If you don’t want the expense and size of a DSLR camera but do want the ability to shoot in similarly creative ways, a bridge or super-zoom camera should be at the top of your shopping list.
Sony’s latest effort, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is, on paper, one of the most impressive we’ve seen. A bold attempt to offer all things to all people, it’s a super-zoom that’s trying to be a hi-def video camera.
The HX1 is the first non-DSLR to use Sony’s ‘Exmor’ CMOS sensor. The big advantage of this is speed – from quick shot taking to 10fps action photos, it’s all beautifully responsive and great for capturing birds in flight or frantic football matches.
The ergonomics are pretty sound, too, and it’s relatively compact for a super-zoom – remember, you’re getting a 20x zoom here.
Like all big-zoomers, the HX1 has a digital eye viewfinder. It’s sharper than most, though, so you can use it to focus if you have to. The sharp main LCD is tiltable, which can be helpful for difficult angles or surreptitious shots from waist level.
Where things fall down on the camera front, however, is image quality. It’s rather average, with a little too much noise at high ISO and not enough detail. There’s also some nasty over-sharpening that makes pics look ugly in places – particularly if you print big.
Where it scores highly over its big-zoom competitors is with some very cool extra features.
Top of the list is ‘Sweep Panorama’, which allows you to hold down the shutter button and move the camera in an arc.
It captures 10 different images, automatically stitching them together to create a single panoramic shot – and it works brilliantly smoothly, even if the shots may not be as sharp as you’d like.
There are also two low-light modes, both of which snap six frames and overlay them to produce smooth, reasonably sharp noise-free images. Both are useful when you don’t want to use the flash and don’t have a tripod to hand.
Experienced shutterbugs, meanwhile, have access to a range of manual shooting options, enabling them to tweak the aperture, shutter speed and ISO to their own tastes.
All impressive stuff, but we reckon Sony has missed a trick by not including the option to shoot in RAW.
While most users will be happy to stick to JPG shots processed in-camera, we weren’t overly chuffed by the HX1’s noise reduction tech, or its tendency to produce purple fringing in high-contrast shots. RAW support would allow much more post-snapping tweakery in Photoshop and its ilk.
Zoom with a view
Still, the optical zoom lens is a real peach. It offers 20x magnification, serving up a range that equates to 28-560mm in standard terms. That means you can take reasonably wide-angle landscapes then close right in on distant details, faces or wildlife.
And if you do use it at the telephoto end, SteadyShot optical image stabilisation means you won’t have to worry too much about camera shake. This does a decent job of ensuring sharp shots, and also helps when you’re snapping away flash-less in low light.
The 1080p hi-def video recording is impressive for a camera, even if it won’t bother the best camcorders from the likes of Panasonic and Sony itself. Just behind the flash, you can see evidence of Sony’s commitment to video, with stereo microphones for audio recording.
The video output is under the side flap and Sony should be applauded for supplying an HDMI adaptor in the box – it’s not always a bundled item, sadly.
Ultimately the HX1 does an ok job at trying to offer an HD camcorder and big-zoom camera combo, but it’s the part that for most people will be the more important – the camera – that lets the side down.
If you can live with a shortfall in image quality, and will use the HD video enough to warrant the price premium (we’re in entry-level DSLR territory, here) it’s definitely worth seeking out.