Sony DSC-HX9V Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
Resolution: 16.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 16.00x zoom
(24-384mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 100-3200
Shutter: 30-1/1600
Max Aperture: 3.3
Dimensions: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
(105 x 59 x 34 mm)
Weight: 8.6 oz (244 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $350
Availability: 04/2011
Manufacturer: Sony
Manufacturer's page: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
16.20
Megapixels
16.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
Front side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V digital camera Back side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V digital camera Top side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V digital camera Left side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V digital camera Right side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V digital camera

DSC-HX9V Review Summary: Sony packs its latest digital ideas into the Sony HX9V, a 16-megapixel, 16x pocket long zoom, offering high-resolution stills and Full HD video. The result is a versatile digital camera with a wide zoom range and plenty of tricks to get great shots in difficult conditions.

Pros: Excellent optical quality; High resolution; High-resolution Panorama mode; Good video quality; Good grip; Fast autofocus.

Cons: Sluggish user interface and Full HD video mode; Heavy noise suppression; GPS is sometimes slow to sync.

Price and availability: Shipping as of April 2011, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V carries an MSRP of US$350, and comes in Black only.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

(#1 in our 2011 Travel Zoom Shootout!)

Sony HX9V Overview

by Alex Burack and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 07/15/2011

The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is a prototypical pocket long zoom digital camera, a breed of camera that's noticeably smaller than a DSLR, but more capable than a point-and-shoot. Sporting a thin, rectangular frame, the HX9V's 16x zoom lens and diverse snapshot-oriented feature set yields high-resolution stills, 3D panoramas, and Full HD video with stereo audio. Along with 16.2-megapixel files and a 3.0-inch LCD screen, the Cyber-shot HX9V delivers performance, automation, and a photo-savvy design, making it a viable point-and-click or more affordable alternative to interchangeable lens systems.

Sony HX9V User Report

Priced at $349.99, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V presents a feature-laden compact digital camera with a blend of DSLR controls, setting versatility, and ease-of-use that makes it a strong option for photography enthusiasts on the go. Backed by a 16.2-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and optically-stabilized 24-384mm (equivalent) zoom lens, the pocketable Cyber-shot HX9V records full 1080/60p HD video, stereo audio, 3D stills, and instant panoramas. At full speed, the camera can snap burst sequences at 10 frames per second (fps), and exhibits strong autofocus for a non-DSLR. For the price and versatility, the SD-enabled Sony Cyber-shot HX9V packs a strong value for point-and-shooters and photo enthusiasts alike.

Look and Feel. Cloaked in a matte black finish, the Cyber-shot HX9V assumes a somewhat thick, rectangular design that resembles a point-and-shoot with more of a grip than usual. Though it's long, the lens' prowess is concealed within the pocketable body of the HX9V, which makes it easy to transport and slide into your pocket. Pocketable, of course, is relative; this won't fit into tight jeans, and is noticeable in slacks, but fits well in cargo shorts or jacket pockets.

The weight of the Sony HX9V is distributed well throughout its chassis, with the camera resting comfortably against the user's palm. Sony intelligently places a small wedge of rubber on the back on the HX9V, opposite the vertical handgrip, to rest your thumb and stabilize the camera when shooting with just one hand. With the thin camera body and lens barrel, the solid grasp you are able to achieve on the camera is particularly important for telephoto shots.

External controls are well placed across the body. In shooting position, the user's hand and fingers naturally form something of a backwards "G" shape. The right index finger falls comfortably over the circular shutter release with easy access to the rotating zoom control that's formed around it. Users can intuitively adjust exposure settings using a jog dial on the back of the camera.

Within the dial is a selection button that toggles between ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture settings in Manual mode. The integration is quick and easy to adjust between shots. My only gripe here is that the exposure compensation adjustment, used in Program mode, is buried within the menu. Answering that gripe is the Custom button on the top of the camera, which can be set to bring up Exposure Compensation, ISO, and White Balance adjustments.

Viewing. Sony went with size over framing versatility with the HX9V, excluding an optical viewfinder for a smaller overall form factor, something most manufacturers have done in recent years, particularly in the long zoom format. A large 3.0-inch 921k-dot LCD screen serves as the viewfinder and playback monitor on the camera. The screen is bright, with good contrast and a wide angle of view. You can adjust the brightness in 5-steps.

I did, however, take some exception to the color accuracy of the LCD monitor. Warm colors -- red tones in particular -- appear vastly oversaturated on screen, skewing your immediate impression of the captured file. Stained wood appears a vivid reddish orange.

Lens. The optic is the ultimate backbone of the camera. A long telescoping lens extends from the front, close to the center of the camera body. The 16x optical zoom lens covers an equivalent zoom range of 24-384mm in its native 4:3 aspect ratio. The lens is stabilized by Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, which integrates a gyro sensor to detect and compensate for handshake. The IS system is particularly important for telephoto shots with the small camera, and does an adequate, if not impressive job in use.

Varying the focal length on the Cyber-shot HX9V's lens is achieved by rotating a ring around the shutter release button. The motorized zoom is smooth across the lens' wide focal range, while remaining sensitive enough to facilitate subtle alterations when gently depressed.

The shortcoming of the lens is that only two apertures are available: f/3.3 and f/8. At telephoto, this changes to f/5.9 and f/14. We think this is because the Sony HX9V uses the neutral density filter to simulate its smaller aperture, rather than offering an actual smaller aperture.

Interface. Sony is adept in designing a clean, usable graphic interface across its products, and the Cyber-shot HX9V is no different. The menu structures are well organized and easily accessed through the Menu button on the back of the camera. The settings are displayed over a live feed of what the camera sees, immediately showing the effect of the potential White Balance and aspect ratio alterations as you scroll through the available setting options.

Menu headings in Shooting modes are intelligently organized in a vertical array on the left side of the screen, with specific options sprawled out horizontally across the frame. Sony uses white text over a semi-transparent black overlay. The text is clear and easy to read in nearly any condition. Menu options will vary slightly depending on the shooting mode the camera is using. There are three display settings to control how much information is displayed on the live composition (Off, On, and Detailed Info). There's also an In-Camera Guide that comes in very handy given the camera's generous feature set.

Water Flow. With manual shutter speeds, it's easy to control the appearance of motion in the shot.

Modes. The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V stocks a number of still capture modes ranging from basic exposure settings (Program, Manual, Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, and Scene Selection) to more experimental options (such as 3D shooting, Background Defocus, Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, Panorama, and Memory Recall).

Sony provides more incremental control over the HX9V's shutter speed, enabling you to control whether to freeze a subject or allow some blur to show motion. As I mentioned, there are only two apertures available at any given focal length.

Movie Modes. Sony, like Canon and Panasonic, has extensive camcorder lines that inform the video functionality in its digital cameras. Previously tagged hybrid recorders, most cameras today by these manufacturers capture Full 1080 HD video at 60p, with smooth transitions and startling video clarity. The bit rate varies automatically, impacting the total recording time and ultimate video quality to some extent.

Full HD video. 1920x1080p60 with stereo audio. Click image to download 37.5MB .MTS file. (Click here to download a 16.0MB 1440x1080p30 MP4 sample.)

Along with a dedicated Movie record button, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V includes several video capture settings: PS records AVCHD 28Mbps at 1,920 x 1,080, 60p; FX records AVCHD 24Mbps at 1,920 x 1,080, 60i; FH records AVCHD 17Mbps at 1,920 x 1,080 60i; and HQ records AVCHD 9Mbps at 1,440 x 1,080, 60i. In the settings menu, you can also switch to MP4 format, which offers 1080 MP4 12Mbps 1,440 x 1,080; 720 MP4 6Mbps 1,280 x 720; and VGA MP4 3Mbps 640 x 480. Optical zoom is supported during video recording, though it's important to note that when switching from still to video capture, the relative focal range shifts depending on the video mode selected; in Standard 16:9 movie mode, the HX9V's zoom lens extends from 25-400mm. Shooting standard, 4:3 aspect ratio, the zoom lens covers from 31-496mm.

Videos recorded with the HX9V can be viewed on a compatible PC, or on an HDTV directly via the camera's HDMI port (you'll need a cable that adapts from Type C Mini HDMI to HDMI, which is not included).

MP4 video looks more highly processed, with a very watercolor appearance. AVCHD video looks better with smoother motion, but the camera slows down considerably in this mode. It takes 3-5 seconds for video recording to begin, and several seconds for it to stop as well.

Optical Zoom Range. A very versatile 24mm to 384mm equivalent.

Stereo Audio. Video quality is strong for a pocket camera, handing quick motion and mixed lighting with consistent success. Sony also takes audio into consideration on this camera (by no means a common practice among digicams). The camera has two small microphones on the front deck, just above the lens opening, to capture stereo audio. Although the microphones are placed extremely close together, the distinct left and right channels give the audio a sense of dimensionality. Audio is recorded in two formats depending on which video encoding you use: AVCHD uses Dolby Digital (AC-3) and MP4 uses MPEG-4 AAC-LC.

There is also a Wind Noise Reduction filter that's engaged within the capture menu. While this is a great inclusion, the WNR filter produces more hope than results. It's a nice touch, nonetheless.

Ultimately, the audio design and implementation surpass the sound quality that's captured; compared to other cameras out there, the audio recorded by HX9V offers a bit fuller, less treble-dominant sound. However, it does still retain a bit of the signature, tin-like sound of digital camera audio.

3D Shooting and Viewing. 3D Shooting captures images in industry-standard .MPO format for playback on a 3D capable TV. In the HX9V user manual, however, Sony cautions that users may “experience discomfort in the form of eye strain, fatigue, or nausea” with prolonged use, and notes that the feature is not necessarily good for children with developing vision.

Group Burst (Viewing). Within the Playback Menu, users can elect to view burst sequences as individual images or as a 3-dimensional composite. Selecting the Group view allows users to tilt the camera to move around the dimensional composite frame in Playback mode.

iSweep Panorama. While Panorama modes are common these days, Sony's integration of the feature stands tall above other iterations. Directions flash on screen once you switch into the mode -- intuitively placed on the mode dial -- that instruct you to pan the camera across the intended composition while holding the shutter button. A white frame scrolls across a black letterbox as a timeline, indicating movement and progress as the panoramic is captured. Once all of the dark frames are traced, the camera flashes a "Processing" message and immediately stitches all of the independent frames together into a smooth, cohesive panoramic photograph.

Instant Panorama. Panning the camera across the landscape is all it takes to capture the full scene.

High Resolution Panorama. You can make a 43-megapixel panoramic image in High Resolution mode. Just hold the camera vertically and pan fairly quickly. The resulting image measures 10,480 x 4,096 pixels!

There are three Panorama formats available: Standard, Wide, and High Resolution (HR). All of the settings sport a widescreen-like format, with the height of the panoramic image dependant on the selected setting. Standard and Wide modes require a lateral pan of the camera in its natural, horizontal position, while the High Resolution panoramic is created by a lateral pan of the camera in a vertical position. Both orientations are smooth and nearly effortless. The user will have to scroll at a pace dictated by the camera, but the feature is very simple to use. It's the best implementation of a Panoramic mode that I've seen; it makes me question why it would be designed any other way.

Background Defocus. Telephoto shots with a wide aperture and narrow depth-of-field have become a distinguishing look of digital SLRs that is not necessarily feasible for point-and-shoots to recreate. The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V attempts to compensate for this by offering a digital approximation of the feature, tagged "Background Defocus." The setting will allow you to zoom in on an object in the frame, and ultimately blurs the background. The HX9V creates this effect with electronics, while DSLRs achieve it through optics. There is a hefty trade-off here; users shouldn't expect the “DSLR effect” they've become accustomed to seeing, but the setting does come fairly close.

Background Defocus. The water and trees behind the flowers are blurred by the HX9V to simulate a shallow depth-of-field.

Sony includes three settings to control the degree of blurring that's applied to the background: Lo, Mid, and Hi. Unfortunately, there is little differentiation between the “Defocus Effect” in the three settings. Sony is likely trying to show the difference between a stop or two, approximately between f/1.8 and f/2.8. However, the visual distinction is minimal at best. Nonetheless, most snapshooters will be well served by the effect in certain situations.

More ambitious shooters who like to edit their images in a software application may be better served shooting the photo without any effect and creating a blur in Photoshop or a similar program. Users looking for a more immediate alternative, however, will be fairly well served by this simulation.

Combatting Backlight. You can clearly see the HDR aspect of the Sony HX9V's mode at work in the sky (highlights) and wall (shadows), compared to the spot-metered image exposed for the wall.

Backlight Compensation HDR -- Backlight compensation HDR is a Scene Mode designed to combat one of the most difficult photographic situations: shooting a dim subject in front of a much brighter background. Due to the limited dynamic range of all cameras, the typical (and generally disappointing) result is a decent exposure of the background, with the subject dramatically under-exposed and concealed in shadows. Conventionally, most photographers would solve this problem by switching the metering mode to “Spot” and exposing the image for the subject, letting the background get blown out. However, the Sony HX9V's Backlight Correction HDR (High Dynamic Range) Scene mode opts for a more advanced solution, combining three bracketed shots, captured seemingly simultaneously, within the camera to reduce the contrast and optimize for three different tonal ranges. The result is an even exposure across the entire image.

Storage and Battery. Unlike earlier Cyber-shot models, the Sony HX9V accepts Secure Digital memory cards (SD, SDHC, SDXC), along with its proprietary Memory Stick media (Memory Stick PRO Duo and Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo). SD media is a bit more convenient for most potential consumers, who likely already own SD cards. Be aware, however, the 16.2-megapixel images consume a lot of storage space; I recommend at least a 4 GB card for most outings. According to Sony, the Cyber-shot HX9V can capture 335 full-resolution images, or 9 minutes of AVC HD 28M (PS) video, on a 2 GB card. Sony recommends at least Class 4 SD cards or Mark2 Memory Stick Pro Duo cards for HD recording.

My biggest disappointment with the Cyber-shot HX9V is the omission of RAW file format. This will likely take away from the camera's appeal to pros and photo enthusiasts looking for a travel camera, though it's not an issue if you don't intend to edit your images.

Sony fits the Cyber-shot HX9V with a proprietary NP-BG1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The 3.6V battery cell is thin and relatively light, though it's paired with an unnecessarily blocky USB-to-wall converter and that serves as the charger. The interface enables you to plug the USB cable to a computer, which will allow the camera to draw power from the computer, or directly to the USB converter plugged into a standard AC outlet.

The battery held its charge fairly well during shooting, continuing for over 450 shots in my outings. It's CIPA rated for 300 shots (50% with flash) per charge.

It's also worth noting that the camera also sports a mini HDMI port to view images, 2D video, and 3D images directly on an HDTV.

Shooting. The performance of this camera falls into two distinct categories: image quality and usability. The design of the camera is optimized for a range of shooters, from point-and-shooters to more engaged photographers. Principally, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V serves to accommodate quick, high-caliber, on-the-go snapshots. The long, optically-stabilized lens, HD video with stereo audio, and handful of well-considered modes work to distinguish this camera from its competitors.

The Sony HX9V is responsive when shooting, quickly locking focus, with very little shutter lag before capture. Its AF speed is nothing short of remarkable, turning in AF times as fast as the fastest digital SLRs: 0.15 second at wide angle and 0.13 second at telephoto. Amazing. Shot-to-shot speeds are about average, although there is an impressive 10-shot burst feature that can capture 10 full resolution images in roughly one second. The HX9V's download speed may initially get overlooked, but the camera's quicker transfer rate will speed the larger 16-megapixel files from the camera to the computer.

Sluggishness. Not everything about the HX9V is fast, though. The first time you enter Playback mode after re-inserting a card, it can take 7-8 seconds for the camera to re-familiarize itself with the card; after that, switching between Playback and Record mode takes about 2 seconds. The Sony HX9V is slow to give you a full display after power-on, including the basic onscreen data and selected AF areas. This can also take about seven seconds. As mentioned previously, Full HD movie recording is also slow to start and stop. Finally, Zoom is slow to register, especially if you've just captured an image. You really have to adjust your timing to work with the HX9V, and plan ahead.

GPS. The Sony HX9V also integrates a GPS radio, which we found remarkably effective at tagging our location when it was enabled, and though we didn't have it on for most of this review, coordinates recorded matched reasonably well when we looked them up in Google maps. Some coordinates were closer than others, but the user guide says triangulation error is about 98 feet (30m), and the error we saw was more like 30 feet.

It takes three to five minutes for a sufficient number of satellites to lock on, but you can go to a special screen to see a graphical representation of the satellites as they appear. You can also connect the camera to a computer with the supplied PMB software to download GPS Assist data that will speed up satellite acquisition. As with any GPS, you get better reception out in the open, away from tall trees and buildings.

GPS status is reported via a small satellite icon on the LCD screen with three bars to show signal strength. Just left of that is a small compass rose, whose red end points north.

The detailed Playback display shows you the coordinates recorded for each photo, and your orientation on the compass when you snapped the photo. You can tell the camera to set its clock by satellite if you like, and have it set your location information, adjusting the clock by time zone as needed.

For Windows users, the Picture Motion Browser (PMB) software includes a Map View mode, which summons Google maps to show your photos overlaid on a map of where you shot them. See the Sony Support video that demonstrates the feature if it's important to you. Mac users will have to employ another solution for mapping, like GPSinfo, Adobe Lightroom, or Picasa.

Image Quality. Assessing the proverbial nuts-and-bolts of the HX9V's photo quality, it's clear that its G-series lens is a high-quality optic for a point-and-shoot camera, though not without its shortcomings. The lens shows relative softness in the corners of the frame (particularly at wide angle), which is not too surprising given its 16x zoom and its aggressive 24mm wide setting. In terms of distortion -- at both ends of its focal range -- the HX9V does very well, showing very little geometric distortion. There is a good amount of chromatic aberration, however, that shows in the form of a glowing blue outline, particularly near blown-out areas of an image. The aberrations are not uncommon in digital cameras, though the size and bright bluish pixels in shots with the HX9V can be distracting in telephoto shots. In all, the lens' general strength, along with its backside illuminated CMOS sensor, is its ability to deliver high-resolution images with consistent sharpness from the optics, sensor, and image stabilization.

Sunset. The Sony HX9V pleasantly captures the warm tones of this sunset.

Beyond optics, the Cyber-shot HX9V packs a wide range of sensitivity settings, equipping the camera with ISO selections up to 3,200. Typically, non-DSLRs have difficulty maintaining strong image quality beyond ISO 1,600 because of the small sensors they are built around. Images shot at ISO up to 800 are usable and hold relatively high image quality; however, the overwhelming noise and internal noise reduction system are so strong at ISO 1,600 and 3,200 that almost all fine detail is lost from the image. This is compounded by the built-in flash's mediocre performance -- boosting the ISO too high -- and slow recycle times.

Default color reproduction from the HX9V is solid, though it shows a typical point-and-shoot bias of oversaturating extreme warm and cool tones (particularly reds & yellows, blues & cyans), opting for a punchier look, rather than a more tone-neutral representation. This look will be pleasing to most consumers, helping to create a more startling look without editing the photos post-capture. Alternate color modes are available, including "Real" which dials-back colors, as well as Vivid, Sepia and B&W. There are also 3-step saturation, contrast and sharpness settings.

Color balance on the camera is consistent with most cameras in its class. The auto white balance setting casts a bit of a warm glow under incandescent light, while the manual setting overcompensates slightly and yields a slight bluish-green cast. Neither color cast is really problematic.

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft at upper left
Tele: Slight blurring at center
Tele: Mild blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's zoom shows some blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though the effect is minimal and doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto, performance is similar, though results at center are also a little soft.


Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: A tiny amount of pincushion distortion, barely visible

Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (<0.1%), and almost no perceptible distortion (~0.03% pincushion) at telephoto. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's processor does a good job here.


Wide: High and bright
Tele: Also high and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderately high in terms of pixel count, and pixels are fairly bright. At telephoto, distortion is stronger, with brighter blueish pixels covering a large portion of the black target lines.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's Macro mode captures good detail throughout most of the frame, with fairly good definition. However, blurring is strong in the corners of the frame and extends fairly far into the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 3.00 x 2.25 inches (76 x 57mm), which is on the larger side. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in a very strong shadow and a hot spot in the upper left.


 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage at wide-angle and about 101% at telephoto, which is pretty good.


 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Image Quality


Color: Overall color looks fairly accurate and natural, though bright reds and blues are a bit oversaturated (blues much more than reds). Hue inaccuracies show up in colors like yellow, orange and cyan, the latter of which has the biggest discrepancy. Dark skin tones show a large push toward orange, while lighter skin tones are closer to accurate, if a little pink. Overall, pretty good performance.


Auto WB:
A little too red
Incandescent WB:
Too warm and yellow
 
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, as the Auto setting produced a red cast and the Incandescent setting came out too warm. Results at Manual do have a very slight greenish/cool tint, but still look good overall.


Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,750 lines per picture height.


Wide: Inconclusive
Tele: Fair, but slightly dim
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive at 18.4 feet (ISO 320). The telephoto test came out just a little dim, despite a big ISO boost to 800 at 9.8 feet.

Auto flash produced fairly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light by using a shutter speed of 1/60 second, and raising ISO to 250. At this shutter speed, you shouldn't have any major issues with subject or camera motion blur, especially since the HX9V has image stabilization, as well as motion detection. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 100 and 200, with some visible softening beginning at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is fairly well controlled, though luminance noise is more evident as the sensitivity increases. By ISO 1,600 and 3,200, details are just about obliterated by noise suppression, though the suggestion of detail remains. See what this means for printed images in the Printed section below.


Print Quality: ISO 100 images make good 16x20-inch prints, though with noticeable digital artifacts in areas, especially in green leaves. I preferred the 13x19-inch prints, where the artifacts were much less noticeable.

ISO 200 shots also look good printed at 13x19 inches, though with slightly less fine detail.

ISO 400 images look good at 13x19, but shadow detail starts to look oddly blurry, with blotches here and there. Reduction to 11x14 helps quite a bit.

ISO 800 files are usable at 13x19, but again the blotches in shadowy areas look better at 11x14.

ISO 1,600 shots have enough high-contrast detail for printing at 11x14, but fine detail is lost in a blur. This doesn't look better until reduction to 8x10 inches.

ISO 3,200 images don't make a passable 8x10, unfortunately, thanks to overly aggressive noise reduction, looking instead like a watercolor painting. Reducing size to 5x7, though, brings it all back to acceptable.

Depending on the subject, the Sony HX9V's noise suppression is a little too aggressive, making certain types of detail look more like watercolor brush strokes instead of photographic elements, reducing the above print-size estimates by at least one. Otherwise, print quality is good, producing a good 5x7 from all ISO settings, including 3,200.


 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Performance


Startup Time: The Sony HX9V takes about 2.1 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's pretty good for a pocket long-zoom, but it's much slower at activating the display (up to about 7 seconds).


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is extremely fast, at 0.15 second at wide angle and 0.13 second at full telephoto. That rivals the fastest of SLRs we've tested. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.018 second, also very fast.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is fair, capturing a frame every 1.7 seconds in single-shot mode. Burst mode however is very fast, rated at up to 10 frames-per-second for 10 frames at full resolution.


Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's flash recycles in about 8 seconds after a full-power discharge, on the slow side of average.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF-assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V's download speeds are very fast. We measured 10,128 KBytes/sec.


 

In the Box

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V comes packaged with the following materials:

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V camera body
  • USB-to-wall converter
  • USB-to-camera cable
  • Battery pack
  • Battery cap
  • CD ROM
  • Wrist strap

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra battery pack for extended outings
  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick Pro Duo card. These days, 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. You'll need at least a Class 4 SD or Mark2 Pro Duo card to record HD movies.
  • High-Speed Mini HDMI (Type C) to HDMI cable
  • Camera case

 

Sony HX9V Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Versatile wide-angle 16x zoom lens
  • Excellent optical quality, though see Con about CA
  • Effective optical image stabilization
  • 3-inch 920k-dot LCD
  • Packed with features
  • Full 1080/60p HD video
  • Optical zoom during video recording
  • Stereo microphone for audio recording
  • Integrated GPS with compass
  • iSweep Panorama
  • Cool, interactive 3D functionality
  • Background Defocus effect is desired by many point-and-shooters
  • Instant HDR works pretty well
  • Good resolution
  • Manual exposure mode
  • Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur image stacking modes
  • Superior Auto
  • Still capture during movie recording (up to 3MP)
  • Relatively strong color reproduction (for point-and-shoot sensibilities)
  • Well-designed menus and scroll wheel facilitate quick exposure and shooting adjustments
  • In-camera user guide
  • Extremely fast AF and shutter lag
  • Very fast burst mode
  • Fast USB transfer speeds
  • HDMI output
  • Dual media (SD/MS Duo) support
  • Heavy noise suppression gives images a watercolor look
  • Very little fine detail above ISO 800
  • No control over NR levels
  • Sluggish user interface
  • AVCHD PS movie mode is slower to start and stop
  • GPS can be slow to sync
  • Movie button is small and barely protruding, making it difficult to press and smoothly start or end video clips
  • Slow flash recycle time
  • No contrast adjustment available for HDR preset
  • No RAW capture mode
  • Noticeable chromatic aberration
  • Excessively large USB adapter packaged with camera (USB port is perpendicular to wall outlet, likely blocking an adjacent plug)
  • Only two aperture settings at a given focal length, using an ND filter
  • Poor documentation split between PDF and HTML formats

 

The 16.2-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot HX9V serves an overlapping market of consumers. Outfitted with an optically-stabilized 24-384mm equivalent lens, this compact digital camera is able to capture wide views, smooth zoom transitions, and HD video seamlessly across its 16x zoom range.

It delivered good-quality stills at sensitivities up to ISO 800 and exhibited impressive autofocus and tracking for a non-DSLR. Ironically, however, it's the camera's seemingly more gimmicky features that ultimately prove its worth. The panorama mode, burst & stitch features, and instant HDR composites come through on their ambitions and produce stylized snapshots worthy of consideration among enthusiasts. However, enthusiasts should note that noise suppression on the HX9V is quite aggressive, often resulting in a watercolor look. We don't think this will bother most users, but those cropping or looking for more crisp images won't be as happy with Sony's rendering, especially since there is no RAW capture mode.

Listed for under $350, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is poised to stand up to compact system cameras and tower over typical high-performance point-and-shoots, making it a Dave's Pick.

To see how the Sony HX9V compares to its competitors, see our Travel Zoom Shootout!

 

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