Tech

Head to Head: Olympus SZ-31MR iHS vs. Sony Cyber-shot HX9V

Olympus' SZ-31 is priced for the high-end, but can it hold up to our highest rated travel zoom?

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Olympus' new SZ-31MR scored well in some, but not all, of our image quality lab tests, yet the camera's price tag suggests high-end ambition. To illustrate how this model's performance translates to real world value, we're pitting the SZ-31 against Sony's excellent HX9V, still our best scoring travel-zoom, even though it's a holdover from 2011.

To read our in-depth, full review of the Olympus SZ-31MR iHS, click here.

To read our in-depth, full review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, click here.

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Image Quality

The two cameras are evenly matched when it comes to color accuracy, and noise reduction is also very similar. In fact, not only were noise scores similar (though slightly in the HX9V's favor), qualitative characteristics were similar as well. Both cameras produce pixelation before blurriness, though both retain their color saturation pretty well into high ISOs.

The differences between the two don't become obvious until we look at sharpness. The SZ-31MR is a classic example of the travel-zoom trap, that is, sacrificing sharpness for more optical zoom. Olympus' strictly-average lens, though versatile, cannot handle 24x without losing sharpness and introducing heavy chromatic aberration. Sony's HX9V, on the other hand, is one of the very few cameras that manages to avoid this pitfall. The lens is very high quality, perhaps because optical zoom is "only" 16x. Resolution is notably crisper and chromatic aberration is almost completely absent.

Winner: Sony Cyber-shot HX9V

Design & User Experience

Both cameras feature hardware mode dials, yet only the HX9V has a full manual mode (though neither are equipped with shutter or aperture priority modes). Both models also use decent but flawed menu systems that could use an update. The SZ-31 has a touchscreen, which usually makes us cringe, but this implementation is used sparingly and doesn't frustrate.

Control layouts are similar, right down to less-than-ideal positioning of the video button. Overall handling is comparably cramped. Video performance is basically even, and burst-mode performance is the same. This is almost a pure tie in the end, though we're giving the nod to Sony simply for the full manual mode.

Winner: Sony Cyber-shot HX9V

Conclusion

This is an easy comparison. The SZ-31's ambitious lens stretches further than the HX9V's, but the difference in image quality is enough to overrule all other factors. The two are strikingly similar in many other ways, meaning our sharpness and distortion tests were the decisive scores. Best of all, the HX9V has since been replaced by the inferior HX10V, driving the price down below $300 online, at least for now.

Overall Winner: Sony Cyber-shot HX9V