Sony DSC-HX50 review

Sony DSC-HX50 review

T3 4
  • The Sony HX50 is a cross between a premium compact and a travel zoom but does it truly offer the best of both worlds?

    Sony DSC-HX50 review

    Love

    • Incredible zoom range
    • Manual control dials
    • Detailed shots

    Hate

    • Can't shoot Raw files
    • Small image sensor
    • It's wider than most compacts

    The sophisticated yet approachable 20.4 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot HX50 is targeting what its manufacturer terms "global explorers" and "family record makers". Both audiences will benefit from the versatility of the huge optically image stabilised 30x zoom, which offers an ultra-wide 35mm equivalent range of 24-720mm. This enabled us to zip through a multitude of framing options in seconds.

    While it's a third wider than equally new 7.1x zoom Panasonic LF1, the compact Sony HX50 can still be squeezed in a pocket (albeit a jacket rather than jeans), part justifying its maker's claim for the world's smallest 30x zoom camera.

    Add in Wi-Fi (but not NFC) for the wireless transfer of images, and the £330 camera would seem to tick many boxes for those looking for one camera that does it all.

    Rivals in this price range include the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ40 (20x and 18MP), its newer LF1, the Olympus XZ-10, plus the Fujifilm XF1. Having said that, the Sony HX50 outclasses them all in terms of resolution and focal range, even if its Exmor R CMOS sensor size is still relatively modest at the standard 1/2.3-inches.

    So if image quality is really your over-riding concern, then either iteration of the brand's own Sony RX100 (or newer Sony RX100 II), with one-inch sensor, is probably a better bet still.

    In comparison with the best of its premium compact competitors, the HX50's maximum lens aperture is also so-so at f/3.5. This hardly suggests a camera as well suited to low light work as the f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.0 apertures offered by rivals with shorter zooms. Still, it's horses for courses, and with any jack-of-all-trades device there are inevitably going to be compromises.

    Sony DSC-HX50: Controls

    The HX50 shows its credentials as a premium camera by featuring a hotshoe for the attachment of optional accessories, including stereo off-camera microphone, flashgun or viewfinder.

    Interestingly, the power button, inset into the top plate, is the smallest control on the HX50. Press down on this and the camera readies itself for action in just over two seconds, lens emerging an inch-and-a-half from its housing to arrive at maximum (24mm equivalent) wideangle setting.  

    The other top plate controls - a manually operated shooting mode wheel plus exposure dial (with settings from +/- 2EV) - are chunkier and surprisingly stiff, thereby avoiding accidental selection in the process of fetching the camera out of a bag or pocket.

    A zoom lever ergonomically surrounds the shutter release button, as it does on 90% of all compacts. Nudge it and, in stills capture mode, the zoom powers through the entire focal range, from extreme 24mm wide angle to maximum 720mm telephoto setting, in just over three seconds.

    Sony has not included a separate lens control ring here however, as found on both Canon PowerShots and Panasonic LF1 rivals. But there is a very neat pop-up flash, secreted away within the top plate and activated via a narrow button placed just behind.

    A movie record button for kick starting 1920x1080-pixels video clips is positioned top right of the backplate next to a thumb rest, whilst menu, delete, scroll wheel and command pad controls are directly beneath. Sony has further provided a custom settings button, rather than featuring this option on the actual shooting mode dial.

    On the latter we get the regular creative quartet of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual shooting modes, alongside two fully auto options.

    These include Sony's 'Superior Auto' whereby the camera automatically adjusts the look of images in-camera at the point of capture - saving users the need to apply Auto Levels in Photoshop later - though sometimes the results can look a tad washed out, especially if it's attempting to find a half way point between a dark foreground and bright background.

    Sony DSC-HX50: Screen

    There's no viewfinder incorporated into the HX50 - though an EVF is an optional extra, should you wish to attach one to its multi interface accessory hotshoe. Instead we're reliant, out of the box, on its standard issue 3-inch backplate LCD monitor.

    This is presented in 4:3 image aspect ratio and offers Sony's Xtra Fine Trublack technology, but is fixed, so cannot be angled to improve performance in brighter light. However the Sony's screen does offer a semi professional resolution of 921,600 dots and a reasonably bright view itself, particularly when used indoors.

    The camera manages to relay a judder-free onscreen image when zoomed in to the max and used hand held. The LCD here is not a touch screen, unlike an increasing number of compacts these days. But given that the HX50 is mostly all about that zoom, we can live with a few omissions. And, after all, no camera is ever 100% perfect in every aspect.

    Sony DSC-HX50: Battery

    Sony compacts, from Cyber-shots like this one through its pricier interchangeable lens NEX series (including the Sony NEX-6), have had a run of offering class-leading battery performances of late.

    The HX50 is no exception. It delivers an entry-level DSLR-like 400 shots from a full charge of its NP-BX1 lithium ion cell, which slots into the base of its handgrip. This is impressive; particularly when even compact system cameras average around 300-330 shots.

    Sony DSC-HX50: Picture quality

    Compact cameras and large lenses don't traditionally make for the best bedfellows; users' shaky hands and resultant camera wobble often delivers soft results, particularly near maximum zoom.

    And yet, hand holding the camera in daylight it is possible to get detailed results at extreme telephoto setting with the HX50, even if it sometimes takes the auto focus a second or two to catch up once you've zoomed in fully.

    Some might grumble that picture quality isn't up there with professional cameras as regards finer subtleties of detail. But viewing images onscreen and considering how impractical and costly it would be to achieve a similar focal range with a DSLR, this Sony certainly delivers if viewed purely as a snapshot camera with a bit of extra poke in the zoom department.

    This being a Sony device, its colours veer towards the warm and well saturated, which also provides the kind of punch you want from JPEGs out of the camera. As an almost pocket-sized tool for family snapshots then, the HX50 is just about perfect, the lens reach also making it ideal for shots of skittish wildlife or faraway subjects that would not usually be within reach.

    Yes, there are familiar bugbears such as purple pixel fringing where dark areas meet light and blown highlight detail on occasion - both surfacing in strong sunlight - but this is true of 99% of digital cameras.

    So while no, it's not a DSLR or even CSC with a larger sensor, the HX50's performance is nonetheless impressive, as is the fact that stereo sound is provided for video clips, with, again, the full use of the zoom range accessible.

    The speed of the zoom's operation notably slows when recording, taking ten seconds to move through its range rather than just three, but this just makes for a more watchable, languid feel to the footage.

    Sony DSC-HX50: Verdict

    There will be some traditionalists who, while admiring the hotshoe and lens reach on offer, will bemoan this 20.4 megapixel Sony's small sensor, lack of Raw capture, and omission of an eye level viewfinder. But, even for its high-ish £330 asking price, the HX50 is still a lot of camera - particularly if it's the 30x zoom power that has you salivating and considering a purchase.

    The fact that it's possible to get detailed results consistently at maximum zoom in daylight, when many other models need two or three attempts at similar shots, helps this Sony show its considerable mettle.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 release date: Out now

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 price: £329

  • The Sony DSC-HX50 is the brand's latest digital camera and it's also the first compact to feature a x30 zoom. T3 went hands-on...

    Sony DSC-HX50 review

    Love

    • Incredible zoom range
    • Manual control dials
    • Detailed shots

    Hate

    • Can't shoot Raw files
    • Small image sensor
    • It's wider than most compacts

    The Sony HX50 the first (and so far only) digital compact camera to feature a x30 zoom with the maker having managed to shrink down the lens from its HX100V considerably. Sony has taken the tech from its RX range of high-end snappers, including the Sony RX100, and ported it over to a more affordable compact.

    Sony HX50: Size and build

    The HX50 isn't the smallest camera around, but it can easily slip into a large pocket, and is less bulky and easy to carry than a DSLR or a CSC - which is the main idea. The design is slick, with a pro look - which is echoed in the inclusion of features such as a customisable button on the back and an EV dial for setting exposure compensation.

    Sony HX50: Features

     

    Sporting a 24-720mm Sony G lens, the new model also packs a 20.4MP Exmor R CMOS sensor along with Wi-Fi for uploading images directly from the camera, along with a hotshoe adaptor for adding accessories such as an electronic viewfinder or flash.

    The X50 also shoots full HD video at 50fps. According to Sony, it offers 400 shots on a single charge.

    Sony HX50: Verdict

    We only had a very quick play with the camera, but the zoom capabilities are certainly impressive for a compact - we tried it out on the view from the top of the Gherkin in London and we were able to focus on objects that were far away in the distance. We'll give you more info on specs and picture quality as soon as we can get a model in for a full review.

    Sony DSC-HX50 release date: Early May 2013

    Sony DSC-HX50 price: £350

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    • Sony DSC-HX50 hands-on
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