Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot HX30V Review

Sony's HX30V performs well, but there are better options out there for the price.

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Introduction

The Sony Cyber-shot HX30V is a compact extended zoom camera with an 18.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor. It follows the same formula as previous compact HX-series cameras, fitting a long zoom lens into a compact body. That combination positions the camera in the crowded “super zoom” segment of the market, competing against heavy-hitters from nearly every major camera manufacturer.

The HX30V houses a full 20x optical zoom, yet remains thin enough to easily fit into a jacket pocket. It also includes built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, 10fps continuous shooting, and full 1080/60P video recording. The Sony HX30V is available in black only, at an MSRP of $419.99, though its street price is currently around $50 less than that.

Design & Usability

The Sony HX30V offers a hefty grip, a nice menu system, and some helpful hardware.

If the base menus overwhelm, try the simplified "Easy Mode," which uses enlarged text for easy operation.

For hardware, a 20x optical zoom lens is coupled with a standard 18.2-megapixel Exmor R Sony sensor. A 921k-dot, 3-inch “Xtra Fine” LCD display serves as the main interface, while also acting as a viewfinder. The screen, like most LCDs, can get washed out in the daylight, but the camera's five levels of brightness help. Also, a built-in, pop-up flash unit with a guide number of approximately 7.1 meters allows auto flash, fill-flash, slow synchro mode, or else it can be turned off.

Features

The HX30V, like many recently-released Sony compacts, comes loaded with a number of impressive tricks and in-camera options.

Sony’s iSweep panorama is perhaps the most impressive thing that point-and-shoots can do these days, though it feels a bit old hat since so many Sony cameras offer it these days. Users will also enjoy creative control, easy mode, several scene modes, multi-shot noise reduction, HDR shooting, and superior auto modes—great treats for a beginner. Add to that the camera’s compact size and impressive 20x zoom and you have a very feature-rich little camera.

The HX30V’s WiFi works on occasion, but range and transfer speeds are not the best.

The HX30V’s inclusion of Wi-Fi and GPS are only partially gimmicks, as they occasionally add quite a bit to the experience. Wi-Fi in cameras has come a long way since it was first introduced, but it’s still got a long road ahead. The HX30V’s WiFi works on occasion, but range and transfer speeds are not the best by any means. GPS isn't quite there yet either. The HX30V’s GPS options sound nice, but in practice, we rarely got a strong enough signal to make it worth while.

As for more traditional features, the HX30V includes just a small selection of color modes and some picture effects as well. Color modes number in five: standard, real, vivid, sepia, and monochrome. Picture effects are a bit more numbered, with nine options that cover everything from miniature, to toy camera, to pop color and beyond. These modes mostly resemble filters from programs like Photoshop, and only a couple of them may be added post-capture.

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Performance

The HX30V tested with accurate colors, acceptable sharpness, and decent noise reduction.

Additionally, we found that the HX30V offered only fair sharpness throughout its zoom range. Its lens is designed more towards expansive reach than edge-to-edge sharpness. In our lab, we found that the camera produced sharper images toward the center, with sharpness falling off considerably toward the edges.

Conclusion

The HX30V doesn’t lag behind the competition, but it doesn’t do much to rise above its peers, either.

The compact camera market has been characterized as a bit of a sinking ship in the past couple years, under siege by smartphone cameras on one side and entry-level mirrorless models on the other. But the truth of the matter is that there’s still plenty of innovation in this space, especially with regard to the insanely long optical zoom ratios crammed into tiny camera bodies these days.

The HX30V offers very sharp 1080/60p video that renders motion beautifully.

While the “super zoom” category got its start with 7x or 10x optical zoom cameras, the Sony HX30V sports a borderline-ridiculous 20x optical zoom. With an easy-to-grip body that will easily slip into a jacket pocket and a backside-illuminated 18.3-megapixel image sensor, the $419.99 ($375 street price) HX30V presents a potent combination of features, hardware, and design. This camera's colors were accurate, and its automatic white balance system worked well under a wide variety of lighting conditions. The HX30V struggled with sharpness tests, especially the further it zooms, but it bounces back again with excellent bright-light video quality—very sharp 1080/60p video that renders motion beautifully.

We found the camera much more frustrating in the real world, however. The menu system is designed with simplicity in mind, but it strays too far in that direction. The “Easy” mode is certainly a boon to novices, but enthusiasts will be frustrated by the hamstrung manual controls.

While the HX30V is a solid camera, with adequate still image quality and excellent video (in good light), it can't stand the heat from competition. Rivals like the Canon SX260 HS are going for around $100 cheaper, and that makes the HX30V a considerably harder sell.

Science Introduction

The Sony Cyber-shot HX30V (MSRP $369) is a decent performer for its price, boasting very accurate colors, sensibly applied noise reduction software, and decent sharpness results, all while avoiding the over-processing that typically saddles consumer point-and-shoots.

Color Accuracy

The Sony PowerShot HX30V tested with surprisingly accurate color adherence.

The Sony HX30V did very well on our color accuracy test, producing a 24-patch ColorChecker chart with an average color error of just 1.87 in the “real” mode. That’s a phenomenal result, and it’s largely because Sony has tuned the camera to produce images with accurate saturation, instead of favoring the vibrant (often inaccurate) colors that their other cameras tend to produce.

The HX30V’s other color modes did fairly well too, though they pushed color saturation considerably. The standard color mode wound up with an average color error of 2.88, due to a saturation percentage of roughly 119% of the ideal. The vivid mode, as you’d expect, pushed saturation even further, to 128%, with color error jumping to 3.89.

White Balance

The Sony HX30V produced excellent white balance results as well, with accurate shots recorded using both the automatic and custom white balance sections.

The automatic white balance on the HX30V was able to accurately diagnose the lighting temperature under lab conditions mimicking both daylight and compact white fluorescent lighting. We noted a color error of less than 75 kelvins in daylight and around 200 kelvins under fluorescent lighting. Both are excellent results, as 200 kelvins and under is barely perceptible in the final image.

Most automatic white balance systems don’t have the range to cover the warm light produced by incandescent bulbs.

Tungsten lighting was another story, as the HX30V was off by more than 1700 kelvins when shooting with the automatic white balance. This is normal, as most automatic white balance systems don’t have the range to cover the warm light produced by incandescent bulbs like those found in most homes. Still, most cameras are off by more than 2000 kelvins under these conditions, so the HX30V still does well.

Noise Reduction & Sharpness

Noise wasn’t a problem for the camera, largely thanks to a heavy dose of software-based noise reduction, but sharpness proved to be an unpleasant issue.

The Sony HX30V includes an ISO range of 100-3200, with options for multi-shot noise reduction unlocking ISO settings of 6400 and 12800. The camera also offers noise reduction, but it can not be turned off and seems to kick in right at the early ISO settings.

We found that noise levels at ISO 100 were normal at around 0.83%, rising to 0.88% and 1.1% at ISO 200 and 400. At ISO 800 noise rose to just 1.15% before jumping to 1.73% at ISO 1600. At the maximum native ISO noise was kept to just 1.97%. At ISO 3200 and 6400, multi-shot noise reduction kicked in, resulting in noise percentages of 0.88% and 0.93%, respectively.

Then, throughout the zoom range, sharpness was just fair, since the lens is designed more for range than for edge-to-edge sharpness. Images were sharp toward the center and considerably softer toward the edges. Sharpness also fell off dramatically as the zoom increased, since this forces the maximum aperture to close down from f/3.2 to f/5.8. On top of this, there was a lack of sharpness enhancement by default. While we frown on cameras that over-sharpen their images, but a little bit can actually enhance image quality.

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