In general, the HX300 is fairly fast ultra-zoom P&S digicam. From off to first picture capture is about two seconds. Ultra-zoom lenses don’t move all that fast and that’s fine for video clips where users want slower more controlled zooming, but if you are trying to track a fast-moving subject like a skateboarder, the HX300 can seem a bit slow. The HX300 is a competent picture maker that is capable of producing consistently very good to excellent still images and very good HD video. The HX300’s performance was dependably competitive (equal to or better than) similar ultra-zoom cameras from other manufacturers that I’ve reviewed.
The HX300 features a TTL Contrast Detection AF system with Center AF, Multi AF, Flexible Spot AF, Face AF, and Tracking AF. The HX300’s AF system analyzes the scene in front of the lens then calculates camera-to-subject distance to determine which AF point (in multi AF mode) is closest to the primary subject and then locks focus on that AF point. The HX300’s AF system is consistently quick to acquire the subject and locks focus with reliable accuracy.
The HX300 utilizes a sophisticated new optical image stabilization system. Generally with systems of this type–a single element in the zoom is shifted rapidly to overcome minor involuntary camera movement. Sony’s enhanced IS system utilizes multiple shifting elements, rather than just a single element for enhanced anti-shake control and sharper images.
Sony claims the HX300 is good for 310 exposures with a fully charged NP-BX1 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The battery charges in the camera and requires about 90 minutes for a full charge.
In the final analysis everything comes down to the HX300’s f2.8-f6.3/24mm-1200mm (equivalent) Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom. The HX300’s f2.8 maximum aperture is significantly (two thirds of a stop) faster than average for cameras in this class. Center sharpness is excellent, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn’t notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel and pincushion distortion are visible, but seem well corrected. Contrast is balanced (but a little flat) and colors are hue accurate, though visibly oversaturated. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well-controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Zooming is smooth, but fairly slow when compared to cameras with shorter zooms. Interestingly, there is much less motor noise than I expected.
With most ultrazooms the maximum telephoto setting can often be more of a problem than a benefit since long zoom digicams produce images that are notoriously soft at the maximum telephoto setting. Sony’s product development folks did a remarkably good job on the HX300’s zoom. This lens (though not particularly compact) is much sharper (at the long end of the zoom) than expected. I handheld the camera for every shot that is used in this review. Check out the demo image below and you’ll see what I mean –that image was a grab shot, handheld, at or very near maximum telephoto and it is surprisingly sharp–noticeably sharper than it would have been at 50x with most (if not all) of the HX300’s competition. That old school looking zoom ring on the front of the HX300’s Vario-Sonnar is, in fact, a by-wire zoom control ring which is good for small zoom adjustments and can be used for manually focusing the lens. The zoom control ring does prove to “lag” a bit. DSLR users will immediately notice the lag. Point and Shoot users might not see much of a problem with this.
The HX300 captures HD video at 1440x1080p @ 60ifps with stereo audio and the 50x zoom can be used during filming. This camera also provides an HDMI out so that users can watch their HD video clips on their wide screen HD TVs. Video clips are sharp and hue accurate (although visibly oversaturated) with very good contrast. Below is a two part sample video.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC HX300 utilizes a new 20.4 megapixel 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor to capture images. Like most compact P&S digital cameras, image files produced by the HX300 are optimized for the bold, bright colors and slightly flat contrast that veteran shooters refer to as “consumer” color. Recorded hues are accurate but noticeably more intense than in real life. The bottom line is that the HX300’s color interpolation, while a bit more intense than neutral, is consistently and dependably hue accurate. The colors I saw on my monitor when I reviewed the images I shot with this camera were very close to the colors I saw when I shot the pictures. Coupled with the HX300’s improved AF and IS systems images generated by this camera are noticeably sharper than similar images from its competitors.
Outdoors, in good light, the HX300 consistently captures very good to excellent images in all shooting modes. Indoors, the camera performs with a little less certainty, but its indoor performance, is at worst, average for cameras of this type–however that supposes that users will be relying primarily on the wide angle end of the zoom for most of their indoor work – the farther you zoom indoors, the worse the image quality will become.