Flagship of five new "H" series compact super zooms announced by Sony on February 27 with a March market availability, the Cyber-shot HX200 features a 30x Carl Zeiss zoom lens covering the 27 to 810mm focal range (in 4:3 format; 29 to 870mm in 16:9) with maximum apertures of f/2.8 and f/5.6 at the wide and telephoto ends, respectively.
Here's a look at the field of view provided by both ends of the zoom at 4:3.
The big zoom isn't the only big feature of the HX200 – a new “Exmor R" CMOS sensor (shared with three other of the new "H" models) packs 18.2 megapixels of resolution which Sony describes as "….the highest resolution sensor currently offered in the mainstream ‘point-and-shoot” market." The new sensor is paired with an advanced BIONZ processor that reportedly provides "blazing fast" autofocus acquisition times in both good and dim lighting conditions. Those 18.2 megapixels are a most DSLR-like resolution while the actual sensor size is a decidedly compact digital 1/2.3-inch. Significantly, the sensor is a backside illuminated model which moves sensor circuitry from the face of the sensor to the opposite side, thus permitting a more unobstructed path for light to the sensor face.
Elsewhere, the HX200 offers a typical compact digital shooting menu of fully automatic and scene-specific modes, along with full manual controls, Sony's excellent panorama shooting feature, 3D still image capture and one-touch full HD video capture. The camera has a GPS function that can provide data on individual picture location along with a log of the path taken. Here's a look at the GPS data for single shot - the info can also be displayed in the camera during playback of individual images.
There is face detection, smile shutter and blink detection technology on board, along with a built-in flash, electronic viewfinder and articulating 3.0-inch monitor. All these features take up space, and while the other "H" series compacts are configured with the small, rectangular bodies of the typical point-and-shoot digital the HX200 features the "mini DSLR" look and feel that seem to characterize most super zooms in excess of 20x.
ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 12800 and there is approximately 105MB of internal memory – this allows for about 17 still image captures at full resolution or about 370 captures at VGA resolution. Movies may not be captured on internal memory. The camera is compatible with Sony memory stick duo, memory stick Pro duo or memory stick Pro – HG duo cards, but video capture is not available on the duo card and Pro duo cards must be Mark 2 for video capture. The camera also accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC and micro SD memory media; class 4 or higher is recommended for video capture. Sony includes an AC adapter and power cord, rechargeable lithium battery, printed basic user's manual, micro USB cable, shoulder strap, lens cap and lens cap strap with each camera. The first order of business for a new HX200 owner is to attach that lens cap strap – the HX200 will launch the cap into space upon powering up if the cap is not removed from the front of the lens first.
The HX200 packs a lot of pixels onto a physically small sensor, but that sensor design is the current technological darling of the industry and its processor is Sony's latest generation - let's get the HX200 into the field and see what she can do.
Build & Design
The HX200 "mini DSLR" configuration features a composite body with a faintly rough, satin-like finish, prominent handgrip on the right front and an elongated bulge on the camera top housing the viewfinder, built-in flash, and stereo microphones. The camera is made in Japan and materials, fit and finish seem appropriate for the price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
While the composite portions of the camera body are a bit slippery despite the surface texture, the handgrip is finished in a fairly tacky rubberized material that wraps around the front of the grip and into the well between the grip and lens barrel; in combination with a nicely shaped modest bulge near the thumb rest this provides a very secure-feeling one hand hold on the camera. While there is good clearance for the fingers between the handgrip and lens barrel, my right forefinger's middle pad fell naturally to the shutter button - a conscious effort was required to pull the finger back so the fingertip triggered the shutter.
Controls are primarily clustered atop the right side of the camera and at the right rear of the body with the exception of the zoom/focus switch which leads a lonely existence on the left side of the lens barrel. Focus and custom buttons along with the shutter button and zoom lever are located atop the handgrip; finder/LCD button and on/off buttons share space with the mode dial atop the right side of the camera body. The left and center of the camera back is dominated by the 3.0-inch LCD monitor with playback, video capture buttons and a "jog dial" control arrayed across the top right rear. The menu button, a control button incorporating directional toggles for certain functions and an in-camera guide/delete button are arrayed vertically on the right rear, adjacent to the monitor.
Let's take a closer look at the in-camera guide button. The user's manual provided by Sony with the HX200 is a fairly bare-bones document. You can download a user's manual on Sony's website but it turns out to be the identical one provided by the company with the camera. When I did the first look review on the HX200 I mentioned the manual didn't even advise how to change ISO. Turns out I was wrong – on page 24 of the manual the procedure is discussed in the section on the "jog dial". Even so, the manual is short on information on shooting modes and other special features included in the HX200. Here's where the in-camera guide button earns its pay. Say you're out shooting with your HX200 and a question comes into your mind about some feature or procedure with the camera. Pressing the in-camera guide button brings up the guide screen (below right) which displays six menu options: shoot/playback guide, icon guide, troubleshooting, operation guide, keyword and history.
Scrolling down to keyword and selecting it produces the following screen (below left), and scrolling over to "C" and selecting it provides the first page of the screen dealing with topics beginning with the letter “C”. You can then scroll down to view the entire selection of “C” topics.
I think the user's manual provided with the HX200 is lacking in details, particularly for a camera whose audience may include a goodly portion of relatively novice users or folks moving into their first compact digital that offers manual controls. In the absence of a more all-encompassing printed manual, the in-camera guide feature is probably the next best thing, although it invites the possibility of excessive battery use for information gathering that will be unavailable for image or video capture. The good news is you've always got the in-camera guide with you as long as you have the camera and sufficient battery power.
Menus and Modes
Once you're up and shooting with the HX200, pushing the menu button inserts a column of feature icons on the left side of the screen - the number and type of icons may vary depending on the shooting mode, but scrolling to each icon provides a short description of its purpose, making the camera fairly intuitive at this point. Here's a second shooting screen.
Pushing the menu button displays various shooting settings along the left side of the monitor – here are a couple variations.
Scrolling to the bottom of the list of displayed icons we come to an unusual icon, what appears to be a suitcase or perhaps a cosmetics bag. You can see the explanation provided for the icon is that it permits entry to a menu screen permitting the setting of sounds, time settings, etc. Selecting this icon produces the following screen, which produces access to a three-page shooting settings menu, a five-page main settings menu, a two-page memory card tool menu and a two-page clock settings menu.
Available settings within these menus may vary depending on the actual shooting mode. And speaking of shooting modes, here they are:
One interesting characteristic is that when shooting still images in P, A, S, or M modes with ISO sensitivity set above 3200 the HX200 fires a burst and then combines the images into a single capture, much like the superior auto mode. At ISO 3200 or below the camera takes a single image or shoots in continuous mode depending on your selection.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the HX200 has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for five levels of brightness. More significantly, the monitor is articulable and this range of motion can be a big plus in bright outdoor shooting conditions. The monitor itself swings out on an arm about 45° from the camera back with the monitor remaining parallel to the camera body; from this point the monitor can rotate around its long axis a bit over 90° upward, which allows it to function as a waist-level viewfinder. The monitor can also rotate downward about 45° from parallel, which is handy if you need to hold the camera overhead to try and shoot over obstructions. The monitor measured 442 nits peak brightness and produced a 1004:1 contrast ratio in our studio testing; peak brightness is a bit under the 500 nit threshold that typically defines better-performing monitors in bright outdoor conditions while the contrast ratio is well over the 500:1 threshold for that figure.
My experience with monitors since we’ve begun taking these measurements is that a high contrast ratio seems to offset a somewhat low peak brightness level and the HX200 is no exception. The monitor is pretty good outdoors and the ability to articulate is a big plus, but the HX200 screen could still be difficult to use in certain bright conditions. This problem can be exacerbated somewhat by the existence of the viewfinder – if the user is prone to switch between the monitor and the viewfinder, the monitor can become smudged by contact with the user's face, compromising even further its functionality in bright light. Area of coverage for the monitor is not specified by Sony, but appears to be approximately 100%.
The optical viewfinder has an approximately 201,000 dot composition and features diopter adjustment to accommodate varying degrees of eyesight. This diopter adjustment features notched stops and proved just a bit coarse for my particular eyesight - the two notched settings that provided the sharpest image each seemed to be just a hair off tack sharp, with an un-notched setting somewhere in between looking ideal. The good news here is that if you need a setting between two of the notched stops once you get the viewfinder dialed in the diopter sits flush against the viewfinder body and is not easy to dislodge from the setting you have selected. The viewfinder is modestly bright in dim conditions but is a welcome addition in bright outdoor light. Area of coverage is likewise not specified for the viewfinder but also appears to be approximately 100%.
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