Sony's Cyber-shot HX9V has long been the most popular camera on CNET, and for good reason. It has a nice lens, great shooting options, and fast performance, and it takes good photos and video to boot. Its successor, the HX30V, is pretty much more of the same, which in this case is a very good thing.
The biggest difference between the two models is the lens: the HX9V has a 16x, f3.3-5.9, 24-384mm lens, while the HX30V gets a 20x, f3.2-5.8, 25-500mm lens -- all without a significant increase in size and weight.
In addition to the lens you get improved autofocus speeds and image stabilization; high-resolution stills while shooting video; new creative effects; Sony's Clear Image Zoom, which digitally extends the zoom range to 40x; improved GPS with logging; and a resolution bump from 16 to 18 megapixels.
Oh, and built-in Wi-Fi. And it works well, too, so you can take a photo you couldn't get with a smartphone, but then quickly use your iPhone or Android device to share it. But if you don't want Wi-Fi, you can shave $20 off your purchase and get the HX20V instead.
So, does all of that make it the best compact megazoom? Maybe. Like a lot of things, it comes down to your needs and how fat your wallet is.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V produces excellent photos both indoors and out for a compact megazoom, though pixel peepers probably won't agree. If you're considering buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'd be disappointed. For the most part, shots look very good at 50 percent to up to about 75 percent of their full 18-megapixel resolution. Above that, subjects will look a little more painterly and you'll see more noise and artifacts.That's still plenty of usable resolution, though, particularly if you're shooting with good lighting.
Below ISO 400, shots look good printed up to 10x13, which is more than most people need. Getting a very good 8x10 with some enlarging and cropping is certainly possible, too. And if you never print your shots, the HX30V's photos look great on a computer screen or HDTV.
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. I wouldn't bother using the two highest ISOs, though, as they look more like artist's renderings than photos and have off colors.
The default Standard color mode produces pleasingly bright, vivid colors, but they might not be accurate enough for some users. If you want more accurate colors, the HX30V does have a Real color setting and three other color modes in addition to Standard. There are also adjustments for contrast, saturation, and sharpness.
Movies captured by the HX30V are excellent as well. The 1080/60p and image stabilization makes for some smooth movement. 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 may hear it moving in quiet scenes. The stereo mic produced good audio and in the menu system you can find settings for the mic level and wind noise reduction.
One of the more important improvements Sony promised for the HX30V is faster autofocus. Not that the HX9V was slow, but faster focusing is always appreciated. The HX30V's shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- was 0.3 second in bright conditions, so shooting feels very fast. Even in low light and with the lens extended it was nearly as fast at 0.4 second. From off to first shot is a quick 1.5 seconds, though it did drop to 1.8 seconds from shot to shot. It feels faster than that time suggests, though. The only time it really lagged was when using the flash. That drove the shot-to-shot time up to an average of 4 seconds.
The camera's burst-shooting mode is officially capable of up to 10 frames per second, but it actually averaged 11fps. 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.
In comparison, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 can shoot at up to 10fps without continuous autofocus and 5fps with autofocus. Overall, though, the Sony's speed is excellent for a point-and-shoot.
Design and features
If you're looking for something slim and lightweight, the HX30V is not the camera for you. Still, all things considered it's remarkably compact and I was able to keep it in my back pants pocket when I was out shooting with it.
Its larger size not only makes room for the 20x zoom lens, but also for things like the bright 3-inch ultrahigh-resolution LCD, making it easy to see and read in daylight (though in direct sun you'll want to crank the brightness). There's a nice rubberized grip on the front and the thumb rest on the back has the same texture. You'll find a programmable Custom button on top that can be used for fast access to exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, metering, and Smile Shutter, Sony's smile-activated shutter release.
|Key specs||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.3x2.5x1.4 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||9 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||20x, f3.2-5.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive; 28Mbps)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 320 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC; Memory Stick Pro Duo|
|Bundled software||PlayMemories Home (Windows), Music Transfer (Windows, Mac)|
Menus are easy enough to navigate, and if you're not sure what something does, there's a full manual stored in the camera's memory. There is, however, so much packed into this camera that even seasoned camera users might have trouble remembering where some settings are or how to use a particular feature. Anyone can pick it up, throw it into one of the auto modes, and get a good shot, but to get the most from the camera, you'll want to dive into all of its settings and shooting options.
As mentioned earlier, the HX30V has both built-in GPS and Wi-Fi. The GPS works very well; it never spent very long searching for a signal, even in the middle of the city where the tall buildings can cause problems. However, it will eat into your battery life (which isn't all that long to begin with) and Sony buries the GPS' power in the menu system.
As for the Wi-Fi, it works well, too, and it's pretty uncomplicated to set up. The Wi-Fi can be used to send photos to an iPhone or Android smartphone, connect to a Wi-Fi-enabled TV for viewing, or back up your shots onto a computer. Sony's PlayMemories Home software (embedded in the camera's internal memory) used for sending to a computer is Windows only, but you can use the camera's Wi-Fi to connect directly to a Mac instead of over a network. (This, by the way, will also allow you to convert AVCHD video files to MP4 format on the fly.) If you're not comfortable with poking around with basic wireless settings on your computer or smartphone, you'll probably want to enlist the help of a techie friend to walk you through it.
|General shooting options||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800|
|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, Memory Recall, 3D Still Image, SCN, Background Defocus, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Movie|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child), Manual|
|Macro||0.4 inch (Wide); 5.6 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Color effects||Standard, Vivid, Real, Sepia, B&W|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||10 shots|
Like all of Sony's higher-end cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V has a lot of shooting options that take advantage of its fast Exmor R sensors and Bionz image processors. 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 12 others like Soft Skin, Gourmet, and Pet.
If you're willing to take control away from the camera, there are a Program mode and a Manual mode with control over aperture and shutter speed. It's limited to two aperture settings each at the wide and telephoto ends (using a neutral density filter); f3.2 and f8 for wide and f5.8 and f14 for telephoto. There are a few more sets of stops available through the zoom range, too. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/1,600 second to 30 seconds. It would've been nice to have aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes as well, but some control is better than none at all. 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.
The HX30V's movie mode is about the best you'll find 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 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 13-megapixel stills, too.
This is really just scratching the surface of what the camera can do. Check out my sample photo slideshow to see some examples of what I'm talking about.
Conclusion: RecommendedCanon PowerShot SX260 HSPanasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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