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Sony DSC-HX5
14.1MP | 25-250mm (10X) ZOOM | $329/£289

Externally, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 is similar to the H55, also featured in this group test, but the few differences between the two models are fairly major. Although the span of the lens is the same, at 25-250mm in both models, they do not share a sensor. The HX5's sensor is of a lower resolution than the H55, at 10 rather than 14 million pixels, but it is EXMOR-R, a backlit CMOS type, designed to be more sensitive in poor light than a conventional small-format imager. It also packs a powerful video mode - and is the only camera in this test to offer 1080p HD video recording, in the AVCHD format. The HX5 also adds a built-in GPS receiver and magnetometer (or in plain English: a compass)

  • 10.2 effective Megapixels
  • 25-250mm equiv lens
  • 1920 x 1080p HD video recording
  • 10fps shooting (for maximum of 10 shots)
  • 3.0-inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
  • Sony SteadyShot Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • GPS and compass built-in
  • Face Detection, adult or child-priority face detection, and smile shutter
  • 15 shooting modes including 10 Scene modes
  • In-camera retouching (trimming, red-eye correction and sharpening)
  • Battery life: 310 shots (still capture)

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Overview

Even if the 'Sony' badge were removed from both cameras, the family resemblance between the HX5 and H22 would be clear. Their bodyshells are almost exactly the same, the only immediately visible differences being that the HX5 has a dedicated button for video shooting, an extra button on the topplate for the continuous shooting mode, and an extra aperture in the topplate for a second microphone port (the HX5 offers stereo audio in video recording).

The HX5's 10fps continuous shooting mode makes this camera on of the few in this group test that might conceivably be used for shooting fast moving subjects. The Casio Exilim FH-100 is faster, at 40fps, but images are recorded at reduced resolution. The HX5, on the other hand, still produces its full 10.2Mp resolution in continuous shooting mode.

This fast shooting rate allows the HX5 to offer an interesting little suite of features - 'Hand-held twilight' mode, 'Anti Motion-Blur' mode and 'Backlight Correction HDR'. In all of these modes, the camera takes a series of images very quickly, and combines them into one. Perhaps the most interesting is Handheld Twilight mode, which is designed to cancel out noise in low-light, handheld images.

ISO 800, full auto mode ISO 1000, Handheld Twilight
The theory behind Hand-held twilight mode is that because high-ISO noise is typically random - i.e. it changes pattern from shot to shot - by stacking many different shots with the same framing, and blending them together, the appearance of noise is reduced. It works reasonably well, as you can see here, although you'll need very steady hands, and at 100%, detail is slightly soft.

Other features include Sony's Super SteadyShot optical stabilisation system, and the same Smile Shutter and blink detection modes that are found on the H55.

Ergonomically, the HX5 is very similar to the H55, but we are disappointed by a couple of aspects of it handling. One of the annoying things about the HX5 is its speed - or rather its lack thereof. The HX5 is one of those cameras where every button seems to need two presses to get it to work. This impression is reinforced by the slow speed of zooming in image review (more on this in the performance section, below).

One of the unique selling points of the HX5 is its built-in GPS and compass. Although the camera itself doesn't do much with the data that it collects except to show you which direction you're facing, very detailed GPS information (including orientation and altitude) is appended into your images' EXIF data. Using the supplied Picture Motion Browser software, your images can then be pinpointed on Google maps. This isn't the flashiest implementation of GPS that we've seen (the Panasonic FS7 probably takes the lead with its on-screen tagging) but it is effective, and doesn't get in the way of the shooting experience.

Key Features

The body shell of the HX5 is almost identical to that of the H55. It isn't the most comfortable camera to hold of our selection, but it isn't the worst.
When fully extended, the 25-250mm lens adds a lot of bulk to the camera, but handling is unaffected (i.e. the camera doesn't become unbalanced).
As usual for this range, a fairly weak flash provides adequate, but not outstanding illumination for close-range portraits and fill-in. It is badly positioned though - it's very easy to obscure with your finger by accident.
The Sony's four-way controller is accompanied by play, menu and delete buttons, and above them, a dedicated video shooting button.
Like the H55, the top of the HX5 is home to the power button, zoom slider, shutter release and exposure mode dial. There's also a dedicated continuous shooting button and an extra hole for the stereo microphone.
The lens covers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 25-250mm. Not as long (or quite as wide) as some of the competition but a very useful range nonetheless.
The HX5 features multi-mode face detection, including 'child priority' which is designed to prioritise faces that the camera judges to belong to children, rather than adults.
The HX5 features a built-in GPS receiver and - uniquely amongst the other cameras in this test - an on-screen compass.

Image quality and performance

The Sony HX5 is something of a mixed bag in terms of performance. Whilst it's capable of delivering excellent results, it drags its feet more than we'd like. The 'button lag' mentioned in the overview, above, is a real irritation after extended use. Even when the camera does register that you want to do something, if the buffer is still clearing there is very often a short lag before the required menu/function is available. The waiting time isn't chronic - it's more like a long moment - but it's annoying in a camera that is marketed as designed for speed and sensitivity. We might expect a certain amount of operational delay on very low-end models, but it is disappointing in a camera that costs upwards of $300.

A startup time of 2 seconds (approx) is fine, but 1.6 seconds to bring up a review image is a little slow. Likewise, the HX5 suffers from the same 1 second (approx) lag between pulling the zoom toggle and the camera actually zooming into an image in review mode as it's near-relative the H55. In combination, this means that from pressing the playback button to seeing a magnified image of the picture you just took takes around 3 seconds, which soon becomes frustratingly long if you're trying to capture a shot of a tricky subject, like a child or pet.

On the subject of image review, something else that might also be an issue for you is that the Sony's LCD screen shows a slight but noticeable 'shimmer', which is most apparent in areas of fine detail, especially in review mode. The dpreview office is split between those of us who don't notice it, those of us that notice but don't mind, and those of us that find it very distracting. The HX5's 25-250mm lens zooms through its entire span in a reasonable 2.2 seconds, but shot to shot time is a little sluggish, at approximately 3.5 seconds including AF acquisition.

As far as image quality is concerned, we have few complaints about the HX5. Although it has the joint-lowest pixel count of the cameras in this test, images taken outdoors at low ISO settings are sharp and detailed, and the HX5 is one of the better performers in poor light at high ISO settings too. The range of situations in which you're likely to need an HDR mode are pretty small, but it's there if you do, and it works quite well (except for a noticeable increase in noise in midtone areas). Likewise Anti Motion Blur and Handheld Twilight modes - neither represent reasons why you should buy the camera in themselves, but both are handy, on occasion. Backlight Correction HDR is also useful, although we did notice that midtones can sometimes display an unpleasant blotchiness when viewed at close quarters with this function enabled.

At low ISO settings the HX5 is one of the best performers in this group test, despite offering a comparitively low pixel count of 10 million pixels. The range of 25-250mm is useful but not as versatile as some of the cameras here, but extra features, like HDR and handheld twilight mode may add value in some situations.

Sony's Sweep Panorama works very well indeed most of the time, and obvious joins are relatively unusual when it is tasked with creating panoramic images of static subjects. One of the reasons why it works so well is that the image is created using the HX5's video feed, but this is also why panoramic images are so small compared to stills. Compared to the H55 though, the HX5's panoramas are sharper, larger, and less grainy.

Summary

The HX5 is capable of great results, and of all the cameras in this group, it gives amongst the most pleasing images in a range of situations. Although its resolution is lower than most of the other cameras in this test, image quality is high, and at low ISO settings, files stand up to medium sized prints of 8x7in and slightly larger. We'd hesitate to say that the back-illuminated CMOS sensor of the HX5 is quite the 'silver bullet' solution to high ISO image quality that we'd hoped, but up to ISO 1600, the Sony can produce reasonably sharp and detailed files that look absolutely fine at small print sizes.

Overall, the HX5 is a good camera, let down by very little customization and poor operational speed. How much of a frustration these issues end up being is of course entirely dependant on the sort of consumer that you are, but we're disappointed to be kept waiting by a camera that is amongst the most expensive in this group.

  • We like: Good image quality across entire ISO span but better at the low settings, reliable metering and white balance, good range of AF options, built-in GPS and compass work well, sweep panorama fun and very effective.

  • We don't like: Menu structure, few external buttons, smile button gets undue prominence, very little customisation, slow operational speed, screen is hard to see in bright light.
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