The Sony Cyber-shot HX9 offers a 16x zoom and 16.2MP alongside a whole host of impressive extras. The Sony HX9 review follows
Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V might seem like something of a gadget lover’s dream; the amount of extras packed in would embarrass a DSLR feature list, let alone one of a compact. Putting aside the admittedly huge zoom and high resolution sensor the likes of a 3D panorama sweep mode and 1080p high definition movie mode are impressive supplemental features, and the GPS with compass feature make geotagging images a cinch.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9 Review – Features
Of the features on offer the 16.2MP CMOS sensor perhaps takes centre stage, which is a backlit Exmor R variety supposedly boosting the low light performance. To cope with both the large resolution and high zoom range without displaying huge amounts of noise the sensor will need to assist where possible without leaving the bulk of the heavy lifting to the processing.
In order to balance out the shutter speed and avoid soft focus through hand shake an optical image stabilizer is present, which is a highly helpful extra when the 24-384mm is used to it’s full extent. The 3D Sweep Panorama option may be something of a cause for confusion as only one lens is present.
The DSC-HX9 simply takes two images at different focal lengths then combines them into a single image, providing a wider depth of sharpness. Full manual controls are also available, although not to the extent of the average DSLR. There aren’t any priority modes, simply a fully manual mode with the ability to alter ISO, aperture and shutter speed via the d-pad. The Memory Recall mode allows each value to be entered manually then saved as a preset to be accessed later. As seems to be the feature of the moment, the DSC-HX9V offers a burst mode capable of taking 10 frames per second. At this point the camera buffer becomes full, but the images are taken at full JPEG resolution rather than a reduced quality.
There’s no RAW mode available for shooting without compression, rather a number of resolution modes with either 16:9 or 4:3 ratio on offer. The movie mode can be similarly altered, either increasing the resolution or bitrate up to 1920 x 1080 at 50 frames progressive scan at 28 Mbps. At this quality level the end result will be of a similar file size to that of a DSLR, although the AVCHD file format requires processing when used in an editing program.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9 Review – Design
Unsurprisingly for a camera offering such a long optical zoom the HX9 is rather chunky. There’s a fair amount of depth in the body, which Sony has used to the HX9’s advantage by placing a mode dial on top of the camera alongside the zoom control. There’s also a fairly substantial grip, for a compact at least, on the right with a textured surface to make it easy to hold. The rear has a similar surface, although far smaller, to place a thumb out of interfering distance of the other controls. Although the rear of the camera houses a 3î LCD screen the buttons aren’t too cramped or small, especially as the extra space on the top of the camera is being utilized to house the likes of the power and Custom button.
The glossy black and silver finish aren’t particularly showy, but a camera this stuffed with features and extras needn’t rely on aesthetics to entice the consumer. Scratches and general wear don’t show up too obviously, unless particularly deep, and the connectors are well hidden under a single flap near the grip. The flash is of the pop-up variety, elevating when required but only descending when the power is turned off.
The HX9 is a touch front heavy, but otherwise the balance is fairly central. It feels solid rather than heavy, and none of the controls are particularly obstructive to simply holding and shooting. The mode dial is a sturdy, substantial offering which locates in each position with a reassuring level of resistance and likewise the zoom, which has a limited amount of travel but manages to temper the entire 16x magnification superbly. Unfortunately the same level of praise cannot be leveled at the rear control dial, which is tasked with altered the manual mode’s values. The freewheeling nature of the dial means it can be moved fairly extensive distances without making any impact on the values. This is particularly frustrating when having to travel between extremes, as it seemingly takes long enough for the dial to react to presume the wrong control method is being used.
Similarly the dial’s secondary function as a d-pad is somewhat hit-and-miss, with the amount of movement available making it difficult to use accurately. Panasonic’s TZ20 combines touch screen and physical buttons to a more effective result, removing the need to navigate menus and change camera values within the same control method which perhaps would have been of better use here.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9 Review – Performance
The Sony DSC-HX9 has a marvelous amount of toys to utilize, from the GPS positional feature to the full HD movie mode. There are few manual controls to alter when using the movie mode, although not to the extent of full shutter speed and aperture options. Instead the exposure can be toyed with and scene modes changed, but little else besides. The GPS and compass offer little in the way of customization, simply being either on or off. Although the compass is operational at all times the GPS often loses signal, and without any indication as to signal strength it’s difficult to recapture the signal once again.
When taking stills the lens is amazingly quick and quiet, barely registering a murmur when zooming and focusing. The flash, which may be a touch over-complicated and showy, elevates rapidly when required to the point that a stray finger is quickly dispatched out of the way. The menu system is colourful and simple to navigate from a logistical point of view, even if the control method is generally poor.
The manual mode, as with many cameras of this ilk, takes the exposure compensation out of the users hands in order to try and correct any significant faux pas on the part of the user although every other element falls under their remit. The likes of sharpness, saturation and contrast are all available for alteration even though the picture modes cover the majority of those settings with a number of presets. The LCD itself is impressively detailed, using all of the 921k dots to superb effect and giving an accurate and sharp preview.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9 Review – Image Quality
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9 has two major issues to contend with when attempting to create an impressive image; having a gigantic zoom and a sensor stuffed to the brim with pixels. At 16mp the noise levels and potential crosstalk coming from the Exmor R CMOS sensor could be fatal to the image quality, but the DSC-HX9 manages to keep the majority out of the view of the naked eye. Delve a little deeper in a photo editing program and you’ll see plenty of post-processing goes into making the images appear clean and clear of specks, and edges lose sharpness. The higher ISO settings suffer from some discolouration but very little clearly visible noise, with the processing being employed to positive effect on this occasion.
The dynamic range shown by the camera is highly impressive, as even an outdoor landscape scene with plenty of highlights and shadow did little to upset the overall balance. Tonal range was subtle and kept the problem shades in check, with the likes of grey brickwork maintaining detail and sharpness impressively. The only areas where the HX9 tended to be unpredictable was in the white balance, as there were occasions when the auto settings shifted from favouring the bluer hues to a more saturation-heavy approach. Although the latter was more favourable and more common the general outcome often needed to be controlled by the user to prevent an unwanted surprise.
A superb camera that only falters on a few matters, but is still an impressive compact camera on all fronts.