Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V Review
Design & Features
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is a fairly large super zoom camera. The body is mostly composite (read: plastic), though the frame is still pretty solid. The HX200V has a very large right hand grip, giving it a secure feel in your hands. The mode dial feels a bit cheap, and turns too easily, and the door over the memory card slot is flimsy.
The camera has more than its share of buttons (in various locations), but thankfully they usually serve just one function. One nice feature on the camera is the ring around the lens barrel. This ring can electronically control either zoom or manual focus, and it works quite well, and gives the camera a more upscale feel.
You wouldn't expect a high-end super zoom to come in pink, and it doesn't -- black only.
The DSC-HX200V is quite a handful
Now let's take a look at how the HX200V compares to other super zooms in terms of size and weight:
I have to admit that I was expecting the HX200V to be near the top of the chart for dimensions and weight, but it turns out to be about average for both. It's certainly not a jeans pocket camera, though it should fit in most jacket pockets, or over your shoulder.
Let's start our tour of the DSC-HX200V now, shall we?
The DSC-HX200V retains the same 30X zoom lens as the HX100V that came before it. This F2.8-5.6 Carl Zeiss T* lens has a focal range of 4.8 - 144 mm, which is equivalent to a whopping 27 - 810 mm. The lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.
As you'd expect, the HX200V has an optical image stabilization system (which Sony calls SteadyShot), which reduces the risk of blurry photos in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. In movie mode, an "active" IS feature further reduces shake in your videos, with the ability to reduce motion in three directions, including rotational.
Behind the lens is an 18.2 Megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which Sony brands "Exmor R". This is the highest resolution sensor that you'll find in a compact camera, and we'll see how the image quality looks later in the review.
Directly above the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released electronically (well, you can pry it up if you really want). The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 12.4 m at wide-angle and 2.0 - 5.9 m at telephoto -- very impressive numbers. One thing you cannot do on the HX200V is add an external flash.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which is located to the lower-left of the Sony logo. This lamp also illuminates when the self-timer or Smile Shutter features are being used.
This back-angled view of the DSC-HX200V shows its 3-inch, tilting LCD display. The screen pulls away from the back of the camera and tilts 90 degrees upward and about 60 degrees downward. While articulating LCDs like this aren't as handy as those that flip out to the side, it still allows you to shoot with the camera above or below you, which happens more often than one might think.
The LCD on the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is very nice. This three inch display has over 921,000 pixels, so everything is ridiculously sharp. I found outdoor visibility to be very good. On the other hand, low light viewing isn't great, as the screen doesn't "gain up" very much.
The HX200V also comes equipped with an electronic viewfinder, or EVF. This viewfinder is average in terms of quality. It's not very large (0.2"), nor is the resolution (201k pixel) very high. If you've used one of the XGA viewfinders on some of Sony's other cameras, the difference is glaring. Still, it'll get the job done for most folks. There's an eye sensor to the right of the EVF that detects when you're using it. You can adjust the EVF focus by using the diopter correction knob on the left side.
Now let's talk buttons. To the right of the EVF are buttons for entering playback mode and recording movies. Further over is the rear dial, which you'll use to adjust the ISO, exposure compensation and, where applicable, the shutter speed and aperture.
Moving downward we have buttons for entering the menu and getting help (more on that later), plus the four-way controller. The four-way controller is used for navigating menus and replaying photos, as well as setting the drive mode, flash setting, and amount of information displayed on the LCD/EVF. In Intelligent Auto mode, it also opens the Photo Creativity interface that I'll tell you about after the tour.
The first thing you'll notice on the top of the camera is the large stereo microphone, which sits on top of the flash. Moving to the right, we have the power and LCD/EVF toggle buttons, followed by the mode dial (whose contents I'll describe below).
Above the mode dial is a button for setting the focus mode (multi, center, flexible spot), as well as another button whose function is somewhat customizable (it handles AE lock by default).
North of those buttons is the shutter release, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about three seconds. It was hard to count the number of steps in the zoom range, since it was inconsistent. There are at least thirty steps, mostly at the wider end of the range.
Now it's time to talk about the HX200V's handy zoom/focus ring. When the camera is set to autofocus (using the switch at the center of the photo), just rotate the dial to zoom in or out -- it works quite well. In manual focus, the ring will adjust the focus distance, albeit slowly. You can zoom in by pressing the focus button on the top of the camera, to verify that things look as you expect.
At the far right of the photo, under a pair of plastic doors, are the camera's I/O ports. Beneath the top door are micro USB and mini-HDMI ports, while the AC adapter plug can be found behind door number two.
There's nothing to see on this side of the camera. The 30X lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, which is neither centered nor in-line with the lens. To its right is the battery/memory card compartment, which is protected a somewhat flimsy plastic door (that could use a locking mechanism). Whether you'll be able to open this door while the camera is on a tripod depends on what kind of mount you're using. I was able to open the door with the quick release plate on my Manfrotto tripods.
The included NP-FH50 battery can be seen at right.
There's a lot to see on the LCD and EVF, including a compass and live histogram
Now it's time to talk about the features on the DSC-HX200V, starting with those found on the various buttons and dials on the camera.
Let's start with the mode dial, which is loaded with options. They include:
The camera has a pair of Auto modes (Intelligent and Superior), both of which feature auto scene selection. They can tell when you're using a tripod, and distinguish between adults, children, and infants. There's also an Easy mode available, which enlarges the font and greatly reduces the available options. The Superior Auto mode does everything that Intelligent Auto does (except for Easy mode), plus adds in multi-shot layering, through features like Anti Motion Blur, Handheld Twilight, and HDR. More on those in a bit.
Something else you'll find in the two Auto modes is called Photo Creativity. This allows you to adjust the brightness, color, and vividness without having to know the slightly more technical terms of exposure compensation, white balance, and saturation. These items are adjusted using slider controls on the LCD/EVF, as you can see above.
The HX200V also features a full suite of manual controls. You can adjust the shutter speed and aperture, manually focus (using the ring around the lens), and customize and fine-tune white balance. Bracketing is available for both exposure and white balance. Three sets of camera settings can be saved, and there's a customizable button on the top of the camera. The one thing missing here is RAW support.
Sony cameras have some of my favorite bells and whistles, and I don't mean gimmicks. The HDR, Anti Motion Blur / Handheld Twilight, and Sweep Panorama features are very useful features which allow you to take photos in difficult lighting, and record huge panoramas with very little effort. I'll go through each of those features now.
The backlight correction HDR (high dynamic range) feature, combines three exposures -- under, over, and normal -- and puts them into a single image with much improved dynamic range (contrast). The camera shoots the burst quickly that a tripod is not needed -- unlike on some other cameras. While Sony's NEX interchangeable lens cameras allow you to adjust the interval between each exposure, the HDR feature on the HX200V is totally automatic.
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The original photo (taken in Program mode) isn't horrible, though the ceiling is hard to see, and the trees on the right are missing a lot of detail due to highlight clipping. The HDR photo looks a bit "fake", but the contrast is undeniably better. The ceiling is visible, and the highlight clipping outside of the tunnel has been greatly reduced. And, since this is just a layering of three photos, there shouldn't be an increase in noise, unlike some other solutions out there.
Anti Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight are very similar features. Both combine six exposures into a single image, which reduces both blur and noise. The difference between the two is that AMB tends to use higher ISOs than handheld twilight, so photos taken in that mode may be a bit noisier. Here are real world examples of each of these features:
As the examples above illustrate, you can get sharp (but noisy) photos in low light, or if your subject has a hard time staying still (Exhibit B is a poster child for that). These high ISO shots don't make great large prints, as you can see the detail loss, but they work great when printed at smaller sizes or downsized for the web.
If I'm not mistaken, Sony was the first manufacturer to release a camera with a "sweep panorama" feature. Their latest revision, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, can shoot both 2D and 3D panoramas, plus special high resolution panos that you take in the portrait orientation. Taking panoramas couldn't be easier: just pan the camera from one side of the frame to the other, following the arrow on the LCD or EVF. The image is stitched together almost instantly. The quality of the standard panoramas is good but not fantastic. The high resolution versions are a whole lot more impressive. The camera tries to avoid cutting people in half, but if there's motion in the frame, you might see some weird artifacts (see first shot).
|Main menu of the camera guide||One of the very detailed help screens, this one for white balance fine-tuning. You can jump directly to that menu option using the highlighted button.|
Another feature that you access via buttons on the HX200 is a built-in guide to using the camera. As you might have guessed, you access this guide by pressing the question mark on the back of the camera. The guide tells you how to accomplish virtually every conceivable task, whether it's focusing, subject tracking, storing camera settings, or displaying a histogram. Another option lets you choose an icon on the LCD, and the guide will tell you what it means. They even cover the various error messages that may pop up when you're using the camera. You can also press the ? button when you're in a menu, and the camera will describe it. Very nice!
The last button-activated feature I want to mention before we move into menus are the various drive modes on the camera. They include continuous shooting (more on that later), bracketing (for both exposure and white balance), and several types of self-timer. The self-timer modes include 2 or 10 second, self-portrait (where the camera waits for one or two faces to appear), and timer plus continuous shooting or bracketing.
Alright, now let's get into the menus. The first menu you encounter is an overlay-style menu that sits on the left side of the screen. The menu is quite long, and it can take a while to scroll all the way to the bottom. The notable options here include:
- Picture Effect: special effects include HDR painting, miniature effect, pop color, partial color, and more; many of these can be fine-tuned to your liking
- White balance: choose from the usual presets, plus a custom option for using a white or gray card; you can fine-tune things by using the white balance shift or bracketing features
- ND (neutral density) filter: this reduces the amount of light coming through the lens, which lets you use smaller apertures or slower shutter speeds; the camera can turn it on as needed, or you can do it yourself
- Smile Shutter: waits for one of the people in the frame to smile, and then takes a picture; you can select how big of a smile is required
- Face detection: a standard feature on all cameras these days, though the Sony has the added ability to give children or adults focus priority
- Noise reduction: you might want to fool with this option (with choices of low, standard, and high) to improve the HX200V's image quality
- GPS position info/logging: check out your signal strength and current location, and turn on the logging feature (which will put an extra strain on your battery)
I suppose now's a good a time as any to talk about the DSC-HX200V's built-in GPS receiver. Unlike cameras from Fuji and Panasonic, the HX200's GPS system is no-frills, with no fancy landmark databases or maps. You get your location and direction (courtesy of a built-in compass), and that's it. Satellite acquisition is decent outdoors (~30 sec acq. times), and not-so-good when you're in big cities, which is typical. You can reduce these delays a bit by loading "assist data" onto the camera using the included software.
If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the overlay-style menu, you can access the HX200's other menu system. This one looks nice, but is a bit of a main to navigate because each "tab" of settings doesn't "wrap" around (this makes more sense when you use it). The camera gives a quick hint as to what each option does, and you can press the ? button for a longer explanation. The items of note in this menu include:
- Clear Image Zoom: this doubles the zoom power, with a minimal reduction in image quality (see below)
- Blink Alert: warns you when your subject's eyes are closed
- Custom button: define what function this button handles; choose from AE lock, white balance, ND filter, metering mode, or Smile Shutter
- Display resolution: choose high or standard, with the latter sacrificing LCD/EVF quality for battery life
- Beep: normally I wouldn't mention this but the HX200V has the world's loudest beep sound, so here's where you turn it off
- Download music: using the included Music Transfer program and this option, you can provide your own soundtrack for slideshows
- Airplane mode: turns off all functions related to the GPS and TransferJet
- GPS assist data: load data from your PC to the camera using this option -- it'll reduce satellite acquisition times
- Auto clock/area adjust: let the GPS set the time and time zone for you
The only thing from that menu I want to tell you about is the Clear Image Zoom feature. This feature can be found on other cameras under different names, like Intelligent Zoom. The CIZ feature will boost the zoom power by 2X, with "close to the original image quality" using some digital trickery. At full resolution, that means that you now have a 60X, or 1620 mm, zoom lens! If you lower the image resolution, you can go even higher. Here's an example:
|Full wide-angle (27 mm)
View Full Size Image
|Full telephoto (810 mm)
View Full Size Image
|Full tele + clear image zoom (1620 mm)
View Full Size Image
As you can see, the Clear Image Zoom feature really lets you get close to your subject! It's hard to judge how much image quality deteriorates, due to the atmospheric distortion that occurs at this kind of focal range. That said, I'd probably save this feature for smaller prints only.
Alright, that does it for still shooting options -- so let's talk about movies now. The HX200V is one of few compact cameras that can record Full HD video (that's 1920 x 1080) at 60p. It does this using the AVCHD Progressive format, which may not be supported by all devices or video editing suites. Sound is recorded in Dolby Digital Stereo, as you'd expect. If you don't need 1080/60p video (along with its 28 MBps bit rate), you can also choose from 1080/60i (at 17 or 24 MBps) or 1440 x 1080 @ 60i. The maximum recording time for all of those is around 29 minutes.
While AVCHD movies look great on your HDTV, editing and sharing them isn't so easy. Heck, just finding them on your memory card is a pain. Thankfully, Sony also supports the MPEG-4 codec, which is much easier to work with. Choose from 1440 x 1080, 1280 x 720, or 640 x 480 resolutions, all at 30 frames/second. Recording will stop when the file size reaches 2GB, which takes about 15 minutes at the highest quality setting.
As you might imagine, the HX200V lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, with the ring around the lens being especially handy. The camera's autofocus system will keep everything sharp as you zoom in and out. The image stabilizer is available as well, with a special "active" mode that reduces heavy camera shake in three directions.
Movie recording is a point-and-shoot experience on the HX200V. You can turn on a wind filter and adjust the mic level, but that's about it. You can take 13 Megapixel stills while you're recording a movie, but not at the 1080/60p setting. While you can take a movie in any shooting mode, there is a dedicated spot on the mode dial where you can let the camera pick a movie scene for you, or you can select one for yourself. Most of the camera's Picture Effects can be used for movies as well as stills.
I have two sample movies for you today, both of which were taken at the 1080/60p setting. The first one is your standard cable car movie, while the second attempts to showcase the active image stabilization system in action. I've converted these from AVCHD to QuickTime format using the Media Converter (Mac) software I mentioned earlier. If you want to play with the original MTS files, they're available for your downloading pleasure, as well.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V's playback mode is about average by compact camera standards. You've got your slideshows (for which you can supply your own background music), redeye removal, sharpening, and a couple of special effects. You can jump through photos by date, folder, or by movie codec. Unlike Sony's NEX cameras, the HX200V doesn't separate movies from stills in playback mode.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. However, if you press "up" on the four-way controller, you'll get a lot more, including a histogram and the location where your photo was taken.
The DSC-HX200V flips through photos instantly. One thing I think could be faster is the playback zoom feature -- it sort of "glides" rather than "jumps" when it zooms in, which is pretty but sluggish.