Although designed as an upgrade to the very good Sony HX5V camera, the new Cyber-shot HX7V is surprisingly similar to its predecessor. It has the same 10x (25-250 mm) lens and the same overall design and handling. The HX7V does, however, have a brand new sensor with even more pixels and a sleek new screen on the back.
HandlingA year ago, Sony released the Cyber-shot HX5V to rival the superzoom heavyweights already on the market. Although it only had a 10x zoom at a time when rival superzoom compacts were already at 15x, it did have the added advantage of a BSI CMOS sensor. The picture quality was quite simply excellent, as was the camera's design and handling. However, it was really let down by its low-def screen with tight viewing angles.
The first bit of good news is that the screen has been upgraded in the HX7V, something that's instantly noticeable as soon as you start using the camera. Thank you Sony, your previous misdemeanours are forgiven! (see inset).
Some other small changes have been made too. The smile detection button has been removed (no great loss) and a click-round control wheel has made an appearance around the four-way arrows. This can be used to change the settings of options available in the Quick Menu.
For the rest, the HX7V is identical in design and handling to the HX5V, with the same pleasant, user-friendly layout to the camera controls and internal menus.
All in all then, the HX7V is an upgraded version of the HX5V, correcting most of its flaws without completely revolutionising the overall design.
ResponsivenessThe HX7V does a good job in this field. A two-second start-up time is still pretty much standard for superzoom compacts (they need time to deploy those monster zoom lenses), focusing is just a touch slower than in the Panasonic TZ10 and Nikon S8000 but it's still perfectly usable in practice. The photo-to-photo turnaround time of around one second (not to mention the 10 fps burst mode) is quick enough not to be a problem in day-to-day use.
Some classic compacts are certainly more responsive, but the Sony Cyber-shot HX7V is still a fast camera that's no trouble to use.
Picture QualityWe had mixed feelings when we saw the pictures taken by the HX7V. Some of the shots looked better than photos taken with the HX5V, while others didn't look quite as good. Our sister site therefore decided to launch a survey among its readers, asking them to compare the same photo (unlabelled) taken with the HX5V and HX7V, and to vote for which one they preferred. The result was unanimous: the vast majority of them preferred the shot taken with the new version of the camera!
The shots taken at different ISO sensitivity settings help explain the main difference in picture quality between the two models. The HX7V uses a very different, more advanced kind of image processing to the HX5V. Areas of block colour are heavily smoothed (scene background, green base of circuit board), while details are accentuated. At 125 ISO, there's only a very slight gain in detail—the lens doesn't really allow the camera to get the best out of its 16 Megapixels, apart from in the centre of the frame.
At 800 ISO and above, colours that are only slightly different, (grey text on a black background, etc.) come out better on the older model, which retains more visible noise and fine patterns. On the other hand, some things (particularly the outline of text or very contrasted areas) come out better in the new model.
Overall, it seems that most people preferred the pictures taken with the HX7V, even though in some situations, its heavier smoothing makes the increase in pixels completely redundant.
However, for 8" x 11" (20 x 27 cm) prints (the biggest size widely developed) or when viewing photos on a computer screen, the Sony Cyber-shot HX7V is clearly one of the best compacts out there right now (not including expert models, which can have other drawbacks).
VideoLike the HX5V, the HX7V has a 1080i video mode recording 50 fields per second. There are several different bitrates to choose from in formats 1440 or 1920 pixels wide. The image is rich with detail, the continuous autofocus works well and slows down to keep transitions smooth and seamless. The same goes for the zoom too, which can only be used at its slowest speed when filming video.
The sound seems to be the same as in the HX5V. Panasonic does a little better, particularly in keeping echoes at bay, but the HX7V still records better sound than most other compact cameras.