Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 Performance, Timings and Image Quality

by David Rasnake Reads (1,032)

PERFORMANCE

Shooting Performance
Just in case we weren’t clear the last several times we’ve said it: when it comes to basic shooting performance, the HX1 is about as fast as cameras in this class get.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
<0.01
Kodak EasyShare Z980
0.02
Nikon Coolpix P90 0.03
Olympus SP-590 UZ 0.03
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 0.16
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
0.48
Nikon Coolpix P90
0.56
Olympus SP-590 UZ 0.57
Kodak EasyShare Z980 0.61

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames* Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 10 11.3 fps
Nikon Coolpix P90 14 1.4 fps
Kodak EasyShare Z980 4 1.3 fps
Olympus SP-590 UZ 6 1.2 fps
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
0.9 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Under studio conditions, autofocus comes in just beyond DSLR speed. And as claimed, the HX1 is good for ten full-res shots at a full 10 fps – which puts this Cyber-shot on par with flagship pro-grade cameras for continuous shooting speed. Incidental timings – the time it takes for the camera to power on, or clear a full buffer, for instance – certainly aren’t on par with a DSLR; this is still a point-and-shoot after all. But in good light with a static subject, the camera feels as quick as it looks.

Taking advantage of features like full 1080p video capture and extreme continuous shooting puts a lot of the HX1’s performance burden back on the camera’s autofocus system. As noted, baseline performance is much better than average for a camera of this class. Zoomed to a full 560mm equivalent, you won’t get nearly as much speed as the camera offers at full wide-angle, but performance is consistent and competitive just the same.

In low light – and especially, in low light and at longer zoom lengths – the HX1 really begins to feel less SLR and more point-and-shoot, and taking the camera along to shoot an evening soccer match had me looking for an alternative to the Cyber-shot’s default multi-area AF. High-speed shooting situations (and video capture) are where the HX1’s semi- and full-manual focusing options, which allow you to set the camera’s focusing distance either approximately or exactly, become a huge advantage – speeding up performance by nearly a full second at the long end of the zoom under poor light. But while the camera has one of the best face detection systems we’ve played with, there’s no subject tracking mode either.

The HX1’s pop-up flash is nothing to write home about – either to praise or to gripe about. With an effective range some under 20 feet, you get the kind of performance one expects from a point-and-shoot flash, with the camera tending toward slight but consistent underexposure in most indoor flash shots. The HX1 includes a slow-sync option for drawing in more ambient light, as well as a flash power compensation control in the sidebar menu. As we’ve come to expect, built-in red-eye mitigation worked when called upon. Although it likely only matters to a small percentage of potential HX1 buyers, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask for a hot shoe on a camera at this price – and on this point, the HX1 disappoints, if only mildly.

Lens Performance
It seems that even 20x zoom ranges have, in the days of 24x and 26x ultrazooms, become rather ho-hum. Nonetheless, the HX1 packs some considerable power into its optics, starting with the fact that you get the equivalent of 28-560mm without having to change lenses.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Wide angle

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Telephoto

Optically, it’s hard to find nits to pick with the HX1’s Sony G glass. Chromatic aberration was well controlled, distortion at both ends of the spectrum was hardly an issue, and more serious concerns like flare and vignetting were basically nonexistent in our test shots. The HX1’s long lens barrel can cause some flash problems for close-up subjects, but that’s about the most I can find to fault the Sony for in terms of overall optical performance.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Macro

Close-up performance is equally nice. Although this camera, unlike many previous Sonys, doesn’t have an explicit “Super Macro” setting, it still allows close focusing to the point that you’ll nearly touch your subject with the lens – with consistent lock possible at some under half an inch in full-time macro mode.

Video Quality
The HX1 is one of a handful of still cameras – both among DSLRs and point-and-shoots – that can claim full 1080p HD video performance. Of course, having this kind of serious resolution is only as good as it sounds if the images filling this space are smooth and crisp. And on this count, the HX1 more than holds its own.

Although low-light shooting all around isn’t this camera’s strong suit, the above sample shows off a number of things that this camera does well simultaneously. Choose your focus mode carefully, take advantage of the HX1’s long lens and in-movie zooming capabilities, and the camera rewards with smooth, nearly camcorder quality clips that bring surprisingly clear stereo audio besides.

It’s not all perfect with the HX1’s movie mode: subject speed or rapid panning can cause some visual warping, zooming is slow during video capture, and frustratingly, the camera’s AF seems to hunt more when shooting videos than stills. All of that said, if shooting movies is a big part of what you want from a still camera, the HX1 is one of the few (fairly) affordable offerings that we’ve shot with to date that seems capable of delivering serious HD video performance.

Image Quality
Small-sensor cameras are all about compromise, trading absolute image quality for reductions in size, weight, and cost. And all things considered, the HX1 walks this fine line better than the majority of point-and-shoots out there.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1

The HX1’s captures evidence a careful balance, presenting overall results that are sharp and processed without, in general, looking too much so.

Sony’s decision to pack a CMOS imager into the HX1 raised some hopes that overall image quality and detail capture would show dramatic improvements over the manufacturer’s previous (and somewhat indifferently regarded) CCD-equipped cameras. As with Canon’s foray into small CMOS sensors, however, the overall results are slightly if not dramatically improved from previous attempts.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Natural

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Real

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Vivid

Users who like to tweak their shots in-camera will appreciate the fact that the HX1 provides several processing presets, with fairly distinct tone curves in each case. Color is accurate throughout, if somewhat oversaturated all around (especially reds). For those who like extreme saturation, the HX1 gives enough processing options to really punch things up to near “pop art” levels if you’re feeling so inclined.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1

Default multi-area metering is more of a mixed bag, with the camera clipping highlights more frequently than some competitors we’ve looked at when left to its own devices. Typical options for overriding the HX1’s metering decisions exist for the benefit of the camera’s sizable enthusiast buyer segment.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

The HX1 sports one of the more adaptable auto white balance presets out there, coming closer than many point-and-shoots to neutralizing the excessive warmness imparted by incandescent light in particular. There are also several presets (of widely varying quality/accuracy) to choose from, and for even more control, the HX1 offers a user-set custom white balance option as well.

In spite of all of the chatter about CMOS sensors and cleaner images, in general, the HX1’s shots show a lot of noise reduction from the lowest sensitivity settings all the way on up. In spite of the fact that it actually packs less resolution than previous Cyber-shot H cameras, the HX1 really doesn’t improve performance – and may even lose a step at ISO 800 and beyond.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 125
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 125, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 400
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 800
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 1600
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 3200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
ISO 3200, 100% crop

As early as ISO 400, edge details are beginning to erode noticeably when viewed at the pixel level, and the HX1’s slight oversharpening only makes things messier in this regard, adding fuzz and halos to the camera’s increasingly soft fine details. ISO 1600 and 3200 also show significant desaturation.

As is so often the case with cameras that aim for a broad audience, while casual shooters may well be perfectly satisfied with the HX1’s performance for snapshots up to ISO 1600 and perhaps even beyond, enthusiasts looking to make use of a larger chunk of the camera’s resolution by making large prints or cropping extensively may find themselves at odds with Sony’s noise reduction choices.

Additional Sample Images

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1


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