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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300 review: Very fine point-and-shoot with a 50x zoom lens

The 24-1,200mm lens on the HX300 covers an impressive range and, thankfully, its image stabilization is top-notch, too.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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10 min read

For a lot of people, the only thing that makes a point-and-shoot better than a smartphone for taking pictures is a zoom lens, and for many of those people, the more zoom range, the better.

Sony_Cyber-shot_DSC-HX300_35626182_09.jpg
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300

The Good

The <b>Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300</b> has strong image stabilization to back up its 50x zoom lens; excellent picture quality for its class; and a large assortment of shooting options for all levels of photographers.

The Bad

The HX300's 20-megapixel sensor doesn't translate into better picture quality. It doesn't have a hot shoe, GPS, or Wi-Fi built in. Captures JPEG only, no raw.

The Bottom Line

It can't match some of its competition in the features department, but the Sony Cyber-shot HX300 still packs a powerful zoom lens and plenty of point-and-shoot punch.

That's how we end up with the Sony Cyber-shot HX300 and its 50x f2.8-6.3 24-1200mm lens. It's the same range found on the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and the Fujifilm FinePix SL1000, but the Sony's apertures are wider at both ends (though just marginally more so than the SL1000's), making it a bit better in low light than the Canon, at least at the wide end.

It's a new lens for Sony, and with it comes improved autofocus (AF) for better performance in telephoto and enhanced optical image stabilization (OIS) made possible by, according to Sony, "a second zoom group of lens elements that shifts rapidly to correct for the slightest of hand movements."

The OIS does work really well and the AF is nice and quick, even with the lens fully zoomed in. However, that doesn't mean you'll want to skip a tripod for all situations, and although it's quick to focus, the camera can slow you down in other ways.

The rest of the HX300 isn't significantly better or worse than last year's version of the camera, the HX200V, so really it's all about the lens. If you're looking for more-advanced features with the same zoom range, definitely check out the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. The HX300 is more fun to use, though, and overall a better option for snapshooters.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Picture quality
Photo quality from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300 is very good to excellent, though it really depends on your needs and expectations. If you're considering buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'd be disappointed. A 20-megapixel sensor doesn't guarantee good image quality and most pictures from the camera viewed at full size aren't impressive. However, there's plenty of usable resolution here, particularly if you're shooting with plenty of light.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300 sample pictures

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Below ISO 400, shots look good printed up to 10x13, which is more than most people need. Getting a very good 8x10 photo with some enlarging and cropping is certainly possible, too. And if you never print your shots, the HX300's images look great on a computer screen or HDTV with minor cropping or enlarging.

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.

Again, the HX300 is not a dSLR (it can't even capture raw images), but for people looking for a long lens and some better control over results than the average point-and-shoot offers, it's a safe bet.

The HX300's video is as good as its photos. With plenty of light you get nice-looking, smooth video when recording at the camera's maximum AVCHD resolution of 1080/60p. There is very little trailing on moving subjects or judder when panning the camera, though some is noticeable when viewed at larger screen sizes. In low light, movies do have more visible noise and artifacts and look softer, but are still very good. You do have use of the zoom lens, which you may hear moving in quieter scenes. Audio quality in general is very good, too, but unfortunately you're limited to the stereo mic on top.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
In general, the HX300 is a pretty fast camera. As with its image quality, the performance doesn't match that of an SLR, but that's honestly not something you should expect from this class of camera. From off to first shot, for example, takes 2.1 seconds. Give that the camera has to turn on and push the lens out, focus, and shoot in that amount of time, that's reasonably fast. In our tests, the HX300's shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is 0.2 second in bright lighting and 0.4 second in low-light conditions.

Shot-to-shot times vary depending on how much processing the camera has to do, but overall they felt fast. In our lab tests the camera took less than 0.8 second between shots. However, if you use a mode or high-ISO setting that requires extra processing, it can be a couple of seconds before you're able to shoot again. Using the flash will also drive the wait up, slowing it to about 3.8 seconds between shots.

Burst shooting carries a similar penalty. Though the HX300 can take 10 shots per second at full resolution, once it's done shooting, it keeps you waiting about a second per shot while it stores the images. There's also no option to continuously shoot with AF, so focus and exposure are set with the first photo.

Worth noting, too, is that the zoom lens doesn't move all that fast. That's fine for movies where you'd want slower, controlled movement. But if you're trying to track a fast-moving subject, it can seem a little slow.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
The HX300's body, despite the larger lens, is basically unchanged from the HX200V's, which is to say the camera is fairly large and heavy, even with its plastic body. Most of the weight is the lens, too, making it feel slightly unbalanced. Still, there's plenty of lens and a well-formed right-hand grip to help you keep it steady.

While it may not look like it has many direct controls for settings, it actually has a fair number. 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. You'll also find a programmable Custom button on top, right behind the shutter release and zoom ring, which can be used for an exposure lock, white balance, metering, and Smile Shutter, Sony's smile-activated shutter release.

Sony Cyber-shot HX300 (hands-on pictures)

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Next to that is a Focus button that can change your autofocus mode or, if you're manually focusing, give 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.

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).

Conclusion
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
0.8
1.3
0.8
0.4
0.2

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
1.2
3
1
0.4
0.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300
2.1
3.8
0.8
0.4
0.2

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
2
2.4
1.6
0.5
0.3

Nikon Coolpix P520
2.3
2.3
2.1
1.9
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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