Sony CyberShot HX50V Digital Camera Review
A not-exactly pocketable point-and-shoot with a huge zoom.
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Though far more conventional, the Sony CyberShot HX50V ($449.99) is a mid-range travel zoom with a 20.4MP sensor and 30x zoom ratio—nothing to dismiss lightly. This particular camera has the performance to back the price, and in a category that typically doesn't deliver the goods for anything under $700.
Design & Handling
I can't believe it's not magnesium!
Despite carrying a more affordable pricetag, that expensive-feeling case of the HX50V isn't actually metal. It's a running theme with the camera: virtually nothing on this model feels cheap or easily breakable. The HX50V may have heft—it has a certain bulk that is easier to latch onto with your hands—but it isn't so massive as to cause fatigue. Unfortunately, you won't be able to pocket this thing, unless you still wear massive jeans from the late 90's.
Those of you familiar with modern point-and-shoots will find few surprises, though the PASM shooting modes are a welcome feature in conjunction with the intelligent auto modes. To the right of the mode dial is a standalone exposure compensation dial which comes in handy when you're stuck in situations that don't lend themselves well to proper exposure—shooting a shiny object or something with a very bright background, for example.
Once in your hand, your thumb will naturally fall on the rear grip, obscuring many of the finer controls of the camera on the back. Supporting the body of the camera with your left hand will allow you to free your thumb of its comfortably-contoured prison and allow it to operate the very solid buttons. However, you may have some issues holding it with both hands if you plan on using the flash anytime soon.
Though there's no viewfinder on the camera, you'll quickly warm up to the 921k-dot LCD. The available informational display options are very helpful as well—you can add things like histograms, a level, or guidelines to assist you in framing your shots. It may take you a while to get used to the menu system (especially if you're coming from another brand of camera), but ultimately Sony's option layout is far from being Byzantine or tough to decipher.
A 30x zoom in what?
If the HX50V is a stage, the star of the show is the 30x zoom lens (24-720mm equivalent) with a 20.4MP CMOS sensor behind it. Though the concept of an extended zoom camera is often fraught with performance and handling issues, the HX50V allows you to zoom to your heart's content without a second thought. Really, the only "broken window" is the zoom control slider—it's very noticeably the cheapest-feeling component of the camera.
Though the HX50V doesn't exactly have all the premium options, it's a no-nonsense camera: most of the features and settings are geared towards picture-taking and only that. Considering this camera falls smack-dab in the middle of Sony's point-and-shoot lineup, that's really okay—NFC connectivity and instant sharing are a plus, but bells and whistles aren't necessary for everyone.
Functional options are a different story, however. Sony's HX50V comes loaded with items like a multi-interface shoe to make use of external flash, electronic viewfinder, or microphone if you want to squeeze more out of your camera. Though I've already mentioned it, the standalone exposure compensation dial is hard not to gush about—usually in order to adjust this on a point-and-shoot you have to dig through the menu, but the HX50V does away with that frustration with a very solid-feeling dial.
Speaking of juicing everything you can out of a piece of equipment, the rechargeable NP-BX1 battery is CIPA rated for 400 shots, so you won't be left high and dry on a trip out. Intrepid explorers may want to keep a spare battery on hand, but a full charge should last you for most of the day.
Additionally, the HX50V packs a few in-camera editing options like red-eye reduction, but it also has some more artistic filters like watercolor and illustration effects. Even if you're not normally a fan of such things, it's always better to have features you don't use than want for features you don't have.
I'd buy that for a dollar
Though it's not a RX100II, Sony's HX50V is no slouch when it comes to performance. In fact, we were honestly surprised by how sharp its shots were—especially considering that this is an area extended-zoom cameras typically struggle with. Much of this is due to the camera's software, but results are results—especially if you're going to be using this for sharing photos of friends and family on the web.
Where the HX50V is a little uninspiring is color accuracy. We just could not coax out a low level of color error—even in the most-accurate standard mode, you can expect a somewhat small level of color variance. That's not surprising, though—Sony intentionally oversaturates some colors to make more vivid photos—but pros looking for a casual camera may want to shell out a little extra for a higher model if super-accurate color performance is a priority.
Shooting with a higher ISO settings is a recipe for added noise. Not to worry though, as the camera really keeps a lid on it at lower ISO settings. However, shooting at low ISO means a greater need for more ambient light, and that limited range of usable sensitivity hints at a problem we found in the lab: poor low-light performance.
Despite this camera's impressive scores with sharpness and noise when there's an ample amount of ambient light, it has a very tough time with low-light video and stills. For this reason, this camera will perform much better on vacation taking scenic photos than it will at parties or other nighttime events. If the bulk wasn't enough of an issue to deter you from grabbing the HX50V for a night out, let the lackluster low-light performance convince you.
Now that smartphones are starting to pull the rug out from under the low end of the point-and-shoot market, camera companies have to make a strong argument for spending hundreds of dollars more on their point and shoot cameras. To that end, Sony has debuted some interesting consumer options this year, and the HX50V belongs in that impressive lineup—it's a good camera.
For all the camera's faults, it's almost unheard-of to find such a monster zoom on such a tiny camera. To have it work as well as it does is no small feat, and definitely worthy of your attention if you're the type of person that likes traveling or doesn't want to deal with a DSLR-sized camera to get that huge zoom ratio. Icing the cake is the fact that where most extended zooms have sharpness issues, the HX50V has none. However, that huge zoom comes at the cost of poor low-light performance, so beware.
That's not to say that this camera doesn't have its shortcomings—it will leave you frustrated if you shoot a lot of low-light stills or video. However, these pitfalls are kept to a minimum, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more complete point-and-shoot for the money. The HX50V will give you lots of sharp, high-quality 4 x 6 prints, some good 8 x 10s or facebook photos. If you need something more (and you're willing to spend to get it), you may look to the Sony RX100II or the older RX100 if you want to save some money on the upgrade.
If you're willing to sacrifice a little bit of zoom to knock $100 off the price, you might want to check out the Nikon S9500. If you want a longer zoom, you're going to have to ditch the compact frame offered by cameras like the HX50V and look to something more like the much-larger Canon SX50 HS.
By the Numbers
So this camera managed to score well, but how did it do that? Like any camera, Sony's HX50V has impressive points, not-so-impressive points, and some problems that will leave you scratching your head. Overall though, it does a great job for its price range, and here's the science to prove it.
A huge zoom ratio is typically a sign that your photos are going to have issues like fringing or chromatic aberration, but the HX50V manages to keep this in check. That's a fairly impressive feat even if it's mostly due to the software—despite the fact that this result isn't reached by glass alone, the HX50V's picture quality should serve your purposes for share-worthy snaps.
Now down to brass tacks—in our labs we recorded less than 1 pixel of chromatic aberration in each zone measured with the exception of one, but that was such a tiny error it's almost not worth mentioning. You won't notice it. Sharpness too neared our maximum score, though much of that is the camera using an algorithm to artificially enhance edges, resulting in some minor under/overshoot here and there.
Possibly the best result of the bunch here is the sub 0.1% distortion we recorded in most zones, average distortion peaking at worst .14% with the wide focal length. If you're looking for distortion-free snaps, the HX50V is your camera.
Despite the HX50V's decent sharpness results, the camera isn't perfect. Recording a chroma error of ∆C00 3.09, your shots will have some shifted colors in them, especially if your subject has a lot of red colors in it. We noticed that in the most accurate color mode (Standard), reds were wildly oversaturated, bringing the overall average chroma error up considerably.
If you decide to switch off to either the vivid or real color modes, you can expect color performance to change accordingly. Real color mode has a tendency to undersaturate colors on the whole while boosting chroma error, while vivid pushes colors in the opposite direction—oversaturating all colors.
If this camera has an Achilles heel, it's low light performance. Whether or not it's the sensor or the camera's optics doesn't really matter, the truth of it is that this camera struggles with dimly-lit environments both for taking video and still images.
First off, ramping up the ISO speed will drastically rip down the quality of your photos—adding noise and scrubbing detail from your snaps. Low-ISO shots will be more than fine, but in order to use those settings you really need to have an ample source of light. If you don't, expect to lose quite a bit of detail.
For video, we noticed that the camera struggled with low-light sensitivity, requiring at bare minimum 19lux to maintain a broadcast-quality image at 50 IDE. At 60 lux, it could only resolve 375lp/ph horizontally and 425 lp/ph vertically. If you want a camera for lots of low-light situations, the HX50V lags behind many other point-and-shoots in this regard.
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