12th Feb 2014 | 04:01
Bridge camera gets an overhaul
Bridge cameras continue to be one area of the compact camera market which remains buoyant in an otherwise declining arena. The HX400V is one of the larger bridge models available, closely resembling an entry-level or even enthusiast DSLR/T - in overall body size at least.
The key selling point of this camera is its massive focal range. It keeps the incredible 50x zoom of its predecessor, the Sony HX300V, which equates to 24-1200mm in 35mm terms. Impressively it also manages to have a maximum aperture of f/2.8 (at the widest point of the lens), rising to f/6.3 at the telephoto end.
Outwardly, much of the HX400V remains the same as the camera it replaces, such as the three inch tilting screen on the back of the camera. Inwardly though, the HX400V has seen some key improvements which should equate to better image quality.
Sony's latest image processor, the Bionz X, can be found in the camera. This is the same processor already being used in the top of the range full-frame Sony A7 and Sony A7R cameras. Bionz X is claimed to be three times faster than the previous generation of chips, so focusing, start-up and shot-to-shot times should be improved, as well as noise reduced in low light/high sensitivity images.
It also inherits some of the other interesting technologies from the A7 and A7R, including detail reproduction technology, diffusion reduction technology and improved area specific noise reduction – all of which should combine together to beat the results that the HX300 was capable of.
Another improvement is that, like many of Sony's other recent introductions, the HX400 is fitted with integrated Wi-Fi and NFC technology, which can be used for remotely controlling the camera from a smartphone or tablet, or for sharing images to social networking sites. As with several other Sony cameras, you can increase the functionality of the camera by downloading additional apps from Sony's PlayMemories store.
Build quality and handling
As already mentioned, the outward construction of the HX400V remains pretty much the same as the HX300V.
The grip is a chunky affair, while the textured coating does a dual job of helping it feel secure in the hand and giving it a higher quality appearance.
Styling of the camera is very much in the DSLR camp, with a mode dial on the top of the camera to switch quickly between different exposure modes, such as fully automatic, superior auto and movie mode. There's also full manual control available from here, along with aperture priority and shutter priority modes. Handily, there's also space for up to two groups of customised settings, if you often find yourself shooting one particular type of scene, such as low light.
The lens is the largest element of the camera, unsurprisingly with its huge focal length, and traditionalists will no doubt enjoy the fact that you can zoom using the lens itself. If you prefer though, you can use a switch around the shutter release button. Zooming itself seems to be fairly fluid and smooth, but that's something we'll be keen to put to the test further when a final sample becomes available.
Just within handy reach by the thumb is a scrolling dial, which you can use to change the aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode you're shooting in.
Sony is big on customisation, with most of its compacts and compact system cameras offering the ability to change the operation of the camera depending on what your preferred method of working is.
Pressing the function button will bring up a sort of quick menu, which has a number of often-used functions already assigned to it – you can change these around, or switch them for other functions if you prefer. There's also a small custom button on the top plate of the camera which can be assigned to one particular function, such as Wi-Fi options.
It goes without saying that it's difficult to give a verdict at this stage of the review, but we generally have pretty high hopes for Sony cameras as the recent output has been so good.
One of the claims for this camera is improved autofocusing, and I was able to see that in action in the brief time I've had with the camera so far. That said, we were using it in a pretty well-lit room, so it'll be interesting to see how it copes with lower lighting conditions.
Hopefully, overall operational and focusing speeds will be as improved, as Sony is making promises that it will make using this new camera much better than the HX300V.
While it's true that the bridge camera market remains buoyant, most of the other manufacturers haven't released anything particularly exciting in some time. Sony, on the other hand, continues to innovate and here in the HX400V its using some of its best technology to reach out to a wider audience.
Hopefully image quality will match up to the Sony excellence we've come to expect.