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

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The Good The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V 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.

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

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 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.

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