Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V Review

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V

Record Mode

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:

Resolution # images on 45MB on-board memory # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
3648 x 2736
9 402
7M (16:9)
3648 x 2056
9 400
2592 x 1944
14 582
2M (16:9)
1920 x 1080
47 1960
640 x 480
284 11760

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
    • Format
    • Create folder
    • Change folder
    • Delete folder
    • Copy - from internal memory
    • File number (Series, reset)
  • Internal Memory Tool
    • Format
    • 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.

ISO 125

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

ISO 125

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

ISO 800

Fuji FinePix F70EXR

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
ISO 1600

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.

Movie Mode

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.

Click to view converted video (1920 x 1080 @ 60 fps, 18.2 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Click to download original file (1920 x 1080 @ 60i, 19.3 MB, MTS format)

Click to view converted video (1440 x 1080 @ 60 fps, 6.9 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Click to download original file (1440 x 1080 @ 60i, 10.0 MB, MTS format)

Click to view video (1280 x 720 @ 30 fps, 6.5 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Playback Mode

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.

Calendar view

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.