Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX9V £269
25th Jan 2012 | 18:50
Premium 16MP compact camera claims a DSLR-like performance
Looking for one compact 'travel zoom' camera that does it all? If you haven't had your head turned by the workmanlike reliability of Panasonic's TZ series, such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ20, nor sports car exterior and gimmicky triple-action sensor of the Fuji FinePix F600 EXR, then the chunkier Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX9V,at 34mm 'thick', is another to add to that checklist.
Part of Sony's high performance range of compact cameras, it shares or matches many of the core features of both rivals, while slipping readily into a pocket or bag.
For starters, there's a 16.2MP top stills resolution, this time from a 1/2.3-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor.
Sony extends its desirability as a travel companion by offering both a built-in GPS unit and a 16x optical zoom, with a usefully broad focal range equivalent to 24-384mm in 35mm terms. This enables wide-angle close ups and the ability to pull the faraway a fair amount closer at the telephoto end.
In addition, as on the Panasonic TZ20, this Cyber-Shot boasts software-based 3D capture.
Most effective is Sweep Panorama mode, which automatically generates a single elongated image as an MPO image file, viewable in its fullest tri-dimensional form only via a suitably equipped TV. The alternative is to shoot in Sweep Multi Angle mode, which offers a lenticular-like display when the user tilts the back LCD screen left or right, so aping a 3D effect.
While an f/3.3 maximum aperture is so-so, ticking the right boxes for the latest must-haves are 1920 x 1080 pixels video capture in AVCHD or MPEG4 format, accompanied by stereo sound, courtesy of prominent left and right microphones located dead centre of the top plate.
If you're not bothered about a camera with a degree of expandability, nor the interchangeable lenses found on CSCs, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V on paper at least would seem to fit the bill as a jack of all trades. But how does it do in practice?
Build quality and handling
Boxy in design and thick set, with a depth of 34mm - though attempting to disguise the fact by showing plenty of reflective chrome - the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V is actually conveniently lightweight when held in the palm or slipped into a pocket.
That's not to say that the camera feels insubstantial - on the contrary, rare details such as something approaching a proper rubber-padded handgrip lend it as much a degree of seriousness as any buttons or dials.
With the 16x zoom controlled via a lever encircling the shutter release, the other visible controls are equally straightforward.
We're pleased to see a traditional shooting mode dial on the top plate, here cramming 10 options onto a surface barely the size of a 5p coin. This dial possesses a degree of rigidity that ensures that it is tricky to accidentally slip from one setting to another when fetching the camera out of a pocket.
Here Program, Auto and Manual exposure mode are joined by memory recall mode, iSweep Panorama, a dedicated 3D mode that offers tri-dimensional stills, the aforementioned panoramas or Sweep Multi Angle option.
Joining these are scene selection mode, a DSLR-like background defocus option for some lovely shallow depth of field effects, plus intelligent auto and additional 'superior' auto mode, which will shoot more than one image in an attempt to come up with a shot free from blur and low in noise.
Both of the latter modes are reliable hand-holding tools for those who really do just want to point and shoot.
If we take issue with an aspect of the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V's handling it's that, in contrast with its overall chunkiness, the backplate buttons - particularly the Playback, Menu and Delete buttons - are tiny and require fingertip precision.
Apart from that, there's a dedicated video record button that handily falls under the thumb to the top-right of the 3-inch LCD screen.
We also get a control pad encircled by the now ubiquitous scroll wheel, to enable users to power through and select on-screen function options.
A press of the top plate power button and the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V powers up ready for the first shot in two seconds, which while not quite DSLR speed is respectable for this class of compact camera.
Half-squeeze the shutter release button and after a mere blink (officially 0.1 seconds) AF points appear illuminated on the screen to signal that you're free to press down fully to take the shot.
With no obvious shutter delay to speak of, a highest resolution JPEG is committed to memory in two seconds, the clear 921,600 dot LCD screen briefly freezing and operation paused to display the picture as it's committed to memory.
Images are generally sharp and impressive when there's plenty of light available, and video looks life-like, with auto focus adjusting seamlessly between lens transitions.
But the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V suffers from some quite obvious barrel distortion when shooting at the maximum 24mm equivalent wide-angle setting. For example, buildings appear to lean inwards and bodies become elongated in the shape of the alien visitors at the climax of /Close Encounters/.
The zoom is quick to respond to your touch, however, and is capable of whirring from maximum wide-angle to extreme telephoto setting in all of three seconds.
Unless you've chosen to switch the flash off, the flash pops up as and when the camera feels it's required. There's no manual activation button like there is on the Leica D-Lux 5, for example.
We found colours a little flat straight out of the camera, particularly on duller days. But there is the ability to tweak these manually in-camera at the point of capture, by making a selection from the toolbar that runs down the left-hand side of the screen, as well as exerting control over shutter speed and aperture.
It's also here that we can access light sensitivity settings, the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V running from ISO 100 to a modest-sounding ISO 3200 at full 16MP resolution.
However, it's worth bearing in mind that those rival premium snapshot cameras that offer up to ISO 12800 usually lower resolution above ISO 3200 anyway, to limit noise.
Although this top setting appears ever so slightly grainy in appearance in our test shots, at least it's a setting that we would still feel happy using.
MACRO:The Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V offers a macro facility as close as 5cm at the maximum wide-angle setting. Natural subjects better disguise a fish eye type effect at this setting, along with some fall off of focus towards corners of frame.
DETAIL:Early morning daylight displays an attractive natural hue, along with plenty of detail evidenced in the brickwork. Although there is some pixel fringing, this is only visible on very close inspection.
LIFELIKE:On a dull winter's day the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V has managed a commendably even exposure with this wide-angle shot that maintains detail in the sky while keeping the foreground sharply in focus and delivering a result that's closer to what the eye saw at the time.
CLOSE UP:A handheld maximum zoom telephoto image from the same vantage position. A little soft around the edges perhaps, and we've lost highlight detail in the swan's feathers, but otherwise it's not a bad result, given the 16x reach.
UNDEREXPOSED:The Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V has erred on the side of underexposure to preserve plenty of detail in this full resolution image, and again deliver realistic natural colours.
MAXIMUM TELEPHOTO:Looking to shoot the moon from your upstairs window? The Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V's 384mm maximum telephoto setting will let you get that much closer.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 Image, see the cropped (100%) versions below
With the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V boasting an asking price of £269 in the UK and $329.99 in the US, it falls between the likes of a Canon PowerShot S100 and a regular point and shoot compact such as the Nikon Coolpix S6200 in cost. And it feels like fair value for what it is.
In general terms, the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V comes across more as a point and shoot camera on steroids than a DSLR that's been compacted, so in that respect it's closer to the feel and operation of the Fuji FinePix F600 EXR or Leica D-Lux 5 than say the Canon PowerShot G12 or Nikon Coolpix P7100.
The compact camera packs in most of the latest must-haves to offer a decent degree of future-proofing, including 3D and integral GPS, a usefully broad optical zoom range, plus Full HD video and HDMI output, leading us to wonder what more we could ask for from a camera on which the lens cannot be swapped.
In many ways, therefore, although it's not expandable to the same degree as fellow non-interchangeable lens compact cameras offering accessory ports and vacant hotshoes, the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V travel zoom comes across as a 'best of' where we are now in terms of camera tech.
The broad 'travel zoom' type focal range is certainly appealing, as is customisable settings and full manual control for those who want it, or reliable auto capture for those who don't.
3D image generation alongside regular 2D and stereo sound supporting Full HD video capture ensure that the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V feels like a future-proof compact camera.
The Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V requires a 3D telly to make the most of some core 3D features.
The camera body itself has a boxy design and is very deep, while there's some obvious barrel distortion and a fish-eye effect in images taken at the maximum 24mm equivalent wide-angle setting.
Sony has packed a lot into this high-performance travel zoom that poses very serious competition for the likes of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20, Fuji FinePix F600 EXR, plus a host of rival compact cameras that similarly incorporate a broad focal range with built-in GPS and pocket sized proportions.
Though not 100% perfect in each and every regard, the Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V nonetheless comes very close in most.