Sony Cyber-shot HX9V Review
Sony is out for blood with their HX9V, a high performance travel zoom that aims to be the best camera in the category.
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Sony is out for blood with their HX9V, a relatively expensive, high performance travel zoom that aims to be nothing less than the best camera in the category.
Optical zoom has been upgraded to 16x, and it's likely Sony stuck with the same 16 megapixel sensor that powers their excellent HX100V. Admirably, the HX9V does not go to war armed with a smokescreen of bells and whistles, but rather with the assurance of fine images. We sent this device over to the lab to see if the performance could keep up with the claims, but an initial glance at the photos felt very promising.
Design & Usability
We have few complaints for the DSC-HX9V, which has very solid handling and design.
Effort has been invested into the physical handling of the DSC-HX9V, but the results are hit or miss. A raised and rubberized hand grip wraps around the right side of the front panel and half of the right panel, which would be great, but the raised portion is too skinny to comfortably grip. The movie button is situated in such a way as to allow accidental activation, and the on/off and custom buttons are flush with the body, making them difficult to press and easy to mistake for one another. Surrounding buttons, like the menu button and especially the playback button, have similar unfortunate drawbacks.
A tab-based main menu makes for a solid centerpiece, but a quick menu is also on hand for more immediate adjustment of essential shooting variables. The icons in this quick menu are too large though, which limits the number of options that can be visible at once, hindering navigation. Sony also awkwardly separated functions from their respective settings, such as the drive hotkey; this key selects a drive mode, but alterations to that mode are folded away in the menu. There are mere nitpicks, of course.
Features are comprehensive, but these by no means represent the full thrust of your dollar.
Thanks to solid construction, this camera feels as expensive as it is. The 16x optical zoom is among the most impressive we've seen from a camera in this class. A rich, 3-inch, 921,600-dot LCD touchscreen dominates the rear panel, protected with a layer of glare resistant plastic. The powerful 18-foot flash is fully motorized, extending and retracting automatically based on menu settings. We don't tend to talk batteries, but the included NP-BG1 rechargeable battery pack is rated at 300 still shots, and that's way above average for a camera of this size. Unfortunately, this same battery pack has a tendency to become stuck in its slot. Very stuck.
The DSC-HX9V offers some great auto modes, like settings that adjust to reduce noise and motion blur. We also get a custom setting called Memory Recall, a dedicated panorama mode, and a 3D shooting mode, amongst others. The HX9V has no mechanical manual controls, but a zoom lever surrounding the shutter release comes close. There are no shutter or aperture priority modes, but a full manual mode is on offer. Strangely, aperture cannot be adjusted in steps, and must be selected from either the widest or the narrowest setting in a given focal length. Also included are five color modes, and 15 scene modes offer the likes of Anti Motion Blur and Backlight Correction HDR, though some of these scenes are rather redundant. In-camera editing is efficient but modest, and a full-HD video mode is always standing by.
Above all, the HX9V is here to capture quality pictures.
Very few problems plague the HX9V's image quality. Some undesirable image noise can pollute shots captured with high ISO values, but the HX9V does a great job keeping this to a minimum overall. Also, though the lens tests well, some shots are qualitatively ugly. In simple terms, though images are sharp, some of those same images have unattractive edge enhancement that appears harsh and pixelated to the eye. Like many cameras with ambitious zoom ratios, the HX9V boasts excellent resolution while zoomed out, but detail is lost as focal length increases, and blue light distortion appears at these lengths as well—standard zoom troubles.
Generally though, image quality is just excellent. Color accuracy is well above average, rendering beautiful, lifelike pictures. The level of detail that this Sony captures is excellent too—the sort of detail usually seen only in higher-end cameras. ISO levels of 100 to 3200 are possible, with no extended or reduced resolution options available, and HD video is very reliable as well, though we wish color in this mode was more praiseworthy.
The DSC-HX9V is arguably the best travel zoom around, and a great value—"big-boned" price tag and all.
Iterating in subtle ways over the HX7V, Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V aims to be none other than the very best travel-zoom camera currently on the market. What we really appreciate about this model is that the company has dared to achieve this goal, not with flashy features and marketing ploy, but with pure image quality. Everyone can enjoy the extra features like GPS and in-camera editing, but let's celebrate this model for its real strength: capturing gorgeous photos.
The first thing you'll notice when shooting with the HX9V is its ability to render sharp, fine details. Surfaces like cracked asphalt or the bark of a tree leap out, creating a sense of presence that is usually reserved for more expensive models. Aiding this is the sensor's highly realistic representation of color, which reproduces subjects–especially human ones–in a candid manner. Operation is ideal too. Optical zoom, a key feature, is very precise, thanks to the zoom lever, and two levels of image stabilization don't just prevent blurry shots, but assist with framing as well. Advanced shooting features like burst mode and full manual control round out the package, and the menu interface is quite solid.
We'd say the camera's most significant drawback is its image reduction technique. True, the HX9V aced our noise test, but the smoothing software that cheated its way to this score also produces an angular, digitized effect. All compact cameras need noise reduction. Some of these reducers blur, others smudge, but the HX9V pixelates. Up close, combined with the camera's tendency to "halo" edges, this can create an ugly rendering. Mostly, we respect Sony's prioritization of image quality over fluff, and we regard their efforts as a resounding success. The DSC-HX9V is arguably the finest travel zoom on the market, and a great value too, even with its chubby price tag.
From color, to sharpness, to resolution, the DSC-HX9V is a formidable device. We were very impressed with image quality as a whole, and video performance as well. We only wish that correction software was a bit less pixelated and angular, and that color performance during video mode had held up better.
Artifacting rates are very low and the camera is honest about noise reduction.
Undesirable image noise can pollute shots captured with high ISO values, but the HX9V does a great job keeping this to a minimum. Visual artifacts make up only 0.49% of images shot at ISO 100, and that figure doesn't cross 1.00% until ISO 1600. We also appreciate Sony's honesty regarding software noise reduction, which smooths away noise at the expense of fine detail. When noise reduction is necessary, the HX9V displays an icon indicating what degree of smoothing will be used. There's no way to actually adjust this software, but at least the camera lets you know what's happening to your shots.
The story is very much the same under low light. In our 60 lux test, noise levels were only 5% worse and, like the fully lit test, noise reduction behaved in a controlled and even-keeled way. Noise increases linearly across the ISO spectrum, without the odd peaks and valleys that noise reduction can cause.
The lens tests well, but some shots are qualitatively ugly.
Like many cameras with ambitious zoom ratios, the HX9V boasts excellent resolution while zoomed out, but detail is lost as focal length increases. The camera is capable of resolving up to 2300 MTF50's at the widest angle, but this drops to about 1500 during telephoto shooting—a score that nonetheless outperforms competition.
All of the HX9V's resolution scores are equal or better than many competitors, but this comes at a price. Harsh haloing and edge enhancement sometimes make corners and geometry ugly and unappealing, even though test scores are high. Blue fringing is often present in shots captured at mid and telephoto zoom. This compounds with the camera's tendency to halo around areas of high contrast, sometimes creating unattractive, imprecise edges. But our lab tests can only measure detail, they can't distinguish gorgeous shots from ugly ones, so the HX9V earns a great score nonetheless.
Color accuracy in still mode is a force to be reckoned with, producing beautiful, lifelike results, but for video mode it's a different story.
The HX9V is a highly accurate camera, and this will make all photos more realistic and lifelike, especially shots with human subjects. Our color test revealed an error rating of only 2.42, with oversaturation of only 2.6%. Inaccuracies, when they occur, are spread evenly across the spectrum, though blues are a little further off than the rest.
Unfortunately though, the same does not hold during video mode. Color accuracy takes an absolute nosedive compared to still shooting. In our lab test, the HX9V's error value shot up to 8.16, a terrible score even compared to other cameras' video modes. Saturation, at least, is still dead on. We registered an average oversaturation of only 1.8%. This is a shame too, because the HD video performance was otherwise very competitive, capable of resolving 625 lw/ph of detail horizontally and 700 vertically.
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