Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V: Performance

by Jim Keenan Reads (1,189)
Editor's Rating
6.20

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 7
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 8
    • 0
    • Total Score:
    • 6.20
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Performance

Ultrazooms have long been my favorite compact digital point-and-shoot for the broad expanse of lens focal length they provide and the HX200 is no exception, whether you’re shooting with its modestly wide to long 27 to 810mm or narrower-longer 29 to 870mm optical lens envelopes.

Shooting Performance
The HX200 produced a shooting screen in about 2 seconds after power up and I was able to get off a first shot in about 2.75 seconds; single shot to shot times ran about 2 seconds with full resolution images. The camera can produce up to a 10 frame per second continuous shooting rate at full resolution for 1 second, and those 10 images take approximately 7 seconds to write with an SDHC UHS-1 95MB/sec card.

Switching to an SDHC class 10 30MB/sec card produced identical times for both single shot-to-shot and 10 burst image sequence write times – the HX200 does not appear to benefit from an in-camera performance standpoint with faster memory media, but the faster cards should provide shorter download times for folks moving significant numbers of images from the camera onto their computer. There’s a micro second of viewfinder or monitor blackout after the first shot of a continuous burst, but the HX200 is very good about displaying succeeding images promptly and tracking fast moving subjects is fairly simple, even if you only have to manage the feat for about a second. If that subject happens to be one of the Blue Angels doing a high-speed pass at about Mach 0.95 that translates into about 975 feet per second – just about anything else is going in slow motion by comparison, and while I didn’t have an F-18 handy to practice on my impression is the HX200 is up to the task.

Sony claims an “…AF speed of approximately 0.13 seconds in daylight, 0.24 seconds in low-light at 3 EV…” for the HX200, with the former figure matching our studio measurement. We don’t do lowlight AF acquisition time testing in the studio and the HX200 does slow down a bit in dimmer light, but Sony’s claim of 0.24 seconds doesn’t seem unreasonable based on my shooting perceptions. It can definitely go slower than 0.24 seconds in very dim light, but overall it seems in the ballpark with the quicker focusing super zooms I have reviewed. Shutter lag for the camera seemed fairly quick in the field, a judgment that was corroborated by our studio measurement of 0.01 seconds.

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot HX200V 0.13
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 0.16
Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR 0.33
Canon PowerShot SX150 0.53

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot HX200V 10 10.0 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 10 9.2 fps
Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR 8 4.1 fps
Canon PowerShot SX150 0.7 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.

Sony’s “optical steady shot” stabilization helps counter camera shake in both horizontal and vertical planes in its standard mode; an active mode may be enabled that adds digital rolling control to deal with clockwise or counter-clockwise rotations. With the ability of the HX200 to shoot in excess of 800mm on the telephoto end optically (and as we’ll see later even “longer” with a digital zoom feature) camera stabilization becomes critical, and we’re not just talking about the magic built into the camera body. All the stabilization in the world will not overcome excessive camera shake and the first step to sharp pictures starts with a steady hold on the camera during image capture.

The HX200 has a couple of handy built-in features, one being the nifty panorama shooting mode I first encountered on the Sony Alpha A55. On the HX200 there are standard, wide, and high-resolution panorama modes; standard or wide allow you to pan the camera to the left, right, up or down. HR mode requires you to set the camera into the vertical (portrait) format and pan left or right. Here’s a look at all three.

Sony HX200 Sample Image
Standard Panorama

Sony HX200 Sample Image
Wide Panorama

Sony HX200 Sample Image
HR Panorama

The key to getting good results from the panoramic modes seems to be keeping the speed up during the pan. The camera will cease image capture if the pan is too slow and with a little trial and error it seemed a pan speed of about 90° every 2.5 seconds worked quite well in all three modes.

The HX200 is also equipped with a neutral density filter that has the operative effect of allowing less light to pass through the lens during image capture. There may be times when a slow shutter speed is desirable and shutter speed is influenced by ISO sensitivity and lens aperture. For slow shutter speeds a low ISO and small aperture (a large numerical figure) are the keys, and compact digitals like the HX200 are generally limited by minimum apertures in the f/8 range. While the 100 ISO base sensitivity on the HX200 is suitably low, the f/8 maximum aperture is fairly fast compared with lenses that can be stopped down to f/16, f/22 or even smaller.

Here are two shots of a small waterfall at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, made in a shaded area that was actually a bit darker than it looks. Both were shot in aperture priority, f/8 and 100 ISO, which resulted in shutter speeds of 1/6 of a second without the neutral density filter and 1.3 seconds with. Without the neutral density filter, the shutter speed of 1/6 of a second is slow enough to produce a nice blurring effect to the moving water, but the effect is more pronounced with the shutter open longer with neutral density activated. Overall exposures are the same, the camera just keeps the shutter open longer in the second case because the neutral density filter admits much less light. Both shots were taken from a tripod.

There’s also a backlight correction HDR mode in the scene inventory that takes three captures in rapid succession and then blends them into a single image with a bit better detail in shadows. Here’s a shot taken first in aperture priority and then in the backlight HDR mode.

The HX200 also has a bracketing feature that captures three images with either +/- .3, .7 or 1 EV spacing between exposures. While this sounds like it might provide a fairly decent platform for capturing a series of bracketed shots to use with dedicated HDR software, when the bracketing feature is engaged the slowest shutter speed is limited to 1/4 second in the manual exposure mode you would ordinarily use for this type capture. Without bracketing engaged, the manual shutter speed can be as slow as 30 seconds, so the best option for folks wishing to shoot a series of exposures for HDR work is to do it the old-fashioned way: set the camera to manual exposure, keep the aperture constant and vary exposure via shutter speed for however many number of images you wish to use.

Sony lists an auto ISO flash range extending from about 1 foot to 40 feet 8 inches at wide-angle and about 6.5 feet to a bit over 19 feet 4 inches at telephoto; with ISO set at 3200 wide-angle range increases out to about 57.5 feet with telephoto bumping up to about 27.5 feet. A specific guide number for the HX200 flash has not been published. Flash recycle times for the HX200 varied from about 4 seconds shooting in intelligent auto to about 8 seconds with a full discharge of the flash shooting in aperture priority.

Battery life for the HX200 is listed as 450 shots, not too bad for compact digital. There is a bit of bad news however – as it comes in the box the HX200 battery must be recharged in the camera, not my favorite way to do business. Sony does make a battery charger as an accessory that can be had for about $30 at reputable Internet vendors and this is a wise investment: if you use the supplied AC charging cord to charge the battery in the camera, the camera is unavailable for photo work or for image processing. Pop the battery out of the camera and into the stand alone charger and then hook the camera to the AC charging cord and the camera may capture images or do image processing while the battery charges externally.

Lens Performance
The HX200 lens displays a bit of barrel distortion at the wide-angle end, a bit of pincushion distortion in the midrange and looks fairly distortion free at full telephoto – none of these defects are major concerns. Corners are a little soft at both wide-angle and telephoto but not dramatically so. Chromic aberration was present at both ends of the zoom in some high contrast boundary areas but was fairly well controlled and only became readily noticeable when enlargements reached 300% or greater. Overall, the HX200 lens acquits itself well.

Video Quality
Video quality was good in the HX200 and the automatic focus system did a good job holding focus on moving subjects. The CMOS sensor displayed just a hint of rolling shutter effect during exaggeratedly fast panning, but Sony has done a good job minimizing the effect, which was not an issue during normal video capture. The one touch video button initiates capture promptly. The microphone can be sensitive to wind noise but there is a wind cut feature that may be enabled.

Image Quality
Default images out of the HX200 were generally pleasing as to color rendition and sharpness, although I found myself on the fence regarding the sharpness. Some images looked okay, some just a little soft for my taste, and in the end, I tended to prefer images where sharpening was increased in the camera over the default setting. One pleasant surprise with the HX200 is the fact that it outputs files at 350 dots per inch – perfect for print work, while needing to be reduced to 72 dots per inch for the most efficient email transmission. Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to my Nikon DSLRs and their 300 dpi output, because downsizing for email seems less onerous than upsizing for print work. Good job Sony!

Overall, I’d call still image quality from the HX200 good but if you pixel peep at 100% enlargement you’re apt to think I’m nuts and I wouldn’t disagree. Examined closely at 100% most HX200 images, even though shot in the highest quality 100 and 200 ISO ranges, seem to display a disproportionate number of artifacts compared to most other super zooms I’ve reviewed. On the computer at less than 100% or in the camera they looked pretty good so I decided to try the big print test to see how they look on paper. I took one of the backyard default shots which originally came out of the HX200 with dimensions of 13.99 x 10.49 inches at 350 dots per inch. Here’s a look at this original image.

I applied an 18 x 12 crop frame which produced an image of 13.97 x 9.31 inches at the same 350 dpi. Then I resized the image without up or down sampling to a true 18 x 12 inches which resulted in a 271 dpi resolution. I then applied minimal sharpening to this image while viewing it at 100% – a sharpening level just below the threshold where artifacts seemed to become more pronounced due to sharpening, and saved the image as a TIFF file. Finally, I printed the image as an 18 x 12 on 19 x 13 inch Epson ultra premium luster photo paper on my Epson R2880 printer.

I then made a second print of same shot, this time an 8.5 x 11 of the JPEG as it came out of the camera. Same printer, same paper except in 8.5 x 11 inch size and all I did to the image was direct the printer to fit the existing image to the paper.

The results on both prints were more than satisfactory. Both images were quite clean and, in fact look like they could’ve benefited from additional sharpening. But in either case the image quality on paper was much better than pixel peeping 100% on the computer – the prints were really quite good. Finally, I printed another 8.5 x 11 of the original JPEG on Moab slickrock paper – a paper with a distinctly metallic looking pearl finish. This time I introduced a moderate degree of post processing sharpening onto the image before printing. As before the results were quite satisfactory, with the additional sharpening having little if any apparent difference on the print. In the course of the printer fitting the existing JPEG size onto the 8.5 x 11inch paper pixel density went from 350 to about 454 dots per inch. Bottom line on this camera is that the HX200 still image quality will satisfy all likely users but the most diehard pixel peepers, and even those guys will think it’s probably pretty good if they just don’t stare too long at 100% enlargements.

The HX200 offers users a five color palette when shooting in the P, A, S, or M modes; standard is the default setting. Here’s a look at those options:

There are also nine “picture effect” settings (off by default) that the user may select in order to influence the ultimate look of a captured image. Here are four of the more dramatic settings – HDR painting, illustration, mini, and watercolor.

In addition to the 30x optical zoom the HX200 offers a “clear image” zoom option they described thusly:

“Most digital zooms use electronic cropping to get closer to the subject, resulting in unsharp images. With Clear Image Zoom the powerful processor compares patterns found in adjacent pixels and creates new pixels to match selected patterns, resulting in more realistic, higher-quality images. Clear Image Zoom doubles optical zoom for closer photos.”
So, instead of stopping at a measly 30x/810mm telephoto focal length, the clear image digital zoom option takes you out to 60x (making the elimination of camera shake an even greater necessity). Here are two comparisons at both 30 and 60x – the end of the Oceanside pier and a shoebill stork at the Wild Animal Park.

You can judge for yourself the image quality of the optical versus digital captures, and I have never been a fan of digital zooms, but to me the image quality of the Sony clear image zoom looks a little bit better than traditional digital zooms. I wouldn’t use it routinely but it’s probably a viable option for Internet or small print work. I mentioned earlier that a monopod or tripod needs to be a consideration for HX200 shooters who do much work at the telephoto end of the zoom, and if you’re one of those who believes in and plans to use the clear image zoom option some form of camera support beyond hand holding will be a necessity.

Multi metering was used for all the exposures made for the review and it did a good job with average lit scenes. As with most compact digital cameras the HX200 had a tendency to clip some highlights in photos with high contrast situations. There are also center weighted and spot metering options available for the manual shooting modes.

I used auto white balance for this review and it did a good job with a variety of lighting conditions, including incandescent lighting. There are daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1, 2 and 3, incandescent, flash, one push and a very user-friendly custom white balance setting called one push set. In the one push setting the user establishes white balance manually and then locks that setting in by pushing the one push icon. In one push set the user frames a white object completely in the viewfinder or monitor and pushes one push set the lock that reading.

Sony HX200 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

At the top of the review I noted that while the HX200 was packing a DSLR-like resolution onto a compact digital point-and-shoot sized sensor the camera featured latest generation technology with regard to its processor and sensor. Anytime sensor resolution increases while the physical size remains the same, concerns about high ISO noise performance generally come into play. Is the latest generation sensor design and processor enough to overcome a lot of pixels on a small sensor?

ISO 100, as expected, is the cleanest sensitivity and typically this is the point at which I say that the next setting, 200 ISO, is virtually indistinguishable from 100. That’s true with regard to print work and general viewing, but the pixel peepers will note just the faintest vestiges of loss in some fine details in select areas of the frame. That’s not always the case with the first step between ISO settings on compact digitals. There’s another drop off between 200 and 400, about on the order of the change between 100 and 200 – slight, and probably not a major impact on print quality over the lower ISOs, but there nonetheless. The jump in deterioration from 400 to 800 ISO is the most pronounced so far with more fine details becoming lost or smudged across the frame and the background picking up a slightly grainier appearance.

Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 100
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 200
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 400
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 800
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 6400
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop
Sony HX200 Sample Image
ISO 12800
Sony HX200 Sample ImageISO 12800, 100% crop

At 1600 the sensor/processor combination  appears to have hit the wall – loss of fine detail, smudging and graininess have increased notably over the 800 ISO setting, particularly in the background; this has become the most dramatic single step deterioration in image quality so far. 3200 ISO continues the deterioration in fine details – barely recognizable smudging at 1600 have become featureless blobs at 3200, and colors are a bit faded. ISO 6400 features increased smudging across the frame with virtually all fine details reduced to largely indistinguishable blobs and 12800 is just more of the same. Ideally, you’d shoot and print all your images from 100 or 200 ISO captures, with 400 and 800 in reserve for when all else fails with regard to prints. ISO 1600 and above are best left for internet use or small prints if they’re absolutely, positively the only ISO settings that can get you the shot. It should be noted that the HX200 range of sensitivities extends from 100 to 12800 ISO in 1/3 EV increments, but we’ve only examined the full EV sensitivities.


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