Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V Review

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.

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.9 cu in. 188 g
Casio Exilim EX-FH100 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 12.3 cu in. 181 g
Fuji FinePix F80EXR 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.9 cu in. 183 g
Nikon Coolpix S8000 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 10.4 cu in. 183 g
Olympus Stylus 9000 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 10.9 cu in. 185 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 12.8 cu in. 196 g
Ricoh CX3 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.2 in. 11 cu in. 185 g
Samsung HZ35W 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 11.1 cu in. 215 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 11.8 cu in. 170 g

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?

Front of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V

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.

Back of the Sony Cyber-shot 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.

Top of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

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:

Option Function
Easy mode A very basic shooting mode, with only two menu options (image size, GPS setting).
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with auto scene selection; most menu options are locked up.
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access.
Full manual (M) mode You set both the shutter speed and the aperture manually. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/1600 sec, while the aperture choices are F3.5/F8.0 at wide-angle and F5.5/F13 at telephoto. More below.
Intelligent Sweep panorama Sweep the camera from side to side to instantly create a single panoramic image. See below for more.
Movie mode More on this later
Scene modes You pick the situation, and the camera uses the proper settings. Available scenes include high sensitivity, soft snap, advanced sports shooting, landscape, twilight portrait, twilight, gourmet (food), pet, beach, snow, fireworks.
Backlight correction HDR Camera combines two exposures into one for improved dynamic range. See example below.
Handheld twilight mode Both of these modes take six images in rapid succession and combine them into a single, sharp photo. See below for more.
Anti-motion blur mode

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.

Program mode
View Full Size Image

Backlight Correction HDR mode
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!

Side of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V

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.

Side of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V

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.

Bottom of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

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.