increasing and decreasing noise reduction, color saturation, contrast, and sharpness. However, these things are not available in all shooting modes.

Movies captured by the HX100V are excellent as well. The 1080/60p and image stabilization makes for some smooth movement, too. Shooting fast-moving subjects with a pocket camera typically results in ghosting and judder, but that's not the case here. If you're looking for a single device for capturing photos and movie clips (it has a 29-minute continuous recording limit), this is one of the best options available. The optical zoom does work while recording (though you will hear it moving in quiet scenes), and the stereo mic produced good audio.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
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); 6.6 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center, Spot
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Real, Sepia, B&W
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10 shots

The HX100V is packed full of automatic modes as well as full manual and aperture- and shutter-speed-priority modes. Unlike many compact megazooms, the larger HX100V isn't limited to two aperture settings at the wide and telephoto ends and can be used with or without a built-in neutral density filter. Available apertures include: f2.8, f3.2, f3.5, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0 for wide and f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0 for telephoto. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds.

Don't want that much control? Program will handle shutter speed and aperture while you handle 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. (This isn't supported in all shooting modes, however.)

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 10 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--to shoot photos with the best possible settings.

Why not just leave it in Superior Auto? Multishot modes like these rapidly take photos and overlay them to help remove blur, correct exposure, and reduce noise. However, they don't work well with moving subjects and they require additional in-camera image processing, so they take longer than a simple snapshot taken with Intelligent Auto and other single-shot modes. If there's a chance your subject might be moving--even slightly--while you're shooting, I'd stick with Intelligent Auto. Also, these multishot modes plus 13 other standard scenes are available in the HX100V's SCN mode so you can always pick the appropriate one when you need it. That said, Superior Auto does allow you to take full advantage of the camera's capabilities in an automatic mode.

Along with these options there's Sony's Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode for capturing horizontal or vertical panoramas with one press of the shutter release; this is unlike other cameras that require you to take several shots. Intelligent Sweep separates itself from Sony's regular Sweep Panorama by automatically detecting 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. Added in to this mode is a high-resolution option that produces larger and better-looking results. And by larger I mean huge: the resolution is 10,480x4,096, and a single shot can be more than 20MB.

The HX100V's movie mode is the best I've seen on any point-and-shoot. It's capable of recording in full HD at 1080/60p at 28Mbps in AVCHD. It'll record at lower bit rates, too, in AVCHD or you can switch to MPEG-4 at resolutions up to 1,440x1,080. You get use of the optical zoom while recording, and there's a stereo mic. While you can actually enter 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 3-megapixel stills, too.

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 an ultracompact camera and have already started collecting 3D equipment, this is one more reason to pick up the HX100V.

As for shooting performance, the HX100V is on par with other CMOS-based compact megazooms. From off to first shot is 2 seconds with a shot-to-shot time of 1.5 seconds. Turning on the flash, though, slows the camera down to 3.1 seconds between shots. Its shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is very good at 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.6 second in dim conditions with less subject contrast. The camera's burst shooting mode is capable of up to 10fps. 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.

With all its capabilities, the HX100V can be tricky to use, particularly if you're not familiar with more advanced compact cameras. 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 and there are a lot of buttons on this model. It might take some time to get acquainted with all this camera can do.

The HX100V's controls
The HX100V has more buttons than your average point-and-shoot and might take some practice to remember their functions.

The body is bulky and somewhat heavy, but all things considered it's still remarkably compact. The screen 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. (Note: There is a proximity sensor next to the EVF allowing the camera to jump from the LCD to the EVF when you bring it to your eye. It takes a second or two to switch, which might anger some users. There is a button to just change between the two, but you have to cycle past the sensor option.) The display also tilts out from the body making shooting above or below eye level easy.

There's a zoom control around the lens barrel, which is good for small zoom adjustments and can be used for manually focusing the lens, too. There's a nice rubberized grip on front and a textured thumb rest on back. You'll also find a programmable Custom button on top, right behind the shutter release and zoom ring that can be used for an exposure lock, white balance, ND filter, metering, and Smile Shutter, Sony's smile-activated shutter release. Next to that is a Focus button that can change your autofocus mode or, if manually focusing, it gives you a focus check so you can see if your subject is actually in focus. Lastly, there's a jog dial to the right of the thumb rest for changing ISO, exposure compensation, shutter speed, and aperture. You have to press in on the dial to advance through until you arrive at the one you want to change. If you make a lot of changes to these things, it can get tiresome.

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 HX100V'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.

Conclusion:
Like Sony's other 2011 HX-series cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V can be a lot of fun thanks to an ample feature set. Its photo and video quality are excellent at small sizes, but less so for those expecting dSLR-quality at this price and size. Getting the most from it will require learning all that it can do and its limitations; probably more so in some cases than a lower-end megazoom. Still, if you're looking for something to do double duty for movie clips and photos with a very long lens, it's worth seeking out this camera.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
1.5
0.9
0.8
0.4

Nikon Coolpix P500
1.1
1.4
0.6
0.3

Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
1.8
3.5
0.8
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V (Black)
7.8

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8