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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (Black) review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (Black)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (Black)

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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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11 min read

Editors' note: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V was replaced for Sony's 2012 Cyber-shot lineup by the HX30V and HX20V. The HX9V is still available, however, so if you're not sure if you should spend the extra money to get the new HX30V, here are reasons why to go with one over the other. You should also consider the HX10V, which has the same lens as the HX9V, but Sony's new features and improvements for its 2012 Cyber-shots.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (Black)
8.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (Black)

The Good

The <b>Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V</b> is overflowing with shooting features, and has excellent photo and video quality and solid shooting performance.

The Bad

The HX9V might actually be too much camera for some users and there are a couple of minor design issues.

The Bottom Line

Feature junkies in search of a compact megazoom should get the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V.

Sony has three compact megazooms in its 2011 lineup; the Cyber-shot HX9V is the most expensive. It's also the only one of the three (the H70 and HX7V are the others) that's not replacing a 2010 model. It's entirely new and hosts what seems like all of Sony's latest Cyber-shot technologies. That includes (for better or worse) a 16-megapixel Exmor R sensor, a 16x ultrawide-angle 24mm-equivalent Sony G 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 compact megazooms I've tested.

That said, it's not always the easiest camera to use simply because there are so many features. If all you want is a long lens in a smallish body with a reliable auto mode, there are other options in this category worth considering. But if having something that's part camera and part gadget sounds appealing to you, check out the HX9V.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.3x2.4x1.4 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 8.6 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) 16x, f3.3-5.9, 24-384mm (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, 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

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 HX9V's shooting options. But even left in auto it turns out very good photos. The only real disappointment is that photos aren't very sharp even at its lowest ISO. However, there's little difference between photos taken at ISO 100 and ISO 400. Noise reduction kicks in more at ISO 800, which softens details and dulls colors. 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.

On the other hand, if you're shooting a stationary subject, the HX9V'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 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 13x19 inches at ISO 800 with the lens fully extended still looked good, just soft. Overall, anyone looking for a snapshot camera for regularly making 8x10 prints or smaller or viewing on a TV or computer screen should be more than satisfied with the HX9V.

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 HX9V does have a Real color setting and three other color modes in addition to Standard. However, these things are not available in all shooting modes.

Movies captured by the HX9V 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 will hear it moving in quiet scenes, and the stereo mic produced good audio.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
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, Memory Recall, 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
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Real, Sepia, B&W
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10 shots

The HX9V is packed full of automatic and manual shooting options. For the most control you can use 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); f3.3 and f8 for wide and f5.9 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 to 30 seconds. It would've been nice to have aperture- and shutter-priority modes as well, but some control is better than none at all.

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.

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 12 other standard scenes are available in the HX9V'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 pixels, and a single shot is about 14MB.

The HX9V'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. 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 coverts 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 HX9V.

As for shooting performance, the HX9V is on par with other CMOS-based compact megazooms. From off to first shot is 1.6 seconds with a shot-to-shot time of 1.4 seconds. Turning on the flash, though, slows the camera down to 4.1 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 0.8 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.

With all its capabilities, Sony managed to keep the overall design and usability pretty simple. The body is bulky, but all things considered it's still remarkably compact and I was able to keep it in my back pants pocket when I was out shooting with it. The screen is large and bright, making it easy to see in bright conditions (you'll still struggle in direct sun). There's a nice rubberized grip on front and a similarly textured thumb rest on back. You'll also 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.

Menus are easy enough to navigate, and if you're not sure what something does, there's a full manual stored on the camera. Though most people familiar with digital cameras will have no problems using the HX9V out of the box, some of the shooting modes have a lot of settings. It might take some time to get acquainted with all this camera can do.

There are two design choices that bothered me a little. The flash is on top on the far left and slides up from the body when needed. If you're not careful with your grip, your finger will prevent it from rising. It seems to be motor-driven, so mostly I was concerned with damaging the raising mechanism. There is at least room behind the flash once it's up for you to hold the camera. The other thing is the placement of the movie record button. The button is small and set in above the thumb rest, making it slightly difficult to press. 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 there.

There are a couple of other design things to be aware of. For some 2011 Cyber-shots, including the HX9V, 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 HX9V'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. 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:
The more I used the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, the more fun I had. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I kept finding new modes and settings to play with. It's not quite the ultimate compact megazoom, but it's pretty close--closer than any others I've tested for 2011. And if you want something to do double duty for movie clips and photos with a versatile zoom lens in a pocketable body, you want this camera.

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

Nikon Coolpix S9100
1.1
1.2
0.6
0.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
1.9
1.1
0.7
0.4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
1.1
1.5
0.8
0.4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
1.8
1.5
0.8
0.4

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
1.6
2.4
0.8
0.4

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-HX9V (Black)
8.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8
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