Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10V Review

We had fun shooting with the HX10V, but it just doesn't do much to outshine its predecessor, the HX9V.

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Introduction

The Cyber-shot HX9V stands as our best travel zoom camera of 2011, so when Sony’s new HX10V arrived in the office last week, we couldn’t wait to dive in and test it out.

This iteration obviously bears the same “V” designation as its predecessor, which signifies GPS capability. Zoom ratio still maxes out at a respectable 16x, but megapixel count has been upped to 18.2. Shooting with this camera was really enjoyable and our hopes were high, but lab results weren't what we expected at all. Perhaps the HX10V isn't the blockbuster sequel we were hoping for after all.

Design & Usability

Sony didn't exactly give this Cyber-shot a 2012 makeover.

Few design changes have been made since the HX9V, save for the new motorized flash. The HX10V is held together by an attractive metal chassis, accented by a thick black band. Sony included some ergonomic features on the body, including a small thumb rest and a textured area for the right hand, but they're there for show and offer little in the way of actual grip. Luckily, the comfortable body shape picks up the slack. Overall construction is sturdy, but the lens barrel feels flimsy by comparison. Meanwhile, a new motorized flash emitter is a modern–if annoying–update, leaping up automatically whenever current settings require more illumination. The 921,000-dot LCD is excellent, with bright, vibrant colors and an extremely wide viewing angle, but this monitor is the only way to accurately frame shots since there is no viewfinder.

There are plenty of features built in to aid new photographers, like explanatory labels, two fully automatic shooting modes, and a detailed in-camera guide.

Once users familiarize themselves with some of the smaller, awkward buttons, there are plenty of features built in to aid new photographers, like explanatory labels, two fully automatic shooting modes, and a detailed in-camera guide with basic photography tips and navigation tips. The interface is divided into a quick menu for shooting, and a tab-based main menu for preferences and details. The readout is very legible and clear, responsiveness is quick, and although we do wish the quick menu was simpler, we had minimal trouble adjusting settings on the fly.

Features

The HX10V is speedy and full of the fun stuff too.

An extensive control suite and decent burst options make for a pleasant shooting experience. Full range PASM shooting isn't supported, but the inclusion of a full manual mode is a nice compromise. There are also dedicated modes for panorama, video, and 3D photography, as well as two fully automatic modes and Program auto. Picture effects are built right into the quick menu, with functions like HDR painting (which produces very ugly shots), HDR monochrome, the ever-popular miniature effect, to list a few. There are also 16 scene modes, with all the usual suspects, such as Pet and Fireworks. Interestingly, the background defocus mode gets its own stop on the mode dial, and we think this is a good idea, since that scene mode is among the most important. Aside from the basics like crop and resize, a few advanced in-camera editing features are available, like unsharp masking, which artificially sharpens and highlights detail.

Video capability is acceptable, certainly, but by no means the best.

A hefty selection of drive mode options are available, like quick burst mode, which we clocked at 10 frames per second for a maximum of 10 shots in a row. Those are good numbers for full resolution, however this does trigger a buffering stage, so be prepared for a bit of lag time. Bracket mode is available too, and there are no less than six self-timer settings, though none of the latter are customizable. Lastly, the HX10V offers video. It is acceptable, certainly, but by no means the best, outclassed in terms of both smoothness and sharpness.

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Performance

Overall, the HX10V's image quality is a major step backwards, and a big disappointment for us.

We were shocked by most of the image quality scores produced by this camera, especially color accuracy and noise reduction, both of which were significantly worse than on the previous model, the HX9V. We're not quite sure what happened here—maybe Sony is using a new sensor. But for whatever reason, image quality is the primary drawback of this camera.

At any ISO of over 3200 the camera will automatically shift into a mandatory four-shot burst mode, combining four frames to average out unwanted noise.

Color accuracy was pretty wretched. This camera had a notable tendency to oversaturate, and it took a step backward with regard to noise too, reporting scores that were worse than those on last year's model. Notably, this camera reaches a much higher ISO than most of its counterparts—ISO 12800—but be prepared for some very unorthodox behavior from this camera at any ISO of over 3200: the camera will automatically shift into a mandatory four-shot burst mode, combining four frames to average out unwanted noise. Next, regarding resolution, things look great at the center of the frame, but resolution drops off quickly on the borders. There's a hint of edge enhancement too, rendering cleaner edges at the expense of realism. Our advice: keep important subjects centered. Image stabilization has been improved, at least, with the new Action mode, and video capabilities are acceptable as well, though by no means the best.

Conclusion

Free Willy 2

We hate it when this happens! After a little over a week of shooting with the Sony HX10V, using all its systems and determining all it has to offer, we had a genuinely nice time with the camera. It isn't earth-shattering, or even outstanding, but the HX10V is a competent model that's fun to use, and it doesn't allow quirks or problems to bog down the everyday shooting experience.

Sadly, we can say with confidence that the HX10V's overall performance is inferior to the aging HX9V.

Yet the test scores just do not agree. Despite testing color accuracy over and over to be sure, the HX10V fared far worse than we expected. Noise reduction was the same story, despite the new composite image feature at high ISOs...not to mention the new high ISOs themselves. Sadly, we can say with confidence that the HX10V's overall performance is inferior to the aging HX9V. Nevertheless, contrary to our own scoring system, what we really loved about the HX10V was its ease of operation. It's speedy and pocketable, and we love the wide-angle viewing monitor. Of course, we wouldn't be very thorough reviewers if we didn't mention the enormous 16x lens, which will be very handy for those who need it. We don't, but if you prefer a long zoom, at least the HX10V's lens doesn't detract from image quality as badly as many models do.

No one was shocked when Free Willy 2 turned out to be worse than Free Willy... but in technology, this sort of thing just won't stand. Come on, Sony. Don't be a substandard sequel.

Science Introduction

Overall, image quality turned out to be a big disappointment for us. Testing revealed troubles in the areas of color, resolution, sharpness, and noise.

Color Accuracy

We couldn't believe how poorly this camera handled color, especially given the product line's track record.

We ran the test four times to be sure, but sadly in terms of color accuracy the HX10V takes a giant leap backward. The best error value this camera produced in our test was a whopping 4.03, an entire point behind the 3.00 average. Saturation also went way overboard, by about 14%. Thankfully about half of the most inaccurate shades aren't flesh tones, so many human subjects should still be rendered fairly naturally.

In rare situations the HX10V is rather n, but for the most part this huge lens cannot resolve the same detail that a less ambitious one would've. Resolution is best at the center of the frame, but sharpness quickly drops off as we near the edges. There's a hint of edge enhancement too, mandatory processing software that gives the illusion of cleaner edges at the expense of realism. Our advice for this and many similar cameras: keep important subjects centered.

Noise Reduction

Another step backward from the HX9V, but we like the new composite noise reduction technique

At ISO 6400 and 12800, the HX10V does something unorthodox. It activates a mandatory four-shot burst mode, then composites all four frames to average out unwanted noise. This makes for some very strange noise reduction behavior. The software smooths away noise gradually at the lowest ISOs, peaks at 3200, and then the composite technique kicks in. Noise rates plummet after that. Luminance noise makes up more than half of total noise in the average scene, so high ISO shots will appear more grainy than splotchy. Unfortunately total noise is on the high side throughout the ISO spectrum, so we're awarding only an average overall score.

Video

The HX10V is a capable, if average, video capture device.

Videos captured with the HX10V do not exhibit the smoothness we expected from 60 frame per second footage. Moving objects have a stutter to them that makes some videos look unnatural. At the same time, significant motion blur affects those same moving subjects, but at least the footage isn't subject to noticeable compression artifacting.

The HX10V resolved 650 LW/PH horizontally and 600 vertically in full resolution panning videos. That's better than some of the competition, however sharpness performance is outclassed by the Casio ZR100, and even the HX9V.

This camera records AVCHD video at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels at 60i. Data rate may be set to the 24 Mbps maximum for AVCHD, or brought down to 17 Mbps to conserve space. One final option records at a resolution of only 1440 x 1080, and kicks the data rate down to 9 Mbps. Autofocus is pretty proactive while a recording is in progress, and that's important since this camera's long lens can mean quick, drastic changes in subject distance. Manual focus is not supported.

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