Originally Posted: April 16, 2012
Last Updated: April 16, 2012
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V ($479) is a high-end super zoom camera that does just about everything imaginable. Whether you're talking about its built-in GPS, 360 degree panorama maker, 10 fps burst shooting, instant HDR photos, or 1080/60p videos, the HX200V has nearly every bell and whistle ever created. To top it off, it features the highest resolution sensor in a compact camera (18 Megapixel, which may or may not be a good thing) as well as one one of the most powerful zoom lenses (30X).
The HX200V has some tough competition, though, from the likes of Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Panasonic. Is the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V the best super zoom camera on the market? You're about to find out.
In some countries, a model without a GPS is also available. This camera is known as the DSC-HX200 (without the "V").
What's in the Box?
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V has a rather unremarkable bundle. Here's what you'll find when you crack open the box:
- The 18.2 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V camera body
- NP-FH50 lithium-ion battery
- AC adapter
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Shoulder strap
- Micro USB cable
- 36 page basic manual
The Cyber-shot HX200V has a healthy amount of built-in memory -- 105MB to be exact. That holds seventeen photos at the highest quality setting, which isn't bad for emergencies. That said, you'll probably want to buy an actual memory card right away. The HX200V supports both SD/SDHC/SDXC and Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, and I'd suggest a 4GB card at the very minimum, and a larger card if you plan on taking a lot of Full HD video. Buying a high speed card (Class 6 or higher for SD cards) is a good idea. If you have a Sony laptop that supports their TransferJet wireless protocol, the camera supports that feature when a compatible MS Duo card is installed.
The camera uses the same NP-FH50 lithium-ion battery as many other Sony cameras. This battery holds 6.1 Wh of energy, which is pretty good for a compact camera. Here's what that looks like in terms of battery life:
As you can see, the HX200V's battery life is second only to the Kodak. If you've got the GPS off, the HX200V should make it through a day of shooting with plenty of room to spare. If you are using the GPS, battery life will certainly drop, though Sony doesn't say by how much. Turning off GPS logging will keep battery drain to a relative minimum. If you want to pick up a spare battery, a Sony-branded one will cost around $38.
The DSC-HX200V's battery is charged internally, using the included AC adapter. Unlike on some Panasonic models I reviewed recently, charging is fast -- it takes just 100 minutes to fill up the NP-FH50. Still, if you want to charge a spare battery you'll need to buy the BC-TRV external charger (priced from $31).
The HX200V is very light in the accessory department. Here's all you can buy for it:
No external flash for you!
Sony doesn't even include their software bundle on a CD-ROM disc anymore. The PlayMemories Home software is actually on the camera itself, and you can install it by plugging the HX200V into your Windows-based PC. PlayMemories Home is essentially a re-skinned version of Picture Motion Browser, which does it's job pretty well. In addition to importing photos from the camera, PlayMemories can also share them via e-mail, prints, and on photo/video sharing websites. Editing tools include redeye reduction, brightness/saturation/tone curve, and sharpness. There's also an Auto Correct function which attempts to fix things with a single click. You can view photos on a map (assuming that their location was tagged), and upload "assist data" to the camera, which is supposed to reduce satellite acquisition time.
Mac users are left out in the cold when it comes to photo editing. The only thing Sony provides is a link to a website that basically says "use iPhoto instead", which isn't a bad suggestion. Unfortunately, iPhoto doesn't upload GPS assist data.
Sony uses two different codecs for video recording on the DSC-HX200V: AVCHD and MPEG-4. The PlayMemories software can be used to view all videos produced by the camera, and it can remove unwanted footage from your clip, or save a frame as a still image. While it can convert videos to WMV format, they'll be VGA quality. PMH can also burn videos to Blu-ray or DVD discs. If you want to use a commercial product to edit your videos and plan on using the AVCHD Progressive (1080/60p) mode, check with your software manufacturer to make sure you can actually edit the video.
Mac users can edit MPEG-4 and most AVCHD videos with ease, using iMovie or Final Cut Pro X. You will not be able to open the AVCHD Progressive videos however, unless you run them through Media Converter first (be sure to download the AVCHD rewrap plug-in, as well).
Long-time readers of this website know that I'm not a fan of how camera manufacturers have been skimping on printed manuals. While most have been putting the full manuals in PDF format on an included CD-ROM disc, Sony has gone even further -- they don't even provide a full manual. Instead, there's a link to their support website, where you'll find an HTML-based manual. This manual is difficult to navigate (though at least it's searchable) and lacking in both the detail and user-friendliness department. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your PC.
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.
Performance & Photo Quality
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is no slouch in the performance department. It's one of the most responsive super zoom cameras I've used. The table below summarizes its performance:
The only time you're really spend waiting on the HX200V is when it's combining multiple exposures, and even that doesn't take long.
After all of the multi-shot features that I've covered in this review, you can probably guess that the DSC-HX200V is going to be pretty quick when you put it in burst mode. There are two speeds to choose from in burst mode: low and high. Here's what kind of performance you'll get in both of those modes:
It's no surprise that the HX200V's continuous shooting buffer fills up after ten shots at the high speed setting. I was, however, disappointed to see that the 2 fps speed had the same shot limit -- I was expecting it to just keep going.
Let's move on to photo quality now, shall we?
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V did a pretty good job with our macro test subject. The colors of the figurine are accurate, though there's a slight brownish cast to the white background behind it. The subject is mostly sharp, though there's some very obvious detail smudging when you view the photo at 100%. I'll come back to that subject in a bit.
The HX200V has an auto macro mode, so there's no button to push in order to take close-up photos. The minimum focus distance is 1 cm at wide-angle, and 2 m at full telephoto.
The night test scene turned out quite well. You can take long exposures either with the camera's manual controls, or by using either of the Auto modes. The HX200V took in plenty of light here, though you will encounter some highlight clipping in places. The buildings are sharp, though there is some detail loss due to the large amount of noise reduction being applied. That said, the detail loss (and noise in general) isn't a whole lot worse than super zooms with lower resolution sensors. Purple fringing levels are moderate.
Let's us that same scene now to see how the HX200V performs at high sensitivities in low light:
There isn't a huge difference between the photos taken at ISO 100 and 200. At ISO 400 there's pretty noticeable detail loss, so I'd make this your stopping point, saving ISO 800 for desperation only. The ISO 1600 and 3200 crops are mostly noise, and things really go downhill at ISO 6400 and 12800, where the camera tries some multi-shot layering (which didn't help, evidently).
We'll do this test again in normal lighting in a moment.
Straight out of the camera (flash redeye reduction on)
After removal tool in playback mode
Despite having a pop-up flash, the HX200V has redeye problems. If you've got face detection turned on, the camera will automatically fire the flash a few times to shrink your subject's pupils (you can force this, as well). As the first image illustrates, that didn't do any good. Thankfully, there's a digital redeye removal tool in playback mode which got rid of that annoyance.
There's remarkably little barrel distortion at the wide end of the HX200V's lens. That's because the camera (along with most others) digitally reduces this phenomenon when the photo is taken. I didn't find corner blurring to be a problem -- not a lens problem, at least. Vignetting, or dark corners, was not an issue, either.
Now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Super zoom shoppers may want to open up the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 reviews right about now (though I have a quick comparison at the end of this section). Keeping in mind that the crops below represent only a tiny portion of the HX200V's huge photos, let's travel from ISO 100 to 12800:
There isn't a huge difference between the first three crops, with noise levels increasing gradually as the sensitivity goes up. Detail loss becomes more evident at ISO 800, and you get grain-style noise appearing one stop higher. It's at this point (ISO 1600) that I'd probably stop raising the sensitivity. The ISO 3200 shot has quit ea bit of noise, as well as a drop in color saturation. As with the night shots, the top two sensitivities are unusable, despite the camera's multi-shot layering trick.
I want to throw in a quick comparison of how the HX200V compares against the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150. I downsized the HX200V's image to match the 12 Megapixel resolution of the other two cameras. Here's how the three cameras look at ISO 800:
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V (downsized)
As you can see, the HX200V is probably the best in the bunch, though it gets a considerable amount of help by having its resolution cut by a third. In real world shooting, I think the Canon and Panasonic have a lot less detail smudging than the Sony, though that blends away in most situations.
Overall, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V's image quality is good, as long as you don't look too closely. Exposure was generally accurate, though the camera had a slight tendency to underexpose. As with all compact cameras, highlight clipping reared it's ugly head, but it wasn't too bad on the HX200V. Colors are nice and vibrant -- no complaints there. Image sharpness is a mixed bag, and really depends on what you're looking at. Some objects are nice and sharp, while anything with fine details is smudged by noise reduction. That's really the camera's biggest problem, and not entirely surprising given its 18 Megapixel resolution. Things like grass, leaves, hair, and sand are most likely to have mushy details -- even at ISO 100. Detail loss can also be found in the shadowy areas of a photo. While I'm going to knock the HX200V for this, I should point out that for the vast majority of people, this will not be an issue. If you're making prints at 8 x 10 or smaller, odds are that you won't see any detail loss until the ISO gets pretty high. The same is true if you're just downsizing the photos for Facebook or Flickr. If you're making large prints or viewing the images on your computer at 100%, then you'll certainly notice what's going on. Other cameras produce images that look cleaner at 100% than the DSC-HX200V, but for most uses, that won't matter a whole lot. The only other issue of note is purple fringing -- the HX200V has more of this phenomenon than I would've liked (example).
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, maybe printing a few of the images if you can, and then you can make your own decision about the DSC-HX200V's image quality!
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!