Sony HX300 £419.99
20th Feb 2013 | 04:02
Big body, huge lens and large resolution bridge camera
Seemingly it takes a big camera to outsmart a smartphone these days, and the DSLR-styled Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX300 bridge model is a big camera in several ways.
First, it has physical heft, the body being larger than Canon's EOS 700D DSLR, albeit with a deeper, more comfortably rounded handgrip on the Sony.
And secondly, there's the key reason for this Cyber-Shot's existence: a huge, class-leading 50x optical zoom range using an enthusiast-baiting Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens to cut down on lens flare and reflections.
This is backed up by an equally large pixel count, courtesy of a 20.4 megapixel 1/2.3-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor. Image stabilisation is claimed to have been refined over previous Cyber-Shot cameras, as is autofocus speed.
Sony goes as far as to suggest AF is twice as fast as its HX200V predecessor when shooting at maximum telephoto, while it additionally offers a couple million more pixels than that model.
OK, let's get some of our gripes out of the way first. Despite the snapshot camera-sized sensor, there's the entry-level DSLR asking price of £419 / AU$599 / US$499.99, and for that the Sony HX300 bridge camera misses some of the latest must-haves.
For example, there's no built-in Wi-Fi antenna, which is offered by the slender 20x Sony WX300 model. Neither is there GPS or weather-proofing provided, that its sophisticated-looking outer shell might suggest.
More positively, we do get the useful unison of both a tilting 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD screen at the rear plus an electronic viewfinder ranged directly above. This combination enables either hip-level or eye-level shooting, dependent on your compositional preference.
In terms of other headline features packed into the camera, let's turn our attention back to that jack of all trades lens. Here it provides a 35mm equivalent focal range of an ultra-wide 24-1200mm if shooting in standard 4:3 digital photo aspect ratio, or 26-1300mm if opting for 16:9 widescreen imagery, as you do when shooting video.
Maximum aperture is a reasonably bright f/2.8, dropping to f/6.3 at the extreme telephoto. Shooting at the Sony HX300's widest setting, close ups down to 1cm are possible.
Inevitably there are also several digital zoom options, with up to 200x accessible at 20MP, which can be pushed up to a ridiculous 810x if you're happy to shoot at a much-reduced resolution of 640 x 480 pixels.
With picture effects - via built-in digital filters - creeping into every imaging device from DSLRs to handsets and tablets, the Sony HX300 naturally has a smattering of these too.
Sony has, however, concentrated on the essentials rather than going overboard. Thus we get a choice of nine options: HDR Painting, Richtone Monochrome, Miniature, Toy Camera, Pop Colour, Partial Colour, Soft High-key, Watercolor and Illustration. Naturally we also get Sony's proprietary self-stitching Sweep Panorama feature included throughout the Cyber-Shot range.
Thankfully, though, there is the ability to pluck from a broad gamut of ISO settings, here ISO 80 to ISO 12800 in Superior Auto mode, or fall back on integral flash of the manually raised pop-up variety.
However, there will be those who are disappointed that such a heavyweight camera in many respects offers just the choice of JPEG capture rather than raw file capture. This indicates that the Sony HX300 is a better fit for the family user rather than the hardcore photo enthusiast who might otherwise find something of value here, such as the 10fps burst mode courtesy of Sony's absurdly named Bionz processor, and Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels video shooting at 50p (Progressive) for cinematic type results.
Battery life is good for around 310 photos or 155 minutes of moving footage, which is comparable with the rest of its class, if nothing particularly special.
The chief appeal here, though, will be the Sony HX300's ability to capture a wide range of subjects at a wide range of distances, without having to either swap the lens or take a step forward or back to achieve the framing desired.
In other words, there are plenty of options available to you, with minimal fuss required.
Build quality and handling
As established in our introduction, the Sony HX300 is a chunky beast. And with chunky dimensions of 129.6 x 93.2 x 103.2mm (5.1 x 3.7 x 4.1 inches), it's one for the camera bag or wearing around your neck rather than for squeezing into a pocket or purse.
Weight too is a hefty 650g (1lb 7oz) with the NP-BX1 lithium ion battery and choice of either an SD card or memory stick inserted. At least it feels like we are getting our money's worth, and certainly this is a camera that feels more comfortable to grip with both hands, thereby providing extra stability when shooting handheld at longer focal lengths.
Because the camera is styled like a consumer DSLR, from the get go we were expecting a DSLR-like handling experience. On the Sony HX300 this extends to a funky metal-ridged manual ring for zooming and focusing - flick a switch on the lens barrel to alternate between these two options - plus a jog dial and customisable buttons in order to retain favourite settings.
Naturally, aside from the creative filter effects, we get the creative quartet of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual shooting mode settings ranged around a bottle top-shaped mode dial set behind the shutter release. This button is encircled by another means of adjusting the zoom, via a regular zoom lever.
As well as the mode dial featuring the regular P,A,S,M quartet, we also get two auto modes, a scene mode, video mode, intelligent Sweep Panorama mode and even a dedicated 3D option; 11 choices in all.
A red video record button sits top-right of the back plate where it falls under the thumb, ready to instantly commence filming with a single press, whereby the view on the rear LCD narrows to display a 16:9 format image.
In truth the Sony HX300's backplate controls are more redolent of a compact camera than a DSLR, such is their pared-down simplicity.
Thus we also get a familiar four-way control pad alongside the angle-adjustable LCD screen, which can be tilted up or angled down, but not fully swung out parallel to the body or turned towards the subject for self-portrait shots. It's not a touchscreen either, but it does feel large enough that such a feature could have been implemented.
On-screen menu options are bright and clear, with the initial function menu extending the height of the screen on its left-hand side, its options tabbed through in conjunction with the multi-directional control pad.
We had to immediately disable the operational beep sound though, since it was so loud that it distracted us and our subjects.
Confusingly, at first we couldn't locate how to adjust ISO from this menu - it simply isn't listed. It turns out that that a spin of the DSLR-style command wheel top-right of the backplate highlights settings such as ISO and aperture on-screen, so that you can tab between them with a press of said wheel.
Perhaps we're wrong to expect everything, but we missed the fact that Sony hasn't provided an eye sensor alongside the camera's electronic viewfinder, to automatically switch it on and deactivate the screen below.
Instead we get a simple finder/LCD button on the Sony HX300's top plate, just behind the main power button. The location here means it's easy to overlook, and we'd have preferred to have this control adjacent to the EVF itself on the backplate. Instead, Sony has chosen to put the video record button in this position.
In short, though more or less every control we expected falls within reasonable reach of finger or thumb, we didn't find ourselves stretching or grasping in the heat of the image-making action.
How to use your new digital camera
The Sony HX300 powers up for action from cold in two to three seconds, the lens jutting a little proud of its housing to the sound of whirring mechanics to arrive at maximum wide angle setting, while the rear screen bursts into life with a flourish of audio.
OK, this isn't the fastest response ever - certainly it falls short of that of an actual DSLR. A half squeeze of the shutter release button and focus and exposure is determined in a blink of an eye, which is a bit more like it.
Squeeze the shutter release button fully and, with a barely discernible shutter delay in single shot mode, a full resolution image is committed to memory in two to three seconds, with a tiny internal capacity suitable for six shots provided out of the box.
Manually rotating the zoom by hand, it is reasonably responsive to the touch, but not as responsive as a simple twist of the zoom lens on your DSLR would be, which is slightly frustrating.
Also, it appears slower to respond when pulling back or zooming out than when you're zooming in initially. Still, if you're not in a rush to quickly snap that candid shot you saw in your mind's eye before you powered up the camera then working this way is fine, and it does feel like you're putting a bit more effort in than just alternately toggling a switch with your forefinger.
Fortunately the zoom can also be used when shooting video - you'd think that would be a prerequisite of a camera such as this, but it isn't always the case. Though the zoom reaction is slower still, it thankfully loses the mechanised motor sound that accompanies its use when shooting still images.
What is impressive is that the image relayed to the Sony HX300's rear plate LCD or EVF even when towards maximum telephoto setting is nice and steady, whereas on the likes of a cheaper superzoom such as Nikon's Coolpix L820 it wobbles all over the place.
It's also possible to get a nigh-on sharp shot shooting at the maximum 50x optical zoom, gripping the camera in both hands, without the aid of a tripod, which is just what you want from a camera such as this.
On most superzooms you have to take at least two or three shots of the same subject to end up with one that's reasonably crisp. OK, so the shots from this Sony camera aren't as sharp as those you'll get from an actual DSLR, but then a DSLR and lens with this sort of reach is beyond most of our possibilities.
With the camera's metering set to multi-segment in order to get a well-exposed overall image, that's by and large what we got. However, there were instances of over-exposed highlights and lost detail, as well as purple pixel fringing between areas of high contrast. In fairness, these are the kind of aberrations that would blight the JPEG output from most consumer-level compact cameras.
There is naturally an HDR option, which pulls back some of the detail lost when exposures are otherwise tricky, but you can be left with an image that looks a little more painterly than photographic if we're nit-picking.
Of course there's not the option here to shoot raw images to give you even more hands-on control over the images.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Sony HX300, 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 80 the Sony HX300 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 80, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution 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
As we can see from this chart, the Sony HX300 produces JPEG images with relatively weak signal to noise ratios, compared to the other cameras here, with the HX300's images starting out the weakest of the group at ISO 80-800. At ISO 1600 the HX300's JPEGs show an almost identical signal to noise ratio than those from the Olympus SP-620UZ, but are weaker than the others, and at ISO 3200 they are stronger than the Fuji X-S1 and Sony HX200V, but still slightly weaker than the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS. At ISO 6400 and 12800, the Sony HX300's JPEGs boast a stronger signal to noise ratio than those from the Fuji X-S1, but they are weaker than those from the Sony HX200V. The other cameras' sensitivity ranges don't stretch as high.
JPEG dynamic range
The Sony HX300's JPEGs show stronger dynamic range scores than signal to noise ratios, relatively speaking. The HX300's JPEGs significantly outperform those from the Olympus SP-620UZ at every sensitivity setting, and outperform the Sony HX200V at ISO 100, 400, and 3200, and achieve near-identical results at ISO 200, 800, 6400 and 12800. The Sony HX300's JPEGs show greater dynamic range than the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS at ISO 100, 200 and 3200, but are weaker at ISo 400-1600. The HX300's images show less dynamic range than the Fuji X-S1's at lower sensitivities, but at ISO 1600 and above they are much stronger.
An impressive amount of detail is captured by the Sony HX300.
Exposures are generally well balanced, with good colour rendition.
This image is taken at the widest point of the Sony HX300's optical zoom lens.
While here, the image has been taken at the furthest reach of the optical zoom - putting in an impressively stabilised performance.
The Sony HX300 makes for a good all-round camera, able to capture well a wide variety of different subjects.
At the widest point of the Sony HX300's lens, an equivalent of 24mm (in 35mm terms) is offered, making it useful for capturing lots in a scene.
At the furthest reach of the 50x optical zoom, it's an impressive 1200mm.
Another example showing the 50x zoom in operation - here's the wide angle.
And fully zoomed.
The camera copes well with moving subjects.
This is a standard JPEG, so you can see the difference when filters are applied.
Partial Colour (red)
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
As you'd expect from a DSLR-styled bridge camera bearing the Sony brand, the HX300 comes across as reassuringly robust and built-to-last when gripped in the palm, particularly with the lens resting dormant within its protective housing.
Though bridge models can be damn ugly at times, this one is almost attractive, thanks to gentle sloping edges and a subtle matt black finish with rubber detailing, notably around the hand grip. This proved big enough to enable us to snake three fingers around it, to leave our forefinger hovering over the shutter release.
Sony has ambitiously claimed you can 'shoot like a pro' with the HX300. In reality, having boosted the zoom power and pixel count of the previous HX200V, it's a case of 'look or feel a little bit like a pro' when shooting, courtesy of the sophisticated sub-DSLR styling.
Paying £420 / AU$600 / US$500 for a camera upon which the lens cannot be swapped feels slightly pricey, but then the whole point of this Cyber-Shot is the fact that the lens offers such a whopping reach that you won't actually want to.
In reality, though it resembles a DSLR, operationally it's more like a pimped up point and shoot, making it suitable for a widespread audience, particularly those with families who might appreciate a vast array of framing opportunities at their fingertips.
We don't get the bells and whistles that would have added appeal to photo enthusiasts that the serious-looking exterior suggests. There's no raw capture, no accessory port or hotshoe, no GPS, no eye-activation for the electronic viewfinder and no built-in Wi-Fi that its price tag might have been able to justify the inclusion of.
There will doubtless be those who will also grumble that the Sony HX300 could have also done with a larger sensor than its modest 1/2.3-inch variety, particularly since it has chosen to cram 20 megapixels on there when others have stuck more safely at 16MP.
Shooting at maximum ISO 12800 equivalent, images appear quite heavily processed and softened, so you'd probably want to avoid that option entirely.
However, it does actually achieve something that the majority of superzooms fail to do, and that's deliver sharp results even when shooting handheld at maximum telephoto. As a result, there will be an audience out there who feel that paying a slight premium for the Sony HX300 could be worth it.
The rock solid build, the sophisticated styling, the sloping edges of the design and of course the extremely broad focal range are all very appealing features.
The Sony HX300 lacks the sort of features one might expect from a bridge camera at this price, such as principally raw shooting, but also dedicated buttons for the likes of ISO, eye-activated viewfinder... our list of 'wants' goes on.
How to use your new digital camera
The Sony Cyber-Shot HX300 looks great, is nicely designed, feels robust and built to last when grasped in the hands, and we enjoyed the fact that we could operate the zoom manually and also achieve sharp results when shooting handheld towards the telephoto end of the zoom.
The negatives are a lack of raw shooting, a relatively small sensor burdened with a high pixel count and omissions including Wi-Fi, GPS, a hotshoe... the list goes on.
Added to this is the fact that the SonyHX300 has a not inconsiderable price tag of £420 / AU$600 / US$500, which means you have to really want the extra zoom poke on offer here to justify the expense.
Alternatives to this camera are many and varied if it's big zooms your after. For example, also offering a 50x optical reach is the 16MP Fujifilm Finepix SL1000, while the same brand's HS50 EXR comes with tilting screen and manually operated 42x optical zoom that enables you to frame photos slightly more precisely, and we're big fans of Fuji's HS range as a result.
There's also the 50x optical zoom Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, the 42x Nikon P520 and Olympus SP-820UZ. We'd place the Sony HX300 in front of these options we were making a purchase choice ourselves; so for us it would really come down to this or the Fuji.