Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V Review

How Does it Compare?

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V is a compact ultra zoom camera that features a nice 25 - 250 mm zoom lens, image stabilization, a built-in GPS, limited manual controls, and 1080i HD video recording. And, due to its back-illuminated CMOS sensor, it's able to take low light photos that are a bit better than cameras with traditional sensors. This sensor also allows the camera to shoot continuously at up to 10 frames/second, and perform a few other neat tricks, as well. The HX5V is far from a perfect camera, though. Images have a lot of detail loss due to Sony's heavy-handed noise reduction system, highlights are often clipped, and the flash is on the weak side. While there are manual exposure controls, you only get to choose from two aperture values at any one time. I also didn't care for the fact that you can't turn the image stabilization system off. All things considered, the DSC-HX5V is a good (but not great) camera that's best suited to the smaller print crowds. It wouldn't be my top pick for either a low light or GPS-equipped camera, but it's still worth a look.

The DSC-HX5V is a compact camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. For the most part, it's well built, though the door over the battery/memory card compartment is especially flimsy. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, but do watch your fingers: both the flash and microphone are easy to block accidentally. The camera features a 10X optical zoom Sony "G" lens, with a nice focal range of 25 - 250 mm. The camera also features Sony's optical image stabilization system, which reduces blurry photos and smoothes out your movie as well (and there is an "active" mode that helps even more with the latter). As I mentioned, the IS system cannot be turned off (which you usually want to do when using a tripod), though the photos I took on a tripod all came out okay. On the back of the camera is a run-of-the-mill 3-inch LCD display, with 230,000 pixels. The HX5V's main competitors -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 and Samsung HZ35W -- have much sharper screens. The LCD offers good outdoor visibility, and average low light viewing. As with all cameras in this class, the HX5V lacks an optical viewfinder. Sony loves to make their own version of everything, and the DSC-HX5V is a mixed bag in this regard. On the one hand, it now supports SD and SDHC memory cards, in addition to Sony's own Memory Stick Duo media. That said, the camera uses a non-standard connector (on the bottom of the camera, no less) for USB and video out -- and you have to attach a special dongle if you want to use HDMI.

The DSC-HX5V is mostly a point-and-shoot camera, but Sony did throw in a few manual controls to appease enthusiasts (though I think they'll be a bit disappointed). The camera has an "easy" mode with just two menu options, plus an Intelligent Auto mode that will select a scene mode automatically, even detecting when the camera is on a tripod and adjusting the settings appropriately. If you want to select a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from. One of the coolest features on the HX5V is called Intelligent Sweep Panorama. This allows you to pan the camera from side-to-side and create a single (and huge) panoramic photo. Some less-exciting features are anti-motion blur (best saved for 4 x 6 inch prints) and handheld twilight (I'd pass on this one). In terms of manual controls, they are more limited than I would've liked. There are no shutter or aperture priority modes -- just a full manual mode. When you go to set the aperture you'll discover that you can only choose from two settings at any one time, which is because the camera is using an ND filter (rather than an iris) to reduce the amount of light coming through the lens. While the camera has manual white balance control, it lacks a manual focus feature. There's no support for the RAW image format, either.

Two of the biggest features on the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V are its GPS and HD movie recording capability. The GPS runs almost invisibly, quietly tagging your photos and movies with your location and direction. It can't pick out landmarks like Panasonic's ZS7, but it gets the job done. Acquisition times are typically between 30 seconds and a minute, though like most GPS receivers, it will struggle when you're indoors or in a big city. The bundled Picture Motion Browser software can show you on a map where a photo was taken, though this feature is separate from the rest of the suite, for some reason. As for the movie feature, the HX5V has one of the best you'll find. The camera can record up to 29 continuous minutes of 1080i video (that's 1920 x 1080 at 60 interlaced frames per second) with digital stereo sound. You can use the optical zoom as much as you'd like, and the image stabilizer is available, as well. The camera uses the AVCHD format, which isn't very easy to work with on your computer, but videos look great when you just plug the camera into an HDTV. Sony includes both an AVCHD viewer and very basic editor, though like the rest of the Picture Motion Browser software, it's for WIndows only. If you don't want to deal with AVCHD, there's also an MPEG-4/H.264 option available, at resolutions of 1440 x 1080, 1280 x 720, and 640 x 480 -- all at 30 frames/second. These files open up just like any old movie -- no conversion required.

Camera performance is average in most respects. The DSC-HX5V starts up in about 1.6 seconds, and takes nearly as long to shut down. Autofocus speeds are very good in most situations, with low light focus times hovering around a full second. Shutter lag was only noticeable at slow shutter speeds. Shot-to-shot delays ranged from 1.5 seconds without the flash, to 3 seconds with it. Continuing shooting is one of the HX5V's strong suits. It can take up to ten shots at a row at a whopping 10 frames/second. Don't worry, slower burst rates are available, too. Battery life is about average for the compact ultra zoom class with the GPS turned off. If you'll be using the GPS a lot (which I figure most people will be doing), you may want to pick up a spare battery.

Photo quality is a mixed bag. Exposure was generally accurate, with the camera having the slight tendency to overexpose a bit. Like nearly all compact cameras, the HX5V does clip highlights easily. I have no issues with the color of my photos -- everything was nice and vivid. Sharpness and detail are another matter. Sony uses way too much noise reduction for my taste, which smudges away fine details -- even at the base ISO sensitivity. The camera does perform a bit better than your typical CCD-based camera at middle ISOs (400-800), but higher than that, there's not much detail left to work with. Despite the promises of the back-illuminated CMOS sensor in the HX5V, I still believe that Fuji's SuperCCD EXR sensors produce the best low light / high ISO photos. If you're sticking with 4 x 6 inch prints, you probably won't notice the lack of fine detail in the HX5V's photos, but large printers and pixel peepers may be turned off by what they see. The camera does a good job of controlling purple fringing. Redeye was a problem, though there's a tool in playback mode that effectively removes it.

I have mixed feelings about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V. It's not the best low light shooter out there (that honor goes to Fuji), nor does it have the best GPS implementation (that award goes to Panasonic). That said, it does a decent job of both, and offers photo quality that's folks making smaller prints will have no issues with, plus a really nice movie mode and a host and point-and-shoot features. Those of you who want full manual controls and more detail in your photos may want to consider another camera. Either way, it's worth a look if you're looking for a compact ultra zoom camera.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality for smaller prints
  • Modest improvement at middle ISO sensitivities versus conventional sensors
  • 10X, 25 - 250 mm lens in a compact body
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Limited manual controls
  • Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene mode for you
  • Built-in GPS tags both the location and direction of your photos
  • Fast autofocus performance in good light
  • Cool Intelligent Sweep Panorama feature
  • Great burst mode
  • Impressive face and smile detection features
  • Superb HD movie mode records at 1080i, with stereo sound and use of optical zoom and image stabilizer; two codecs available
  • Accepts both Memory Stick Duo and SD/SDHC memory cards

What I didn't care for:

  • Heavy noise reduction smudges details, even at lower ISOs; highest sensitivities not really usable
  • Camera clips highlights easily; occasional (but slight) overexposure
  • Redeye a problem, though you can remove it in playback mode
  • Only two apertures to choose from at any time; no shutter or aperture priority modes
  • Flash is on the weak side
  • Image stabilization cannot be turned off
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Can't adjust image quality (compression)
  • Very flimsy door over battery/memory card compartment
  • Proprietary video/USB connector (on bottom of camera, no less) -- dongle required for HDMI output
  • Only basic Mac software included (and nothing for movie viewing)
  • Full manual on CD-ROM; manuals are not very detailed

The closest competitors to the DSC-HX5V are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 and Samsung HZ35W. Some non-GPS competitors include the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FH100, Fuji FinePix F80EXR, Nikon , Olympus Stylus 9000 (which may be discontinued), Ricoh CX3, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55, which is the HX5V's little brother.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V and its competitors before you buy.

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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.