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Sony's 2011 Cyber-shot lineup has three compact megazooms in it: the high-end HX9V, the low-end H70, and, snuggled in between, the HX7V. The HX7V is essentially a beefed-up version of the H70, featuring the same lens and body size, but backed by a high-speed, 16-megapixel Exmor R backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor instead of a slower CCD sensor. That sensor among other things gives the HX7V many more shooting options, such as a Background Defocus mode to simulate a shallow depth-of-field, and creating high-resolution panoramas. And it does most everything quickly.
Now, as for photo quality, it really comes down to what you're expecting.
|Key specs||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.1x2.3x1.1 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||7.3 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/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||10x, f3.5-5.5, 25-250mm (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 (interlaced; 24Mbps)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li ion rechargeable, 300 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; via USB to AC adapter or 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|
Photo quality is very good to excellent, but pixel peepers or those expecting miracles from a point-and-shoot will likely be disappointed. There's little difference in quality from ISO 125 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. There's a noticeable increase in noise and noise reduction at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, making colors more washed-out and making 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 just leaving it in auto won't always get you the best results.
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, 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 somewhat painterly. Overall, anyone looking for a snapshot camera for regularly making 8x10 prints or smaller or images to be viewed on a TV or computer screen should be more than satisfied with the HX7V.
Color is excellent from the HX7V. While blues and reds may not be as accurate as other colors, they are bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that, things get slightly washed-out and muddy-looking.
Movies captured by the HX7V are excellent as well, on par with a very good pocket video camera. The 60i frame rate and image stabilization make for some smooth movement, too. You will see some ghosting with fast-moving subjects, though, and things look a little oversharpened on occasion. It won't replace a full-fledged HD camcorder, but if you'd like a single device for capturing good photos and videos, this is one of the better options available. The optical zoom does work while recording (though you will hear it moving in quiet scenes), and the stereo mic is a nice extra.
|General shooting options||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 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, 3D Still Image, SCN, Background Defocus, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Movie|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child)|
|Macro||1.9 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||10 shots|
Despite giving it a full manual mode, Sony keeps shooting options geared toward snapshooters on the HX7V, but it's so loaded with automatic modes that it could get very confusing. 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 11 others are available in the HX7V's scene mode (SCN), 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.
If you want to take more control, Program Auto lets you adjust ISO, white balance, autofocus points, light metering, and exposure values. There is a full manual option for 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); f3.5 and f8 for wide and f5.5 and f13 for telephoto. There are a few more sets of stops available through the zoom range: f4-9, f4.5-10, and f5-11. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/1,600 to 30 seconds. It's more than you get on most point-and-shoots, so I'm not complaining; just don't buy this expecting a lot of control. Also worth mentioning is that the HX7V has exposure bracketing that will take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV. It doesn't do this terribly fast, though, so you may want to use a tripod and use this only with still subjects.
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 differentiates 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 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 is up to 20MB.
The HX7V's movie mode is capable of recording at HD resolutions up to 1,920x1,080 pixels in either AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats with use of the optical zoom while recording. Though you can 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 a compact megazoom and have already started collecting 3D equipment, this is one more reason to pick up the HX7V.
As for shooting performance, the HX7V is on par with other CMOS-based compact megazooms. From off to first shot is 1.7 seconds with a shot-to-shot time of 1.4 seconds. Turning on the flash, though, slows the camera down to 3.2 seconds between shots. Its shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is good at 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim conditions with less subject contrast. The camera's burst shooting mode is capable of up to 10fps, but in our more demanding test it averaged 7.6fps, which is still very good. 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. Though its speed is excellent for a point-and-shoot, that doesn't mean it's going to be perfect for shooting active kids and pets. Especially since the multishot modes it uses require still subjects.
With all its capabilities, Sony managed to keep the overall design pretty simple. The body slips easily into a pocket or small bag. The screen is large and bright, making it easy to see in bright conditions (you might still struggle in direct sun, though). There's a nice rubberized grip on the front and an indent on back for your thumb.
Menus are easy enough to navigate, and if you're not sure what something does, there's a full manual stored on the camera accessible at the push of a button. Though most people familiar with digital cameras will have little trouble using the HX7V out of the box, some of the shooting modes have a lot of settings and need to be used in specific ways; it might take some time to get acquainted with all this camera can do. Also, the interface is a little sluggish, especially when changing shooting modes. I'm not sure if this was just my review camera, but it was frustrating during my testing.
There are a few design things that were less than perfect. The flash on front is positioned on the far right-hand side. If you're not careful with your grip, your fingers can partially block it. The buttons on back are very tiny and could potentially be too small for some to press easily. Similarly, the movie record button is small and you can barely feel when it's been pressed. Moreover, since it takes a couple of seconds for the camera to start recording, there were times when I pressed it and wasn't sure it was recording, only to have it start and stop because I had pressed it a second time. So part user error and part design problem with that.
There are a couple of other design things to be aware of. For some of its 2011 Cyber-shots, including the HX7V, Sony switched to charging the camera battery in the camera via USB. You can charge it by connecting to a computer or the included wall adapter. However, it's a proprietary port on the camera, so if you lose the cable, you'll have to buy one from Sony. Also, the battery life is a CIPA-rated 300 shots. If you're shooting a lot of video, have the display brightness cranked up, or are using a lot of the multishot modes or burst shooting, this will cut into your battery life. If you buy a backup battery you'll probably want to buy an external charger as well, or just plan ahead.
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 HX7V'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.
If you're in the market for a compact megazoom camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V is worth considering for its shooting performance, fun features, and low-light photo quality. Though overall photo quality could be sharper and colors more accurate, the results are generally excellent, especially if all you're after is a decent snapshot. Also, while its auto modes are very reliable, you'll want to experiment with the different settings and shooting options (and read the instruction manual thoroughly) to get the most from this excellent camera.
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