We have a new favourite point-and-shooter, and it’s this, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V. We love it more than any compact camera ever, including our previous favourite, the DSC-HX7V. There are two main reasons we like it so much. The first is that it’s packed with tricks that make it stacks of fun to play around with, and the second is that you can trust it to take a great picture in almost any situation.
Zoom with a view
We’ll come to the tricks in a minute, but first let’s talk about great pictures. When it’s in Intelligent Auto mode, the HX9V draws on a range of aids to avoid the most common camera calamities. So there’s brilliant image stabilisation to make the 16x zoom a totally realistic option. Depress the shutter and the shaky view snaps into a tightly controlled image that merely floats a little rather than veering around wildly as before.
Indoors, where photos might be blighted by bleached out flashes and dark backgrounds, the HX9V automatically deploys its multiple shot technology, firing a sequence of up to six frames and then almost instantly combining them to dig out colour and detail from the shadows without resorting to a flash. Surprisingly, it does this without introducing any camera shake – must be that stabilisation at work again. There’s also a decent flash if you want it.
Used outside without the zoom, the HX9V defaults to a wideangle view and shoots fine photos, but this is one instance in which it can be beaten or at least matched by the best of its rivals. Colours are strong to the point of saturation at times, with reds and greens eager to pop out a tad unrealistically. Detail levels are good enough at ISO 100, and with 16MP to play with there’s scope for cropping and enlarging.
For my next trick...
And now for those tricks. A 3D mode shoots a pair of images at different focal lengths, determines which parts are in the foreground, and then creates a 3D image (viewable on a 3D display) by cutting out the subject and placing it in front of the background.
The now familiar Sweep Panorama mode from other Sony cameras is here and working as well as ever. An onscreen guide tells you to move the camera in an arc from left to right and stitches it all together to make a super-wide vista (and these can be 3D too). The same panning technique is used to shoot curious 3D images that you can view on the camera itself. Even though the LCD is 2D, tilting the camera allows you to look at a scene from different angles, as though peeping around a corner – as clever as it is gimmicky.
Of more use day-to-day is the Background Defocus mode, selectable directly from the mode dial. This fakes a depth-of-field effect but does it pretty well, especially if you zoom in a little, making it ideal for snapping portraits. If you want more control you can go for manual shooting.
Video is another strong point. In fact it’s as good as it gets on a compact camera at the moment. The super-smooth, 50 frames per second, 1080p footage with stereo sound is quite fantastic. The only flaw of any note is a slight ghosting around fast moving objects, but overall the results are a match for any camcorder at this price.
For all that, the HX9V is quite a modest little thing. It’s built from a reassuring mix of metal, rubbery bits and quality plastic but doesn’t compromise usability in the name of style. There’s no touchscreen, for example, just the usual controls you’d expect to find in the usual places. Just what a compact camera should be, in fact.