Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V review: Lightest way to travel with a 30x zoom

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The Good Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V is the smallest, lightest camera with a 30x zoom. It has a large assortment of shooting options, direct control over exposure compensation, and excellent photo and video quality for its class. A Multi Interface Shoe lets you attach a flash, mic, or electronic viewfinder.

The Bad Despite the additional manual controls and Multi Interface Shoe, the HX50 lacks a couple of things enthusiasts value: a large sensor and raw capture. The flash, mic, and viewfinder accessories are expensive. A slow lens limits its usefulness indoors.

The Bottom Line Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V is an excellent compact megazoom suitable for snapshooters and enthusiasts, though the latter might be turned off by some aspects of the camera.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V combines two things a lot of people are after in a compact camera: a pocketable body and a long zoom lens.

Granted, "pocketable" is a bit of a stretch for a camera that measures 4.4 inches wide by 2.6 inches high by 1.6 inches deep, and weighs approximately 9.6 ounces. On the other hand, similar cameras around this size don't have a 30x, f3.5-6.3, 24-720mm lens. Nor do they have several of this camera's other features that make it a leader in the category.

There are, however, two things missing that perhaps make it a little less appealing to photo enthusiasts: raw capture and a small, 1/2.3-inch-type sensor. If you want a large-sensor compact or more than just JPEG images, you'll have to wait, or buy something with less zoom.

Otherwise, this is a very nice travel zoom camera.

Picture quality
The photo quality from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V 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.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Below ISO 400, shots look good printed up to 10x13 inches, 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 HX50's photos 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 the results look more like artist's renderings than photos and they have off colors.

Again, the HX50V 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. (You can read more about the camera's image quality as well as download full-size samples in the slideshow above.)

The HX50V'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 should you want better (and also to do away with the lens motor noise) you can add a stereo mic to the camera's accessory shoe.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
In general, the HX50V is a pretty fast camera. From off to first shot, for example, takes 1.9 seconds. Given 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 my tests, 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, which puts it on par with the fastest cameras in this category.

Shot-to-shot times vary depending on how much processing the camera has to do, but overall they felt fast. In my 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 2.1 seconds between shots.

Burst shooting carries a similar penalty. Though the HX50V can take 10 shots per second at full resolution, once it's done shooting, it keeps you waiting a little less than 1 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
Aside from being slightly bigger, the HX50V doesn't look all that different from its predecessor, the Cyber-shot HX30V, at least at first glance. Turn the camera around and the differences are less subtle. Perhaps the biggest change is that there is a second dial on top: in addition to the one for changing shooting modes, there is now one for quickly adjusting exposure compensation.

The Custom button, which can be used for fast access to ISO, white balance, metering, and Smile Shutter, Sony's smile-activated shutter release, has been moved from the top to the back. That helped make room for the new Multi Interface Shoe.

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