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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V Ken McMahon, August 2011
 
 

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V review

The Sony Cyber-shot HX100V is a 16.2 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 30x stabilized lens and a flip-up 3 inch LCD screen. Released concurrently with the Cyber-shot HX9V pocket super-zoom in February 2011, the HX100V shares the same Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor in a larger SLR-styled body with a much longer zoom range.

With a sensor in common, the HX100V shares many of the HX9V's features, including 1080p50/60 HD video, 10fps burst shooting, 3D and sweep panorama modes, along with a built-in GPS receiver. The Cyber-shot HX100V also includes the composite Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes in addition to new Backlight Correction HDR and Background Defocus modes.

The Cyber-shot HX100V is Sony's first DSLR-styled super-zoom model since the Cyber-shot HX1 back in 2009. Since then Canon and Panasonic have established a strong position in this market with the PowerShot SX30 IS, and the Lumix FZ100 and FZ45 / 40 (not to mention the latest FZ47 / FZ48). Does the Cyber-shot HX100V have what it takes to re-establish Sony in the Super-zoom market, or has two years out of the game given the competition too much of a lead for Sony to regain? Let's find out in our full review of the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V.

   
 

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V Design and controls

The Cyber-shot HX100V looks good and feels comfortable to hold. With what's become classic super-zoom styling it closely resembles a mini DSLR. At 122x87x93mm and weighing 577g including card and battery, it's a little smaller and lighter than the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS. To provide a little more context, that's around fifty grams lighter and broadly the same dimensions as Sony's SLT-A35. These super-zooms are designed to go on a strap around your neck or in a bag, so if you're looking for something more pocketable check out our Sony Cyber-shot HX9V review.

 
 
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The HX100V's plastic body has a matt speckled finish which looks good and provides a tactile grip. There's room for three fingers on the grip with your right index finger resting comfortably on the shutter release and your left hand supporting the camera, SLR-style, beneath the lens. In the end, it's a personal choice, but I really liked the way the HX100V felt and handled.

Behind the shutter release is a custom button to which you can assign various functions and another for changing the focus mode. Behind those on the right side of the top panel are the mode dial, on/off button and an override button for manually switching between the electronic viewfinder and LCD screen. Ordinarily the HX100V uses a sensor to switch to the EVF when you put your eye to it. The EVF is bright, but visibly pixellated and I preferred to use the 3 inch screen, but it is a useful alternative for sunny conditions and has the added advantage of dioptre adjustment for those who wear glasses.

The 3 inch LCD screen is articulated and can be folded out and up or down for waist or overhead viewing, though unlike the PowerShot SX30 IS it can't be folded in to protect itself or face the front. The 920k pixel screen is detailed, bright and reasonably contrasty but looks less vibrant and punchy than the smaller 2.7 inch screen on the PowerShot SX30 IS. Using the four-way controller you can select one of three information overlays including a live histogram view.

 
 

The Cyber-shot HX100V has a built-in flash that pops up when required i.e if the flash is forced on or set to auto mode and the light conditions require it. It also has Slow Synchro and rear curtain modes. The flash has a quoted auto ISO range of 12.7 metres, which sounds impressive, but more useful is the Guide number - 18 Metres at 3200 ISO which equates to 3 metres at 100 ISO. In practice the Cyber-shot HX100V provided bright even illumination and recycled between shots in a couple of seconds.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V lens and stabilisation

The Cyber-shot HX100V's Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 30x zoom lens has a range of 27-810mm (equivalent) with a maximum aperture of f2.8-5.6. That's such an impressive range that it seems bad-form to criticise, but the truth is that, even with a massive zoom range, the maximum wide angle view is an important factor. It's worth noting its rivals from Canon and Panasonic zoom out a little wider to deliver greater coverage, while the Canon also actually out-reaches it a little at the telephoto end too, with 840mm vs 810mm. That said, there's very little in terms of subject matter that the Cyber-shot HX100V can't cover.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V coverage wide
Sony Cyber-shot HX100V coverage tele
4.8 - 144 mm at 4.8mm (27mm equivalent)
  4.8 - 144mm at 144mm (810mm equivalent)

The Cyber-shot HX100V has Optical SteadyShot lens-shift image stabilization which is activated by default, can't be turned off and has no optional settings other than for movie shooting (see the movie section below). In place of our usual before and after shots then, the below crops are from shots taken at the same time with the lens at its maximum zoom extension of 810mm equivalent. The crop on the left was taken in Manual exposure mode at 1/20 of a second and the one on the right in Anti Motion Blur mode.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V, Optical SteadyShot / Anti Motion Blur
100% crop, 4.8 - 144mm at 144mm, 200 ISO 1/20th, Manual exposure mode (with Optical SteadyShot).
 
100% crop, 4.8 - 144mm at 144mm, 2000 ISO 1/250th, Anti Motion Blur mode.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V shooting modes

A glance at the mode dial provides a quick overview of the Cyber-shot HX100V's available shooting modes. Starting with the PASM Program, semi-auto and manual modes followed by a Memory recall mode for one of three custom setups. Then there's the iSweep panorama position. In addition to the Standard and Wide panorama modes available on earlier Sony compacts, HX100V has a new HR mode which produces truly stunning high resolution panoramas measuring 10480 x 4096 pixels - see a sample of the standard 4912x1920 mode below.

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Skipping past the Movie mode position for now, next up is the 3D position which provides, appropriately enough, three options; 3D still image and 3D Sweep Panorama produce 3D images that can be viewed on a 3D TV, Sweep Multi Angle produces a 3D image that you can view by tilting the camera screen. Though surprisingly effective, I doubt most people will use the last one more than once or twice as the novelty of viewing a 3D image on a 3 inch screen quickly fades.

The Cyber-shot HX100V has 16 scene modes, the most notable of which are the composite options that shoot a burst of images and combine them to produce a better result than would be possible with a single exposure. Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur will be familiar to owners of recent Sony compacts with the Exmor-R CMOS sensor that makes these modes possible. Backlight Correction HDR shoots three frames to capture detail in the shadow, mid-tone and highlight areas of a scene with a wide tonal range and Background defocus uses two exposures to simulate shallow depth of field.

You can of course use the HX100V in fully automatic mode, and there are in fact two automatic point-and shoot options. Intelligent Auto employs scene recognition to identify the subject and set an appropriate scene mode. The HX100V can tell if the camera is on a tripod allowing longer exposure times or if there's motion in the frame in which case it will increase the ISO sensitivity and use a faster shutter speed to arrest the movement. In Advanced mode scene recognition takes two shots using different setting so you can choose the best result. For Backlit portraits for example, one shot is made using the flash and a second with the brightness and contrast of the face and background adjusted.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V iSweep HR panorama
Click image to access original at Flickr

A new position on the mode dial, Superior Auto, combines scene recognition and multi-shot compositing to produce a superior result. Superior Auto is designed to get better results in low-light conditions and effectively automatically activates Hand-held Twilight, Anti Motion Blur or Backlight Correction HDR modes. Each of those modes can of course be selected manually with the mode dial in the SCN position, but incorporating them into a new auto position on the mode dial makes them more accessible to novices who might not otherwise bother with them.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V movie modes

The Cyber-shot HX100V's best quality video mode is 1080p at either 50 or 60 fps depending on region. This is encoded in AVCHD format at one of two rates: 28 and 24 Mbps. There are also two interlaced (60/50i) AVCHD options encoded at 17 and 9Mbps. Switch to MPEG4 encoding and you have the option of 1080p at 12Mbps, 720p at 6Mbps or VGA (640 x 480) at 3Mbps. Continuous shooting in any mode is limited to 29 minutes and, at the highest quality 1080p setting you'll fit around 35 minutes of footage on an 8GB card.

The Cyber-shot HX100V's Optical SteadyShot stabilisation works very well for movie recording and there's an 'extra strength' Active SteadyShot setting which damps damps down camera movement even more. The zoom motor has a single speed setting when recording movies and is virtually silent. The HX100V has a dedicated movie record button and pressing the shutter release while recording captures 16:9 still images at 2304 x 1296 pixels in all but the highest quality video mode. It will also capture still shots using smile shutter during movie recording which is a nice touch.


Sony Cyber-shot HX100V sample video 1: outdoors, sunny, handheld pan with optical zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

For this hand-held panning and zooming shot I activated the 'industrial strength' ACT SteadyShot mode which manages to keep things pretty steady even at 30x. The zoom is silent and focus remains spot on throughout the zoom range.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V sample video 2: outdoors, sunny, tripod pan with optical zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

Like its compact counterpart the HX9V, the Cyber-shot HX100V's best 1080p50 video mode is hard to fault. Once again the focus remains rock solid throughout the zoom.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld pan
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

Good results from the Cyber-shot HX100V indoors. You can set intelligent Auto or scene modes for movie shooting and use the thumb whwwl to adjust exposure compensation, but you can't lock off the exposure.


Sony Cyber-shot HX100V handling

My biggest handling gripe with the Cyber-shot HX100V is the lens cap: it attaches to the non-extending outer barrel and pops off every time you press the on button without removing it first which, if you're me, is every time you press the on button. On one occasion the cap got wedged in one side of the lens, preventing it from extending but fortunately no permanent damage was done. The HX100V also lacks a hotshoe which may or may not be important to you, but if it is both the PowerShot SX30 IS and Finepix HS20 EXR have one.

     
     

The camera takes about two and a half seconds to ready itself which is sluggish, but makes up for it with very swift autofocus that's almost instantaneous in good light. The HX100V has face detection AF and in the absence of faces defaults to a nine-area AF system. Alternatively there's Centre AF and Flexible spot AF with fifteen areas to choose from. The focus mode is chosen using a dedicated button on the hand grip behind the shutter release which means if the current mode isn't doing the job you can quickly change it without having to hunt through menu. Or, you can switch to manual using the sliding switch on the lens mount and use the focussing ring on the lens. This is the HX100V's secret weapon, it's something none of the competition has and I very quickly grew to love it.

Although the focus ring works very well to manually focus in conjunction with the focus button which provides a magnified view of the subject, it's when the focus is set to one of the auto modes that it comes into its own, switching its function to a manual zoom ring. Control isn't direct, but when you twist the ring the zoom motor activates, smoothly zooming in or out while you continue to turn. And while we're on the subject of physical controls another one that makes the HX100V much easier to handle, particularly for manual exposure modes is the thumbwheel.

It will come as no surprise then that a physical button – the nine o'clock position on the control pad - is used to select bracketing and continuous shooting modes. The HX100V has two burst shooing modes; 10fps and 2fps. In testing both shot their 10-frame burst in precisely the specified times: 5 seconds and 1 second respectively.

The HX100V has a 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor which produces images with a maximum size of 4608 x 3456 pixels at a single jpeg compression setting that results in files between 3 and 5MB in size. It has an sensitivity range of 100-3200 ISO and a shutter speed range of 30 - 1/4000.

To see how the quality of the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.


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