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Today Patrick Dean from Neutralday.com reviews the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V is a 10.2 megapixel compact digital camera that promises to appeal to tech-friendly photographers thanks to a number of very cool features. For starters the HX5V brings a backlit sensor design aimed at improving low light performance, and pairs that with a versatile 10x zoom lens. Next, like a number of recent Sony digital cameras, the HX5V offers photographers several useful shooting modes like Handheld Twilight mode and Anti-motion Blur each of which combine up to 6 rapid fire shots to either reduce image noise or motion blur. Then there’s the iSweep Panorama feature that makes panoramas as easy as pressing the shutter and “sweeping” your intended scene with the camera.
What about video? Well, the HX5V takes HD video (1080i), and provides an HDMI out to let you view both movies and stills on your big screen HDTV. Finally the HX5V will likely be most noted for one additional feature, built in GPS. GPS of course allows the HX5V to “geotag” your photos, data that the photographer can use later to sort photos by location, or to view on Google maps. In short the HX5V is quite a versatile compact camera, though one geared more to the casual photographer than the enthusiast. Let’s go over the highlights.
10.2 megapixel “Exmor R” CMOS image sensor: This backlit designed sensor moves the circuitry that normally covers a typical compact’s sensor to the rear of it, theoretically improving its light gathering capabilities
10x zoom “G” Lens 4.25-42.5mm (25-250mm 35mm film equivalent): 10 elements in 7 groups including 4 aspheric elements make for an impressive compact lens, but one hampered by lack of aperture range (basically f/3.5 and f/8.0).
3 Inch LCD Display: The large display is nice enough and works well even in bright light, but lags the competition with a resolution of 230K.
10 FPS Continuous Shooting: In burst mode the HX5V fires of 10 shots in one second, impressive for sure, but it takes almost 10 seconds to then write all those files to memory.
1080i AVCHD Movie Mode: The HX5V allows users to choose between AVCHD (better quality) or MP4 (easier to edit) formats for video. In addition to 1080i at 60fps, the HX5V also shoots 720p at 30fps, and 640×480 at 30fps. The HX5V also records stereo sound.
Integrated GPS and Compass: The HX5V can tag photos with longitude, latitude, and altitude, and also provides a useful compass. The GPS can be turned off to mitigate privacy concerns if desired.
The HX5V is a handsome little number with a matte black finish and wrap around dark chrome bezel. It’s compact, but not all that thin, still the HX5V easily fits in a front pants pocket, though I’d recommend against its placement in a shirt pocket. Build quality is quite good, the HX5V is expensive for a compact, but it feels up to the price tag. There’s a good deal of “badging” covering the surface of the camera, but it mostly works aesthetically, in looks and build the HX5V largely satisfies.
As far as handling and ergonomic issues are concerned, the HX5V faces the same space challenges that most compacts do, and naturally some things tend to be less than ideal. For the HX5V, the issue is with the lens placement, it’s quite close to the left side of the camera, leaving little room for the left hand to grip during two-handed operation. The second issue is the placement of the stereo speakers. We’re of course grateful to have stereo when many other cameras skimp with mono, but they’re just instantly covered by any normal two-handed position on the camera. Outside those two issues, the HX5V gets things mostly right with a small but useful grip, and effective button and multi-selector placement.
Thanks to a clean and simple interface, the HX5V comes off feeling very approachable. The HX5V does without a good many physical controls, and as such may not appeal to enthusiasts (it’s limited aperture range, and lack of RAW shooting also won’t appeal to those photographers) but the HX5V does thankfully make it super easy to make changes via the interface, the options are well laid out, and even spelled out (literally) so the HX5V is one of those cameras that doesn’t require much manual time.
Actually shooting with the camera is pretty satisfying. You can simply set the HX5V to Intelligent Auto and let the camera do all of the thinking, it does an effective job at picking out the appropriate scene mode, detects faces, and even sorts out when you’re trying macro work (which the lens is very capable at handling at very close distances). In addition to Intelligent Auto, the HX5V provides 11 mostly automated scene modes for shots in specific environments, while also providing a Program mode and Manual mode for photographers who like to handle some of their shooting options. The real interesting options are the previously mentioned Handheld Twilight, Anti-Motion Blur, and iSweep Panorama shooting modes that actually work as advertised.
The first two allow photographers to get shots that would be very tough for your average compact, and iSweep panorama will have you scratching your head as to why this hasn’t been put on every camera, it’s just too easy. Also despite these modes involving the combination of multiple shots, they work seamlessly, and there’s only a short delay for processing. One more shooting mode before moving on, Backlight Correction HDR for subjects that are strongly backlit and at risk for underexposure. This mode combines 2 exposures and combines them instantly in-camera, the results again will have you wanting a similar feature on every camera, it works that well.
Overall camera performance is mostly impressive, the camera boots up pretty quickly and focus speeds are amongst the best in the compacts that we’ve tested this year. The HX5V can fire 10 fps (for one second) if desired, but as we pointed out above that does come with a lengthy write to card time. The lens moves through its range in about 1.5 seconds, though it can be a tricky to move it to “just the right point”. There’s a small delay in the transition to playback, but for the most part the HX5V rarely comes off as sluggish.
Post capture, the HX5V offers some typical playback options, an unobstructed view of your image, or the option of adding shooting information, GPS coordinates, and a histogram. Using the zoom lever provides a magnified view or going the other way, thumbnail and calendar views. Surprisingly the HX5V doesn’t provide very thorough in-camera editing options, you can do some cropping, rotating, and sharpening, but no fun digital filters are provided. The HX5V does provide a nice slideshow option however, where one can even upload their own music file if desired. The slideshow looks amazing on an HDTV, complete with “Ken Burns” effects. An included HDMI adapter makes the hookup easy.
Lastly there’s that GPS feature to discuss. From what we can tell the GPS is only working when the camera is turned on, which makes sense but does create a small problem. If one takes a picture straight away, the HX5V hasn’t had enough time to find its position and thus you don’t get the appropriate or most accurate (note the “pin” in the water above) geotag data. So for best results, the HX5V should be turned on and given a couple of minutes to acquire the optimal signal. The camera let’s you know how well connected it is, and the better the connection the more accurate results are. Our results were very good, and thanks to the HX5V, I’m hooked on geotagging.
The camera does include software for viewing your tracking results, but I opted for using iLife and Aperture 3’s “Places” feature which Google maps your results inside the application, in addition to allowing for image searches based on location. I suspect that the GPS feature does eat into battery life, we never got the Sony claimed 310 shots per charge, but it’s a sacrifice worth making for the fun GPS data.
Perhaps I was taken in a bit too much by the hype, but I was disappointed by the image quality offered by the backlit 10.2 megapixel sensor. It is on the high side of average, but I’m not finding big advantages in overall IQ or low light image quality relative to other compacts. But the HX5V does take a very appealing picture that has a “something about it” quality that grows on you, and in the end makes lovely small to medium sized prints. Technically, exposures are pretty good, with a tendency towards overexposure. Lens aberrations and distortion are well controlled, likely through in-camera trickery, but that’s fine with us. Pixel peeping will reveal very heavy-handed noise reduction and a tendency to oversharpen. Low light performance is better than average, but not Canon Powershot S90 good. Our opinion is that in-camera noise reduction plays a larger role than sensor technology, but the HX5V does a really good job at maintaining saturation even at its highest ISO 3200 setting.
On the video side of things, the HX5V provides very satisfying results especially in the AVCHD 1080i mode. Movie recording couldn’t be easier, the HX5V offers a dedicated movie record button that can be implemented at any time, and optical zooming works while filming (quietly enough to be used as well). Playback on an HDTV looks great, but there can be some lens distortion issues (in-camera tricks not working in video?), and low light video generally looks underexposed.
In most regards the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX5V scores high marks where it needs to. It’s a nice looking camera, packed with actually useful special features, several of which are bound to spoil users when compared to other camera’s so-called special features. We’ll admit to not being sold on Sony’s backlit sensor technology, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean the HX5V doesn’t take a pretty picture, it certainly does. Factor in high quality HD video, the 10 fps continuous shooting, fast autofocusing, and super-fun geotagging, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V easily ranks as one of our favorites for the year. No question it comes “Highly Recommended”.