Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
Compact travel-zoom camera with 3D.
Good image quality even in dark conditions; Fast shooting, Full HD video with stereo sound capture and autofocus plus optical zoom, Large crisp screen; Solid build; Full manual control.
Tiny buttons; Nascent 3D technology.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
MRP: Rs 16,990
Street Price: Rs 16,200 (Letsbuy.com), Rs 16,600 (Flipkart.com), Rs 15,350 (eBay.in)
The holiday season is fast approaching and Sony has on offer its new stylish super-thin 16.2 MP Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V camera with a large 3.0" screen and a powerful 16x optical zoom with optical image stabilisation along with a 24 mm wide-angle lens. Belonging the travel-zoom class of cameras, the DSC-HX9V has a GPS to store location information into photos and videos. This is no ordinary Cyber-shot because it has got 3D built into it, which means that this is one of the new digital cameras from Sony capable of capturing 3D still images using just a single lens. It does so via the new 3D Sweep Panorama mode, which can be viewed on any 3DTV using the HDMI output present in the included camera dock. Thanks to the powerful BIONZ image processor, in addition to the above, this camera supports 1080i AVCHD and MP4 movie recording with stereo sound. The back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor can capture better pictures even in dark conditions. There is a lot more in this camera, read the review to find out.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
Li-ion rechargeable slim battery
4 GB Sony SDHC Class-4 memory card
USB battery charger with power cord
Sony PMB software disc
While the bundle is good, it would have been better to include an HDMI cable to connect to an HDTV. Also, you may find yourself running out of space with the 4 GB card, especially while recording HD videos. With such a large screen, it would also have made sense to include a carry pouch with this camera to protect the screen. Last year during Diwali, Sony was giving carrying cases with Cyber-shot cameras as a special Diwali offer, and we wish that Sony would have done the same this year as well.
Design And Build
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V belongs to the stylish H-series of cameras from Sony and is just 33.9 mm thick, weighing just 245 g. The piece we received has a carbon black brush metallic finish that looks really nice, with gunmetal covering the right and top. The build quality is definitely very solid.
The camera sports the f/3.3-f/5.9 Sony G lens, equivalent to 24-384 mm. This is a 24 mm wide angle lens with an optical zoom of a solid 16x, which is superbly fitted in the small dimensions of the camera. The lens is protected by a cover, which automatically opens or closes when the camera is switched on and off respectively. An auto-focus sensor is present to the right of the lens. That's about all that is there at the front, now let us take a look at the top.
The pop-up Xenon flash is placed on the side away from where the shutter button is located, which is a smart placement because it reduces the chances of your fingers getting in the way. Stereo microphones for left and right are located near the centre as well just above the open lens cover. A sprint-loaded zoom lever encircles the largish power button, while a mode dial is present just besides this to select different shooting modes. The Power button with an embedded green LED is barely visible, just like the Custom button present besides it. The Custom button lets you assign any shortcut such as switching directly to ISO value selection without having to go inside the menu to access it. It would have been better if these would have been a little larger.
The back of the camera has a large 3.0" 4:3 screen with 921,600 dot high resolution, which displays very crisp and vivid images. A rubberised thumb-rest is present on the left to help you get a better grip while shooting. The camera has a dedicated Movie Record button, a Play button, Menu, and Options button. There is also a jog dial with a centre button to access various functions and to cycle through recorded content in playback mode.
At the bottom of the camera, a flap with a latch houses the battery compartment and the memory card slot. This camera supports Sony's MS Pro Duo as well as SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. The slim Lithium ion battery is a proprietary 3.6V Sony N-type NP-BG1 with a typical rating of 960 mAh. The battery can only be charged in the camera by connecting the camera via the USB cable to the provided charger. Lastly, there is a threaded tripod mount socket made of metal rather than plastic, thus ensuring durability.
The DSC-HX9V is literally crammed with features that you may find useful.
Intelligent Auto Adjustment mode is one feature we liked the most. It essentially puts the camera in autopilot mode in which the camera decides what parameters to use for getting the best shot. It is very interesting to see how the camera changes the scene modes from Backlight to Twilight as you move the camera to point a subject in brightness shifting to an area of darkness. Then there is a Superior Auto Adjustment mode in which, the camera takes six shots in quick succession and combines them to create an image with low noise and higher dynamic range. One of the features that we liked is the Background Defocus feature which can blur out the background and focus on the subject.
There are several scene modes to choose from, including High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Advanced Sports Shooting, Gourmet, Pet, and Soft Skin. Notable is the Soft Skin mode, which recognizes skin tones and reduces appearance of blemishes and wrinkles without adversely affecting the rest of the image. The camera takes six successive shots in Handheld Twilight mode to get better image in low light and in Anti-Motion Blur mode to get sharper images without a tripod.
There are other notable features such as Smile Shutter, which detects the subject's smile and clicks photo automatically at the right moment. Face Detection can distinguish between adult and children and can detect up to eight individual faces in a scene and make appropriate settings to get the best shot. There is even an Anti-Blink function, which detects if the subject blinked when the shot was taken and sounds a warning so that you can take one more shot.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V takes roughly 2.3 seconds to switch from Off to ready-to-shoot state. Shot to shot timing was found to be around 1.1 seconds, while it reduces to around 4 seconds when flash is used. With an advertised burst speed of 10 shots per second, it actually averages at around 7.5, which is not bad at all.
The camera comes with an amazing 16x optical zoom.
The results speak for themselves.
As you can see, the end results are always amazing: they make you feel like a Pro.
Twilight mode was used to snap this shot under very dark conditions with only a few fluorescent tubes illuminating the scene from a distance. The shutter speed was slowed down to 0.25 seconds at ISO 3200. Since the ISO value is high, the shot is noticeably noisy, though not as noisy as many other conventional cameras. The back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS does seem to work very well with pictures taken in low light environments. This camera is therefore good for shooting in low light environments.
One of the features that we liked is the Background Defocus feature which can blur out the background and focus on the subject.
In the above photograph, the rose is in focus, while its background is blurred out of focus.
ISO Sensitivity Test
ISO sensitivity modes of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 can be selected in Programmable mode in addition to the Auto ISO mode. In general, you get good results up to ISO 800, but noise increases noticeably with anything above that, especially in dark shooting conditions.
You can see that the sharpness decreases and noise increases as the ISO value is increased, but Sony has managed to keep the noise levels admirably low when compared to most of the cameras we have reviewed thus far.
Sony has managed to completely eliminate fringing in this camera because it is not visible even at maximum zoom, except very minor hints towards the outer portions of the image.
As stated earlier, this camera allows you to capture panorama images in 3D. To clear the confusion, we must tell you that it is not as simple as point and click to capture a 3D image. That would have been possible if there would have been two separate lenses for left and right. In this case, there is a single lens to rely on for capturing what is supposed to be seen with left and right eyes, therefore "technically", a still stereoscopic image cannot be captured simply by pointing and shooting. 3D image capture is achieved using two different 3D panorama modes in the camera, each involving moving the camera in a horizontal or vertical direction. The first mode is called 3D Sweep Panorama, in which you can click the button and move the camera in the direction indicated on the screen. If you move too fast or too slow, you will be prompted to take the shot again. The camera captures up to 100 images in this mode and creates a panorama. Once you get it right, the resultant 3D panorama image is not only saved as a long JPEG file, but also as a MPO 3D image format, which can be played back on a 3DTV or even using the NVIDIA 3D Vision Photo Viewer, through which you can either view it on a 3D monitor or in anaglyph 3D if you have a normal monitor.
The second mode is Sweep Multi Angle mode, in which the camera is to be moved in a way similar to the previous mode, but in a smaller angle. The camera captures 15 images in this mode and stitches them into a panorama. This image is stored in the JPEG format as well as the MPO 3D image format. Unlike in the previous mode, you can view this 3D panorama right on the camera display all you need to do is to switch to playback mode and press the "render" button on the screen to combine those 15 shots to render the "3D" image. You can view this "simulated 3D" image by tilting the camera from side to side and see how the perspective changes to give you a feeling of three dimensions and it does look cool.
While we must laud the attempts by Sony to create a consumer 3D camera, we must admit that this is still not "real" 3D photography, in which we expect 3D still images and videos by simply pointing and shooting. These 3D images are not captured instantaneously but are a result of a combination of successive images captured by the camera. That can still be truly achieved by using two separate lenses. Besides, this also has a limitation that the subject has to be considerably near the camera (usually not farther than a couple of meters) with the background being considerably far.
As noted earlier, the camera supports recording full HD video with stereo sound. Movies are recorded in 1080i AVCHD format which is Blu-ray compatible. Videos can be captured at 1920x1080, which is Full HD in AVCHD format or 60i at 17Mbps and also at 1440x1080 at 30fps 9Mbps in MP4 format for more YouTube-friendly content. Video quality is good with natural colours and crisp picture quality and sounds. The zooming is possible while shooting videos and it is silent. Continuous auto-focus also works while shooting movies.
The camera comes with Optical SteadyShot image stabilization using a built-in gyro sensor, which detects camera shake and compensates by automatically shifting the lens to prevent blur and preserve image quality. Optical SteadyShot is especially useful while using zoom and while shooting videos. In our test, it performed exceptionally well, producing amazing hand-held results at 16x zoom such as the test shot at the start of the performance section.
Overall, the image quality is good, though the colours can get slightly vivid. Focusing is very fast and it invariably attains a sharp focus, almost eliminating the need to use manual focus. The camera is very easy to use and anyone without a photography background can easily master it in minutes. The battery takes around 4 hours to charge and is supposed to last for 150 minutes, or around 300 images.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V is an excellent camera as far as performance and features are concerned. The slim design with a carbon black metallic body is both stylish and rugged and also incredibly light-weight. The camera sports full manual control, packs 16x optical zoom in the small body, has image stabilisation that works like a charm, and has a GPS for geo-tagging. The images look just right no matter how you click them, and if you make use of the Super Auto Adjustment mode, they are simply brilliant. The Macro mode is brilliant and lets you click photos that look like done by a professional. The wide angle lens can capture a large crowd in your party and can detect up to eight faces at a time. As is claimed by Sony, images captured in low light conditions are indeed nicely enhanced and very much usable. You can also capture full HD videos with stereo sound and play back on your HDTV using the accompanying dock.
One of the cons of this camera is that its control buttons are very tiny and hard to find in the dark. Luckily, at least the shutter button is large enough. While the 3D thing does work, it is more like a gimmick for us because of two things 1. You cannot click 3D photos, and 2. You cannot capture 3D videos. You can only capture panorama mode images in 3D, because of the single lens being used instead of a dual lens arrangement for left and right vision capture and then the multiple images in panorama mode are combined into a 3D image. Yet another fault with the camera is that the flash sometimes fails to evenly illuminate the subject.
Overall, this 16.2 MP camera has a very easy to use interface for anyone who has no background in photography. There are several nifty features crammed into this camera - far too many to state in this concluding paragraph. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V is available for an MRP of Rs.16,990, while it is available for a little less when you buy at the stores mentioned at the start of this review. This camera gets our full-hearted recommendation. For those who can settle for 10x zoom with all of the features of this camera, there is the DSC-HX7V for Rs 2000 less.
Design And Build: 4.5/5
Ease Of Use And Ergonomics: 3.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
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