Originally Posted: May 24, 2009
Last Updated: July 23, 2009
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 ($499) is a super zoom camera that uses a CMOS sensor, rather than the CCD typically found on compact cameras. This 9.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor allows the HX1 to perform all kinds of tricks, including 10 frame/second continuous shooting, HD movie recording, a unique "sweep panorama" feature, and more. Its ability to record stills and HD movies makes the DSC-HX1 what most would call a "hybrid camera". Its main competitor (the Canon PowerShot SX1) is also a hybrid model -- it too has a CMOS sensor, a 20X zoom lens, and HD movie recording (at a higher resolution, in fact).
Other features on the HX1 include a 20X, 28 - 560 mm lens, optical image stabilization, a tilting 3-inch LCD display, full manual controls, face and smile detection, HDMI output, and much more.
Ready to learn more about the DSC-HX1, and how it compares to the PowerShot SX1? Then keep reading -- our review starts right now!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-HX1 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 9.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 camera
- NP-FH50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Shoulder strap
- USB + A/V cable
- HDMI adapter
- CD-ROM featuring Picture Motion Browser software, Cyber-shot handbook and Step-up Guide
- 74 page basic manual (printed) plus 176 page full manual (on CD-ROM)
Like all of Sony's recent cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 has built-in memory, in lieu of having a memory card included in the box. The HX1 has a paltry 11MB of onboard memory, which holds just two photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to get a large memory card, and fast. The DSC-HX1 supports Memory Stick Duo media (sigh), and I'd recommend starting out with a 4GB card on on this movie-centric camera.
The DSC-HX1 uses the NP-FH50 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has been used in Sony's camcorders for a while now. Despite its relatively small size, the battery packs a very respectable 6.1 Wh of energy into its plastic shell. Here's how that translates into battery life:
The DSC-HX1 turns in battery life numbers that are average in the super zoom class.
I should point out a few things about the proprietary lithium-ion battery used by the HX1, and about half of the cameras in the table above. Proprietary batteries tend to be more expensive than their AA counterparts, with a spare NP-FH50 costing at least $40. In addition, should that battery run out of juice, you can pick up an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day.
When you're ready to charge the HX1's battery, just pop it into the included charger. And then you can go to dinner and a movie, since it takes anywhere from 205 - 256 minutes to charge the battery. This is my favorite kind of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall (though this may not be the case for those of you in other countries).
Sony includes a big 'ol lens cap (and retaining strap) with the DSC-HX1. As you can see, it's a fairly large camera.
There are a number of accessories available for the HX1, and I've compiled them into this table:
It's not often you see a telephoto conversion lens on a super zoom camera. The one for the HX1 gives you a total zoom power of 34X!
Optional GPS unit; image courtesy of Sony Electronics
I purchased the GPS-CS3 GPS tracker and took it with me to Hawaii. Using it with the HX1 couldn't be any easier. Put a AA battery into the GPS, turn it on, and select your time zone. Then, make sure the clocks on the GPS and your camera are the same. Then just through the GPS into a bag or pocket and start shooting! When you're done shooting, you take the memory card out of the camera and insert it into the GPS, which then "matches" the location data with your photos. Now, when you view photos on your camera, in Picture Motion Browser, iPhoto, or various online photo sharing sites, you can see exactly where you took a picture. Very cool little gadget.
Sony includes version 4 of their Picture Motion Browser software with the DSC-HX1. This software remains Windows-only, so Mac users will have to use something else (iPhoto works just fine). The first part of the software you'll probably encounter is PMB Launcher, which is the gateway to all of PMB's functions. Here you can import photos, upload them to popular photo/video sharing sites, burn a CD or DVD, or just jump right into the photo browser.
Picture Motion Browser for Windows
Speaking of which, above you can see the actual Picture Motion Browser software. On the main screen you'll find the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos in a calendar format, as well. You can sort photos by date, whether they contain people, smiles, or scenery, by label, and more. From here you can also e-mail, print, or upload your photos to sharing sites; a slideshow option is also available.
View photos on a map in PMB
If your photos are geotagged (and have the little compass icon on the thumbnail) then you can also see them on a map. Very cool!
Editing in Picture Motion Browser
Double-clicking on any thumbnail brings you to the edit screen. The tools here include auto correction, brightness/contrast/saturation adjustment, redeye removal, and trimming (cropping). You can even adjust the tone curve, with wasn't available on earlier versions of PMB. You can also print the data on your photo at this point.
The final piece of software included with the HX1 is Music Transfer. This allows you to copy MP3s or CD audio to the camera to use as background music for slideshows. Don't expect miraculous audio quality, though.
Look and Feel
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is a midsize ultra zoom camera made of a mixture of plastic and metal. The camera feels pretty solid for the most part, with the only weak spot being the plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment. The HX1 is easy to hold, thanks to a good-sized right hand grip. The camera has a decent amount of buttons, but they're well-labeled and tend to stick to a single function.
Now, here's a look at how the DSC-HX1 compares to other super zoom cameras in terms of size and weight:
The HX1 is right in the middle of the pack for both size and weight. It's certainly not a "pocket camera" (not even close), but it does travel well on your shoulder, or in a camera bag.
Ready to tour the DSC-HX1 now? So am I, so let's begin!
One of the highlights on the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is undoubtedly its F2.8-5.2, 20X optical zoom lens. This isn't a "Carl Zeiss" lens like on most Sony cameras (quotes intentional). Instead, it carries the Sony "G" label, which I'm told makes it a higher quality lens than its Zeiss-branded counterpart. The focal range of the lens is 5.0 - 100.0 mm, which is equivalent to a whopping 28 - 560 mm. Not enough zoom power for you? Then you can pick up that 1.7X teleconverter that I mentioned earlier, which gives you an unbelievable 34X total zoom power. Both the lens and the barrel that surrounds it are threaded, but Sony doesn't disclose the size, or offer any filters. There are some third-party options out there, if you are so inclined.
Inside that lens is Sony's optical image stabilization system, which they call SteadyShot. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can shake the camera just enough to blur your photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. OIS systems can't work miracles: they won't freeze a moving subject, nor will they allow you to take night photos without a tripod (though Sony has another trick up their sleeve for that), but it's way better than nothing at all. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of the photos above were taken at the slow shutter speed of 1/4 second. As you can see, the photo with image stabilization turned on is noticeably sharper! As you'd expect, you can also the OIS system in movie mode, as you can see in this brief sample movie.
Right above the lens is the HX1's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This is a powerful flash, with a working range of 0.3 - 9.2 m at wide-angle, and 1.5 - 5.1 m at telephoto. Keep in mind that, as always, these numbers are with the ISO set to Auto, which may not always be desirable. You cannot attach an external flash to the DSC-HX1.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also lights up during smile detection or self-timer usage.
The HX1 has a large, 3-inch LCD display that can pull away from the back of the camera, and then tilt up or down. This feature, found on some of Sony's previous ultra zooms, allows you to shoot over the heads of people in front of you (or take ground-level photos) with ease. The screen can tilt 90 degrees upward, or 160 degrees downward. It's not quite as handy as an LCD that flips out to the side and rotates, but most will agree that it beats having a fixed display.
Here's that 3.0" screen in a more traditional position. While the screen is large, the resolution of 230,400 pixels is the same as smaller 2.5" and 2.7" displays. The LCD offers very good outdoor visibility, and in low light, the screen brightens automatically, though not as much as I would've liked.
Directly above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF is as tiny LCD screen that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder. You can see the same things on the EVF as you can on the LCD, and there's no parallax error to deal with. Unfortunately, EVFs never come close to optical viewfinders in terms of brightness and sharpness. The one here is tiny -- just 0.2" in size (half the size of the Canon PowerShot SX1's EVF), and it has a resolution of 201,000 pixels. Since it uses LCOS technology, you may notice a "rainbow" effect when you blink, or rapidly move the camera. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by adjusting the diopter correction knob on its right side.
To the right of the EVF are the playback and custom buttons. By default, the custom button turns on the Smile Shutter feature, though you can also have it adjust white balance or metering mode, instead. Continuing to the right, we find the camera's command dial, which you'll use for adjusting the ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, shutter speed, and aperture. To move from one setting to the next, just press the button inward.
Below the command dial are two more buttons, plus the four-way controller. The buttons are self-explanatory: one enters the menu system, while the other deletes a photo. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - Display - Toggles what's shown on the LCD/EVF
- Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Left - Macro (Auto, on)
- Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow sync, flash off)
And that's it for the back of the DSC-HX1!
The first thing to see on the top of the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is the button at the far left that switches between the EVF and the LCD. To the right of that is the stereo microphone, which is practically a necessity on a hybrid camera like this. One thing you won't find here (that you will find on the PowerShot SX1) is a hot shoe.
Keep moving right and you'll find the lit-up power button, with the mode dial next to it. The mode dial is packed with options, some of which are quite unique. Here's the full list of them:
Plenty to talk about before we can move on. The Easy mode is about as simple as you can get. You get just two options: image size (large or small) and flash (auto or off).
If you want something a little more elaborate, without delving into manual controls, then you can use the Intelligent Auto mode. In this mode, the camera will select a scene mode for you, selecting from portrait, macro, landscape, backlight, backlight portrait, twilight, twilight with tripod, and twilight portrait. You can also turn on the iSCN Advanced feature, which will take two photos in a row, giving you two different effects. For example, in backlight portrait mode, it will take the first shot with the flash, and the second with the dynamic range optimizer (DRO) set to "plus" (more on that later).
Don't want the camera picking the scene mode for you? Then just set the mode dial to "SCN", and you have ten scenes to choose from. I'd recommend passing on the high sensitivity mode (which boosts the ISO as high as 3200), as it can result in poor quality photos. The advanced sports shooting mode combines fast shutter speeds with predictive autofocus.
If you want full manual control over exposure, you've got it. Unlike the PowerShot SX1, the DSC-HX1 gives you the full shutter speed range in all shooting modes. The only thing missing here is a spot on the mode dial to save your favorite camera settings.
Using the sweep panorama feature
The last three options on the mode dial are probably the most interesting. The HX1's "sweep panorama" feature is one of the best innovations on a digital camera I've seen in a long time. Simply point the camera where you want to start your panorama, press the shutter release button, and then "sweep" the camera in the direction of the arrow. The camera stitches the photos in real-time -- no software needed! You can record a standard panorama (40:9 aspect ratio), or a wide view which has an aspect ratio of 60:9, covering 224 degrees!
As you can see from the samples above, the results are spectacular. The camera does a pretty good job of stitching things together, though you'll spot "seams" here and there, especially if you're a little sloppy when you're doing "the sweep".
The anti motion blur and handheld twilight modes work in a similar way: the camera takes a rapid sequence of photos (six, I believe), and combines them into a single image. Anti motion blur mode is for shooting indoors (when light levels are poor), while handheld twilight lets you do the impossible: take night scenes (like the ones in my reviews) without using a tripod. The resulting images are filled with noise and noise reduction, so don't plan on printing anything larger than 4 x 6, but if you really need the shot, these modes are definitely worth a try.
Getting back to the tour, now: right above the mode dial are two buttons. One adjusts the focus mode, while the other controls the burst and bracketing modes. The focus choices on the HX1 include multi-point, center, and flexible spot AF, and there are semi and full manual options, as well. The flexible spot AF mode lets you select one of 108 spots in the frame on which to focus, which comes in handy when you're using a tripod. The semi and full manual focus options may look similar, but only one is truly manual. In semi-manual mode, you pick a distance, and the camera's autofocus system tries to lock onto a subject at roughly that distance. For complete control, you'll need to use the full manual AF mode, where you'll set the AF distance yourself, without any intervention from the camera. For both of these manual focus modes, the center of the frame is enlarged, and a guide showing the approximate focus distance is shown on the LCD or EVF.
One of the other big features on the DSC-HX1 is its burst mode, which you access via the Burst/Bracketing button above the mode dial. There are three difference burst speeds to choose from: low, mid, and high, which shoot at 2, 5, and an unbelievable 10 frames/second. Regardless of the speed, the camera will take up to ten photos in a row. The LCD keeps up very well with the action, so following a moving subject is no problem. About the only thing I can find to complain about is the amount of time that it takes to save the images to your Memory Stick Duo card -- about fifteen seconds.
The HX1 allows you to bracket for exposure, white balance, or color. In each case, the camera records three images, each with a different exposure (0.3EV, 0.7EV, 1.0EV), color tone (current, bluish tint, reddish tint), or color mode (normal, real, vivid). Since the HX1 lacks a RAW mode, bracketing is a good way to insure proper exposure and white balance, assuming that you have space on your memory card.
The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the shutter release button, which is surrounded by the zoom controller. I did find the shutter release to be too sensitive, though it could just be my particular camera with that issue. The zoom controller is variable speed, and at maximum warp it travels from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. I counted over fifty steps in the HX1's 20X zoom range -- nice!
On this side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, and you can also catch a glance at the diopter correction knob for the electronic viewfinder. The ports here include DC-in (for the optional AC adapter) as well as a proprietary port used for the combo USB+A/V cable as well as the HDMI dongle.
That's right, I said HDMI dongle. Inside of just putting an actual mini-HDMI port on the HX1, Sony included a clunky adapter that plugs into the proprietary I/O port on the camera. The HDMI port itself is full size, and a cable is not included.
There's nothing to see on this side of the HX1. The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find an off-center metal tripod mount, the memory card/battery compartment, and the speaker. The door over the battery/memory compartment is on the flimsy side, and a locking mechanism wouldn't have hurt, either. Do note that you cannot access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NP-FH20 battery can be seen at right.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
It takes about two seconds for the DSC-HX1 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. The HX1's closest competitor, the Canon PowerShot SX1, does the same in just 1.2 seconds.
A histogram is available in record mode
The HX1 is a quick performer when it comes to autofocus. In good light, it'll lock focus in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 1.0 seconds at telephoto. Low light focus times generally stayed under a second, though once in a while it took slightly longer.
You wouldn't expect any shutter lag on this fast-shooting camera and, sure enough, it wasn't noticeable.
Shot-to-shot speeds are excellent. With the flash disabled, you can take another photo in one second. With the flash, the delay is slightly longer -- roughly two seconds.
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must enter playback mode to do so. Something that drove me nuts about the HX1 is that it retracts the lens way too quickly when you enter playback mode. What's the rush?
Most cameras let you adjust both the size and the amount of compression applied to photos, but the HX1 only lets you do the former, which is disappointing on this pricey camera. Here are the available image sizes on the camera:a
And now you see why I recommended buying a large memory card earlier in the review! Another image quality related disappointment is that the HX1 doesn't support the RAW image format. As you'll see, the camera uses a lot of noise reduction, so having a RAW option would've been a way to work around that.
The file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple. Files are named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained even if you erase your memory card.
The menu system on the DSC-HX1 is a lot more traditional than those found on Sony models from the last few years. Gone is the confusing and totally unnecessary "Home" menu, leaving separate record, playback, and setup menus. The menus are attractive and fairly easy to navigate, and a description of each item is displayed when you select it. Keeping in mind that some of these options aren't available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of items in the record menu:
- Movie shooting mode (Auto, high sensitivity) - only shown in movie mode
- Shooting direction (Right, left, up, down) - only shown in sweep panorama mode
- Image size (see above chart) - you'll also select the panorama and movie size here
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1/2/3, incandescent, flash, one push, one push set) - see below
- Metering mode (Multi, center, spot)
- Bracket set (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV, white balance, color mode) - discussed earlier
- Scene recognition (iSCN, iSCN+) - whether camera takes two shots in Intelligent Auto mode; see earlier discussion for more
- Smile detection sensitivity (Slight, normal, big smile)
- Face detection (Off, auto, child priority, adult priority) - see below
- Flash level (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- Anti-blink (Auto, off) - see below
- Redeye reduction (Auto, on, off) - discussed later
- Dynamic Range Optimizer (Off, standard, plus) - see below
- Noise reduction (Low, standard, high)
- Color mode (Normal, vivid, real, sepia, black and white) - I believe "real" is neutral
- Color filter (Off, red, green, blue, warm, cool) - virtual filters
- Color saturation (Low, standard, high)
- Contrast (Low, standard, high)
- Sharpness (Low, standard, high)
- SteadyShot (Shooting, continuous, off)
- Setup - see below
While most of those are pretty obvious, some of the items up there deserve a little discussion. The DSC-HX1 has a custom (one push) white balance mode, which lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color under mixed or unusual lighting.
The HX1 found all six faces
The HX1 supports face, smile, and blink detection. The camera is capable not only of finding up to eight faces in the scene -- it can also differentiate between adults and children, and give one or the other focus priority. Sony's implementation of this feature works exceptionally well, with the camera easily finding all six faces in our test scene. You can select a face to "register" in the camera's memory, and that person will be giving priority in future photos.
Not enough of a smile to trigger a photo
Sony was the first to bring smile detection into the world of digital photography with their Smile Shutter feature. To activate this feature, press the Custom button on the back of the camera (assuming that you didn't redefine its function). The camera then watches the scene, waiting for someone to smile (giving priority to anyone you've registered). Once that smile passes the set threshold, the HX1 will snap a photo. The camera will keep taking pictures until you hit the Custom button again.
The anti-blink feature works when the camera is in portrait mode (regardless of whether you pick it, or the camera does). The HX1 takes two photos instantly, and selects the one without any closed eyes. If eyes were closed in both photos, the camera will display a warning on the LCD.
The Dynamic Range Optimizer feature attempts to improve overall image contrast. The default (DRO standard) setting is your everyday auto contrast system. When you have more difficult exposures you may want to set the camera to DRO plus, which breaks the image into smaller segments, adjusting the contrast for each individually. While you will notice brighter shadows in photos taken with DRO (versus nothing at all), the difference between DRO standard and DRO plus is rarely noticeable. Do note that you can only use DRO in the P/A/S/M shooting modes.
The last thing I want to mention is the SteadyShot option in the record menu. Continuous mode has the IS system running all the time, so you can compose your photo without the effect of camera shake. Shooting mode only activates IS when the picture is actually taken, which results in more effective stabilization. You can also turn the IS system off entirely, which is a good idea if you're using a tripod.
Now, here's a look at what items you'll find in the HX1's setup menu:
- Shooting Settings
- AF illuminator (Auto, off)
- Grid line (on/off)
- Digital zoom (Off, precision, smart) - see below
- Conversion lens (Off, telephoto)
- Flash sync (Front, rear)
- Auto orientation (on/off) - whether portrait photos are automatically rotated
- Auto review (on/off) - post-shot review
- Expanded focus (on/off) - center-frame enlargement in manual focus mode
- Custom button (Smile Shutter, white balance, metering mode) - define what the "C" button does
- Main Settings
- Beep (Off, low, high, shutter) - see below
- Language setting
- Function guide (on/off) - describes each menu setting
- Initialize - returns camera to default settings
- Demo mode (on/off)
- HDMI resolution (Auto, 1080i, 480p/576p)
- Control for HDMI (on/off) - whether you can control the camera over HDMI on select Sony televisions
- Component (HD/1080i, SD)
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- Wide zoom display (on/off) - sets aspect ratio to 16:9 for video output
- USB connect (Auto, PictBridge, PTP/MTP, Mass Storage)
- Download music - from the Music Transfer application
- Format music - deletes all slideshow music
- Memory Stick Tool
- Create folder
- Change folder
- Delete folder
- Copy - from internal memory
- File number (Series, reset)
- Internal Memory Tool
- File number (Series, reset)
- Clock setting
- Area setting (Home, destination)
- Date and time setting
I just want to mention two of the setup options before we move on to the photo tests. First, what are those two digital zoom choices all about? Precision digital zoom is the one I always tell people to avoid. It just blows up the center of the image, which results in a noticeable drop in image quality. If you're going to use digital zoom, use Smart Zoom. You'll have to lower the resolution, but you'll be able to get more zoom power without a loss in image quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 3 Megapixel, you can get a total zoom power of 33X.
I don't think I've ever talked about the "beep" option in a camera review before, but the HX1's beeping drove me so crazy that I had to mention it. Even at the "low" setting, the sounds are so loud and awkward that people would look over at me with a nasty look on their face. If you're looking for a place to turn it off, it's in the Main Settings submenu. The "shutter" option lets you hear the fake shutter click, but I wish it would play the focus confirmation sound, as well.
Alright -- enough menus, let's talk photo quality now.
|Standard noise reduction||Low noise reduction|
I threw in two photos of our macro test subject, who recently had his arm reattached. Since the photo taken at default settings seemed a little "fuzzy" to me, I took it again with the noise reduction set to low. You can see the difference quite easily -- you're trading smooth and sometimes smudged with default noise reduction for a somewhat grainy appearance when the setting is "low". You'll see later that it may be worth dealing with a little grain. Anyhow, the colors here look great -- no complaints from me. The subject is soft with default NR, but much nicer (in my opinion) at the low NR setting.
The DSC-HX1 is always able to focus at macro distances. You can make close-up shooting a priority by changing the macro setting from "auto" to "on". The minimum focus distance in either mode is just 1 cm at wide-angle, and 1.5 m at telephoto.
[Photo reshot 5/26/09, discussion below updated]
The DSC-HX1 turned in an average performance with our night test scene. There's quite a bit of noise reduction at work here, eating up fine details. You'll also find some fairly strong purple fringing here (so much for the G lens) and some occasional highlight clipping. The color is a bit "browner" than I would've liked, as well. While its night shooting abilities are a lot more restrictive than the HX1, I think that the PowerShot SX1 definitely does the better job here.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the DSC-HX1 performs at higher ISO sensitivities. We'll start with the base setting of ISO 125 and go all the way to ISO 3200.
There isn't a huge difference between the ISO 125 and 200 crops. The same can't be said for the ISO 400 photo, where the corners of the US Bank building start to disappear due to noise and noise reduction artifacting. Thus, I wouldn't take the DSC-HX1 above ISO 200 in low light. Things continue to go downhill at ISO 800 and above, to the point where the buildings start to blend into the background because there's so much detail loss.
We'll see if the Cyber-shot HX1 performs better in normal lighting a bit.
There's remarkably little barrel distortion at the wide end of the HX1's 20X zoom lens. I did not find vignetting (dark corners) or blurry corners to be a problem, either.
Straight out of the camera
After using removal tool in playback mode
If you're using face detection, the camera will automatically fire the flash a few times before a photo is taken, in order to shrink the pupils and, in theory, reduce redeye. As you can see from the top photo, that didn't help. If you have the same result as I did, then you can head over to playback mode and use the tool there, which did a fine job at getting rid of this annoyance.
Now, here's our studio ISO test. This scene is taken with consistent lighting, so you can compare it with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the image quality at each ISO sensitivity, viewing the full size images is definitely a good idea.
Once again, there's little to differentiate the ISO 125 and 200 crops. If you look closely, you can already see the effects of noise reduction, even at these low sensitivities: the wood frame of the test scene looks a bit like a watercolor painting. Even so, midsize and large prints shouldn't be a problem. Noise reduction picks up noticeably at ISO 400, eating away at more fine details, but there's enough left for a 4 x 6 print. There's a drop in color saturation and even more noise at ISO 800, so I'd save this setting for desperation only. The ISO 1600 and 3200 settings have too much detail loss to be usable, in my opinion.
Now, it's time for a few comparisons using this same test scene. The first thing I wanted to see was whether it was worth turning the noise reduction down a notch at higher ISOs. There are three crops below, all taken at ISO 800. The first is with standard noise reduction, the second with low NR, and the third with low NR plus some cleanup in Photoshop.
ISO 800, standard noise reduction
ISO 800, low noise reduction
ISO 800, low noise reduction + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
As you can see, the photo taken with low noise reduction is sharper, but more detail, but a lot more visible noise. After running the photo through NeatImage and Unsharp Mask in Photoshop, I ended up with a photo that I think is better than the original. If you agree, it may be worth doing some post-processing to get the best photo quality out of the HX1, especially at higher ISO sensitivities.
The other comparison that I wanted to make is between the DSC-HX1 and its closest competitor, the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS. Below is just a selection of the full "test scene battle" that I recently performed -- you can see the whole thing here.
I think the PowerShot SX1 comes out on top in this comparison. The Canon shots have less visible noise, though one could argue that they have less detail, as well. Color is a lot better on the SX1, as the color saturation drops once the DSC-HX1 reaches ISO 400.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is one of those cameras that does better in the studio than it does in real life. On the positive side, the HX1 does a pretty solid job at properly exposing photos. It definitely clips highlights more than I'd like, though. Colors looked great, whether it was a red hibiscus flower, a green valley, or an orange sunset, the DSC-HX1 never disappointed. The camera also handled my studio lamps perfectly. The HX1's biggest problem is that Sony applies too much noise reduction to photos. That means that even at the lowest ISO setting (125), you'll find smudged details, especially in shadows or low contrast areas of a photo. You'll especially notice this on things like grass, water, and trees, which get so smudged that they look like impressionist paintings at times (I think this photo is a great example of what I'm talking about). As you might imagine, this all gets worse as the ISO sensitivity increases. If you're sticking to small prints, you shouldn't notice this detail smudging. But if you're making 8 x 10's, or viewing the images at 100% on your computer screen, you certainly will. Another issue to mention is purple fringing; Despite the camera's "professional quality G-lens", the HX1 has more fringing than your typical ultra or super zoom camera.
Don't just take my word for all this, though -- have a look at my gigantic DSC-HX1 photo gallery first. View the full size images, print a few if you can, and then decide if the HX1's photo quality meets your needs.
Another one of the big features on the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is its high definition movie mode. The camera doesn't record natively at 1080p (unlike the PowerShot SX1) -- rather, it captures video at 1440 x 1080, and then upscales it to 1920 x 1080. The HX1 is capable of recording at that resolution at 30 frames/second, with stereo sound. You can keep recording until the file size reaches 2GB which, as you might imagine, arrives quickly. At the highest quality setting, the bit rate is 12 Mbps, which means that you'll hit the file size limit in a little over 21 minutes. For longer movies you can switch to standard quality, which reduces the bit rate down to 7 Mbps, and increases the recording time to the camera's maximum of 29 minutes.
There are two other resolutions available, as well. You can record movies at 1280 x 720 (720p) or 640 x 480, with maximum recording times of 29 minutes for each. A "high sensitivity" mode is available for shooting in low light, though movies may appear noisy.
As you'd expect on a hybrid camera like this, you can operate both the optical zoom and the image stabilizer while you're recording a movie. Unlike on the PowerShot SX1, there's no manual audio level control or a wind filter available. The HX1 also lacks the ability to take a still photo while recording a movie at the same time.
Movies are saved as MP4 files, using the efficient H.264/AVC codec. For those of you using card readers, you won't find the movies in the usual spot: they're in the MP_ROOT folder on the memory card.
Here's a sample video for you, taken at the highest quality setting. As you'll see, I used the optical zoom while I was recording. Be warned, this file is huge!
Click to play movie (36.9 MB, 1920 x 1080, 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 has a pretty elaborate playback mode. Basic features are covered, which include DPOF print marking, image protection, slideshows, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge a photo (by as much as 8X) and then move around in it -- perfect for checking for proper focus, closed eyes, etc. The slideshow feature is extra-fancy, with transitions and the background music of your choosing (and you'll want to change the music that comes with the camera, trust me).
|Calendar view||Event view|
Photos can be viewed in a number of ways, in addition to one-at-a-time or as thumbnails. You can view them by date (see above), by "event" (similar to by date), and you can also view pictures you've tagged as favorites. The camera also has the ability to filter by faces: you can have it show only photos with people, children, infants, or smiles.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. There are also a number of special effects you can apply to photos, including soft focus, partial color, fisheye lens, cross filter, radial blur, and "retro". There's even a creepy "Happy Faces" option, which distorts a face until the person is smiling. In this same Retouch menu you'll also find the camera's redeye reduction tool, which I demonstrated earlier.
Despite this being a movie-centric camera, there's are no video editing tools to be found in the HX1's playback mode.
The camera shows you a decent amount of information about your photos in playback mode, including a histogram. Something that's always irked me about Sony cameras of late is that they don't display the histogram if a photo has been rotated automatically (by the camera). If you took a burst of photos, they're put into a single group which you can "browse", which keeps things a bit less cluttered.
The HX1 moves through photos with a delay of just a fraction of a second.
How Does it Compare?
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is a super zoom camera with a lot of unique and compelling features. Sony clearly put a lot of effort into giving the HX1 its top-notch burst mode, one-of-a-kind sweep panorama feature, and its two anti-blur modes. If they had spent some more time on image quality, then Sony would've really knocked one out of the park. Unfortunately, they did not -- the HX1's photo quality is just fair, with lots of room for improvement. If you're sticking to small prints and like all the unique features that the HX1 offers, then it's worth a look. Those of you who'll be making large prints or viewing the images on your computer may want to look at another super zoom model.
The DSC-HX1 is a midsize super zoom camera made of a mixture of plastic and metal. It feels pretty solid for the most part, save for the usual flimsy door over the battery and memory card compartment. The proximity of the tripod mount to this door means that you won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. I found the camera exceptionally easy to hold, with the important controls within each reach of my fingers. I found the shutter release button to be very sensitive, though it may just be my particular camera with that issue. The HX1 features a 20X optical zoom Sony "G" lens, which an impressive focal range of 28 - 560 mm. If that's not enough zoom power for you, Sony offers a 1.7X teleconverter that boosts the top end to a whopping 952 mm. As you'd expect, the HX1 features an optical image stabilization system, which reduces the risk of blurry photos. On the back of the camera you'll find a large 3-inch LCD that can tilt up or down (I would've preferred a rotating display). While the screen is big, the resolution is the same old 230k pixels that you can find on smaller displays. The LCD is very easy to see outdoors, and low light visibility is good, but not great. The HX1 also has a tiny electronic viewfinder, which is half the size of the EVF on the Canon PowerShot SX1 (the HX1's main competitor). Some users may also find the "rainbow effect" on the EVF to be distracting. While the DSC-HX1 supports HDMI output, a clunky "dongle" is required in order to actually do anything. Why Sony didn't built in a mini HDMI port is beyond me.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is chock full of features, some of which are one-of-a-kind. I figure that most people will use the Intelligent Auto mode, which automatically selects a scene mode for you. The HX1 has face, smile, and blink detection, and all work exceptionally well. The camera is smart enough to remember certain faces, and it can even distinguish between adults and children. If you want manual controls, the HX1 has them, from aperture and shutter speed to white balance to focus. You can bracket for exposure, white balance, and color mode, as well. While there's a custom mode on the back of the camera, it has very limited options. Two things missing in the manual control department are 1) support for the RAW format and 2) the ability to control the image compression. The HX1's playback mode is quite elaborate, with numerous ways to view your pictures, a fancy slideshow feature, and plenty of retouching options available.
Now let's talk about some features that everyone will like, regardless of their skill level. First up is the "sweep panorama" feature, which lets you create nice-looking panoramic images simply by "sweeping" the camera from one side to the other. It takes just a few seconds to create some really impressive photos, though there may be stitching errors, just like if you were doing it on your PC. Two related features are the anti motion blur and handheld twilight modes. In these modes, the camera takes six photos in very rapid succession, and combines them into a single image. The resulting image should be blur-free, though it won't be noise free. I found these photos good enough for printing at 4 x 6, but don't expect to go any larger. Another nice feature is the HX1's high definition movie mode. The camera records video at 1440 x 1080 and interpolates it up to full HD (1920 x 1080), with sound recorded in stereo. You can keep recording until you hit the 2GB file size limit, which takes about 21 minutes at the highest quality setting. You can operate the zoom lens while you're recording and, naturally, the image stabilizer is available as well. The HX1 lacks the much-needed wind filter and audio level controls of its Canon competition. Even so, the DSC-HX1 still does a nice job at recording movies, especially for a digital still camera.
The DSC-HX1 is a solid performer in almost all respects. The only thing that seemed a little slow was its startup time of 2 seconds -- the Canon SX1 has it beat by 0.8 seconds. Focus times were very good, ranging from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds to 0.6 - 1.0 seconds. Low light focusing was good most of the time, usually hovering around one second. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were brief (even if you're using the flash). The DSC-HX1's burst mode is, in a word, awesome. You can take up to ten photos at 2, 5, and an unbelievable 10 frames/second. The LCD and EVF keep up with the action, so tracking a moving subject is easy. The only downside is the lengthy (15+ second) write time after a burst is taken. The HX1's battery life is average for a super zoom camera.
As I mentioned, the DSC-HX1's image quality is disappointing. Like Sony's other recent point-and-shoot cameras, the HX1 suffers from too much noise reduction. This smudges low contrast details such as grass, hair, trees, sand, and water, and also gives the image as a whole a soft, fuzzy appearance. Lowering the noise reduction helps a bit, though photos will then have a more traditional grain style of noise. The HX1 also has quite a bit of purple fringing (so much for the fancy lens), and highlight clipping is an issue, as well. On a more positive note, overall exposure quality was good, and color accuracy was top-notch. The camera has a bit of a redeye problem, even when using the preflash feature, but you can remove it using a tool in playback mode.
I've got a couple of final issues to mention before I wrap things up. Two things that really annoyed me were 1) how quickly the camera retracts the lens when you switch to playback mode and 2) the incredibly annoying and loud "beep" sounds (yes, I know you can turn them off). The HX1 has a miniscule amount of built-in memory, there's no Mac photo editing software included, and the full camera manual is only on the included CD-ROM.
If you want a super zoom camera with HD video recording and lots of bells and whistles (some of which are quite cool), then it's worth taking a look at the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. If image quality is more important than a 10 fps burst mode and easy panorama shooting, then I'd take a look at the PowerShot SX1 instead. It costs $100 more and has its share of issues as well, but it's the better of the two cameras in most respects. If you don't need HD movie recording at all, then you can save a bundle by buying a "regular" super zoom camera. I've listed all of the competitors below for your convenience.
What I liked:
- Decent photo quality for the 4 x 6 crowd, especially in good light
- 20X optical zoom lens with great 28 - 560 mm range
- Optical image stabilization
- Tiltable 3-inch LCD display with good outdoor visibility
- Very snappy performance in most respects
- Full manual controls
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene mode for you
- Continuous shooting as fast as 10 frames/second
- Super-cool sweep panorama feature, plus handy anti-blur mode
- Impressive face and smile detection features
- Full HD (sort of) movie mode, with optical zoom and image stabilizer available while recording
- Elaborate playback mode
- HDMI and component video output (though see below)
- Optional teleconverter gives you 34X zoom power
What I didn't care for:
- Heavy noise reduction smudges fine details and gives images a soft, fuzzy look, even at low ISOs
- Fairly strong purple fringing; some highlight clipping, as well
- Some redeye (though you can remove it in playback mode)
- Tiny electronic viewfinder; rainbow effect can be annoying
- No RAW format support; amount of image compression not adjustable
- Movie mode not native 1080p; lacks wind screen and editing functionality
- Lens retracts way too quickly when you switch to playback mode
- Clunky "dongle" required in order to use HDMI output
- Very loud and annoying "beep" sounds
- Flimsy door over memory/battery compartment; cannot access memory card when camera is on a tripod
- Very little built-in memory
- No Mac software included; Full manual only on CD-ROM
Some other super zoom cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SX1 and SX10, Casio Exilim EX-FH20, Kodak EasyShare Z980, Nikon Coolpix P90, Olympus SP-590UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, and the Pentax X70.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 and its competitors before you buy.
See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!