REVIEW / Sony Cyber-shot HX20V

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Wait! There's a newer generation of this model: Sony Cyber-shot HX50V
Franck Mée Published on April 10, 2012
Translated by Catherine Barraclough
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  • Sensor BSI CMOS 18 Mpx, 1/2.3" , 63 Mpx/cm
  • Lens 20x 25-500 mm f/3.2 -5.6
  • Stabilisation Optical
  • Viewfinder NA
  • Screen 7.5 mm, not TN, 921600 dots, 4:3, Not touch-sensitive
  • Sensitivity (ISO range) 100 - 3200 ISO ext. 29 mm
UPDATE 04/07/2012: with its 1’’ 20-Megapixel sensor, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 sets a new standard for picture quality in compact cameras, both in terms of detail and digital noise. As a result, the Sony HX20V has seen its score for picture quality drop from five to four stars. However, quality still remains excellent compared with most regular compact cameras.

With the HX9V being one of the star superzoom compacts of 2011, there's a fair bit of pressure on Sony to come up with something even more amazing—or at least just as good—for its 2012 replacement. Sony hasn't been afraid to make major changes in the Cyber-shot HX20V, however, introducing a new 18-Megapixel sensor and 20x zoom lens. But in spite of its new specs and more rounded design, the HX20V is still a relatively classic compact, with no newfangled features such as a touchscreen or web connectivity.


The HX20V brings some slight improvements to the design and handling of the HX9V. For example, the handle is now covered with a rubber finish that improves grip and which is more comfortable to hold than the ridged handle in the HX9V. Similarly, the rubber grip pad on the back of the camera is now smaller, more stylish and also more effective. The HX20V is still a relatively heavy camera by current market standards, but build quality is good in spite of a slight wobble to the flash and lens.

Sony HX20V review - screen and controls

Like in other recent Sony HX cameras, the HX20V has a 920,000-dot LCD. It has been treated to the same improvements in calibration as Sony's HX200V, with a stable grey scale, very slightly cool colours, and colour fidelity on the better side of average. All in all, it's a pleasant display to use.

The HX20V has a clear interface with a selection of custom options (Custom button and MR modes), but there's still no RAW mode and no real diaphragm. This in turn means that there are only two aperture settings available in A and M modes: f/3.2 and f/8 at wide-angle, and f/5.8 and f/14 at telephoto. This compact therefore isn't really designed for expert users, but is more geared up for amateur snappers who may only venture out of Auto mode now and again.


One blip in the excellent HX9V was its unimpressive start-up time—at 2.3 seconds, it was about average for 2011 compacts but it was nothing out of the ordinary. The HX20V makes a major improvement in this field, shaving half a second off the start-up to bring Sony's 2012 model above average, especially for a camera with this kind of zoom lens (the compacts with the fastest start-up times usually have the least powerful zooms).

Sony HX20v review- speed and responsiveness

Otherwise, the HX20V has the same top-end performances as other recent Sony models—it focuses almost instantly in good light, and still very quickly in low light, it has a fairly fast photo-to-photo turnaround time and a continuous shooting mode that snaps 10 frames in 1.4 seconds.

All in all, there are compacts out there that are a little faster to get going or to save an image, but you'd have to look to SLRs or mirrorless cameras if you really want a snapper that's noticeably faster than this.

Picture Quality

The 18-Megapixel sensor in the HX20V has already been seen in Sony's HX10V and HX200V. However, the 25-500 mm (20x) zoom lens is all new. It'll therefore be interesting to compare picture quality in the HX20V with that of the HX10V, which uses the excellent 16x zoom lens seen in last year's HX9V.

Sony HX20V review - picture quality - iso test

The ISO test results hold no real surprises. Images look quite processed, with a complex combination of smoothing to reduce granular noise, image accentuation for eye-catching results and the return of finer textures. On the whole, pictures look pretty good up to 1600 ISO (for 8" x 10" / 20 x 27 cm prints), while 3200 ISO is best kept for exceptional circumstances only. However, you might as well forget about the ridiculous 6400 ISO and 12800 ISO extended ISO settings—the camera compiles a burst of images into one shot using interpolation and pixel fusing with not-so-great results.

At wide-angle settings, the HX20V lens takes decent shots. Quality over the frame is a little less consistent than in the HX10V, but it's a subtle difference that will only really be visible on full-sized shots. On an 8" x 10" print (20 x 27 cm), the two cameras giver perfectly comparable results unless you happen to look at the pictures under a magnifying glass. Plus, the fact that purple fringes are a bit less visible will be good news for some users. In fact, on this front, the HX20V does a distinctly better job than the Panasonic TZ30, which will be one of its main rivals in the superzoom compact market this year.

At 200 mm, the HX20V delivers sharper results in the middle of the frame than many top camera lenses. In fact, it's one of the few models we've tested that manages to pick out the tiny feet of the components on the graphics card in our test scene. Unfortunately, this level of quality isn't maintained around the edges of the frame, where the HX10V and, in particular, the Olympus SZ-30 MR, do a slightly better job. It's the same story at the maximum zoom setting, where the HX20V lens is very sharp in the centre but isn't quite as good in the corners of the frame. On the whole, we reckon the HX9V/HX10V offers just as good a trade-off in quality and has the advantage of being more affordable—unless you really need that 500 mm focal length setting.


The video mode is up to Sony's usual high standards, offering Full HD resolution at 25 fps or 50 fps and stereo sound.

Video images are clean, sharp and well defined, and while scenes filmed indoors do look a bit dark, there's no sign of speckling video noise.

K 01 video

The stereo effect is clearly audible and audio fidelity is good. The only slight drawback is that the buzzing of the zoom motor can be heard in very quiet scenes. That said, you're not likely to notice it in most day-to-day situations.
Camera Convergence
We received our Sony HX20V at the same time as a Nikon S9200. When unboxing them, we were struck by certain similarities.

Naturally, the cameras' size and weight are quite close—they're models from equivalent ranges and so the same technical restrictions inevitably lead to certain similarities in design. However, what's a little more surprising is that the controls are almost exactly the same. There's a main four-way arrow key with a settings wheel on top for quick navigation. There's a thumb-rest cutting off the video record button from the other controls in the top right corner. The playback button falls just below the thumb-rest in both cameras and there are menu and delete buttons under the four-way arrows.

It's the same story on the upper edge of the camera too, with a pop-up flash, a shutter-release button with integrated zoom control, an on/off button towards the middle of the camera and a mode-selection dial that falls just under the thumb.

Rather than a case of industrial espionage, it's more a case of evolution and convergence. There aren't a whole load of different ways of laying out a camera interface effectively. So while some camera-makers have experimented with moving the mode-selection dial into the middle of the upper face (to help stop you turning it accidentally) and others have moved the playback button, these changes often end up being less practical for users on a day-to-day basis. In the end, it's not surprising to see that manufacturers making similar products for the same kind of users come up with products that look so similar!


  • Good build quality, design and handling
  • Good screen with relatively accurate display quality
  • Full HD video at up to 50p with stereo sound
  • Advanced image processing, digital noise kept in check
  • Very good general responsiveness


  • No RAW mode and Jpeg shots are quite heavily processed—too processed for some users
  • Lens quality could be more consistent, especially at mid and long focal lengths


The Sony HX20V is a very nice camera indeed. It has plenty of features, offers good performances, and takes great pictures ... so long as you don't mind their slightly 'processed' look. The lens, however, could deliver more consistent levels of sharpness across the frame, as it's no better (and in some situations actually a bit worse) than the lenses in the HX10V and some other competitors.
5 Sony Cyber-shot HX20V DigitalVersus 2012-04-10 11:01:00
Compare: Sony Cyber-shot HX20V to its competitors
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