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?
HandlingThe 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).
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.
ResponsivenessYikes! 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.
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 QualityThe 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.
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.
VideoAnother 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.
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.