Sony HX200V £479
9th May 2012 | 12:10
Sony's 18.2MP bridge camera offers a 30x optical zoom, Full HD movies and GPS
The chunky yet compact flagship model in Sony's High Performance Cyber-Shot series, the new HX200V superzoom succeeds the HX100V, in the process boosting the headline resolution from 16.2 megapixels to 18.2 effective megapixels from an Exmor R CMOS sensor.
Remaining a constant is its most obvious selling point: a whopping 30x optical zoom. Great in theory for photographing wildlife and sports, and not bad at all in practice, this in part dictates its 'DSLR lite' dimensions.
This also helps set it apart from the equally new 20x HX20V model.
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch (7.76mm) Exmor R CMOS sensor
Lens: 30x (27-810mm in 35mm terms)
LCD Screen: 3-inch, 921,600 dots
ISO range: ISO 100-12800
Dimensions: 121.6 x 86.6 x 93.3mm, 531g
Should users want to digitally extend the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V's lens reach it can be pushed to the equivalent of 60x. Sony claims that the fantastically christened Pixel Super Resolution technology enhances imagery to avoid the usual blocky appearance of conventional digital zooms.
While this is the case, on close inspection results can look a little painterly.
Naturally the lens, offering an equivalent focal range of a generous 27mm to 810mm in 35mm terms, is supported by an optical image stabiliser, which Sony says now features a refined gyro sensor.
This too delivers the goods, and enabled us to achieve sharp results shooting handheld at the telephoto end of the zoom - in daylight at least.
For those looking to shoot in low light, the HX200V's maximum light sensitivity now stands at ISO 12800, similar to a mid-range DSLR, while auto focus in dimmer conditions is claimed to be significantly quicker at 0.2 seconds at 3EV.
Otherwise AF speed is 0.13 seconds in the daylight conditions we were generally using it in.
At the other end of the scale, the Sony HX200V offers the ability to achieve macro close ups just 1cm from a subject, while the maximum lens aperture is a reasonably bright f/2.8.
Automatically stitched panoramas, 3D shooting and Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels video with 50 frames per second progressive capture (and with stereo sound) also feature, alongside built-in GPS - making this an option for amateur travel photographers.
Add the above together and the Sony Cyber-Shot HX200V appears to have a lot going for it.
Can the Sony HX200V really claim to be the superzoom that has it all and justify a price tag of £480 in the UK and $480 in the US?
Build quality and handling
First impressions are very favourable. The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V feels commendably solid when gripped, weighing a junior DSLR-like 583g.
That's with a choice of SD or Memory Stick Pro Duo media plus lithium ion rechargeable battery inserted at the base.
As with Sony's entry-level Alpha DSLRs, there's just enough space here to curl three fingers around the rubberised handgrip, while the forefinger hovers above the raised shutter release at the top.
This is itself encircled by a lever for operating the zoom, with the alternative being to manually twist the provided lens ring, which prompts a mechanised zoom in or out. Doing this with the left hand feels particularly comfortable if you're already steadying the camera in both hands.
Showing its enthusiast appeal, on the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V we're blessed with the choice of a crystal clear tilt-up or angle down LCD display plus an electronic viewfinder (EVF); the latter ranged directly above the former on the backplate.
The EVF has a built-in eye sensor that activates the display when it detects the pupil of your eye, and turns it off - and the LCD below on - when you move away. There's also a dedicated button for manually switching between the two. For us the larger, higher resolution LCD (921k dots as opposed to 202k for the EVF) won out.
The battery lasts longer, however, if using the EVF, enabling you to take 490 shots rather than 450. But both these stats are impressive, anyway.
With a ridged edge for easier purchase and commendably stiff action, a shooting mode dial is provided, showcasing the creative quartet of Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual settings, along with two auto modes. These include the automatic exposure adjusting and image enhancing Superior Auto, plus a smattering of scene, 3D and panorama shooting options.
There's also a dedicated video mode setting on this top plate dial, with a small 'movie' record button adjacent to an equally teeny playback button on the backplate.
Generally controls fall readily under finger or thumb and the layout, while busy, feels spacious enough. Additionally there's a DSLR-like command/jog dial situated where the thumb rests on the backplate - and this is how the user adjusts the likes of ISO, aperture and shutter settings.
Having said that, it required us to forage through the built-in help manual to discover that fact, and a dedicated ISO button would have been more helpful still.
Scrolling through the options using this dial and then implementing them with a full press is fiddly and eats up time.
We packed the Sony HX200V with us on a trip to the zoo, where the camera's generous lens reach really paid dividends in being able to pull animals hiding at the back of their enclosures up close and personal in our frame.
We can envisage the HX200V as a great holiday camera option for those who don't want to have to lug a set of lenses around with them. And of course even if they did, they still wouldn't come close to achieving the lens reach possible here from such relatively compact proportions.
For general use, and with the exception of our reservations about the jog dial already noted, the Sony HX200V is as fast and responsive as you'd expect a mid to top-end superzoom to be.
The camera powers up in two seconds, so slightly slower than a DSLR proper but perfectly acceptable for a compact camera.
As expected, the camera's lens extends slightly proud of its protective housing to arrive at maximum wide-angle setting while the rear LCD bursts into life.
Manually adjusting the zoom, we found, enables more precise control than using the zoom lever surrounding the shutter release button.
A press of the 'focus' button that sits just behind the shutter release provides an enlarged close up for easier focusing if you have switched to manual focus.
Generally the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC HX200V comes across as helpful no matter what the level of your experience. If you just want to point and shoot, then you can; if you want to get more hands on and exert user control, then the camera will - mostly - simplify the route to you being able to do so.
This deftly designed Cyber-Shot also determines focus and exposure pretty much the instant that you find the halfway point on the shutter release button - a timing quoted by Sony as 0.13 seconds, which doesn't make it the world's fastest, but is plenty swift enough.
As you'd expect, tracking focus is on board as a standard feature to keep the subject sharp even when it's on the move - another beneficial feature for our zoo animal images.
Although we noticed some fall off in focus towards the corners of the frame when shooting at maximum wide-angle, and some leaning verticals when doing the same, these were subtle issues at best.
What was more impressive were the results achievable shooting handheld at maximum zoom. On most superzoom rivals we've needed to take two or three shots of the same subject to arrive at one that wasn't soft. Here, again with the caveat 'mostly' - the HX200V produced a sharp image first time.
For low light shots, and viewing with the naked eye, we didn't encounter pronounced image softening or noise until ISO 3200. And above this, while we are losing edge detail and also getting a more washed out appearance, at a push you can actually use the top whack ISO 12800 setting. So it's not just there to artificially boost the spec, then...
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Sony HX200V we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100, the Sony HX200V is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 12 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: n/a (see full image)
ISO 12800, score: n/a (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG Signal to Noise Ratio
JPEG images from the Sony HX200V show good signal to noise ratio results, however the improved results after ISO 3200 comes at the cost of detail, which is smoothed in-camera to reduce noise.
JPEG dynamic range
This maximum 27mm equivalent wide-angle shot reveals natural colours, a good even exposure and an impressive level of detail across the frame, although to be picky we are seeing a slight softening towards the corners, particularly noticeable in the tree branches top left of frame. There is also some purple fringing visible on close inspection.
By contrast this is a maximum telephoto shot taken from the same position - and taken handheld too. You really see the possibilities of that 30x optical zoom here, which is capable of picking up the rusting paint on these gates that were themselves barely visible from 300 or 400 yards back.
On an overcast day, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX900V's Vivid picture mode can be deployed to add punch otherwise missing, here really bringing out the pinkish beak of the ostrich and also the umber-coloured sand of its enclosure, background sympathetically defocused by virtue of shooting towards the telephoto end of the zoom.
A handheld maximum wide angle close up shot taken in the low light of an aquarium, with the Sony's lens pressed up against a Perspex screen to cut down on reflection and the possibly blurring effects of hand wobble. OK, it's not razor sharp, but given all the elements that were conspiring against us, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V has acquitted itself well here.
Another image that shows the very best of the Sony Cyber-Shot HX900V's capabilities - this one taken handheld at maximum telephoto setting; again there's bags of detail preserved in the face, and, again, desirable bokeh.
A wide-angle shot that makes the most of the Vivid setting selectable in Program mode, which here produces an attractive but not at all unnatural result. There is some slight barrel distortion here witnessed in the slightly leaning houses right of frame, but it's reasonably subtle.
This was taken at ISO 800 in very dim conditions, but there is a decent amount of detail present.
Taken using the Black and White: Green mode, which makes everything apart from the colour green black and white. There are also red and blue options.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
With a serious matt black finish that denotes a enthusiast-targeted piece of kit without even delving into the riches of its feature set, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC HX200V is one of the more impressively attired superzoom cameras out there.
Yet even with its manual focus/zoom lens ring combo, for us it can't quite beat the construction and handling of the Fuji HS series and the Fuji X-S1, although the smaller form factor and price difference may have potential users plumping for the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V as a cost-effective alternative.
Wed a solid-feel construction and rugged finish - that puts the obvious plastic of entry-level Sony Alpha DSLRs to shame - to a whopper of a focal range and a plethora of auto and manual functionality. And if you don't want to bother with changing lenses, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC HX200V pretty much has it all.
A few more dedicated function buttons, particularly controlling the likes of ISO, would have been a welcome addition.
Slightly more flexibility to the rear LCD screen so that it can be flipped out parallel to the body and twisted to face the user for self portrait shots or flipped to face inwards might have been nice too, but this is being picky.
The Sony HX200V costs £479 in the UK or $479.99 in the US, which while not cheap - and a similar price to a starter DSLR with standard lens - nevertheless feels 'wearable' given the considerable lens reach we're getting for our money.
We also got sharp results at maximum zoom from shot to subsequent shot when it was used handheld. That's almost unheard of on rival models.
What the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V has going for it are a rugged build, reliability and a price tag that, while not inexpensive and could otherwise buy you a starter DSLR and standard lens kit, nevertheless feels fair when you weigh up the feature and the creative possibilities of an extremely broad focal range on a relatively compact camera body.