The Sony Cybershot HX9V sports a 16x zoom, GPS and 3D panoramas, along with DSLR-like quality, says its maker
The Sony Cybershot HX9V is getting close to the holy grail of photography with pro-like digital SLR style performance from a compact digital camera that will fit in your pocket, says its maker. This is thanks in part to the light gathering properties of the 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor at its core.
Priced at £319, and battling the likes of the Panasonic TZ series and the Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR by virtue of including a whopping 16x optical reach, which nudges the Sony into the 'travel zoom' camera category, what else does this chunky pocket model have to recommend it?
Sony Cybershot HX9V: Controls
Apart from extra depth at 34mm when compared to your standard 5x zoom snapper, partly due to a broad 24-384mm focal range in 35mm terms, the Sony Cybershot HX9V has also shoehorned in a GPS unit, again making it a close competitor for the Fujifilm F600EXR. While the zoom is controlled via a lever encircling the shutter release, the other visible controls are equally straightforward.
A five pence piece-sized shooting mode dial contains 10 auto and manual options, including the clever likes of Sony's proprietary 3D Sweep Panorama.
This automatically stitches together a single elongated image for viewing on suitably equipped TV; it appears 2D on the camera itself. We also get a user function attributable custom button on top, plus a dedicated video record button that falls under the thumb top right of the backplate.
The rest of the control layout is similar to another high-end compact - the Canon PowerShot S100. We get a control pad encircled by a scroll wheel to speed up function selection and implementation, plus separate playback, menu and image delete buttons.
While this Sony is a chunky beast and comes with the welcome advantage of something approaching a real handgrip, these latter three buttons are uncharacteristically teeny and require fingernail precision to operate.
Sony Cybershot HX9V: Screen
The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V's back screen is the customary 3 inches, but here boasts an impressive DSLR-quality resolution of 921,600 dots, which means the display is bright, clear and goes some way to justifying the claim of this Sony's premium compact status.
Unlike even chunkier rivals, including the Nikon Coolpix S9100 or Fujifilm X10 though, there is no secondary optical viewfinder to use as an alternative. But since in many respects this is perhaps closer in feel and usability to a pimped-up point and shoot than a pared-back DSLR, for us that isn't an issue.
Sony Cybershot HX9V: Battery
In common with cheaper snapshot models which no longer bundle a separate mains charger, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V's NP-BG1 lithium ion battery is charged in camera, using the standard bundled USB cable plus suitably equipped mains plug.
This, of course, means that the camera is tied up every time the battery needs charging, even if you were to buy a spare battery. Just as well then that with a battery life of 410 shots the Sony is equal to if not better than most rivals for power retention.
Sony Cybershot HX9V: Picture quality
Helping shoehorn more into shot is a lens that starts out at an ultra wide-angle 24mm equivalent in 35mm film terms, running up to 384mm at the telephoto end for usefully dragging the faraway closer.
As with any point and shoot camera, colours can look a little flat on default settings, but with the Sony Cybershot HX9V there's the opportunity to tweak them to the nth degree, customise your settings and exert manual control over the likes of shutter speed and aperture.
Video looks great, with a life-like quality and the camera seamlessly adjusting auto focus as you zoom in and out so avoiding the frame momentarily blurring. It also impressed us with low light stills shooting, producing usable noise-free results even at top whack ISO3200.
That top setting may appear a little modest with some high performance competitors such as the Leica D-Lux 5 offering up to a DSLR-like ISO12800, but these rivals normally effect a resolution drop to limit the appearance of grain above ISO3200 anyway.
Sony Cybershot HX9V: Verdict
Enticing the point and shoot merchant who has got a little more serious about their photography, Sony has packed a lot of firepower into the Cyber-shot HX9V's chunky, if pocket-sized, chassis.
A 16x optical zoom pushes it into travel zoom category with GPS geo tagging of images a further benefit for globetrotters, a 16 megapixel resolution enables beyond poster sized prints, colours hit the spot if taking the time to venture beyond default settings, while Full HD video with top-mounted stereo microphones and one-touch recording and 3D Sweep Panorama functionality ensures this one is a jack of all trades.
The extra body depth may put some buyers off, but it's hardly a brick when compared with the shrunken DSLR likes of Nikon's Coolpix P7100 or Canon PowerShot G12. In many ways this is a compact that offers a 'best of' where we are right now.
Sony Cybershot HX9v availability: Available now
Sony Cybershot HX9v price: £319