DCRP

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V Review

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V is a very good travel zoom camera that offers a great selection of auto modes, some very useful bells and whistles, limited manual controls, blazing performance, and 1080/60p video recording. If you're not "pixel peeping" or making giant prints, then you'll likely be satisfied by the image quality, as well. The HX20V is compact, well built, and easy to hold. While most controls are well-placed, pressing the custom button requires a bit of a stretch, and the buttons and dials on the back of the camera are small and cramped. I can't say I'm thrilled with the location of the USB port (on the bottom of the camera) or the lack of finger space when the flash is popped up, either. The HX20V features a 20X Sony G lens, which covers a nice range of 25 - 500 mm. Naturally, the camera has optical image stabilization, including an "active" mode for extra shake reduction in movies. On the back of the camera you'll find a beautiful 3-inch LCD display, whose 921k pixels make it nice and sharp. Both outdoor and low light visibility are average. Another big part of the camera is its built-in GPS receiver. There's no database of landmarks or maps, but the GPS gets the job done fairly well.

The DSC-HX20V is fully loaded with features -- especially on the point-and-shoot side of the spectrum. You've got a pair of "intelligent" auto modes, including one which will use multiple exposures to produce sharper photos with less noise than you'd get otherwise. If you want to learn about a certain feature on the camera, or how to take a certain kind of photo, then you'll love the built-in help guide. Some other automatic features that I enjoy using are sweep panorama, high dynamic range (HDR), and the Anti Motion Blur / Handheld Twilight combo. Fans of people pictures will also enjoy the Smile Shutter and face self-timer features, as well. The manual control story isn't quite as exciting. While you can adjust exposure (though there are no "priority" modes -- just full manual), white balance (including fine-tuning and bracketing), and focus, you are limited to two aperture choices at any one time (due to the camera's use of a ND filter). The HX20V has an impressive movie mode, with the ability to record at 1080/60p with stereo sound, continuous autofocus, and use of both the optical zoom and image stabilizer. No manual controls are available in movie mode, though you can adjust the mic level and turn on a wind filter.

Camera performance is among the best of any travel zoom on the market. The camera starts up in 1.4 seconds, which is average, and after that, it's off to the races. The camera focuses extremely quickly, whether at wide-angle or telephoto, good light or poor. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot speeds ranged from a brief 1 second without the flash, to 3 seconds with it. The HX20V is capable of continuous shooting as rates of 2 or 10 frames/second. The bad news is that it's only for ten shots -- even at the slower of the two frame rates. Like most of Sony's cameras, the DSC-HX20V's battery life is very good -- best-in-class, in fact.

Photo quality is what needs the most work on the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V. Starting off with exposure, the camera tends to underexpose by about 1/3 of a stop. It also clips highlights at times, though that's pretty common on compact cameras. Colors look good, both inside our studio and out in the real world. Subjects are sharp at first glance, but if you look closer, you'll see that noise reduction has smudged fine details and given low contrast areas a mottled appearance -- even at ISO 100. Things stay pretty steady through the middle of the sensitivity range, but you'll definitely want to avoid the highest ISOs. If you're inspecting photos at 100% on your computer screen, then you'll certainly notice the effects of all that noise reduction. However, I figure that the average buyer of the HX20V will probably be downsizing their photos for web sharing or making "normal sized" prints. When you do either of those, the noise tends to blend away. One thing that won't go away when you downsize images is redeye. You will run into this annoyance on the camera, though thankfully there's a tool to remove it in playback mode. Purple fringing levels were relatively low.

Overall, I enjoyed using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V, and had the same response to it as I did to their HX200V super zoom. It's a responsive, fun-to-use camera with some genuinely useful extra features (HDR, Anti Motion Blur, Sweep Panorama), a decent set of manual controls, and a top-notch movie mode. It'll never win awards for its photo quality, though it's super high resolution means that downsized photos look very good. If you're looking for a GPS-equipped travel zoom camera, then the HX20V is well worth considering.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality for target audience
  • Packs a 20X zoom lens into a compact body
  • Optical image stabilization, with 3-way "active mode" for movies
  • Super-sharp 3-inch LCD display
  • Very snappy performance, especially autofocus
  • Good set of manual controls, which include white balance fine-tuning and bracketing
  • 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
  • Helpful in-camera guide
  • Records Full HD video at 1080/60p with stereo sound and use of optical zoom, continuous AF, and image stabilizer
  • Best-in-class battery life

What I didn't care for:

  • Lots of detail smudging, even at ISO 100
  • Tends to underexpose; highlight clipping can be an issue at times
  • Redeye a problem, though it can be removed in playback mode
  • Only two apertures to choose from at any one time; no shutter or aperture priority modes, or RAW support
  • No manual controls in movie mode
  • Ten shot limit in burst mode, even at 2 frames/sec
  • Design annoyances: custom button hard to reach, controls on back of camera are small and cramped, no room for fingers when flash is raised, USB port on bottom of camera, memory card slot inaccessible when using tripod
  • Internal battery charger is slow, prevents you from charging a spare
  • Deafening "beep" sound when buttons are pressed (it can be turned off)
  • Full manual only available on the Internet (!)

Some other GPS-equipped travel zoom cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, Fuji FinePix F770EXR, Nikon Coolpix S9300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, and Samsung WB850F. If you can live without the GPS, the Olympus SZ-31MR, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15, and the Pentax Optio VS20 may also be worth a look.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our DSC-HX20V photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.