Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V ultrazoom is but one of five new "H" series models announced by Sony on February 27 which became available on the market in March. In addition to the entry-level H90 model, there are also HX10, HX20, and HX30 models along with the HX200V that is the subject of this review. While the H90 carries a 16.1 megapixel sensor, the other four models all share an 18.2 megapixel “Exmor R” CMOS sensor and advanced BIONZ processor that, among other things, is said to produce "blazingly fast" autofocus acquisition times in both good and dim lighting conditions. If you're thinking to yourself that 18.2 megapixels in a compact digital point-and-shoot sounds like a lot, you'd be right - Sony is touting these four models as possessing "the highest resolution sensor currently offered in the mainstream point-and-shoot market."
The HX10 features a 16x optical zoom while the HX20 and 30 both carry 20x versions; these three cameras all resemble the pretty much standard compact digital layout of a rectangular, box-of- cigarettes-sized body with a slightly protruding lens base at the front of the camera. The subject of this first look, the HX200, packs a 30x optical zoom in the "mini DSLR" configuration that seems popular with super zooms exceeding 20x.
That 30x zoom on the HX200 is a Carl Zeiss design, covers the 29 to 870mm focal range (in 35mm equivalents) and features maximum apertures of f/2.8 and f/5.6 at wide-angle and telephoto, respectively. Here's a look at both ends of that zoom.
Wide angle, 29mm
And here's a look at one of our local surfers at telephoto along with another surfer shot with my Nikon D300S and 600mm telephoto (900mm in 35mm equivalent). Tripod and JPEG fine processing were used in both cases with in-camera sharpening maxed in both cameras; contrast maxed in the Sony and increased one step in the Nikon.
There's probably not much question in your mind which is which (and we won't keep you guessing - the top image is from the HX200V), but keep in mind that the Sony goes for $480 while the D300S is an $1800 body and that fast 600mm will set you back a little over $10,000. Frankly, I was very impressed with the image quality that the HX200 produced shooting bursts of the surfers - it's probably the best continuous shooting image quality I've seen out of an ultrazoom.
The camera has an electronic viewfinder and built-in flash, offers automatic and scene shooting modes in addition to full manual controls, along with Sony's excellent panorama shooting feature. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor has a 921,000 dot composition and articulates through a range of motion. Full 1080 HD video is available via one touch shooting.
The camera comes with a basic user's manual that is pretty basic, and Sony requires you to go to their website to download a complete user's manual. Initially I found some menus and controls highly intuitive, while other aspects of camera operation completely eluded me. Case in point: after switching to aperture priority I attempted to locate the ISO setting control. Couldn't find one on either the camera exterior or in the various menus, and the basic user's manual was of no help. Before giving up and resorting to downloading the complete manual, I noticed that while sifting through various menus there is an in-camera guide that offers a "keyword" menu with alphabetical selections of various features and functions; looking up "ISO" provided the information I needed to set ISO manually. Kind of a nice feature to have until you get the hang of the camera, since the basic user’s manual doesn't cover a lot of ground with regards to the operations of the HX200.
Auto focus acquisition is as advertised, so far – quick in good conditions, and while a bit slower in dim light still quite quick. Shutter lag seems to be fairly quick as well and thus far the camera has proved to be pleasant to shoot, focusing quickly and taking the shot when you press the shutter. I shot two short clips of video and image quality is very good on both. Still image quality on non-moving subjects has been impressive so far.
When I first heard of the 18.2 megapixels on this camera my initial reaction was to look up the specifications for the sensor size – it proved to be a 1/2.3 inch, a decidedly point-and-shoot size carrying a more DSLR-like resolution. But upon reading the fine print, it turns out this sensor is one of the backside illumination variety which move circuitry from the sensor face to its back, providing an unimpeded path for light to the pixels on the sensor surface. This sensor design combined with the latest generation processing technology gives rise to the hope that Sony isn't asking too much from their Exmor R sensor.
We've barely begun to scratch the surface with the HX200V review and giving ISO performance a good, hard look will be part of the process. Thus far, under fairly benign conditions the HX200V has acquitted itself well – our complete review will be along in a couple weeks and tell us if good first impressions have become lasting ones.
Additional Sample Images