Archive: Compact and Bridge Cameras 2011-2012

REVIEW / Sony Cyber-shot HX9V

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Franck Mée Published on March 8, 2011
Translated by Catherine Barraclough
 
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SPECIFICATIONS

  • Sensor BSI CMOS 16 Mpx, 1/2.3" , 56 Mpx/cm
  • Lens 16x 24-384 mm f/3.3 -5.9
  • Stabilisation Optical
  • Viewfinder NA
  • Screen 7.5 cm, not TN, 921600 dots, 4:3, Not touch-sensitive
  • Sensitivity (ISO range) 100 - 3200 ISO
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 HX9V has seen its score for picture quality and its final score drop from five to four stars. However, quality remains excellent compared with most regular compact cameras.


The Sony Cyber-shot HX7V is an excellent camera but its 10x zoom could hold it back at a time when the zoom seems to have become something of a magic number. Sony has therefore come up with a higher-end version of its superzoom compact—the HX9V—that's very similar to the HX7V but with a 16x (24-384 mm) zoom lens! Can this new lens make an excellent camera even better?

Handling

The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V looks and handles very much like the HX7V. It has the same buttons and controls in the same places, and the same click-round wheel for adjusting the settings. However, the build and finish are higher quality in the HX9V, with a more pleasant coating on the grip handle and a non-slip thumb-rest. There are also several customisable controls that don't feature in the HX7V (see sidebar).

Sony HX9V test review

The screen is the same as in the HX7V, with the same qualities (sharp, precise, decent viewing angles) and the same faults (approximative colour reproduction and excessive contrast, making dark greys block together and saturating light greys).

All in all, the HX9V is a well-made camera that's pleasant to use and has a nice overall design.

Responsiveness

Yikes! We really need to order a new stopwatch as the HX9V tested our current tools to the limit. While the start-up time of just over two seconds isn't exactly lightning fast, it's pretty much standard for a superzoom camera, as it takes time to deploy those monster lenses. However, the autofocus in good light conditions is so fast that we had trouble even measuring it.

In fact, particularly at short focal lengths, when the sun is out, the HX9V focuses almost instantly. Just push the shutter release all the way down in one swift press and the photo is taken with no noticeable delay, and it still comes out sharp and in focus! Note that in very low light the autofocus slows down quite a lot, with performances that aren't quite so extraordinary.

Sony HX9V test review responsiveness

The photo-to-photo turnaround time is pretty good for a compact and, generally speaking, the HX9V is a responsive camera that won't hold you back or slow you down.

Picture Quality

The internal electronics of the HX9V are almost identical to the HX7V. You'll therefore notice the same advanced image processing (which is too heavy for some), giving images that require pretty much no post-editing thanks to selective smoothing and accentuation. In fact, the system automatically smooths areas of block colour and accentuates finer details—clever stuff.

Sony HX9V test review ISO settings

The lens is entirely different to the one used in the HX7V, and we're always suspicious when we see such huge zooms in compact cameras. Here though, Sony has actually done a decent job of things, because performances at wide angle settings are really quite good. In fact, the shots are very good quality, sharp and precise in the centre of the frame, although a little quality is lost in the corners. Plus, unlike most other compacts, this performance remains consistent as you zoom.


At 200 mm, the HX9V takes a shot that's consistent in quality across the frame. Although it's not perfect when viewed at 100% (at f/5 some would suggest that diffraction inevitably limits the overall sharpness ...) but the picture quality is impeccable on an 8" x 12" print (20 x 30 cm). Compared with the Canon SX210 IS or the Samsung WB650, for example, you can clearly make out the contour lines in the valley in the shot of the map above. With this lens, Sony has joined rank with the Panasonic TZ10, a reference in terms of lens quality in compact cameras even though it's 'only' a 12x zoom.

Video

Another new feature is the 1080p Full HD video mode at 50 frames per second. The video bitrate is therefore very high (28 Mbps) and you'll need a fairly recent computer in order to handle playing it back, let alone editing your films! However, picture quality in video mode is very good, with an image that's sharp, accurate and flawlessly smooth.

Sony HX9V review video mode

To accompany this great picture quality the HX9V owes it to itself to capture decent sound. In this field, the Sony HX5V and HX7V were already above average for compact cameras, although they still couldn't match a stand-alone camcorder or even certain Panasonic rivals. In the HX9V, the microphones have been repositioned and have wider grilles, capturing better-quality sound that's less sensitive to breathing or gushing noises and echoes. However, it still can't match a 5.1 camcorder.
Custom Controls
The HX9V allows users to customise the camera's controls, which is a nice touch and something that's not often seen in current compacts.

There's a 'Custom' button on the top of the camera that can be assigned various shortcuts (to white balance or ISO settings for instance, as these aren't featured on any of the main controls).

It's also possible to save three preset settings in the 'MR' mode featured on the mode selection dial. From a scene mode to individual settings, everything is set and saved via the 'MR Set' option in the internal menu. A recap of your settings is displayed when you switch to MR mode (see above).

We still found a couple of little problems with the system, however. First of all, you can't save a video mode or a specific panorama mode to 'MR' mode, and second, you can't specify a starting focal length (some cameras can be set to zoom automatically to around 100 mm when you switch to a custom portrait mode, for example).

That said, it's still a nice advanced feature that takes this camera one step closer to an expert compact, a process that already started with the arrival of an M mode last year. In fact, all that's missing now is a Raw function!

PROS

  • Pleasant to use, good auto modes
  • Consistent lens quality, even when zooming
  • Full HD video mode recording 50 full frames per second
  • Improved sound quality, as good as Panasonic TZ cameras
  • Advanced image processing (accentuation of specific zones and detials)

CONS

  • Limited manual mode (only two aperture settings)
  • GPS isn't sensitive enough
  • Using the GPS runs down the battery
  • Images can look over-processed (block colours heavily smoothed)

CONCLUSION 4/5

The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is a decidedly top-of-the-range camera. It's nice to use, user-friendly, reliable and has a selection of manual settings for users who don't want to rely on auto modes. The quality of the lens is a cut above most competitors and advanced image processing gives shots that are ready to use with no post-editing required.
4 Sony Cyber-shot HX9V DigitalVersus 2011-03-08 00:00:00
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