Sony takes on the superzoom market with the fully specified Cyber-Shot HX1 camera boasting ground-breaking features. The What Digital Camera Sony CyberShot HX1 review...
Sony CyberShot HX1 review – Features
First up is the HX1’s superzoom specification. A first for any of Sony’s Cyber-shot H series, the HX1 features an Exmor CMOS sensor, much the same as the brand’s Alpha series DSLRs, and one that outputs at 9.1 effective megapixels. The HX1 is also bolstered by Sony’s BIONZ processor, one that allows the camera to shoot up to 10fps at full resolution, albeit for only a one-second burst.
The HX1’s demarcation into the superzoom category comes in the shape of the model’s 20x optical zoom. The lens is a Sony-developed G class lens, as opposed to Carl Zeiss optics often used by the brand, and offers a focal range of 28-560mm in 35mm equivalent terms.
A feature which is again prevalent throughout Sony’s H series is the ’tilt-angle’ LCD screen. The HX1 boasts a 3in, 230k dot version, and as with other models in the range, the LCD pulls away from the rear of the camera and pivots 180° around a horizontal axis. Again, as with many other superzoom cameras, the HX1 also features an electronic viewfinder as an alternative.
The HX1 offers full 1080p HD movie capture at 30 frames per second, and the on-board microphone offers stereo sound capture, complete with full HDMI output.
The real headline-grabbing features of the HX1, however, are in the camera’s functionality, namely the model’s ‘Panorama sweep’ and ‘Handheld twilight’ capture modes. The first of these capture modes allows the user to capture a 220° panorama image by simply pressing the shutter release and moving the camera in a sweep motion, with the HX1 automatically stitching together a series of images captured within a matter of seconds.
The HX1’s handheld twilight capture works in a very similar manner, capturing six images in one burst and then combining the correctly exposed areas for one final image.
Where panorama assist functions have been available before, they’ve often involved manually lining up the images yourself, which is often an inexact process. The alternative to the in-camera version involves post-processing software, often a stand-alone application specifically made for the task, which will combine a range of images in one wide vista. The Sony HX1 simplifies the process in the extreme – all you have to do is press the shutter and move the camera in a sweep motion, and a 220° panorama is created. The HX1 captures the vista by utilising its burst mode and capturing up to 30 images, then taking the central section of all the images captured and stitching them together. The result – a 7152 x 1080 pixel image perfectly finished in the blink of an eye.
Design & Performance
Sony CyberShot HX1 review – Design
The bulk of the HX1ʼs body comprises the LCD and lens. The wideangle G lens means much of the front of the camera houses a lot of glass. Meanwhile, the 3in LCD screen occupies most of the rear of the camera. The HX1 does feature an oversized handgrip, however, to complement the rest of the modelʼs fulsome features, making the camera comfortable to use when shooting.
Layout of the controls is intelligent, with buttons on the rear kept to a minimum – mostly due to lack of real estate, one suspects – and the majority of buttons and dials located on the cameraʼs top-plate and hand grip.
Sony CyberShot HX1 review – Performance
The HX1 is a real pleasure to use. The mechanical shutter and BIONZ processer combine to ensure that there is very little shutter lag, while Sonyʼs interpretation of ʻintellegent autoʼ generally performs well, selecting the right scene mode, and therefore right settings, to suit the scene. However, intelligent auto does like to select a ʻbacklitʼ mode fairly often, and in doing so produces a rather warm white balance, so Iʼd recommend overriding that setting if the HX1 sees fit to pick it.
Backlit mode aside, in general both white balance and metering are very reliable, with almost all exposures appearing as one would want at capture. This is a relief, because one omission from the HX1 that youʼd like on a camera of this standard is the ability to capture Raw files, thus being able to have greater control over post-capture adjustment.
The LCD screen of the HX1 is ample and visually pleasing, though itʼs a disappointment that it only pivots around a horizontal axis. If youʼve ever used Olympusʼs free-angle LCD screen, which pivots vertically and horizontally, then you canʼt help but feel like youʼre missing something with solely horizontal control.
The 10fps capture claimed by Sony is excellent, though itʼs a shame that it only extends for one second. However, if there is a single instant in time youʼre looking to capture, then the HX1 is more than up to the job.
Image Quality & Value For Money
Sony CyberShot HX1 review – Image Quality
At the wide end of the focal range both are noticeable, but not so much as to impair images. Fine detail is well rendered, and the HX1 no doubt benefits from possessing a CMOS sensor. Tonal rendition is good, with a pleasing balance between shadows and highlights displayed. In difficult light, the HX1 does struggle with rendering highlights, which have a tendency to blow. Colours are pleasing, being vibrant but also natural. ISO performance is good, with images generally acceptable up to ISO 800. Above that, things are slightly different, with ISO 1600 displaying a rough grain, and ISO 3200 mushing fine detail.
Sony CyberShot HX1 review – Value For Money
With a current list price of £489, the HX1 isnʼt exactly the cheapest camera on the market. Itʼs upwards of £100 more expensive than most of its superzoom competitors ? and a fair bit pricier than several good DSLRs. However, the HX1 features genuinely innovative technologies. The model is very well specified, features Sonyʼs distinctive good build quality, and almost has every base covered with regards to HD movie capture, 20x focal range and full manual control.
It’s not often that a camera comes to the market with new technologies that excite camera enthusiasts, but the HX1 does just that. Not only does it offer something new with its panorama sweep and handheld twilight modes, but it also offers a specification as good as that of any other superzoom camera currently on the market. Good image quality and performance follow, meaning that the HX1 is pretty much the complete package. The price is currently a bit of a stumbling block, but with that bound to fall in the near future, the HX1 looks like a good buy indeed.
It's not often that a camera comes to the market with new technologies that excite camera enthusiasts, but the HX1 does just that. Not only does it offer something new with its panorama sweep and handheld twilight modes, but it also offers a specification as good as that of any other superzoom camera currently on the market. Good image quality and performance follow, meaning that the HX1 is pretty much the complete package. The price is currently a bit of a stumbling block, but with that bound to fall in the near future, the HX1 looks like a good buy indeed.