Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V Review

August 4, 2015 | Jack Baker | |

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 18 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6Mb.

Given the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V sported a 20.4-megapixel sensor, some may find it strange that Sony has equipped its replacement with an 18.2MP chip. Both are standard 1/2.3-inch sized CMOS devices, so dropping the megapixel count means each light-gathering photosite on the HX90V's sensor is slightly larger, making them more light sensitive and less prone to generating image noise. It's a theory Panasonic implemented with the 12MP Lumix TZ70, and to good effect, as that camera is able to resolve more detail than many 20MP compacts.

The trick also seems to have worked for Sony, as the HX90V is capable of capturing plenty of detail. There is some slight grain visible event at low sensor sensitivities if you pixel peep, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. What's important is that Sony hasn't attempted to eliminate this with noise reduction, hence there's no associated detail smoothing which can make landscape shots look painterly.

Even without close scrutiny, images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V impress with punchy colours and good dynamic range, helped by using the camera's Superior Auto mode which enables automatic multi-shot HDR if the camera detects a high-contrast scene.

The limitations of a small 1/2.3-inch sensor are inevitable, however, but the HX90V deals with them about as well as could be reasonably expected. Grain and colour speckling is suppressed up to ISO 800, and even at ISO 1600 there's only a marginal increase in grain, whislt colour speckling is almost non-existent. ISO 3200 is the tipping point for noise though, and in some cases you'll need to downsize images to around 50% to hide the extra grain. Select the Multi Frame NR ISO setting and the camera can go as high as ISO 12800, though the results aren't pretty.

Even so, at this sensitivity the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V performs better than rival 30x zoom cameras like the Canon SX710 HS which is more prone to colour speckling, and also the Nikon S9900 which has a greater tendency to smooth fine detail. The Panasonic TZ70's image quality is a close match for the HX90V in all lighting conditions though, irrespective of its lower megapixel count.

What's more, the TZ70 seems to edge ahead on the grounds that it can record raw images and the HX90V can't. Thing is though, whilst raw capture is advantageous for a large-sensor camera like Sony's RX100 IV or a DSLR, the tiny Exmor R sensor in the HX90V can't produce the same dynamic range or achieve a comparable signal to noise ratio. Therefore much less image data is lost through JPEG compression, and given Sony's noise reduction processing is fairly restrained, shooting raw and doing your own post processing is unlikely to reveal more detail.

With such a huge focal range, lens distortion seems inevitable, but through what likely is image processing, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V avoids any trace of barrel or pincushion distortion at extreme focal lengths. The Zeiss Vario-Sonar, T-star coated optic also manages excellent corner sharpness, whilst chromatic aberration is minimal.

Noise

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V has seven standard sensitivity settings available at full resolution in single-shot mode, ranging between ISO 80 and 3200. There's also a Multi Frame NR feature which enables ISO 6400 and 12800 sensitivities by compiling multiple consecutive exposures into a single image with supposedly reduced noise levels.

ISO 80 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

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ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

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ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

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ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

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ISO 12800 (100% Crop)

 
iso12800.jpg  

Focal Range

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V's 30x zoom lens achieves a focal range of 24-720mm when converted into a 35mm camera format. Here you can see just how big a zoom range that gives you and it covers almost any shooting scenario. The lens is also capable of a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide-angle, which is unremarkable but fairly typical for a superzoom optic. It means the lens can't open particularly wide to let light through to the sensor, hence the camera must compensate with longer shutter speeds and higher sensor sensitivities. The HX90V's lens barrel control ring can be set to zoom the lens between stepped focal lengths, or at constant slow or fast speeds. The zoom ring around the shutter release also operates two speed settings.

24mm

720mm

focal_range1.jpg focal_range2.jpg

File Quality

Two JPEG compression quality options are available to accompany all image sizes: Fine and Standard, with file sizes around 6.5MB and 4.5MB respectively.

Fine

Standard

quality_fine.jpg quality_standard.jpg

Sharpening

Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are just a little soft and ideally benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. Alternatively you can change the in-camera sharpening level.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

sharpen1.jpg sharpen1a.jpg
   
sharpen2.jpg sharpen2a.jpg

Chromatic Aberrations

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V handled chromatic aberrations well during the review, with some purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

chromatic1.jpg chromatic2.jpg

Macro

Sony quotes a minimum focus distance of 5cm for the HX90V, which isn't particularly impressive. We however were able to focus down to around 3cm with the lens at maximum wide angle. This is still no match for the increasing number of compact cameras able to focus as close as 1cm, but given how tricky it is to avoid casting unsightly shadows when so close to a subject, a 3cm macro focus distance isn't a deal-breaker.

Macro

Macro (100% Crop)

macro1.jpg macro1a.jpg

Flash

Four flash settings are available: Autoflash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync and Rear Sync. The flash itself is reasonably powerful, but there is some vignetting visible at wide angle from a distance of 1.5m.

Suppressed Flash - Wide Angle (24mm)

Forced Flash - Wide Angle (24mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64
   

Suppressed Flash - Telephoto (720mm)

Forced Flash - Telephoto (720mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

A separate menu option controls whether or not red-eye reduction is active. When disabled, our testing revealed a hint of red-eye, but red-eye reduction successfully eliminates this.

Forced Flash

Forced Flash (100% Crop)
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Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)

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Night

Night-time landscapes can be captured in three ways: Night Scene mode captured this scene with a long 2-second exposure at ISO 80, making a tripod essential. The default Superior Auto mode tries to be clever and shoots multiple frames to reduce image noise. However, the exposure metering is off and the result is too bright. Finally, you can switch to shutter priority mode to manually select a long exposure. This option was used to shoot the last of our three night-time test images and the result is a 1-second exposure at ISO 125.

Night Scene

Night Scene (100% Crop)

night1.jpg night1a.jpg
   

Night Superior Auto

Night Superior Auto (100% Crop)

night2.jpg night2a.jpg
   

Night Long Exposure

Night Long Exposure (100% Crop)

night3.jpg night3a.jpg

Image Stabilization

Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation system does a good job of ironing out any camera shake when shooting in good light. In darker conditions some slight blur can show up in some shots if you're not being extra careful to hold the camera still. Like many other Sony compact cameras, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V doesn't let you disable image stabilisation, but you can adjust it between Intelligent Active, Active, and Standard modes.

Intelligent Active

Active

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Standard

 
antishake3.jpg  

Picture Effects

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V contains thirteen Picture Effects, some with additional sub options: Toy camera (normal, cool, warm, green, magenta), Pop color, Posterization (colour, mono), Retro photo, Soft high-key, Partial color (red, green, blue, yellow), High-contrast mono, Soft focus (low, mid, high), HDR painting (low, mid, high), Rich-tone mono, Miniature (top, middle horizontal, bottom, left, middle vertical, right), Watercolor, Illustration (low, mid, high).

Toy Camera

Pop Color

picture_effect_01.jpg picture_effect_02.jpg
   

Posterization

Posterization B&W

picture_effect_03.jpg picture_effect_04.jpg
   

Retro

Soft High-key

picture_effect_05.jpg picture_effect_06.jpg
   

Partial Color (Red)

Partial Color (Green)

picture_effect_07.jpg picture_effect_08.jpg
   

Partial Color (Blue)

Partial Color (Yellow)

picture_effect_09.jpg picture_effect_10.jpg
   

High-contrast Mono

Soft Focus

picture_effect_11.jpg picture_effect_12.jpg
   

HDR Painting

Rich-tone Mono

picture_effect_13.jpg picture_effect_14.jpg
   

Miniature

Watercolor

picture_effect_15.jpg picture_effect_16.jpg
   

Illustration

 
picture_effect_17.jpg  

iSweep Panorama

Sony's iSweep Panorama mode gives horizontal and vertical panning options. Three horizontal widths are available: Standard (roughly 120 degrees), Wide (180 degrees) and a full 360-degree pan. There's no ability to simply stop panning at will though. Whichever width you choose, the result is a seamless panorama with a consistent exposure, albeit considerably downsized to 1080 vertical pixels. To be fair to Sony, most competing compact cameras with sweep panorama modes have similar limitations. If you're after something more spectacular, you'd be better off manually snapping adjacent overlapping images and stitching them on a computer with additional software.

Standard
panorama_standard.jpg
 
Wide
panorama_wide.jpg