Sony Cyber-shot HX9V
Sony’s Cyber-shot HX9V doesn’t mess about. This 16x optical zoom compact has a bevy of features under the hood – making it a gadget fan’s ideal camera. With nearby competitors like the Lumix TZ20 and Fuji F550EXR the Sony has various ways to stand out from the crowd: its 16x optical zoom has lens-based image stabilisation; the 16.1-megapixel CMOS sensor benefits from Sony’s back-lit Exmor R technology for improved image quality; plus there’s a built in GPS unit to track where you shoot. Can the HX9V do no wrong?
Make my heart go zoom
The core of the HX9V’s features list is its rangey 16x zoom. With a wideangle setting of 24mm there’s plenty of scope to squeeze lots into the frame, but the same lens effortlessly zooms up to a 384mm equivalent for catching far-away subjects too. All this in a small body, plus Sony’s SteadyShot system moves the lens microscopically to counteract camera shake.
In use the autofocus system is quick to find its subjects and the variety of focus options provide plenty of control: there are multi, center, flexible spot and manual modes to choose from.
The camera is well-designed, feels sturdy in the hand and the lens remains rigid when zoomed out. If the camera’s turned off then the lens retracts into the body to keep the overall size down.
In addition to full manual control the Cyber-shot HX9 also options a variety of scene and auto modes including superior auto that processes images to look their best. A lack of shutter and aperture priority modes is a let down though. Sweep Panorama means panoramic images can be captured in real time and there’s even a one-touch movie button for the HX9’s 1080p50 movie mode. That makes it the first Sony compact with a Full HD progressive movie mode. None too shabby for a compact below the £300 mark.
To match the lens is Sony’s latest 16.1-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with Exmor R technology. This means the sensor’s construction differs to a standard one - the wiring has been moved to the rear of the build to allow for a cleaner light path and better image quality.
An ISO range of 100-3200 performs to a high standard throughout, and any luminance and colour noise is kept well hidden thanks to the HX9’s processing. Given the 16 million pixels on the small sensor size that’s a mighty fine job - and while you can’t anticipate DSLR-like quality - the shots from the HX9 are as impressive as any compact we’ve seen. Colours are subtle and lifelike, though as the ISO range increases so the vibrancy of the primaries dips a couple of notches. All-in-all the HX9 is a top performer on the image quality front.
What’s extra impressive is the HX9V’s burst mode that can capture up to 10 frames in one second. It’s not possible to shoot in excess of 10 frames in one sitting but still, for a compact of this level, that’s an impressive feature to have, and knocks the competition into check.
One of the HX9V’s stand-out features, and what gives the camera the ‘V’ in its name, is the inclusion of a GPS unit. Global Positioning Satellite technology relays information of the camera’s position and means that photos can have location data embedded in to them. This longitudinal and latitudinal EXIF information can then be used for a variety of purposes including arranging shots by location or uploading to maps where the image automatically attributes itself to the correct location.
Leaving the GPS system on will eat more battery power, but it can be turned off from within the main menu as desired. It’s a good feature to have and one that would usually demand a price premium - but the HX9V’s sub-£300 price tag keeps it well within the realms of affordability.
The Cyber-shot HX9V is an excellent compact camera that leaves little to be desired. It’s rare to find a compact that doesn’t fall down at one or two hurdles, but this is Sony at its finest. The camera is easy to use, quick to focus, offers bags of user control, has a super-fast burst mode and, to top it off, produces excellent pictures.
If we were being picky then the slow-to-respond menus and lack of shutter and aperture priority modes would be the only drawbacks. Otherwise the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is the finest 16x zoom compact to pass through our hands. It’s very impressive indeed.