Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V Review
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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is a feature-packed super-zoom camera, offering a 30x, 27-810mm zoom lens, 18.2 megapixel back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor, built-in GPS tracking complete with a compass, 1920x1080 50p Full HD video recording with stereo sound and HDMI output, and 3D Sweep Panoramas and 3D Still Images. Other key features of the well-appointed Sony HX200V include high-speed autofocusing (0.13 seconds), a tilting 3 inch LCD screen with 921,000-dots, 10fps burst shooting mode at full resolution, ISO range of 100-12800, Optical SteadyShot with Active Mode which cuts camera-shake while you're shooting handheld HD video, Intelligent Auto Plus, Superior Auto, Program and full Manual shooting modes, a range of Picture Effects and and support for both Memory Stick PRO Duo and Secure Digital cards. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is available in black for £479.00 / $479.99.
Ease of Use
Compact cameras with big zooms - the so-called travel camera category - are big business right now. Get the balance right and you’ve hit the so-called sales ‘sweet spot’. So it’s no surprise that the manufacturers seem to be battling each other for who can provide the longest lens reach, the biggest resolution (with minimal noise at higher ISOs), yet the smallest overall chassis. Sony’s new Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V isn’t a pocket model like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 by any means - it has instead, as with its predecessor the HX100V, taken its design cue from an entry-level DSLR or bridge camera. It’s one to be worn about the neck, slung over a shoulder - with strap provided for both purposes - or tucked in a suitable pocket of that rucksack. The optical zoom here is 30x, like its forebear, though the effective resolution has been boosted from 16.2 million to 18.2 million pixels. It features a 1/2.3-inch Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor.
In not being a fashion conscious pocket snapshot - despite being the flagship unit of Sony’s High Performance compact series - the HX200V, which also incorporates built-in GPS, has its shooting advantages; chiefly the grip is larger - large enough to squeeze three fingers comfortably around - the camera, when loaded with rechargeable battery and SD or Memory Stick Pro Duo card, is heavier, plus both these features help provide a steadier hold when shooting towards the telephoto end of the zoom. To further help prevent blurred shots in such circumstances and in low light, Sony has also provided optical ‘SteadyShot’ image stabilization.
The build and finish here is of high quality, with the all-black matt finish to the body and various DSLR-like dials and controls - not to mention both angle adjustable LCD and built in electronic viewfinder - on initial inspection lending it an impression of being a ‘serious’ enthusiasts’ model. While, as we’ll discover, there might be some features missing in that department, overall we prefer the look and feel of the HX200V to the same manufacturer’s entry level Alpha DSLRs; it’s less obviously plastic-y. The compact size also means that locating the right control is never a stretch for forefinger or thumb. Most of the features you want to access are literally at your fingertip, which of course makes for speedier overall operation. The only stumbling block may be, cough, the price. A price of £479 via Sony’s online store at the time of writing is the equal of an entry level amateur digital SLR and kit lens, if admittedly one with far less scope when it comes to available focal range. Overall dimensions are 121.6x86.6x93.3mm and the HX200V weighs a starter DSLR-like 531g.
The front of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is dominated by the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens, here boasting a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a focal range the equivalent of a wide angle (but not ‘ultra’ wide) 27mm to 810mm in 35mm film terms - suggesting serious ‘poke’ at the telephoto end and real suitability for those paparazzi style candid portraits at full zoom, as well as of course landscapes and group portraits at the wider end. The lens does offer the advantage of built-in anti shake and its maker claims this model features a refined gyro sensor - presumably, we hope, thereby making it more effective.
We also get an AF assist/self time lamp porthole top left of the lens - when viewing the camera front on. The barrel itself features a lens ring, which will hold real appeal for photographers who prefer to get hands on, as this not only controls the zoom - if you don’t want to use the compact camera-style lever that alternatively encircles the shutter release button - but can also be used to focus if flicking the switch at the side of the lens to ‘MF’ mode. So manual focusing and manual zooming on a consumer level ‘super zoom’ camera, that is less physically bulky than say Fuji’s Finepix HS20 and HS30 models (also 30x); that’s not to say it’s wholeheartedly better of course - for us the Fuji still has the edge for more precise manual focusing. On the Sony the zoom action is still motor driven, however you handle it.
The top plate of the camera extends the HX200V’s sophisticated look and feel, with a chunky stereo microphone that looks like it’s been purloined from one of the company’s voice recorders sitting just behind the otherwise hidden raised flash. To the right of this, when looking down at the camera as you grip it in both hands, is a small button for swapping between use of the EVF and LCD, though there’s also an eye sensor next to the former, that switches the EVF on and the LCD off if it detects the pupil of your eye. Take your eye away and the LCD bursts back into life - a very fluid, natural process.
The next control along is the narrow lozenge shaped on/off button, with an embedded lamp that glows green when the camera is switched on, or orange if the battery is low and the unit is being recharged. Incidentally we don’t get a separate mains charger here. We get a mains lead, adapter and plug instead, meaning that the lithium ion pack is charged in-camera. When your battery is down, so is the camera therefore.
The Cyber-shot HX200V takes roughly two seconds to power up, lens extending a little beyond its protective housing to arrive at maximum wideangle setting while the image on the rear LCD pops into life. While slower than an actual DSLR, that’s respectable for this class of bridge camera, or super zoom.
The camera is commendably swift to determine focus and exposure - officially 0.13 seconds - green AF point/s highlighted in green on screen the very instant your finger presses down on the shutter release button and finds the half way point. Press down fully to take the shot and a full resolution 18 megapixel JPEG is committed to removable media card in just over two seconds - so respectably swift. Face detection/selection and tracking focus are also offered here as standard features, activated or de-activated via a press of the unmarked button at the centre of the Sony’s backplate command pad.
Keep a forefinger on the zoom lever that encircles the shutter release button and the HX200V powers through its 30x optical zoom range from wide angle to telephoto in a couple of seconds. Continue holding down the lever and it will continue zooming digitally to a 60x equivalent setting. If this option is taken the camera deploys the fantastically named Pixel Super Resolution technology that automatically enhances imagery to avoid the usual blocky appearance of conventional digital zooms. The alternative of course is to use the manual zoom ring as already mentioned, though this is slower to respond that using the zoom lever. However the upshot is that it’s slightly easier to arrive at more precise framing.
Next to the power button is a raised, ridged-edged shooting mode button with an action that is stiff enough to prevent the user accidentally slipping from one setting to the next in the thick of it. There are 11 options on this dial. We get the creative quartet of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual mode settings plus Sony’s now ubiquitous Sweep Panorama function, whereby the user pans through an arc as directed by the on-screen arrows - the resulting elongated shot automatically stitched together in camera. It’s both very effective and very easy to use.
Next to this setting we get a memory recall mode, which, as the camera describes in lieu of a manual not included with our production sample, recalls registered settings and resumes shooting. This feels slightly superfluous as we found the camera didn’t lose the previous settings when it was turned off and then switched back on again.
|Top||Tilting LCD Screen|
Also on the dial is a dedicated High Definition video mode for up to 1920x1080 pixels clips at 50 frames per second progressive capture, which complements the dedicated video record button top right of the backplate. While a press of the latter begins a recording despite the fact that you might have a stills shooting mode selected on the dial at the time, a pres of menu when in video mode and there are a variety of options at you disposal that confirm the HX200V as a jack of all trades, or, if you prefer, a capable all-in-one. Here we can not only adjust video resolution and vary the frame rate, but also switch from intelligent auto video recording to applying a specific scene modes, as we more usually can with stills photography. Video it seems is becoming more refined on digital cameras than the point and shoot video modes of old where all you could do was vary the resolution. Here there’s the ability to filter out external wind noise too. Another bonus is that full use of the optical zoom is provided in movie mode, as is automatic focus adjustment if you alter framing or swap subjects mid sequence.
This being a Sony camera we also expectedly find a 3D mode on the camera - with the ability to capture 3D stills or Sweep Panoramas as MPO files only viewable in the stereoscopic glory on a suitably equipped TV, or alternatively there is Sony’s Sweep Multi Angle mode which provides a lenticular print type view on the camera’s LCD screen, so at least you can get a 3D type effect in situ.
Scene modes are up next and there are 16 user selectable options on the HX200V, covering everything from the usual portraits - including a separate DSLR-style ‘background defocus’ option - to shooting landscapes by night and even handheld; pet, beach, snow and fireworks mode round out the more usual suspects.
Rounding off the shooting mode options here are both the scene and subject recognizing and thereby automatically adjusting Intelligent Auto mode, plus Superior Auto mode. The latter is, if you will, your in-camera version of Photoshop, adjusting images on the fly. This means that there is a little additional automatic processing happening in this mode, so it’s slower to get an image from capture to card than when shooting in, say, Program mode. But it is a welcome aid in trickier conditions such as low light and does allow the user to point and shoot rather than having to find and change the ISO setting manually. Incidentally the sensitivity range here is broad and stretches from ISO to ISO12800 with many incremental points in between. Our only moan is that we could have really done with a dedicated ISO button marked as such. There is a ‘custom’ button provided alongside the one for ‘focus’ just behind the shutter release on the top plate, but there’s a choice of dedicating this to auto exposure lock (AEL), white balance, the application of a ND (neutral density) filter, metering mode or switching on the smile shutter facility (as it sounds the camera shutter automatically firing when it detects a grinning goon in the frame).
With the shutter release button and the zoom lever that encircles it comfortably sloping forward at the top of the handgrip, that’s it for the HX200V’s top plate.
The back plate of the HX200V is unsurprisingly dominated by the tilting 3-inch, whopping 921k dot resolution LCD screen, which can be angled up or down, but not swung out through 180° so it sits alongside the body, like with a camcorder, or flips inward to face the body itself. This means that, whilst very useful in itself compared with a fixed monitor, it is best used for achieving those otherwise awkward low or high angle shots than anything more ambitious. The alternative as mentioned earlier is to use the EVF ranged directly above the LCD, though as this is both smaller and has a lower resolution (202k dots), we found it easy to overlook.
In terms of controls the back of the camera looks slightly sparse mainly due to the small dimensions of the actual buttons, though in fact most of the essentials are here. A dedicated playback button sits next to the previously mentioned movie button, while a DSLR-like jog dial sits alongside that, where it automatically falls under the thumb of the right hand as the camera is gripped. If you’re shooting in Program mode a press of this allows access to the likes of ISO, shooting speed and aperture value on screen, though we had to press quite hard and repeatedly to arrive on the settings required - each highlighted in turn - at which point a spin of the same dial is required to make alterations. It works, but requires a period of familiarization, and is more fiddly than simply selecting ISO speeds from an on-screen menu or toolbar.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Speaking of toolbars, beneath the movie record button is one marked menu, a press of which summons a toolbar. This appears ranged to the left hand side of the screen. It’s here that we have access to the camera’s set up folders - surprisingly missing a function reset button but otherwise offering all the regulars - and the in-camera help guide, even though a dedicated button marked with a question mark is additionally provided for such a purpose. Also on the toolbar is a means of saving chosen settings to the Memory Recall mode provided on the top plate shooting dial, not one but two GPS settings, choosing between two Steadyshot options when recording video (‘standard’ or the stronger ‘Active’), fixing movie quality, deploying noise reduction, individually controlling sharpness, contrast and colour saturation (with ‘standard’ being the default setting), plus switching between the default ‘standard’ colour mode and vivid, ‘real’, or sepia toned options.
In addition, the intensity of the flash can be dialed up or dialed down, the sensitivity of the ‘smile shutter’ feature can likewise be altered to register a slight up-turn of the mouth or alternatively a big goofy grin, or the automatic feature turned off entirely. Furthermore we get three exposure and one white balance bracketing options, continuous burst shooting of either 10fps per second for up to 10 sequential shots or 2fps to the same number, plus selection of metering modes (multi segment, centre weighted or spot).
Continuing in this vein we’re also offered an auto ND filter option, with the ability to turn it off or alternatively have it always on. Still image size can of course also be adjusted via this same left-of-screen toolbar - with 18 megapixels in 4:3 aspect ratio being the top setting.
Lastly at the end of this exhaustive list we find a smattering of fun picture effect options. Here these comprise a painterly High Dynamic Range option, a chrome like rich-tone monochrome, the ubiquitous toy camera and miniature effects, pop art, soft high key, watercolour, and a funky illustration effect which provides a look akin to that designed by the artist Julian Opie for Blur’s Best Of album, only not quite as good, emphasizing subject outlines but smooth the detail therein. Still, with these riches it does feel Sony is spoiling us.
The familiar four-way control pad at the bottom right of the HX200V’s backplate features options for controlling the rear display, flash settings (with red eye reduction turned on or off via the menu screens), self timer (two or 10 seconds) plus, more unusually, bringing up some on-screen ‘photo creativity’ options if the user is shooting in one of the auto modes. Selecting this option on the pad, for example, allows users to darken or lighten the image by flicking the jog dial left or right. Colour can also be adjusted in the same manner and the picture effect options previously detailed can be flicked through via a virtual mode dial. It reminds us a lot of the Live Guide feature on Olympus Pen cameras; namely it allows newcomers to exert some personal control over the outcome of their shots without knowing anything about exposure values, aperture settings and so on, with adjustments shown on screen live and in real time before the shutter release button has even been pressed. Neat-o.
On either flank of the camera meanwhile is a lug for attaching the provided shoulder strap, while on the left hand flank there are two flip-open doors protecting the camera’s three ports. Here we get USB and HDMI output, plus a mains port for attaching the provided cable and mains charger. Incidentally battery life of the lithium ion cell inserted in the base of the handgrip is around 450-490 shots, which isn’t bad at all, even if we found ourselves recharging it a couple of times over our two week test period.
With a screw thread dead centre of the base plate this Cyber-shot certainly seems to have ticked most boxes. A degree of complexity is there for those who want it, but for those that don’t there’s the option to twist the top plate dial to Superior Auto, point and shoot and get a remarkably consistent performance. But how does the Sony DSC-HX200V perform when it comes to the real tester, image quality, across a range of scenarios? Read on and find out.