The DSC-HX1 is a relatively compact camera for an ultrazoom; although the lens adds a lot of bulk to the camera, the body itself is pretty thin, and the camera weights in at just 1.8 ounces. But it is not small by any stretch of the imagination; the body and lens combo is just under 5 inches deep, so it won't fit into a bag or pocket.
The main feature on the front of the camera is the lens. Above this is the bump that the flash calls home, with the AF illuminator to the left of this. Atop the raised ridge of the hand grip is the combined shutter and zoom control.
Again, the back is dominated by one single feature; the 3-inch LCD screen. This screen is on a pivoting arm that allows it to tilt 90 degrees up or down, but, unlike the Canon SX1, you can't rotate the screen around to protect it when not in use. However, the screen does have a thick plastic coating on it that should protect it from knocks and damage. To the left of the screen are (from the top down) a control dial, the menu button, the 4-way control and a single button for deleting images. To the right of the viewfinder are two buttons for playback mode and enabling the smile detection, where the camera will only take a photo when it detects that the subject is smiling.
The left side of the camera body is the home of the ports, both of which are under rubber covers that keep dust and grunge out. The top port is a power port, while the bottom is a multi-purpose port that provides video output (both digital and analog) and the USB connection. A single cable provides the analog video and USB connection, while an adapter that turns this multi-purpose port into a HDMI port is also included.
The only major feature on the right side of the camera is the neck strap loop.
There are a number of features on the top of the camera. From the left we have the button that switches between the viewfinder and the LCD screen, the microphone just below the flash, the on/off button, the mode dial and buttons that control the focus mode and burst mode right below the shutter button.
The bottom is the home to the cover over the battery and memory card ports, plus the tripod socket.
The HX1 includes an electronic viewfinder that shows the same image as the LCD, which shows the entire captured image. But like the LCD screen, the viewfinder is a 4:3 aspect ratio screen, so you get big black bars along the top and bottom when shooting high definition video. This isn't helped by the fact that the viewfinder is rather small; it looks like a small TV viewed from a distance.
The LCD screen is a 3-inch model with 230,000 pixels that produces bright, clear images. The screen is on an articulated arm that allows it to rotate 90 degrees up and down, so you can shoot from above or below. It can't, however, rotate the screen around the camera body or allow you to fold it flat against the camera body, which the similar screen on the Canon SX1 can do.
The flash on the HX1 pops up from the top of the camera body when required. The flash is on the small side, but Sony claims that it has a range of 30 feet with the camera in auto ISO mode. This seems a little optimistic to us, but we'll reserve judgment until we can get the camera into the labs for proper testing.
The lens of the HX1 is a sizable one in both physical and zoom terms; it's a 20X zoom that has a focal length of 28mm to 560mm. That's a decent zoom length, but we wish it was a bit wider; 28mm is not enough to get a large group into shot. The lens also has a decent aperture range, starting at a very decent f/2.8 and going up to f/8.0.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs
Sony put all of the camera's outputs into a single location; the multi purpose port on the left side of the camera body provides both analog and digital video outputs, plus a USB connection. The analog and USB connections come from a single included cable, and an adapter that turns the multi purpose port into a HDMI output is also included.
The HX1 is powered by a small Lithium Ion battery that hold 9.6 Ah of charge. Sony provides a battery life figure of around 390 images or 195 minutes of use, which is about average for cameras of this type. We'll have to wait until we get the camera into the lab before we can evaluate this claim.
The HX1 stores both still images and video on Memory Stick Duo cards, with a maximum capacity of 16GB for the pro versions of the card. Some other Sony cameras have added a second memory card slot that supports CompactFlash memory cards, but the HX1 sticks with Memory Stick.
Sweep Panorama - Many cameras include panorama features, but the HX1 includes a new approach on this; the camera can capture and process a panorama in one pass. To create a panorama, you set the camera to panorama mode, press the shutter and then pan the camera. The direction of pan can be set in the menu; you can go left to right, right to left or up to down or down to up. As you pan the camera, it takes a series of exposures and stitches them together, creating the panorama file. In our brief tests, we found that this feature worked well in good lighting; we were able to create panoramas quickly that had few obvious joins or image glitches. It wasn't so good in low light, though; the results there were somewhat blurry.
Handheld Twilight - Another interesting feature is Handheld Twilight, where the camera tries to improve the quality of images in low light by taking a series of 6 images and combining them together to form the final image. The idea is that 6 underexposed images will look better than a single image created with a long shutter speed. The camera takes all of the images, then scans and combines them. If it detects any movement or other blurring in any of the images, it doesn't use this portion of the image. Again, we found in the limited testing that we were able to do at the PMA show that this new feature did a decent job; images taken with it enabled looked much better than images taken in the normal low light mode.
*Anti-motion Blur - *This feature takes a similar approach to the Handheld Twightlight, but for moving subjects. With this selected, the camera takes 6 images quickly, and layers them together to create the sharpest image, eliminating the sections of the frame that are blurry.
Design & Appearance
The HX1 is pretty compact for an ultrazoom, and at 1.8 ounces, it's not particularly heavy. But it's certainly no compact; the big lens requires a bulky case that won't fit into a pocket. But Sony seems to have done a good job of minimizing the dimensions where they can, and the HX1 has a clean, attractive design overall.
Size & Handling
The large hand grip on the right side of the camera body makes for an easy grip; you aren't likely to have it slip from your fingers. The shutter button falls under the index finger, and it is easy to move this finger to use the zoom control that is around the shutter. The control wheel on the back falls under the thumb, but the camera has a slight tendency to slip when you use it.
Sony has adopted the same cross-bar menu system that many of their products use on the HX1; you move up and down with the 4-way control to choose which menu item to change, then left and right to choose the option within that. This does involve a fair amount of button mashing to get to some options, but Sony did do a decent job of choosing which options show up where: if you put the HX1 into the easy mode, for instance, there are only two menu options; image size and flash. The 4-way control also doubles as a shortcut for display settings, focus, flash and self timer, so you ca get to those controls quickly.
Ease of Use
The controls and menus of the HX1 do take some getting used to, but they are relatively straightforward when you get familiar with the structure.
Spin the dial to Easy, and the camera goes into full auto mode, where the only options that the user can control are the image size and flash. We found this mode to be very straightforward to use; anyone who is intimidated by the menu options in the other modes will feel at home here.
The HX1 shoots high definition movies, recording 30 frames per second of video at a maximum resolution of 1440 x 1080. That's a little bit lower than the Canon SX1, which shoots at Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. Whether this matters or not is another question; we doubt that most users will notice the difference between the two resolutions. Otherwise , the video features of the two Ultrazoom cameras look pretty similar; they both record the video to H.264 format, which is relatively easy to edit, and also offer standard definition modes. We'll have to wait to get both cameras in the lab to judge the quality of the videos that both cameras take, but they both look good ont eh short samples we were able to record at the PMA show.
The HX1 shoots an impressive 10 frames a second in a burst of 10 images, thanks to the Bionz processing chip in the camera. However, this should be used sparingly, as the camera than takes an additional 5-6 seconds to write the images out to the memory card, during which time you can't take any more pictures or do anything else. So, this feature requires some finesse in picking the right moment to shoot. Additional options for 5 and 2 frames a second are also available if required.
A decent selection of controls for playing back images are available; slideshows can be created, and some basic image editing tools are on offer. You can, for instance, trim, remove red eye, sharpen, add soft focus and do some color tweaking. We can't quite see why you would want to, but you can also add a fish-eye lens effect or make unhappy people smile with the happy faces filter. We'd suggest that you instead focus on making the subjects really smile, as the effect is likely to only appeal to the Batman's nemesis, the Joker.
Custom Image Presets
The SCN spot on the mode dial offers access to a decent selection of scene modes, including high sensitivity, portrait, advanced sports shooting, landscape, twilight portrait, twilight, gourmet, beach, snow and fireworks. That's a shorter list than some cameras, but is enough to cover most eventualities. The additional modes on the mode dial include the standard shutter, aperture and program modes, plus a manual control mode.
A full manual control mode is available on the mode dial; in this mode, the control wheel sets the shutter speed and the aperture. To switch between the two, you push the wheel in. It's not as simple or quick as having two control wheels, but it's a decent compromise that won't take too long to get used to.
Several focus control modes are available by using the focus button next to the shutter; a full auto mode that uses the entire frame, a center AF mode that focuses just on the center of the frame, a flexible spot mode (where the user can set the spot to focus on) and two manual modes. In the semi-manual mode, the user sets the approximate range and the camera works from there, while the full manual mode is completely under the user's control.
The ISO range of the HX1 is from 125 up to 3200, plus an Auto mode.
The standard set of white balance controls are present on the HX1: a full auto mode, plus presets for daylight, cloudy, 3 fluorescent presets, flash and a custom setting.
Three options are offered for metering; multi, center weighted and spot. That's a pretty standard selection.
The shutter speed of the HX1 ranges from 2 seconds to 1/4000 of a second in auto mode, but this can be expanded to 30 seconds in manual mode.
The built-in lens of the HX1 has a very decent aperture range: from f/2.8 up to f/8. This is a wide range for an ultrazoom, and it should provide plenty of flexibility for controlling depth of field.
Sony's own SteadyShot stabilization is built into the camera, where one of the lens elements moves to compensate for handshake.
Picture Quality & Size Options
A decent selection of image size options are on offer, from the maximum of 9 megapixels down to a 2-megapixel size. There are no options for image quality, though, and no way to save RAW images.
Images can be processed after shooting in a number of ways, to turn the black and white or sepia, or even to highlight a particular color.
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