Originally Posted: April 3, 2010
Last Updated: April 29, 2010
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V ($349) is a compact ultra zoom camera with several features that differentiate it from most of its competitors. They include a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which promises better-than-average low light performance and super-fast continuous shooting, plus a built-in GPS, unique sweep panorama feature, and 1080i HD movie recording. That's on top of the 10X, 25 - 250 mm Sony "G" zoom lens, optical image stabilization, 3-inch LCD, limited manual controls, HDMI output, and support for both Memory Stick Duo and SD/SDHC memory cards.
The HX5V has some tough competition from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 (read our review) and the upcoming Samsung HZ35W, both of which have similar lenses, HD movie recording, and built-in GPS receivers. And if you don't need a GPS receiver, there are plenty of other models to choose from, as well.
I suppose this is also a good time to mention the HX5V's little brother, the Cyber-shot DSC-H55 ($249). This camera shares the same lens, design, and most of the features of the HX5V, except that is has a traditional 14 Megapixel CCD instead of CMOS (which means that it doesn't have the fast burst speeds and anti-blur modes) and lacks the GPS receiver. The H55's movie mode is also limited to 720p instead of 1080i.
How does the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V perform? Find out now in our review!
The camera tested here is a pre-production model running final firmware. I should also point out that there is a Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 available in some countries. This camera does not have the GPS feature.
What's in the Box?
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V has a pretty standard bundle for a point-and-shoot camera. Inside the box, you'll find the following:
- The 10.2 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V camera
- NP-BG1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- HDMI adapter
- USB + A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Picture Motion Browser software and Cyber-shot handbook
- 30 page basic manual (printed) plus 160 page full manual (on CD-ROM)
Like all of Sony's recent cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V has built-in memory, instead of having a memory card included in the box. The HX5V has 45MB of memory, which holds nine photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a memory card right away. Sony has finally wised up and now supports SD and SDHC memory cards, in addition to their proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo format (Mark 2 cards only). I'd recommend picking up a 2GB or 4GB card (and definitely larger if you'll be taking lots of movies). Buying a high speed card (Class 4 or above for SDHC, HX for MS Pro Duo) is a good idea.
A TransferJet Memory Stick Pro Duo card
Image courtesy of Sony Electronics
The HX5V also supports Sony's new TransferJet memory cards, which allows you to transfer photos and videos to other TransferJet-equipped devices simply by having the two products near each other. The transfer speeds are very good (160 MBps) and there's no "pairing" required. On the camera side you'll need to get a TransferJet compatible MS Duo card (8GB model is $100), and you'll need either a laptop with TransferJet built in, or a TransferJet Station ($150) connected to a PC, game console, or television.
The HX5V uses Sony's familiar NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery has 3.4 Wh of energy, which is about average for a camera in this class. The HX5V also supports the NP-FG1 battery, which has the same amount of juice, but adds InfoLithium technology, which allows the camera to provide a minute-by-minute countdown of battery life. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect from the DSC-HX5V:
Casio has a knack for making cameras with stellar battery life (their EX-FH100 blows away the competition), which kind of ruins things for everyone else. That said, the HX5V's battery numbers are a bit above average in this group. Keep in mind that those numbers are derived with the GPS turned off. With it turned on, expect the battery to drain a lot quicker, though Sony doesn't say by how much.
I should point out a few things about the proprietary lithium-ion battery used by the HX5V and every other camera in the table above. Proprietary batteries tend to be more expensive than their AA counterparts, with a spare NP-FG1 costing at least $29. In addition, should that battery run out of juice, you can't pick up an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day.
When you're ready to charge the HX5V's battery, just pop it into the included charger. And then be prepared to wait, as this is one of the slower chargers on the market. A typical charge takes 4.5 hours, with a full charge taking a whopping 5.5 hours. If this becomes a problem, you might want to consider buying the fast charger listed below.
Camera with HDMI dongle attached
Something else you'll find in the box with the camera is an HDMI adapter. The DSC-HX5V doesn't have standard USB, A/V, or HDMI ports, so you have to use special cables and adapters (hey, it's Sony -- what did you expect?). For HDMI, there's a little dongle that plugs into the bottom of the camera, which provides a full-size HDMI port. You will need to provide your own HDMI cable.
Now let's take a look at the accessories that you can purchase for the HX5V:
Not a huge selection of accessories -- and I don't like having to buy two products to use the AC adapter -- but most people will be satisfied with what Sony offers.
Sony includes version 5.0 of their Picture Motion Browser software with the DSC-HX5V. This software remains Windows-only, so Mac users will want to use iPhoto (though I'll mention another option at the end of this section). PMB has matured nicely since its early days, though I wish things were more integrated and less clunky.
The first part of the software you'll probably encounter is PMB Launcher, which is the gateway to all of PMB's functions. Here you can transfer photos to your PC, upload them to popular photo/video sharing sites, burn a CD or DVD, update the GPS data on the camera, upload your own slideshow music, or just leap right into the photo browser.
Picture Motion Browser 5 in Windows
Speaking of which, above you can see the actual Picture Motion Browser software. On the main screen you'll find the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos in a calendar format, as well. You can sort photos by date, whether they contain people, smiles, or location data, by label, and more. From here you can also e-mail, print, upload your photos to sharing sites, burn images or videos to a CD or DVD, or just view a slideshow.
Editing in Picture Motion Browser
Double-clicking on any thumbnail brings you to this screen, though you'll need to show the edit palette if you want to do anything here. Here you can remove redeye, crop an image, adjust brightness/saturation/sharpness or the tone curve, print the date on your photos, or just use an AutoCorrect function.
Map View application
If you look back at the screenshot of the main PMB window, you'll see that some of the thumbnails have a little green compass icon on them. Those photos are tagged with location data, and you can see them on a map by opening up the Map View program (why it's not integrated into the main software is beyond me). If you look closely at the map, you can even see which direction the camera was pointing when the photo was taken, which is courtesy of the HX5V's compass.
Movie Trimming tool
Picture Motion Browser can also be used to view and edit the movies produced by the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V. You can trim unwanted footage of the beginning and/or end of a clip, and then save the result as an MTS (AVCHD) file. Movies can also be burned to DVDs or Blu-ray discs, though I believe you have to buy an add-on for the latter. You can also export videos to WMV format, though the resolution is lowered to VGA. For editing, most of the popular suites (e.g. Adobe Premiere) can work with the camera's AVCHD and MP4 formats just fine.
Mac users who want to view the HX5V's movies have a few options. If you saved your videos using the MP4 (H.264) codec, then just double-click them and they'll open up in QuickTime Player. If you used AVCHD (which is the default, and required for Full HD recording), things aren't quite as easy. You can view the MTS (AVCHD) files by using VLC, and both iMovie and Final Cut Pro can be used for editing (though they don't edit the MTS files themselves). You can convert the files into other formats using Handbrake or Toast Titanium, with the latter also able to burn the movies to a DVD or Blu-ray disc.
PMB Portable for Windows
There's a mini version of Picture Motion Browser built into the camera, as well. Thus, you can view, transfer, and share photos with others simply by plugging the camera into your computer and installing the PMB Portable software. There are both Mac and Windows versions of PMB Portable, though I could only get the Windows version to work.
Look and Feel
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V is a compact camera made mostly of metal. Most of the body feels pretty solid, save for the door over the battery/memory card compartment, which is very flimsy. The camera is clearly designed for one-handed operation, with an adequate right hand grip, and a dedicated spot for your thumb. You will want to keep an eye on your fingers, though, as your thumb can easily bump the movie recording button, while your other fingers can wander in front of the flash. The fingers on your left hand can also block the poorly placed stereo microphone if you're not careful.
Sony has kept buttons to a minimum on the HX5V, and most of them serve a single function. I did find most of them to be too small, and the power button is harder to find than it should be.
The DSC-HX5V is only available in black -- which surprised me, since other Sony cameras come in at least ten colors.
Alright, now let's see how the HX5V compares to others in its class in terms of size and weight. The weights aren't totally comparable right now, as some -- but not all -- manufacturers are starting to provide this number with battery and memory card installed, instead of empty.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V isn't the smallest camera in the group (it's about average), but it's definitely the lightest. It should travel in
Let's begin our tour of the camera now, shall we?
The main thing to see here is the F3.5-5.5, 10X optical zoom Sony "G" lens. Sony has told me in the past that a "G" lens is better than the "Carl Zeiss" lenses usually found on their cameras, though I'm not a believer quite yet. Anyhow, this lens has a focal range of 4.25 - 42.5 mm, which is equivalent to 25 - 250 mm. As you might expect, the lens is not threaded.
Inside the lens is Sony's optical image stabilization system, known as Optical SteadyShot. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. The HX5V compensates for this motion by shifting one of the lens elements, which makes a sharp photo a lot more likely. It won't allow you to freeze a moving subject or take a multi-second handheld exposure (though Sony has a feature that tries), but it's a lot better than nothing at all. I'd love to show you an example of the SteadyShot system in action, but for some bizarre reason, you cannot turn off image stabilization on the HX5V (tripod users take note!). In movie mode there are two SteadyShot modes to choose from: normal, and active. You'll want to use the latter in situations where things are really shaky, like if you're taking a video from a moving vehicle.
Comparison of traditional sensors and the back-illuminated Exmor R sensor
Diagram courtesy of Sony
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V uses the same Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor as the DSC-WX1 and DSC-TX1/TX5/TX7 models. In recent months, this sensor has ended up on cameras from many other manufacturers, including two of the HX5V's competitors: the Casio Exilim EX-FH100 and Ricoh CX3. What is a back-illuminated sensor, anyway? The design moves all the sensor's wires and circuits behind the photo diodes (which receive the light coming through the lens), which allows the sensor to collect more light, leading to higher sensitivity and less noise (at least in theory). The fact that it's a CMOS sensor also allows for fast continuous shooting and Full HD video recording.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp also lights up when the self-timer or Smile Shutter features are being used.
Moving over to the left side of the photo, we find the HX5V's built-in flash. The flash strength is about average for a compact camera (translation: not great), with a working range of 0.1 - 3.8 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.6 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). While most cameras these days let you adjust the flash strength, the HX5V isn't one of them. As you'd expect, you cannot attach an external flash to the DSC-HX5V.
On the back of the camera is a fairly standard 3-inch LCD display with 230,000 pixels. The competition definitely has a leg up on Sony in this department. The Samsung HZ35W (also know as the WB650) has an AMOLED display with 920,000 pixels and a 10000:1 contrast ratio. The ZS3's LCD is no slouch either, with 460,000 pixels. Getting back to the DSC-HX5V, the screen has average outdoor visibility, while low light visibility is good, but not great.
As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on the HX5V. In fact, none of the cameras in the compact ultra zoom group have one.
Now let's cover the buttons that are located to the right of the LCD. The largest one is the dedicated movie recording button, which allows you to take movies in any shooting mode. Operation is simple: press it once to start, and again to stop.
Underneath that is the playback mode button, which does just as you'd expect. Next up is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, adjusting manual exposure settings, replaying photos, and also:
- Up - Display (toggles info shown on LCD)
- Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec, self-portrait one person, self-portrait two people)
- Left - Smile Shutter (on/off)
- Right - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off)
- Center - OK/Set
Time to discuss some of those in further detail. The self-timer feature now takes advantage of the camera's face detection system. It can wait for one or two faces to be detected before it takes a photo two seconds later.
The camera has detected my niece's big smile and is about to take a photo
The Smile Shutter is a feature that Sony pioneered a few years ago. When this feature is activated, the camera will wait until it finds a person in the scene who is smiling, and then it'll keep taking pictures. If you have a group of people, only one person has to be smiling for the camera to start snapping away. You can adjust how big of a smile is required for the camera to take a picture via an option in the menu.
The last items on the back of the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V include the Menu and Delete Photo buttons.
The first thing to see on the top of the HX5V is the rather poorly placed stereo microphones, which are easy to block with your fingers.
Right at the center of the photo are the continuous shooting and power buttons, which are difficult to tell apart. One of the perks that comes with the camera's CMOS sensor is super-fast continuous shooting. You can take up to ten full resolution photos in a row at 10 frames/second (that's the advertised and real world number). If you want things to go a bit slower, there are medium (5 fps) and low speed (2 fps) options available, as well. The LCD keeps up nicely with the action, so following a moving subject should not be a problem.
Continuing to the right, we find the HX5V's shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The controller can move slowly and quickly, depending on how much pressure you put on it. At full speed, the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. I counted at least fifty steps in the HX5V's 10X zoom range -- very nice.
The final item (and the one which requires the most explanation) on the top of the camera is the mode dial, which is packed with options. Here's the full list:
Lots to talk about here, and I'll start with the Intelligent Auto mode. This mode will select a scene mode for you, and it's even able to tell whether the camera is on a tripod. There's also an advanced scene recognition mode which, when backlight or twilight scenes are detected, will take two photos: one with the flash on, and the other with sensitivity or dynamic range increased. Do note that white balance cannot be adjusted in iAuto mode.
Scene mode menu
If you want to pick a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from. Two of the more notable scene modes include:
- High sensitivity - boosts the ISO as high as 3200 in order to get a sharp photo; photos can be on the noisy side, so this is for small prints only
- Advanced sports shooting - combines continuous autofocus with (I assume) faster shutter speeds
The DSC-HX5V has limited manual exposure control. There are no shutter or aperture priority modes, but you can set both at the same time in full manual mode. While you can select any shutter speed between 30 and 1/1600 of second, your aperture options are quite limited, since Sony's using an ND filter to reduce the amount of light coming through the lens. You only get two aperture choices at any time, such as F3.5/F8 at wide-angle and F5.5/F13 at telephoto. This certainly limits the usefulness of having manual aperture control in the first place!
The Intelligent Sweep Panorama feature is arguably the coolest thing on the DSC-HX5V. Simply point the camera where you want your panorama to start, press the shutter release button, and then "sweep" the camera from left to right (or the direction of your choosing), following the guide on the screen. The camera actually combines 100 slices into the final panorama image, and it makes sure that people don't get cutoff or misaligned. You can select from normal (4912 x 1080) or wide (7152 x 1080) sizes. The results are impressive, and it doesn't get any easier than this to create panoramic photos.
View Full Size Image
The backlight correction HDR feature combines two exposures -- one bright and one dark -- into a single image. The point of this is to improve the dynamic range (balance of light and dark) in your photos. The example above isn't perfect, because it was taken spontaneously, and without a tripod. But you can see that the photo loses the washed-out look when you switch over to the HDR mode. Look at the Bank of America building or the dark window frames on the hotel in the foreground, for example.
|Anti-motion blur||Handheld twilight|
The anti-motion blur and handheld twilight features are quite similar, in that they combine six exposures into a single photo (detecting a pattern here?). The goal is a sharp photo, whether it's for shooting in low light (anti-motion blur) or for taking long exposures without a tripod (handheld twilight). While the anti-motion blur sample above is probably good enough for a 4 x 6 on the refrigerator, the handheld twilight shot isn't so hot (here's another example). Then again, that photo normally requires a 5-8 second exposure (at the base ISO), so that's not entirely surprising. You might have better luck with something that's illuminated a little brighter.
And that does it for the top of the camera!
There's nothing to see on this side of the camera. While you can see the GPS logo here, I'm not sure if this is where the receiver is actually located (the camera doesn't have a "hump" for the GPS like the Panasonic ZS7. I'll tell you more about the camera's GPS functions later in the review.
There's nothing on the other side either, unless you count the wrist strap anchor. The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.
On the bottom of the HX5V you'll find a metal tripod mount, the multi-connector port, and the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers the battery/memory compartment is VERY flimsy, feeling like it could break off at any moment. You should be able to get at what's inside that compartment while the camera is on a tripod, though. I found it impossible to get SD/SDHC cards into the memory card slot, for some reason -- perhaps because my camera isn't final production.
The multi-connector port is where you'll plug in the included A/V+USB output cable or HDMI adapter, as well as the optional multi-connector and component video cables.
You can see the included NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery on the right side of the photo.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
It takes the DSC-HX5V about 1.6 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting, which is average. When you turn the camera off, it takes about a second before the lens retracts, for some reason.
A live histogram is available in record mode. You can also see the compass and GPS info above that.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V is one of the faster-focusing compact cameras out there. At wide-angle, expect focus to lock in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds, with telephoto times of 0.6 - 1.0 seconds (and occasionally a bit longer). Low light focusing is average, with the camera typically taking a second or so to lock focus.
Shutter lag wasn't an issue at fast shutter speeds, though I noticed a tiny bit of it at slow shutter speeds, though you should be using a tripod or the flash at that point anyway.
Shot-to-shot speeds range from about 1.5 seconds without the flash, to 3 seconds with it. Do note that the camera will be locked up for about 10 seconds after you take a high speed burst.
You cannot delete a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter playback mode first. Something that bothers me about the HX5V and other recent Sony cameras is how quickly it retracts the lens when you enter playback mode. So, if you're not quick, you will lose the composition of your photo, since the lens position is not stored.
Most cameras let you adjust both the size and the amount of compression applied to photos, but the DSC-HX5V only lets you do the former. Thus, here are the available image sizes on the camera:
See why you need a large memory card to go along with the HX5V?
The DSC-HX5V does not support the RAW image format, unfortunately.
Outside of the very basic Easy Mode, you'll be using the standard Sony menu system on the HX5V. It's attractive, though not terribly loaded with options. The camera shows a description of each menu option, which is handy for beginners. Keeping in mind that not all of these options will be available in the auto and scene modes, here's the complete list of menu options on the HX5V:
- Scene selection (High sensitivity, soft snap, advanced sports shooting, landscape, twilight portrait, twilight, gourmet, pet, beach, snow, fireworks) - only shown in SCN mode
- Shooting direction (Right, left, up, down) - for sweep panorama feature
- Image size (see above chart) - the standard and wide options are shown instead when in sweep panorama mode
- Movie size (AVCHD 17M FH, AVCHD 9M HQ, MP4 12M, MP4 6M, MP4 3M) - these options depend on your codec choice in the setup menu
- Burst settings (Single, burst)
- Burst shooting interval (Low, middle, high)
- Bracket settings (Exposure ±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0 EV, white balance) - see below
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- ISO (Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1/2/3, incandescent, flash, one push)
- Focus (Multi, center, spot AF) - the first one is 9-point
- Metering mode (Multi, center, spot)
- Scene recognition (iSCN, iSCN+) - whether camera takes two shots in Intelligent Auto mode; discussed earlier in the review
- Smile detection sensitivity (Slight, normal, big smile) - discussed earlier
- Face detection (Off, auto, child priority, adult priority) - see below
- Anti-blink (Auto, off) - see below
- SteadyShot (Standard, active) - "active" is for very shaky situations; these are for movies only; and where's the off option, Sony?
- Settings - see below
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V has the ability to bracket for both exposure and white balance. In either case, the camera takes three shots in a row. For AE bracketing, you can set the exposure value between each shot. For white balance, the camera takes one photo at the current setting, one in the blue direction, and a third with a reddish tint.
Speaking of white balance, you have the usual presets available, and there's also a "one-push" option that allows you to use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting. Two WB-related things you cannot do on the HX5V are fine-tune (though bracketing sort-of counts) or set the color temperature.
The HX5V found all six faces
I already told you about the camera's smile detection feature, so here's some info about the face and blink detection features. The face detection feature will find up to eight faces in the scene, making sure they're properly focused. By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you can have the camera memorize a face, and give that person priority until you tell it otherwise. The face detection system can also distinguish between adults and children, and you can give one or the other priority. Sony's done a good job implementing this feature, with the HX5V easily finding all six faces in our test scene.
As for the blink detection feature, in the normal shooting modes, the camera can put up a warning that one of your subjects had their eyes closed (Blink Alert). If you're using the soft snap scene mode and turn on the Anti Blink feature, the camera will take two photos, and will save whichever one is blink-free.
Something that's missing on the HX5V is the Dynamic Range Optimizer feature that's been on most Sony cameras in recent years. I believe it may run automatically now.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessible via the record and playback menus. This menu is a bit of a pain to navigate through -- too much button mashing. Here are the options that you'll find there:
- Shooting Settings
- Movie format (AVCHD, MP4)
- AF illuminator (Auto, off)
- Grid line (on/off)
- Digital zoom (Off, precision, smart) - see below
- Auto orientation (on/off) - whether portrait photos are automatically rotated
- Redeye reduction (Auto, on, off) - whether the flash fires before a photo is taken, to reduce the likelihood of redeye
- Blink alert (on/off) - warns you if your subject's eyes were closed
- Main Settings
- Beep (Off, low, high, shutter only)
- Language setting
- Function guide (on/off) - describes each menu setting
- GPS assist data - shows whether data uploaded from your computer is valid
- Demo mode (Off, mode 1 - 3) - for retail stores
- Initialize - returns camera to default settings
- HDMI resolution (Auto, 1080i, 480p/576p)
- Control for HDMI (on/off) - whether you can control the camera via your TV remote when connected via HDMI
- Component (HD/1080i, SD) - for use with optional video cable
- USB connect (Auto, PictBridge, PTP/MTP, Mass Storage)
- LUN settings (Multi, single) - whether internal memory and the memory card are separate volumes when connected to a computer
- Download Music - transfer music from your computer for slideshows
- Format Music - or get rid of it
- Power save (Standard, stamina, off) - how quickly the LCD dims and camera goes to sleep
- GPS setting (on/off)
- Adjust compass - if it gets out of whack
- TransferJet (on/off) - remember you need a special memory card and receiver to use this wireless technology
- Memory Stick Tool
- Create folder
- Change folder
- Delete folder
- Copy - from internal memory
- File number (Series, reset)
- Internal Memory Tool
- File number (Series, reset)
- Clock setting
- Area setting (Home, destination)
- Date and time setting
- Auto clock ADJ (on/off) - let the GPS set the time for you
I've got a couple of things to mention here, and I'm going to start with digital zoom. Precision digital zoom is the one I always tell people to avoid. It just blows up the center of the image, which results in a noticeable drop in image quality. If you're going to use digital zoom, use Smart Zoom. You'll have to lower the resolution, but you'll be able to get more zoom power without a loss in image quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 5 Megapixel, you can get a total zoom power of 14X.
This may sound petty, but I'll say it anyway: the DSC-HX5V is not a very discreet camera when it comes to beeps. Even at the low setting, it's loud. Thus, you may want to visit the Main Settings section and turn it off altogether.
That brings us to the GPS discussion. Actually, there isn't much to discuss, since Sony has made this feature nearly transparent. You can turn it on and off, and that's it. Contrast this with the Panasonic ZS7, which shows you how many satellites you can see, your current location, and what landmark is nearby. The HX5V does have one slight advantage over the Panasonic, and that's the ability to record the direction the camera is pointing when you took a photo, in addition to the longitude and latitude. Not something I really need to know, but there you go. Do note that once the location info is in an image, it's there to stay -- unless you strip it out on your computer. The camera displays the coordinates of a photo in playback mode, and since it's in the EXIF data, modern photo viewing software and online galleries should be able to map the location without any trouble. You can also use the GPS to automatically set the camera's internal clock, which comes in handy when you're traveling through multiple time zones.
Anyhow, GPS acquisition times are decent, though the Panasonic definitely has a leg up on the Sony in this area, since the ZS7 is tracking your location even when it's off. I found that it took the DSC-HX5V about a minute to find my location in fairly open areas. In the big city, it really struggled, though the Panasonic was the same way. The included PMB software lets you transfer "GPS assist data" to the camera (or a memory card). I'm not sure exactly what this data includes, but Sony says it speeds up acquisition times.
Well, that does it for menus -- let's talk photo quality now.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V's macro performance was just okay. In the thumbnail above, it looks great, but upon closer inspection you'll see that the figurine is quite soft, with fuzzy details. That's probably due to a combination of noise reduction and JPEG compression. Colors are fairly good, though there's a very slight bluish cast here. There isn't really any of the traditional grain-like noise, but that's because it's being smothered (literally) by the HX5V's noise reduction system.
The DSC-HX5V doesn't have a dedicated macro mode. It can focus on close subjects, but there's no button you need to press to do it -- it all happens automatically. The minimum focus distance ranges from 5 cm at wide-angle to 1 m at full telephoto.
Now onto the night scene test. A concern I had when taking these photos was that they'd all come out blurry, since there's no way to manually shut off the image stabilization system. Thankfully, the camera seems to know when it's on a tripod, and shuts the IS system off automatically (but still, Sony, give us the option). Since the camera has manual exposure controls (albeit limited), I was able to bring in a decent amount of light here. There isn't much in the line of traditional noise, though you will see some detail smudging caused by the camera's noise reduction system. There's some highlight clipping here and there, though I'm definitely seen worse. There's very little purple fringing to be found, though I do see some cyan-colored fringing in a few places.
Sony advertises the DSC-HX5V has a high sensitivity camera, so let's put it to the test now, shall we? I'll use that same scene to show you how the camera performs at higher sensitivities. You may want to open up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 review at this point to compare the images, though do note that they were not taken at the same time.
The ISO 200 image is just a bit softer than the one at the base ISO of 125, but things start to go downhill noticeably at ISO 400. It's at that point where you'll start to see a lot of detail smudging, so I'd save this for small prints only. Details continue to disappear at ISO 800, and I'd save this sensitivity is for desperate circumstances only. I wouldn't bother with ISO 1600 or 3200 in low light, as they're missing too much detail to be usable.
If you compare these images with those from the Panasonic ZS7, you can see the different approaches taken to noise reduction. Panasonic leaves the grainy noise behind, while Sony smudges the heck out of it. I'd rather have the grain and remove the noise myself using something like NeatImage, but that's a subjective thing. Regardless, neither the DSC-HX5V nor the DMC-ZS7 produce very good photos in these situations, especially at ISO 400 and above. I still think the Fuji FinePix F70EXR (soon to be replaced by the more competitive F80EXR) beats both of these cameras by a full stop.
We'll see how the DSC-HX5V performs in better lighting in a moment.
There's remarkably little barrel distortion on the HX5V's 25 - 250 mm lens, which makes me think that Sony is correcting for this digitally. I don't see any vignetting (dark corners), and corner blurriness wasn't an issue, either. This Sony G lens is definitely better than the last one I tested, which was on the DSC-WX1.
Straight out of the camera
After using redeye removal tool in playback mode
The HX5V uses the standard pre-flash method of reducing redeye in your flash photos. If you're using face detection, it'll usually do the pre-flash routine automatically, but you can also force it to happen manually, as well. Unfortunately, this method of reducing redeye rarely works on compact cameras, as you can see in the first photo above. The good news is that there's a digital redeye removal tool in playback mode, which did a pretty nice job of ridding the photo of this annoyance.
Here's that regular-light ISO test I promised you. Since this photo is taken in our studio, you can compare it against those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that you should view the full size images to see all the details, as I've cropped out just a small portion of the test scene. And with that, here we go:
The first crop, taken at the base ISO of 125, is pretty clean overall. If you look around you'll find evidence of noise reduction, but it's barely noticeable. Details get a bit fuzzier at ISO 200, but it won't keep you from making large prints. The scene gets softer and color saturation drops slightly when you hit ISO 400. Details look a bit overprocessed, though small, midsize, and an 8 x 10 print are still very doable. Detail loss becomes a lot more evident at ISO 800, and I'd save this for small prints only. I would avoid ISO 1600 unless you're really desperate, and would pass entirely on the ISO 3200 setting.
Now for a little comparison test. Below are crops from the same scene, with the cameras in question being the HX5V, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, and my current low light champ, the Fuji FinePix F70EXR (which, as I mentioned, is about to be replaced by a newer model). I reduced the image sizes of the Panasonic and Fuji photos to 10 Megapixel, to level the playing field. And with that, let's see how these three cameras compare at ISO 800 and 1600:
Fuji FinePix F70EXR
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Fuji FinePix F70EXR
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
One thing that I think everyone will agree on is that the Panasonic ZS7 is the worst of the bunch, at least at ISO 800 and above. While not ideal, the photo taken with the DSC-HX5V is still very much usable at ISO 800, though not so much at ISO 1600. The winner here, at least in this reviewer's opinion, is the FinePix F70EXR, which retains more detail than the other two cameras, though grain-style noise is a lot more noticeable.
Overall, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V produces good quality photos, though there's definitely room for improvement. Exposure was generally spot-on, though the camera had a slight tendency to overexpose by about 1/3 stop. Like most compact cameras, the HX5V does tend to clip highlights easily -- that sort of comes with the territory. I have no complaints about color -- everything was nice and saturated. Images are on the soft side in general, with fine details and low contrast areas looking the worst. Sony continues to be too aggressive with their noise reduction system, which leads to to this detail smudging (illustrated quite well in these two photos). All that noise reduction is the reason why you won't find any of the grain-style noise like that of the FinePix F70EXR in the previous test. That said, the HX5V does perform a little better than cameras with traditional CCDs. Those of you who are mostly making 4 x 6 inch prints or downsizing the images for the Web won't notice any of this noise reduction artifacting. However, if you make a lot of large prints, or just enjoy "pixel peeping" on your computer, you may be disappointed. Sony has done a good job at controlling purple fringing on the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V -- it really was not an issue.
Don't take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, view some full size images, and maybe print a few of them if you can. Then you should be able to decide whether the DSC-HX5V's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V is a movie lovers dream. It's one of the very few compact cameras that can record video at 1080i (which is not the same as 1080p). You can record at 1920 x 1080 (at 60 interlaced frames per second) with Dolby Digital stereo sound for up to 29 continuous minutes (no doubt to comply with European regulations). The AVCHD format is quite efficient, with 14 minutes of video taking up about 2GB on your memory card. A lower resolution 1440 x 1080 size is also available, with 2GB storing 28 minutes worth of video.
As I touched on earlier, AVCHD isn't the easiest format to edit -- though at least Sony includes software to work with the files (for Windows, at least). I'm also thankful that the sensor is actually outputting 60i here, instead of how the Panasonic ZS7 outputs 30 frames and then doubles it to hit 60p, which just confuses your video player. AVCHD files aren't in the spot that you might expect a video file to be on your memory card. Rather, they're in /AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM/, and the files have very unhelpful numeric file names, with an MTS extension.
If you don't want to deal with AVCHD, Sony has graciously provided another option: MPEG-4/H.264. These files can be found beneath the /MPROOT directory, and carry the MP4 extension. You can select from 1440 x 1080, 1280 x 720 (720p), and 640 x 480. The frame rate for all of these sizes is 30 frames/second, and the 29 minute recording limit still applies.
Being a sort of "hybrid" camera, the HX5V lets you use the optical zoom lens in movie mode. The lens moves slowly, so the motor noise is not picked up by the microphone. Speaking of which, keep on eye on your left hand fingers, as they can easily cover the stereo microphone on the top of the camera. The image stabilizer is also available in movie mode, with your choice of "standard" or "active" modes. GPS data can be embedded in movies, as well.
I have three sample movies for you, all of which involve cable cars. I wish I had a better variety, but this is what I ended up with. The first two were converted from AVCHD format using Roxio Toast Titanium for the Mac, and they're not perfect, which is why I've included the MTS files so you can view and convert them yourself. The third video was taken in H.264 format, so no conversion was needed.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V has a fairly standard playback mode. Basic features here include DPOF print marking, image protection, slideshows, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge a photo (by as much as 8X) and then move around in it -- perfect for checking for proper focus, closed eyes, etc. The slideshow feature is pretty fancy\e, with transitions and the background music of your choosing.
Images can be viewed one at a time, as thumbnails, by date (broken down by month or day), and by file type (still image, AVCHD, MP4). Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera, and you can remove redeye or sharpen a photo, as well. Sadly, there are no movie editing options -- not even a trim tool.
The camera shows you a decent amount of information about your photos in playback mode, including a histogram and the GPS coordinates. Something that's always irked me about Sony cameras of late is that they don't display the histogram if a photo has been rotated automatically by the camera -- why, I do not know.
The DSC-HX5V moves through photos without delay.
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.
See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!