Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V Review
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is a super zoom camera that has virtually every bell and whistle ever created. And for the most part, that's a good thing. The HX200V is a fairly large camera, and made mostly of plastic. Construction is solid, though the mode dial and door over the battery/memory card slot feel a bit cheap. The large right hand grip makes holding the camera easy, and the fly-by-wire zoom/focus ring around the lens is a very nice touch. At the heart of the camera is its F2.8-5.6, 30X zoom lens that carries the Carl Zeiss label. The focal range of 27 - 810 mm should cover just about any scenario you'll encounter, but if for some reason you need more telephoto power, the Clear Image Zoom feature will increase the effective zoom power to 60X (though image quality will decrease). Naturally, there's an optical image stabilization system on the HX200V, with an extra strength "active mode" for shooting movies. On the back of the camera is a big and beautiful 3-inch articulating LCD display. The screen can pull back from the camera and tilt up and down, making it easy to shoot over crowds or take ground-level shots. You can also compose photos using an electronic viewfinder, though it's really nothing to write home about (small, low resolution). While both displays have good outdoor visibility, they are not nearly as good in low light. The HX200V's built-in flash is quite powerful, though you cannot add an external flash, unlike some of the competition.
As I've said several times in this review, the DSC-HX200V has every camera known to man. Except for maybe a wink self-timer, which remains a Canon exclusive. The camera has two "intelligent" Auto modes, both of which have auto scene selection. The Superior Auto mode adds in multi-shot layering, which lets you take photos with less noise and blurring. In both of those modes you can access a Photo Creativity menu, which lets you use "sliders" to adjust brightness, color tone, and saturation -- all without knowing any technical terms. There are numerous scene modes on the HX200V, plus a good collection of special "Picture Effects". Manual controls include the usual suspects: shutter speed, aperture, white balance (including fine-tuning and bracketing), and focus. Sadly, the DSC-HX200V does not support the RAW image format. Now onto the fun features! The camera's HDR, Anti Motion Blur, and Handheld Twilight features all combine multiple exposures into a single photo, which improves contrast in the case of HDR, and noise levels and sharpness (relatively speaking) for the other two. The whole thing works so seamlessly that you can hardly tell that the camera just took a series of photos and mashed them all together. I'm also a fan of the Intelligent Sweep Panorama feature, which can create panoramas (now at higher resolutions) just by panning the camera from one side to the other. Believe it or not, the HX200V also has a built-in GPS receiver. Although it's no-frills (lacking maps and landmark databases), it gets the job done, as long as you stay out of the big city.
I can't leave out one of the other big features on the HX200V: it's movie mode. The camera can record Full HD video -- that's 1920 x 1080 -- at 60 frames/second. Only a handful of cameras can do that, and what you get is smooth, non-interlaced video that looks great. Sound is recorded in Dolby Digital Stereo, and you can record for up to 29 minutes straight. The only catch is that not all devices and video editing suites can view the movies, though that should change over time. If 1080/60p is too much for you, lower resolutions are available too, including a few that use the MPEG-4 codec instead of the harder-to-edit AVCHD. You can use the optical zoom while you're recording, and the camera will keep everything in focus. Movie recording is a point-and-shoot experience, with the mic level and a wind filter being the only thing you can adjust. The camera has the ability to record 13 Megapixel stills while you're recording a movie, except if you're using the 1080/60p resolution.
Camera performance is one of the DSC-HX200V's strong suits. The camera starts up fairly quickly for a super zoom (1.9 secs). Sony promised strong AF performance on this camera, and it doesn't disappoint in the least. The HX200V will lock focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and not much longer at the telephoto end. Even low light focusing was impressive, with delays stay at or below the one second mark. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were about one second without the flash, and three seconds with it. The camera is capable at shooting continuously at 2 or 10 frames/second, but unfortunately, you're always limited to ten shots. That's understandable at 10 fps, but disappointing at the more leisurely 2 fps setting. Battery life was among the best of any super zoom on the market. Do note that the battery is charged inside the camera (at least it's quick), so you'll need to pick up an external charger if you want to keep a spare battery ready for use.
Photo quality is pretty good, as long as you don't look too closely. Exposures were generally solid, with an occasional underexposed shot here and there. Like most compact cameras, the HX200V will clip highlights, though I've seen worse (and you can use the HDR feature to reduce this). Colors look good, aside from a slight brownish color cast in our studio. Image sharpness varies greatly. Some things are nice and sharp, while fine details get smudged, a victim of the heavy noise reduction being applied to these 18 Megapixel images (even at ISO 100). That said, if you downsize the images to match the resolution of similar super zooms, the HX200V comes off looking pretty good. While I'm not happy with the amount of detail smudging here, I also have to be realistic: the average consumer isn't printing 11 x 14's of these photos, so they probably won't even notice it. If you're "pixel peeping" or making large prints, however, then you probably will. Two other areas in which the camera could use some work relate to redeye and purple fringing. The HX200V's flash photos produce a lot of redeye, but you can remove it using the tool in playback mode. Purple fringing levels can be fairly strong at times, more so than on other super zooms.
Overall, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V is a very good super zoom camera. Its photo quality isn't as good as I'd like, but for the majority of people who will buy it, the smudged details that you'd see when viewing the photos on your computer will just blend away when images are downsized for printing or web viewing. The HX200's big wins are in terms of performance and feature set (not to mention its huge 30X lens), which add up to a really fun-to-use camera. If you're looking for a camera that'll capture your memories in nearly all situations (with lots of creative options), then I'd recommend checking out the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V.
What I liked:
- Good photo quality, if you don't look too closely
- Massive 30X, 27 - 810 mm zoom lens
- Optical image stabilization, with 3-way "active mode" for movies
- Articulating 3-inch LCD display with 921k pixels and good outdoor visibility
- Handy manual zoom/focus ring around lens
- Very responsive performance, especially autofocus
- Full manual controls, including WB fine-tuning and bracketing and a customizable button
- Two "intelligent" auto modes pick the scene mode for you
- Built-in GPS with compass
- Anti Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight modes produce usable photos in very low light situations
- HDR feature dramatically improves image contrast
- Fun sweep panorama feature (now with high res option), works in 2D and 3D
- Continuous shooting as fast as 10 frames/second
- Built-in neutral density (ND) filter
- Helpful in-camera guide
- Records Full HD video at 1080/60p with stereo sound and use of optical zoom, continuous AF, and image stabilizer; camera can take 13MP stills while simultaneously recording video (though not at the 60p setting)
- Above average battery life
What I didn't care for:
- Lots of detail smudging, even at ISO 100
- Purple fringing can be strong at times
- Redeye a problem, though it can be removed in playback mode
- No RAW support
- LCD/EVF hard to see in low light
- No manual controls in movie mode
- Ten shot limit in burst mode, even at 2 frames/sec
- Internal battery charging not for everyone
- Deafening "beep" sound when buttons are pressed (it can be turned off)
- Full manual is on the Internet (!)
Some other super zoom cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, Fuji FinePix HS25EXR, Kodak EasyShare Max Z990, Nikon Coolpix P510, Olympus SP-810UZ, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our DSC-HX200V gallery to see how the image quality looks!