Originally Posted: June 20, 2012
Last Updated: June 21, 2012
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V is the midrange model in Sony's trio of GPS-equipped travel zoom cameras. All three cameras -- the HX10V ($330), HX20V ($370), and HX30V ($390) -- all use the same 18.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor. The differences are simple: the HX10V has a 16X zoom lens, while the other two models have a 20X lens. The HX30V earns its flagship status by offering Wi-Fi support.
The HX20V has a lot more to offer than just its big lens. It also has both automatic and limited manual controls, HDR and other multi-shot options that improve image quality, a fun sweep panorama feature, and Full HD 1080/60p video recording. All that in a body that fits in your jeans pocket.
As you may know, there are a lot of other travel zoom cameras out there -- some of which are quite good. Is the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V one of the top choices? Find out now in our review!
Due to their many similarities, portions of the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V review will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V has a rather unremarkable bundle. Here's what you'll find when you open the box:
- The 18.2 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V digital camera
- NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery
- AC adapter
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- 33 page basic manual
The Cyber-shot HX20V 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 HX20V supports both SD/SDHC/SDXC and Memory Stick Pro Duo (including TransferJet) cards, and I'd suggest a 4GB card at the very minimum, and a 16GB card if you plan on taking a lot of Full HD videos. Buying a high speed card (Class 6 or higher for SD cards) is a smart idea.
The camera uses the same NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery as many other Sony cameras. It also supports the NP-FG1 InfoLithium battery, which shows you exactly how many minutes of battery life you have left, instead of the the not-so-accurate standard battery meter. Both batteries hold 3.4 Wh of energy, which is on the low end for a travel zoom. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
Don't judge the HX20V by it's battery capacity -- it ended up coming in first place among this group of travel zooms! Even so, it's never a bad idea to keep a spare around, and a Sony-branded NP-FG1 will set you back around $32.
The DSC-HX20V's battery is charged internally using the included AC adapter and micro USB cable. Charging speeds are relatively slow, with a full charge taking 175 minutes. If you want a faster charger, or just the ability to have a spare battery ready to go, then you'll want to pick up the BC-TRN or BC-TRN2 external charger.
Those battery charges are really the only accessories available for the HX20V. Sony has numerous carrying cases available, though none are designed specifically for the HX20V.
In what is likely a cost-cutting move, Sony no longer includes their software bundle on a CD-ROM disc. The PlayMemories Home software is actually on the camera itself, and you can install it by plugging the HX20V 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 can't upload GPS assist data to the camera.
Sony uses two different codecs for video recording on the DSC-HX20V: 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.
Good news on the video front for Mac users: you can now import AVCHD Progressive video directly into Final Cut Pro X or iMovie '11, without the need for a middleman. The only negative I could find is that playback in FCP was rather choppy (the movie itself played fine once exported).
Long-time readers of this website know that I'm not a fan of how camera makers have been skimping on printed manuals over the two years or so. Sony has reached a new low among camera manufacturers in 2012 by not even including a full manual in the box with the camera. You will find a small booklet that'll get you up and running, but for more details on the camera's features, you'll have to visit Sony's website to view (but not download) the complete manual! The quality of the manual, in terms of both depth and user-friendliness, leaves much to be desired.
Design & Features
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V is a compact ultra zoom camera whose black body is a mixture of metal and plastic. The camera is well put-together, though some of the design decisions are a bit frustrating. The buttons on the back of the camera are very small and tightly packed, while the handy custom button on the top is hard to reach. There's no room for your fingers when the flash is popped up, and Sony's placement of the USB port on the bottom of the camera is bit puzzling. Thankfully, these things were just minor annoyances, and didn't make using the camera more difficult.
Hard to believe there's a 20X lens in that compact body
Now let's take a look at how the HX20V compares to our group of travel zooms in terms of size and weight:
The HX20V is one of the larger cameras in our group, but not by much. I found it very easy to carry around, in my jeans pocket or just with the wrist strap.
Let's tour the DSC-HX20V now, using our tabbed interface:
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V uses an all new F3.2-5.8, 20X optical zoom Sony "G" lens. This lens has a focal range of 4.45 - 89.0 mm, which is equivalent to a very useful 25 - 500 mm. As you might imagine, the lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.
As you'd expect, the camera has an optical image stabilization system (which Sony calls Optical 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.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The working range of the flash is 0.4 - 7.1 m at wide-angle and 1.5 - 3.9 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), both of which are above average. You cannot attach an external flash to the HX20V (the same is true for all of the competition).
The only other item of note on the front of the camera is its AF-assist lamp, which is to the upper-left of the lens. In addition to its main task (helping the camera focus in low light), the lamp also lights up when the self-timer and Smile Shutter features are being used.
The main thing to see on the back of the HX20V is its high resolution 3-inch LCD display. With 921,000 pixels at its disposal, everything is incredibly sharp. Outdoor visibility is average, and the screen could be brighter in low light situations, as well. You can increase the ISO to boost the screen brightness, though this will result in noisier photos.
Now let's talk about buttons and dials. And thumb rests. Next to that nice spot for your right thumb is the camera's dedicated movie recording button, which allows you to record videos in any shooting mode.
Under the thumb rest is the button for entering playback mode, with the four-way controller / scroll dial below that. The four-way controller / dial is a bit small, but it gets the job done. You'll use these for menu navigation, adjusting exposure, and flipping through photos. The four-way controller also offers direct buttons for Display (what's shown on the LCD), Photo Creativity mode (more on that later), and the drive and flash modes.
Underneath that stuff you'll find one tiny button for entering the menus, and another for deleting a photo or seeing a help screen.
At the far left of the photo is the pop-up flash, which is down here. Do note that there's very little real estate left for your fingers when it's popped up.
At the center of the photo is the stereo microphone, followed by the power and custom buttons. I'll tell you what features can be assigned to the custom button later in the review.
Moving upward we have the shutter release button, which is surrounded by the zoom controller. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.2 seconds. The lens moves at variable speed, so if you barely tap the controller, it'll move just a tiny bit. Bump it a bit more, and the lens will travel further. If you're really precise, you should find more than 50 stops in the 20X zoom range.
At the far right of the photo is the camera's mode dial, which is chock full of options. I'll go into more detail about those after the tour as well.
There's nothing to see here, other than to point out that the flash is up, and the lens is at the wide-angle position. I have no idea if the GPS receiver is actually located where the label is.
On the right side of the HX20V is its micro-HDMI port, which is under a rubber door. If you're wondering where the USB port is, then head on over to the next tab.
The lens is at its full telephoto (20X) position in this shot.
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 plastic door of average quality. In-between the two is a very poorly placed micro-USB port.
As you might imagine, you won't be able to access anything down here while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NP-BG1 battery can be seen at right.
A live histogram is available when composing photos
Now it's time to talk about the features on the DSC-HX20V, starting with those found on the various buttons and dials on the camera. I'm going to begin with the four-way controller, which has two items of note: drive modes and Photo Creativity mode. Here's a quick rundown of the most interesting drive mode options on the HX20V:
- Continuous shooting: shoot as fast as 10 frames/second; more on this later
- BKT (bracket): the camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure; you can select the exposure interval in the menu system; the camera can also bracket for white balance
- Self-portrait timer: the camera will wait for one or two people to enter the scene and then takes a photo 2 seconds later
- Self-timer continuous shooting: takes a burst of ten shots after a 10 second countdown
- Self-timer bracket: starts bracketing after a 10 second countdown; every camera should have this!
Photo Creativity mode -- only available in Intelligent or Superior Auto mode -- allows you to adjust the brightness, color, and vividness without having to know the somewhat more technical terms of exposure compensation, white balance, and saturation. These items are adjusted using slider controls on the LCD, as you can see above. Here you'll also find various Picture Effects, which I'll go over when we get to the menu discussion.
Now let's move on to the items found on the camera's mode dial:
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 even 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 multi-shot layering through features like Anti Motion Blur, Handheld Twilight, and HDR. More on those in a bit. Both of the auto modes also allow you to use the Photo Creativity interface that I described above.
The HX20V has a limited set of manual controls. While you can adjust the aperture and shutter speed, you have to use the full manual mode to do it (there are no "priority" modes). In addition, you can only choose from two apertures at any time, due to the camera's use of a neutral density filter. On a more positive note, the camera offers both semi and full manual focus, plus white balance bracketing and fine-tuning. One feature you won't find on the HX20V is support for the RAW image format.
Sony cameras have some of my favorite bells and whistles out there. 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 HX20V is totally automatic. Below is a real world example that I took while writing this review in a -- guess where -- Starbucks. I did some Photoshop trickery to line up the shots, as they were not taken with a tripod.
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You don't need to be a camera expert to see the huge difference between the two shots. With such a heavy backlight, the normal photo is almost completely dark in the foreground. The HDR features lets you see the foreground, without sacrificing the background detail. It's definitely one of my favorite features on Sony's high zoom cameras.
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's an example of the Handheld Twilight feature:
The example above is certainly not going to win any awards when viewed at 100%. However, it does look better than what you'd get if you just set the ISO to 6400 or 12800, thanks to the use of multiple exposures. Even so, both Handheld Nightshot and Anti Motion Blur are best suited for small prints.
Let's take a look at some panoramas now!
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. 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. While the camera tries not to chop people in half, or have them appear in multiple places at once, it does happen on occasion.
|Main menu of the camera guide||One of the very detailed help screens, this one for white balance. You can jump directly to that menu option using the highlighted button.|
If you need a little extra help when using the camera, then just press the question mark button on the back of the HX20V. 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 explain what the selected option does. Very nice!
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, rich-tone monochrome, miniature effect, 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
- Focus: select from multi-point, center, flexible spot, semi-manual, and full manual
- 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 HX20V'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)
- MR set: saves current camera settings to the MR spot on the mode dial; you can store up to three different groups of camera settings
I suppose now's a good of a time as any to talk about the DSC-HX20V's built-in GPS receiver. Unlike cameras from Fuji and Panasonic, the HX20V'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 (30-60 second acquisition 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, though it won't help when you're shooting in cities.
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 your zoom power, with a minimal reduction in image quality (see below)
- Wind noise reduction: for shooting movies outdoors
- Mic level: choose from normal or low; for movies, obviously
- Blink Alert: warns you when your subject's eyes are closed
- Custom button: define what function this button handles; choose from exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, 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 HX20V 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 (Panasonic). The Clear Image Zoom feature will boost the zoom power by 2X, with "close to the original image quality" using some digital trickery which Sony calls "By Pixel Super Resolution technology". At full resolution, that means that you now have a 40X, or 1000 mm, zoom lens! If you lower the image resolution, you can go even higher. Here's an example:
|Full telephoto (500 mm)
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|Full tele + clear image zoom (1000 mm)
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As you can see, the Clear Image Zoom feature really lets you get close to your subject! It's always 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.
Let's talk about movies now! The HX20V is one of very 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.
The HX20V allows you to use the optical zoom during movie recording. The lens moves smoothly and quietly, to keep the motor noise from being picked up by the stereo microphones. Continuous autofocus will handle movie subjects fairly well, and the optical image stabilizer is also available, complete with an "active" mode that provides more shake reduction than standard IS.
Movie recording is totally point-and-shoot on the HX20V. 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.
Below is a sample movie that I took at the 1080/60p setting. I converted it using Final Cut Pro X into a QuickTime movie, but don't worry: the original MTS file is available for download, too.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V'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 (which you'll probably need), 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 HX20V doesn't separate movies from stills in playback mode -- and thanks a good thing.
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-HX20V flips through photos instantly. One thing I think could be a lot better 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-HX20V offers some of the best performance of any compact travel zoom on the market. The table below summarizes its performance:
Very nice! The only time you're really be waiting for the HX20V 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-HX20V 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:
As you can see, the HX20V can shoot very quickly in high speed mode, and at a decent rate in low speed mode. While the 10 shot limit isn't surprising at the highest speed, it is disappointing to see at the low speed option.
Let's move on to photo quality now, shall we?
Our usual macro test subject came out looking pretty nice -- at least when downsized. Colors are nice and saturated, without the color cast that often appears under our studio lamps. When you view the full image, you'll find that it's fairly sharp, though there's a lot of detail smudging due to the heavy noise reduction being applied to these 18 Megapixel images. I'll come back to this subject again shortly.
The HX20V 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 1.7 m at full telephoto.
Next up is our night test scene. You can take shots like this by using the Auto or Scene modes, or using the manual exposure controls. Keep in mind that there's the aperture limitation that I mentioned earlier, though. I went for the manual controls, of course, and got a photo that was well-exposed, though not without some fairly strong highlight clipping. The buildings are pretty sharp, though you'll find plenty of noise and artifacting here at ISO 100. Purple fringing levels were moderate.
Let's us that same scene to see how the HX20V performs at high sensitivities in low light:
There's just a slight increase in detail smudging when you go from ISO 100 to 200. Things aren't much worse at ISO 400, but even so, I'd stop here in most situations. You'll see the corners of the US Bank building start to disappear at ISO 800, and they're totally gone at ISO 1600. The sensitivities above that should be avoided. I should point out that the camera uses multiple exposures at ISO 6400 and 12800 to attempt to reduce noise but, as you can see, it doesn't do anything good.
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
Compact cameras are prone to redeye and it's definitely a problem on the HX20V, even with the redeye reduction pre-flash turned on. Thankfully, there's a removal tool in playback that does a pretty good job of reducing this annoyance.
There's very little barrel distortion to speak of on the HX20V's 25 - 500 mm lens. I didn't find corner blurring to be an issue, and the small amount of vignetting visible in the above chart was not present in real world photos.
And that brings us to our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare the results from this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. I'll have a comparison of various travel zoom cameras after this test, so stay tuned for that. Keeping in mind that the crops below only display a very small portion of the total scene, let's take the HX20V from ISO 100 to 12800!
The first three crops are relatively close in terms of quality, with just a bit more noise visible each time you go up a stop. You start to see some detail loss and grain-style noise at ISO 800, but it's still usable. Noise increases more at ISO 1600, making this a smart place to stop in most situations, saving ISO 3200 for desperation. As I mentioned back in the night shot discussion, the camera uses a multi-frame noise reduction system at ISO 6400 and 12800, but the resulting images are mushy messes. Unfortunately, there's no RAW support on the HX20V, so we can't see if more detail can be extracted by using that format.
Below is a test that I ran in my Coolpix S9300 review. It compares four GPS-equipped travel zooms, including the HX20V. The crops of the test scene are presented at their native resolution, at ISO 800. Use the tabs to see how these four cameras compare:
While none of the cameras are perfect, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V produces the best-looking photos in the group (though some may prefer the Canon). If you downsize the 18 Megapixel photos produced by the HX20V down to the native resolution of any of the competition, they'll look even better.
That's not to say that the HX20V's photo quality is wondrous -- far from it. But given what most people will do with the HX20V (downsize for the web or print something other than posters), it's more than adequate. The camera tends to underexpose by 1/3 stop, so you're going to want to either bracket your shots, or just bump the exposure compensation. The camera will clip highlights at times, and the HDR feature is worth trying in those situations. Colors looked good in both natural and artificial light. A small 18 Megapixel sensor is going to produce a lot of noise, and Sony uses some pretty strong noise reduction to combat it. The results can be seen in any of our sample photos: fine details are smudged, and areas of low contrast appear mottled. If you're a pixel peeper (someone who views images at 100%) or plan on making giant prints (we're talking larger than 11 x 14 here), then you will undoubtedly notice. However, if you're downsizing for the web or making "normal size" prints, then the noise and detail loss will blend away. One of the other annoyances on compact cameras, purple fringing, was generally not an issue on the HX20V.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and perhaps print a few of the images if you can. Hopefully then will be able to make your own decision about the DSC-HX20V's image quality.
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!
Check out our DSC-HX20V photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!