Sony DSC-HX5V Review

 
Camera Reviews / Sony Cameras / Sony Cybershot i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Resolution: 10.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.4"
Lens: 10.00x zoom
(25-250mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 125-3200
Shutter: 30-1/1600
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.1 in.
(103 x 58 x 29 mm)
Weight: 7.1 oz (200 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $349
Availability: 03/2010
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony DSC-HX5V specifications
10.20
Megapixels
10.00x zoom
1/2.4"
size sensor
image of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Front side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V digital camera Back side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V digital camera Top side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V digital camera Left side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V digital camera Right side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V digital camera
Imaging Resource rating

4.0 out of 5.0

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V Overview

by Mike Pasini and Zig Weidelich
Review Date: 03/18/2010

The Sony Cyber-shot HX5V digital camera is unique for its 10.2-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, and prized for its 10x optical zoom lens in a pocketable size. The Sony HX5V's lens offers a useful 25mm wide-angle to an equally useful 250mm telephoto equivalent. The lens has a two-step aperture with an ND filter, which offers either f/3.5 or f/8.0 at wide-angle; at telephoto the maximum aperture is f/5.5, and the minimum aperture is f/13. Autofocusing is possible to just five centimeters at wide-angle, or 100 centimeters at telephoto.

The Sony HX5V can capture 4:3 aspect ratio images at up to 3,648 x 2,736 pixel resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio images at up to 3,648 x 2,056 pixels, or 60 fields-per-second video at 1080i (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution or below with Dolby Digital stereo audio, using AVC HD compression. In addition, the HX5V includes an updated version of Sony's Sweep Panorama function. Now dubbed Intelligent Sweep Panorama, this now analyzes frame content when capturing and stitching images, avoiding chopping up larger moving subjects. The function allows automatic creation of 270-, 185- or 129-degree panoramas in-camera by simply sweeping the lens across the subject.

On the rear panel of the Sony HX5V is a 3.0-inch TFT Clear Photo LCD panel with 100% coverage, and a resolution of 230,400 dots. There is no optical viewfinder. The Sony HX5V has a 9-point autofocus system, and includes a face detection and recognition system, capable of detecting up to eight faces in a scene and differentiating between children and adults. This capability is used to provide a Smile Shutter function that automatically triggers the shutter when your subject is smiling, as well as both anti-blink and blink-detection features.

The Sony HX5V includes both a GPS receiver and compass built-in, allowing it to tag images with both the location and direction in which they were captured. Sony's bundled software and third-party applications such as Google Earth, which can read these tags, can then use the information to display images on a map by location. Cleverly, the GPS receiver is also used to keep the camera's internal clock accurate. The Sony HX5V also offers Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, useful for combatting blur caused by camera shake without adversely affecting image quality. This has been updated with a new Active Mode, available only when shooting video, which allows a greater range of movement for the corrective lens element so as to better correct motion from walking, etc.

As well as Intelligent Auto, Program, and Manual modes (but no Aperture or Shutter priority modes), the Sony HX5V offers a selection of fifteen scene modes, which offer an alternative method of control over the look of images. The final mode is something we've seen in Sony's Alpha digital SLRs, now making its Cyber-shot debut: the camera captures several images with varying exposure, and then automatically combines them into a single image with increased dynamic range. There's also an intelligent scene mode which can automatically select from a subset of eight scene modes as appropriate.

Images and movies can be recorded on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo, PRO Duo (Mark 2 only), PRO Duo High Speed, or PRO-HG Duo cards, as well as the more common Secure Digital and Secure Digital High Capacity cards. 45MB of internal memory is also available, useful for capturing a few of the most important photos should you forget to bring a flash card along on a day trip. The Sony HX5V includes HDMI high definition and NTSC / PAL standard definition video output connectivity, as well as USB 2.0 High Speed data connectivity. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary NP-FG1 Infolithium battery pack.

The Sony HX5V digital camera is available from March 2010, priced at around US$350.

 

Sony HX5V User Report

by Mike Pasini

While it's hard to resist comparing the $349.99 Sony HX5V to other digicams, every attempt I've made feels like I'm slighting the HX5V.

It certainly looks like several of them. It's nearly identical, at least front the front, to the Panasonic Lumix ZS7. And at dueling distance you could easily mistake it for the Canon S90 or, if it were red, a Canon SX200.

And if you go deeper than looks, it even shares a few unusual features with digicams like the Casio FH100.

But all these similarities match just one or two features of the Sony HX5V. As Sony likes to put it, the company's strength comes from making its own lenses, sensors, and processors. The Sony HX5V combines the best of all three -- a Sony G lens, Exmor-R sensor, and Bionz processor -- to deliver a different photographic experience.

That experience isn't quite the one everybody is looking for, though. You know, the simplicity of a point-and-shoot with better quality. There's simplicity and there's quality in the Sony HX5V, but that's just the starting point. The experience itself takes you places other cameras just don't go, no matter their size.

Is it for everyone?

Sony says it designs for those niches in the market that aren't well served. You might think that means just a few people. But there are, apparently, quite a few people who are dissatisfied with the results they get from their current digicam and would love a camera that can deliver better looking pictures without requiring a few semesters at photo school.

The Sony HX5V -- with built-in GPS, 1080i HD video recording plus HDMI output, 10 fps continuous mode, special shooting modes like iSweep and Handheld Twilight modes -- will give them something to think about.

Design. Sony designed the HX5V to be pocketable. It isn't among the slimmest designs, nor is it going to fit in a credit card wallet. But it isn't much bigger. It easily fits in a shirt pocket without rearranging your collar.

That portability suggests you won't need a case for the Sony HX5V and it really does take some of the fun away using one. This is the sort of device you leave near your car keys and goes everywhere with you.

The rectangular body design is actually finished off on the right in something of a column that passes for a grip. It works well enough that I did not pine for an add-on grip like the ones Richard Franiec makes for the Panasonic LX3, Canon S90 and other small digicams. The body surface is slick metal rather than rubberized, so don't neglect to attach the wrist strap. But that's all I needed.

Like the Panasonic Lumix ZS7, the built-in flash sits right next to the grip, rather than on the corner outside the lens. Your shooting finger rests above it on the Shutter button and your middle finger sits a bit below it in the grip groove, but big hands or large fingers may obscure the flash.

There is a small bump at 7 o'clock on the lens flange but it isn't a release button. In fact, there are no filter threads or extension tube threads on the flange.

Like most digicams, the back and top panels have the controls. The sides are not used for anything but the wrist strap eyelet.

The bottom panel has Sony's proprietary connector to which you insert the octopus cable with composite video and USB connectors or the included HDMI adapter. The bottom panel also has a metal tripod socket in the corner under the lens, one speaker (although the Sony HX5V records in stereo from mics on the top panel) and the battery and card compartment at the other end.

The Sony HX5V specifications claim the camera can use either Sony's Memory Stick PRO Duo cards or SD/SDHC cards. But I was unable to fit an SD card in the card slot. The review unit (number 19) was not a production model, however. In fact, no manual was provided by Sony, so we'll have to take Sony's word that it works with both memory card standards, and agree that it's a bonus. Sony did tell us our unit was representative of production image quality.

A tour around the body is all you really need to get a clue how to use the Sony HX5V.

Controls. The top panel has a very small Power button with a green LED in the center to reveal status. It's a good bit too small for me, and because it's flush with the top panel, it's hard to find by feel. The camera turns on so quickly that turning it off to save battery life was something I did a lot. But finding the Power button was always a chore.

To the left of the Power button is the small Shutter Release mode button, which lets you select between taking a single shot or firing off a few. And by "a few" I mean up to 10 frames per second at full resolution. That's quite a bit more than most digicams this size can manage, which tend to be happy with about three fps or less.

The round Mode dial is the largest thing on the top panel, sitting on top of the column that forms the camera's grip. It's just the right place for it. I found the icons a bit hard to read but when you shift the Mode dial, the LCD reports in nice large type just where you are. I did have to rely on that.

The Sony HX-5V's Shutter button is large and easily found. It not only captures stills or video but it can switch the camera to Record mode from Playback. It's ringed with a Zoom lever that I found far too jumpy to comfortably compose images. The zoom behavior is the one thing that was not up to snuff on the Sony HX5V.

The back of the Sony HX-5V has just a few buttons, which means the LCD menu system is where you have to go for finer control of exposure.

At the very bottom are the Menu and Trash buttons. Menu takes you to the Sony HX-5V's LCD menu system, of course, which you navigate with the four-way navigator above the button, confirming selections with the OK button at its center.

The navigator arrow buttons do double duty, handling a few camera functions: The Up arrow changes Display modes: Normal, Bright, Bright with Exposure Data, Bright with Image Only. The Right arrow steps through the Flash modes, which include Auto, Forced, Slow Synchro, and Off. The Down arrow cycles through the Self-Time modes, including Off, Ten Seconds, Two Seconds, Self-Portrait One Person, and Self-Portrait Two People. The Left arrow toggles Smile detection.

I had a recurring problem using the arrow keys to cycle through menus. The natural inclination, once a menu is displayed, is to use an Up or Down arrow to move the selection. That, however, changes the whole menu, not the option. You have to keep pressing the direction key to change options.

Above the navigator is the Playback button, which also powers the camera on. That's a good thing because when you transfer images using the octopus cable, you put the camera face down on the table -- and that's not when you want the lens to pop out. But the Playback button can't power down the camera. For that you have to use the illuminated Power button on top.

Above the Playback button is a larger round button with a red dot in the center. It's the Movie record/standby button. No need to dial in Movie mode on the Mode dial to grab a video clip. Just press the Movie button. Quite a few cameras this year include this feature and it's very handy. Without it, you can easily miss the moment.

The Clear Photo LCD is a large 3.0 inches with 230K pixels. The surface was very hard and not easily scratched. I was careful with it, but the worst thing it picked up were fingerprints. Those, however, were pretty hard to remove. I had to buff with a microfiber cloth.

The LCD image was easy to see in bright sunlight, however, a good thing since there's no other composing device on the Sony HX5V. We did, as I said, have trouble judging exposure when the screen was set to one of the Bright options.

The only problem I had with it was shooting in the dark (which, after all, is something you can do with a Sony HX5V). When using a 16:9 aspect ratio, I couldn't frame my images precisely because the non-imaging areas of the LCD were black, just like the background of my scene.

Lens. With 10 elements in 7 groups including 4 aspheric elements, the Sony G lens on the Sony HX5V is real glass.

Its zoom range begins at a surprisingly useful 25mm (35mm equivalent) and extends to 250mm, about the limit of handheld focal lengths. That 10x range was simply ideal for me.

Movie mode does affect focal length, bumping it up to 30-300mm in 16:9 widescreen or 36-360mm in 4:3.

One of the absolute delights of this G lens is its automatic iAuto Macro mode. You may have noticed there was no Focus mode button on the back panel. You just don't need it. You can get as close as 0.16 foot in wide-angle or 3.28 feet in telephoto and the Sony HX5V will still find focus.

If there was one disappointment to rival the Zoom lever dysfunction, it's the available apertures on the Sony HX5V. There are just two: f/3.5 and f/8.0. A neutral density filter is also employed, but two aperture settings is precious few. In Manual mode at full telephoto only f/5.5 or f/13 were available and at wide-angle only f/3.5 and f/8.0. That may explain why there is no Aperture Priority mode on the Sony HX5V.

Image stabilization is Sony's optical SteadyShot technology. The latest version of Sony's SteadyShot image stabilization technology now compensates for a larger range of motion (like walking as you shoot). There is no menu item to disable it or pick a mode, however. That speaks to the intended audience for the camera, apparently. And frankly, that would be me. I turn it on in normal mode and leave it. Why wouldn't I want steady images?

Modes. The available shooting modes on the Sony HX5V are all accessed from the Mode dial on the top panel.

There are three main still modes: Easy, Intelligent Scene Recognition and Programmed Auto. There is one Manual mode (no Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority). There are several unusual modes including Anti Motion Blur, Handheld Twilight, Backlight Correction HDR. Then there is Scene Selection. And Movie mode. And finally iSweep Panorama mode.

Easy mode displays simple instructions on the LCD with the camera under automatic control, relying on Intelligent Scene Recognition to set the camera options. Preview mode is also simplified. Menu options use very large type and are greatly reduced. For example, only Image Size (Large or Small options) and GPS settings (On or Off) are available. Flash options are limited to Auto or Off, as well.

Intelligent Scene Recognition mode automatically detects nine different types of scenes and, within 1/30th of a second, selects the appropriate camera settings. The nine scenes include Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight using a tripod, Portrait, Landscape, and Macro.

iSCN has two modes: Auto and Advanced. In Auto Mode, the camera takes a single shot using optimized settings. In Advanced Mode, the camera takes a photo with optimized settings and, if the lighting is difficult (either low light or back light), it immediately takes a second photo with different settings so you can choose between them.

Program Auto selects the shutter speed and aperture automatically, letting you adjust overall exposure using the EV option in the menu system.

Manual mode lets you select between the Sony HX5V's two apertures and any shutter speed from 30 seconds to 1/1,600 second. Press the OK button to change the displayed values using the arrow keys.

Anti Motion Blur captures six images in a fraction of a second at a higher shutter speed than a single exposure would call for. It then composites the six images into one, building the equivalent of a long exposure but avoiding the side effect of subject blur. And it does this without requiring a tripod, aligning the images precisely.

Handheld Twilight is, I must insist, misnamed. This is not something you'll only use at twilight. Here in the fog of San Francisco twilight is never guaranteed, but I use HHT all the time because I love shooting in low light. It's really Handheld Low Light mode.

Again the Sony HX5V captures six images (it seems to be a maximum of six, but Sony says six period) in a fraction of second as you handhold the camera. Then it composites those images into one image that is surprisingly sharp and devoid of noise.

The sharpness comes from careful alignment and the noise reduction from averaging the values of the pixels in the same location on each shot. Brilliant.

What you get are images you otherwise would never be able to capture. You can shoot in the dark (and I did). You can shoot in candlelight. You can shoot in streetlight. The only catch is that the subject itself must not be moving. Much. More about this in the Shooting section.

Backlight Correction HDR is another mode that relies on the Bionz processor to composite an image. In this case the Sony HX5V takes two shots at different exposure settings, one for highlights and one for shadows, before building one image with the best of both, extending the density range of the shot.

This is Sony's answer to the backlighting problem where your subject is in the shade of a brighter background light like a sunset or a window, a situation which normally captures a silhouette, not the person you thought you were photographing.

But it obviously has many other uses. I think of it as HDR mode. Not the stylized HDR effect Photomatix users foist upon innocent bystanders, but an actual high density range mode that extends tonality with detail beyond what Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization contains.

Scene modes include High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Advanced Sports Shooting, Gourmet, and Pet.

Click to view movie. AVCHD player required.

AVCHD Movie. 1920 x 1080 60i HD movie with "Active" SteadyShot. (Click to download 6.8MB MTS file.)

Movie modes. The Sony HX5V has five movie modes. For the highest quality, it offers AVCHD recording at 1920 x 1080 and 60 fields per second. There is also a 1440 x 1080 AVCHD mode which may sound like a 4:3 aspect ratio, but is actually a subsampled 16:9 mode. AVCHD captures more detail and records smoother movement while minimizing file size. But you can also record HD video in MP4 mode at 1440 x 1080, 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480, all at 30 fps.

Sony claims the Bionz processor can deliver "a superior level of image smoothness" with optical SteadyShot in "Active" Movie mode. You can walk, ride or jog as you record and the scene will be stabilized. We tried it walking down a steep trail and found the video was not as disorienting as we expected (see clip at left).

iSweep Panorama is the last option on the Mode dial but the one that's the most fun. I really needed the manual for this one because I kept goofing it up by panning too slowly. But the game is played by sweeping from one side to the other (or up and down or down and up: you use the menu system to indicate which way you're going) as the camera grabs 100 shots and stitches them together in one second.

Playback is dramatic. Press the OK button and the camera plays the image back at full height, panning just as you did when you took the shot. And if the LCD isn't big enough for you, it works the same way on your HDTV.

This version of the feature is more intelligent than the first release last year. It can detect faces and moving objects, stitching in the faces and skipping the moving subjects to avoid distortion. It can also automatically adjust capture speed for a smoother image. And the sweep can now extend to 270 degrees, another 100 degrees from the HX1. It seemed to composite better, too.

Now if I could just get the timing down right....

TransferJet. TransferJet is a new wireless transfer protocol supported by Canon, Casio, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Samsung, all members of the TransferJet Consortium. Files are transferred wirelessly between two TransferJet devices when they are brought within an inch of each other. According to the spec, transfer speed can achieve up to 375 megabits per second and no device pairing is required, as it is with Bluetooth.

The Sony HX5V supports this new protocol (although it can be disabled in the Setup menu). But to take advantage of it, HX5V owners will need a TransferJet-capable Memory Stick for about $100. And a TransferJet-capable device to receive the files.

GPS, Compass. Yes, the Sony HX5V has a built-in GPS radio. Somewhere. In my experience with several GPS devices (reviewed elsewhere on this site), they all take a few beats to lock into the available satellites and they all have quite an appetite for battery power.

GPS. Lightroom's metadata display includes a button for GPS tags that takes you right to Google Maps.

No doubt the GPS radio in the Sony HX5V also drains the camera's battery some, but it didn't severely impact recording time, which Sony estimates at 310 images or 155 minutes. I don't know how they managed that, but hurray.

A small icon on the LCD indicates GPS is active, and when it's sufficiently synched, three bars appear next to the icon. Before it syncs, three very small lines appear before a big circle and slash, indicating "no sync." The three very small lines flash until there are three, and then the three bars appear.

Unfortunately it takes a few beats to sync and a few more to sync with more satellites (three to five minutes). There's no LED on the Sony HX5V to indicate sync, as there is on the aftermarket units I've used. If it hasn't yet synced, no GPS data is recorded, so watch that status icon if geolocating is important to you.

Another icon just left of the satellite icon, in the form of a compass, shows the camera's orientation. You do have to orient the compass in the Setup menu by waving the camera in a figure eight pattern until it beeps (which happens quickly). But a red arrow in the icon will then indicate North.

Together they give you the longitude, latitude, altitude (such as GPS can) and heading of the camera for any particular image.

It's so unobtrusive (you pay no penalty for using it) that you may be inclined to turn this GPS and compass combo on and use it all the time. But if you post your pictures publicly, think this strategy over carefully. Do you really want to reveal the location of, say, your private residence or the home of some child whose party you attended?

Lenses, Sensors, Processors. From this scattered description of the Sony HX5V, it may not be obvious how Sony's own lens, sensor and processor combine to deliver some marvelous benefits. That's especially true because some of them, like SteadyShot image stabilization and Dynamic Range Optimization, are just enabled and configured without a menu item to highlight them.

To rectify that situation lets follow a photon through the Sony HX5V to see what Sony technology does to it.

Zoom Range. 25mm to 250mm to 2x digital zoom.

The G lens is the point of entry and it's no tiny compact lens. With 10 elements in 7 groups including 4 aspheric elements, it's more of a photographic tool than the any but long zoom digicams offer. No surprise, either, because G lenses are used in Sony's dSLRs and prosumer HD camcorders, too. Optical SteadyShot image stabilization smooths the effects of camera shake.

Next, our little photon hits the Exmor-R CMOS sensor. You've been told over and over that the larger the sensor the better the light-gathering ability. That means higher ISOs with lower noise.

But the Exmor-R is a small sensor. And yet Sony measures double the light-gathering ability of similarly-sized sensors. How can that be?

A conventional sensor is a sandwich of technology. On top are small lenses that bend the light into a red, green or blue color filter. Below the filter is where all the electrical connections reside with narrow channels for the photon to pass through to the light-receiving surface on the photodiode on the bottom layer. The wiring layers, used for signal propagation, rob the photodiode of light.

On an Exmor-R sensor, the top layer is still the on-chip lens over a color filter, but the light-receiving surface and photodiode are moved above the electrical connections. Noise is reduced and nearly twice as much light gets to the photodiode.

There's more on this interesting approach (also being pursued by Casio and Fujifilm) on Sony's site.

Now things get interesting for our photon. The Exmor-R sensor passes it on to the Bionz processor. It's like being sent to a spa.

If you were in Burst mode, you can capture 10 frames a second at full resolution. If you were in iSweep Panorama mode, 100 shots are stitched together in under a second. If you were in HDR mode, two shots are composited. In Handheld Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes, up to six images are composited. And even if you were just in Easy mode or Program Auto, Dynamic Range Optimization made sure your highlights weren't blown out and your shadows didn't muddy their detail.

Storage & Battery. In addition to the 45MB of internal memory, the Sony HX5V supports both Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo card format and SD/SDHC cards in a hybrid card slot. This particular review unit was only able to use MS cards, however. For capturing video, Sony recommends Memory Stick PRO Duo with Mark2 logo or PRO-HG and Class 4 or higher SD/SDHC cards.

The small InfoLITHIUM G type 3.6V battery consumes about 1.1 watts. Sony rates it for 310 still images or 155 minutes. Sony lists a $39.99 AC adapter for the Sony HX5V, which connects via the multi-connector. A second battery costs $49.99.

Image Quality. Our lab shot of the Resolution target at ISO 125 shows excellent resolution running up to about 1,600 lines both horizontally and vertically.

The Still Life at ISO 125 was revealing. The colored yarns were easily distinguishable and the white yarn retained detail. The proportional scale below it was readable and sharp throughout. The dark and light napkins under the mug both held detail without the lighter one blooming. The Samuel Smith label did not hold detail in the "Pure Brewed" type, but it did hint at it. The salt and pepper shakers likewise held detail. It's not quite as good as we've been seeing from 12-megapixel sensors at even higher ISOs, so keep that in mind when considering whether the 10-megapixel Exmor sensor is delivering more than the 12-megapixel sensor on the Panasonic ZS7, for example.

The Multitarget test at ISO 125 and wide-angle showed very little softening in the corners, as well as very low geometric distortion. Chromatic aberration was also fairly low.

There seems to be some noise suppression going on (an old Sony weakness), particularly at higher ISOs, but even at the lowest. This is apart from the long exposure noise reduction tracked in the Exif header.

Shooting. Shooting with the Sony HX5V is not the same kind of fun you can have considering the focal length, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed on your dSLR. It's a different kind of photography, much like snow boarding is a different winter sport than cross country skiing.

And, in fact, in can be a little unnerving to cede as much control to the camera as the Sony HX5V takes. The tweaks you're used to making just aren't available.

So, you might wonder, what do you do with the thing?

The first thing we did was take some absurdly low light photos in Handheld Twilight mode. We had some flowers on the dining room table, dimmed the halogen lights and took a shot. The white balance was crazy, so we dove into the menu system, set the white balance by aiming at a napkin and took another HHT shot. Bingo!

That was too easy, we thought. What about doing a macro in HHT? And just to make it interesting, let's shoot a label on the minerale bottle. No way that will line up and no way we'll get any depth of field.

Oh were we wrong. So wrong. We doubled over laughing. Smart little camera. We got the picture we wanted instead of the picture we expected.

The next day, we did a series of low light shots of the dolls: the gallery shots YDSC00019 through YDSC00026. Disregard the Exif display, you'll need a program to tell the modes. Here they are: HDR, HHT, Scene High ISO, Program ISO Auto/400/800/1,600/3,200.

What can we learn from this? A few things.

That HDR shot two images at ISO 800 while HHT shot six at ISO 3,200 for one thing. Why ISO 3200? Because compositing the six shots, the Sony HX5V had no fear of ISO 3,200 noise and it was able to use a faster shutter speed of 1/10 second (SteadyShot to the rescue there, too, BTW).

Oddly enough, shooting in Scene mode at High ISO also used ISO 3,200 but at 1/8 second. I prefer the tonality of the HHT shot to the High ISO shot.

That takes us to Program Auto on the Mode dial (where we usually shoot), manually stepping through the higher ISO options. The first interesting thing to notice is that Auto is capped at ISO 400 even though at 0.6 second shutter speed we ended up with a blurry image.

ISO 800 at 0.4 second is still too slow a shutter speed but at ISO 1,600, the shutter gets into SteadyShot range at 1/10 second. That's a darker shot than the ISO 3,200 shot at 1/10 second, though.

Low light conclusion? Use HHT. It works.

Another thing that was apparent right from the start was how useful the shutter sound was for these longer exposures. You can actually hear if the shot is too long for a good handheld result and switch to another mode.

Burst Capture at 10 fps

Download audio

The next shot on the gallery page is a macro of an old carpenter's pencil captured at f3.5. There are two things I loved about this shot. The first is that I didn't have to switch into Macro mode. The camera did that automatically. The second is that the depth of field is unusually generous for a macro shot. It was the shot I wanted, not the one I expected again.

Five shots from the Photoshop anniversary party at the Palace of Fine Arts follow the macro shot. Three of them are of the Palace itself in the fog at night. These shots include GPS data (in case you don't know where the Palace is). They also show HHT in operation.

Handheld Twilight With Six Handheld Shots

Download audio

It's interesting to note that the Sony HX5V elected to disable DRO for these shots. And that the camera knew it was a night scene.

When I went into the theater, I tried a few settings before settling on Program Auto, ISO 800 (because Auto is capped at ISO 400) and -1.7 EV (to accommodate the stage lighting). I wasn't close to the podium. The Exif data doesn't include distance data but you can see from the focal length that I'm at the full telephoto position.

When I shot these pictures I really didn't think I was getting anything usable. I really should have been closer but I would rather have streaked the stage than sauntered up below Scott Kelby with a point-and-shoot and blocked the Knoll brothers, Jeff Schewe, Stephen Johnson, Mikkel Aaland and every other Photoshopping legend in town to take a few closer shots of the speakers.

It was only when I processed the images for the story that I marveled at how well ISO 800 stood up. The 250 pixel head shots that ended up in the story are themselves reduced, of course. But the gallery shots show the full resolution story. The shot I wanted, certainly not what I expected.

My next excursion was a visit to the Rumbolino, getting a little deferred maintenance at Daytona Motors. I turned on GPS and took a long walk, for the most part shooting in Program Auto and enjoying both the 25mm and 250mm ends of the lens.

YDSC00102 is an HDR shot, the exception, but the scene called out for it. Normally, you'd expect the sky to go white and the road above to be devoid of detail. But in this case I got what I wanted.

The walk ends with a close-up of a flower. Again, not having to worry about when to switch to Macro mode makes this kind of thing a real pleasure. One you can enjoy any time.

GPS Tags

Sony HX5V GPS tags with sample values

GPSVersionID: 2.2.0.0
GPSLatitudeRef: North
GPSLongitudeRef: West
GPSAltitudeRef: Above Sea Level
GPSTimeStamp: 22:43:49.45
GPSStatus: Measurement Active
GPSMeasureMode: 3-Dimensional Measurement
GPSSpeedRef: km/h
GPSSpeed: 0.3
GPSTrackRef: True North
GPSTrack: 185.1
GPSImgDirectionRef: Magnetic North
GPSImgDirection: 6.25
GPSMapDatum: WGS-84
GPSDateStamp: 2010:02:22
GPSDifferential: No Correction

plus

GPSAltitude: 263.7 m Above Sea Level
GPSDateTime: 2010:02:22 22:44:10.144Z
GPSLatitude: 37 deg 45' 16.59" N
GPSLongitude: 122 deg 26' 46.43" W
GPSPosition: 37 deg 45' 16.59" N, 122 deg 26' 46.43" W

My next excursion was up Twin Peaks to shoot the zoom range shots. Again, GPS was active. The GPS tags and typical values reported by the camera are shown at right.

On the way up, I took a lot of macro shots. The purple flowers are backlit and my posture was unsteady, still the shot is crisp at 1/160 second. I hadn't expected that. Color on the shot of the poppy is just right, deep but not overly saturated. I did have trouble with some red flowers in the rain (which were oversaturated) but red is a problem in general.

There are the usual zoom shots, which include the 2x traditional digital zoom (500mm equivalent).

And then there is an iSweep Panorama. Two, actually. One shot using a 4:3 aspect ratio and another using 16:9. Stitching seemed better in the Sony HX5V than last year's version of Sweep Panorama. I finally figured out I could fill the panorama frame (which seems to be a fixed size no matter how you pan) by moving across the scene faster.

More close-ups and one wide-angle of a row of logs with a bike rider resting at the top of the hill, a nice shot that came together with DRO in the blink of an eye. That's something you can do with the Sony HX5V that a more involved camera would take much longer to accomplish.

I reviewed these shots on an HDTV using the included HDMI adapter. This particular HDTV has one (occupied) HDMI input, so I merely borrowed the other end of the cable, attached it to the adapter and plugged the adapter into the connector on the bottom of the Sony HX5V. Then I pressed the Playback button to turn the camera on and switched inputs on the HDTV until the HDMI connection was being read. Very simple.

Sony has a wonderful slide show presentation (in addition to a straight slide show option) with music and various styles available. I just used the arrow keys, though, to linger over my shots. They were crisp with excellent color.

But the one thing I got a thrill out of were the pano shots. Press the OK button and the shot scrolls from left to right like Ken Burns was your uncle. On an HDTV this is breathtaking.

Click to view movie. AVCHD player required.

AVCHD Movie. Optical zoom supported. (Click to download 7MB MTS file.)

Stills don't zoom well, though. It seems I wasn't getting the full resolution of the image. An Exif tag gives a clue: MPImageType is "Large Thumbnail (full HD equivalent)" -- suggesting for HD display only the thumbnails are transmitted. The Multi-Picture Format to which this tag refers is documented by CIPA.

Movies played very nicely on the big screen, too.

The final three shots in the gallery were taken on a rainy day. I didn't expose the camera to a downpour but it held up well in the elements. It isn't waterproof, but it's nice to know you can use it if you're cautious.


Sony HX5V Print Quality

Printed results from the Sony HX5V are good, handling enlargement up to 13x19 inches at the lowest ISO settings, though with some noticeable softness due to overaggressive noise suppression at ISO 125 (the lowest setting). 11x14-inch prints look better at both 125 and 200. ISO 400 also looks good at 11x14, but with a little more softening in low contrast areas. ISO 800 shots are soft but usable at 8x10, and ISO 1,600 shots look good at 5x7 inches. ISO 3,200 produces a quite good 4x6, with good color and decent shadows. While it's an overall good performance from the Sony HX5V, it's a little disappointing when you consider the promise of its back-illuminated sensor.

Because the magic of the Sony HX5V is found in modes like Handheld Twilight, we also printed a sample of our Low Light test shots shot in that mode, adjusting levels because our HHT shots were a bit dim, and prints looked good printed up to 11x14 inches.

 

In the Box

The Sony HX5V retail package includes:

  • Sony HX5V camera
  • NP-GB1 rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Multi-connector AV/USB cable
  • HDMI adapter

 

Sony HX5V Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Compact and attractive body design
  • Good quality G lens with a 10x range from 25mm to 250mm
  • Optical Image Stabilization with "Active" movie mode
  • Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • Bionz processor performs some great tricks (like the following three items)
  • Handheld Twilight mode opens new vistas in low light photography
  • HDR mode solves the backlight problem better than overexposing
  • iSweep Panorama stitches 100 images in a second
  • HDMI output via included adapter
  • Automatic Macro mode makes shooting close-ups as easy as landscapes
  • Lens has good corner sharpness
  • Very little geometric distortion
  • Multiple movie modes, including 1920 x 1080 60i HD (AVCHD)
  • Stereo audio
  • Very good exposure accuracy
  • Accurate color
  • Very good dynamic range
  • 10 fps burst mode at full resolution
  • Fast AF and very fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Manual exposure mode
  • TransferJET compatible
  • Advanced slide show mode
  • Self-portrait timer
  • Built-in GPS and compass
  • Dual media support (MS Duo/SD)
  • Zooming is too jerky for precise composition
  • Only two apertures, ND filter used
  • No contrast, sharpness or saturation controls
  • No Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes
  • Both Dynamic Range Optimization and SteadyShot image stabilization are automatic controls
  • Poor Auto WB in tungsten light
  • Flash may be too close to the grip for some hands
  • Weak flash
  • Flash power can't be lowered for fill flash
  • Slow flash recycling
  • Moderate CA at telephoto
  • Lens has slightly shorter telephoto reach than some of the competition
  • Oversharpened images
  • Heavy-handed NR makes for some mushy details, even at base ISO
  • We expected better noise performance from back-illuminated sensor
  • AF struggles in low-light, AF assist doesn't seem to help (in our lab tests)
  • Base ISO is 125
  • No RAW mode

 

That's a longer list of Cons than I expected. The Con items themselves represent relatively minor issues or misplaced expectations whereas the Pro items represent real value. So don't let the list fool you.

Let the Sony HX5V fool you instead. Turn it on, compose the image and fire. Don't worry about the settings except to ask yourself if you should be in Program Auto, HDR, HHT or iSweep Panorama. And maybe 4:3 or 16:9. Then let the camera take it from there.

You'll be as surprised as I was when you get the picture you wanted instead of the one you expected. The Sony HX5V will capture what you saw, what attracted you to the scene, not what a camera sees through its tiny lens, crammed on its tiny sensor and massaged with brass knuckles by its image processor. The Sony HX5V makes few excuses.

And a camera that makes few excuses is a great traveling companion. You don't have to worry about choosing between a wide-angle zoom and a long zoom because the compact Sony HX5V starts at a very wide 25mm and stretches to a barely hand-holdable 250mm. You can get the interior of a chapel or, just as easily, that faraway castle.

And when you're in that dark little chapel, you can switch to the Sony HX5V's Handheld Twilight mode and actually get the picture. It's great for museums, too, where flash is verboten and tripods proibito. You won't need either with the Sony HX5V. There's even a Gourmet Scene mode to record your culinary adventures, too.

When we printed and compared images from the Sony HX5V and its nearest competitors (the Canon SX200 and Panasonic ZS7), the Sony came in one size smaller at the lowest ISO, producing "only" a 13x19-inch print, while the other two managed a 16x20. That's really not a big difference, though. Considering that the HX5V is a 10-megapixel sensor, it does fairly well stacked up against these two 12-megapixel sensors. There was a little more noise suppression smudging in the HX5V as well, but it didn't show up in the printed results.

Still, for a 10x zoom to output 13x19-inch prints is pretty impressive. Add in the superb usability and low light modes, there's no question that the Sony HX5V is a Dave's Pick if there ever was one.

 

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