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Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V
16.2MP | 24-384mm (16X) ZOOM | $349/£339

The Sony Cyber-Shot HX9V retains many of the same operational controls as the Cyber-shot HX5V, reviewed in last year's travel zoom group test, but brings a handful of new features to the table. The HX9V has been outfitted with a new, 16MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor, a wider-ranging zoom which spans 24-384mm (equivalent), and a significantly increased screen resolution (921k dots). With this model, Sony has also added the ability to record full progressive HD video (1080p) at either 60 or 50 fps, depending on your region.

Other additions include a scroll wheel around the rear 4-way controller, and a custom button on the top plate which can be configured to allow quick access to ISO, EV or white balance. Like the HX5, the HX9V also boasts optical image stabilization and built-in GPS and compass for geotagging your photos.

  • 16.2 effective Megapixels (BSI-CMOS sensor)
  • 24-384mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
  • 1080p (60p/50p) HD video and HDMI connection
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 921,600 dot resolution
  • 10fps continuous shooting (at 16MP)
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • 15 Scene Modes
  • Built-in GPS and Compass

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Key Features

The HX9V's high continuous shooting speed of 10fps facilitates many of its special shooting modes. Backlight Correction HDR, Background Defocus, 3D, Hand-held Twilight and Anti-motion Blur all utilize high-speed shooting in one way or another. As many of these features are finding their way on to a good number of current compacts they are not a reason alone to purchase this camera, but they can add versatility and expand the situations where the HX9V might be useful.

Backlight Correction HDR combines 3 images of different exposures for a wider tonal range in the final shot. Background Defocus uses multiple shots of the same image to define the edge of a subject and apply a blur filter to the background. The 3D modes work by combining multiple shots from multiple angles with movement information taken from either the stabilization gyro or accelerometer to build a 3D scene. Hand-held twilight mode functions by taking a series of images in rapid succussion, then blends and aligns them into a single image. Noise is a random phenomenon and as such should create a different pattern in each frame. By averaging these frames it is possible to remove much of the noise commonly seen in images shot at high ISO settings, but this can result in an image that looks somewhat 'processed' when viewed at 100%. Anti-motion blur also utilizes the HX9V's rapid shutter speed, but the processing behind the scenes is much more complicated. Please take a look at our Sony NEX-5 review where we explain this feature in more detail.

Memory recall (MR) is a newly added feature that allows you to save up to 3 different shooting modes which can be recalled at a later time. Settings such as ISO, EV, smile detection, video resolution and custom buttons, just to name a few, can all be set in the camera and saved as a preset. This can be a useful feature if you often find yourself shooting in similar conditions such as sporting events or stage performances.

The 'Custom' button on the HX9V provides quick access to ISO, EV or White balance adjustments. The function accessed by the button can be set by the user.
'Memory recall' mode allows you to save up to 3 different custom preset modes. Movie presets can be saved as well as still mode preferences.

In addition to custom functions, 3D recording has gained prominence on the HX9V as it now has a dedicated position on the mode dial. This mode allows you to shoot 3D images for display on compatible 3D screens, and in a tiltable playback mode which allows you to view your images from different perspectives by tilting the camera. When shooting in this mode the camera will instruct you you pan across the scene slowly while it takes multiple shots from different perspectives. The speed and angle of rotation have a large effect on the outcome of the images. Broad movements can create a more dramatic effect but can also cause inconsistences in the blending between frames. Because the images must be aligned across multiple frames, the final image will be noticeably smaller than originally framed. It is important to note that with this method, because of the multiple frames used, results will be much better when shooting a static scene.

Like the HX5V, the HX9V also has a built in GPS module and digital compass for geotagging your images. Like many of the other cameras with this feature, the HX9V can be slow to pinpoint your location, especially when in an area of poor reception and when the camera has been powered off for a good length of time. There is, however, a quirk with the on-screen menu that will tell you the GPS is turned off but does not give you an option to turn it on. You must enter the camera settings menu to enable the GPS.

Image quality and performance

Overall, we would say that the HX9V captures pleasing images that are both sharp and vivid. The 16mp BSI CMOS sensor renders images that are detailed enough for medium sized prints and sharing on the web. Even with a 16x zoom lens, pictures are reasonably sharp from edge to edge. Even with an unsteady hand the HX9V does an impressive job of blending and aligning images when creating 'Hand-held Twilight' or HDR images which produce well-detailed images without much obvious 'ghosting' (unless shooting at the far end of the zoom). However, in some instances when using modes such as HDR or Anti Motion Blur, noticeable digitizing can appear in midtone areas.

The HX9V's 16MP images are generally sharp and well exposed, but at low ISO settings, aggressive noise reduction tends to remove much of the low-contrast detail. With the larger zoom lens can come more apparent CA, however the HX9V does a good job of reducing these in-camera. The HX9V performs well in low light even in its regular shooting modes, but utilizing the 'Hand-held Twilight' mode can produce brighter images and lower noise than shooting with a higher ISO setting alone. It is important to note that this fringe reduction is turned off when utilizing the high speed shooting modes, so in some cases you might see an increase in the visible fringing when shooting in HDR or 'Hand-held Twilight' modes, for example.

At low ISO settings the HX9V performs well, and produces well-balanced, vivid images with good pixel-level detail. Hand-held Twilight mode blends multiple images to create an image with less noise and blur than would otherwise be possible with a single high ISO shot. This image, essentially a composite, was shot in very low light but is acceptably sharp.

Sadly, the HX9V is affected by the same laggy operation as its predecessor. From shot to shot the camera behaves as quickly as one would expect, menus are responsive and shutter lag is minimal, but it's slow during startup, playback and when switching modes. Startup takes about 2 seconds, and when zooming into images in playback mode that same lag shows up again, with the camera taking a full 2 seconds to respond. If you don't often review your images while you shoot this may not be such a noticeable problem, but if you are photographing a moving subject and want to be absolutely certain it's in focus you may lose your opportunity while waiting for the camera.

Image Stabilization

To test image stabilization we shoot a standard test target at the long end of these cameras' zooms, at 1/30sec. We take ten images at each stabilization setting (including 'off') and average the results, expressing performance as a percentage of shots which we judge to be 'very blurred', 'blurred', 'soft' (usable at small print sizes) and 'sharp'.

The HX9V's optical image stabilization is activated by default and cannot be turned off. In normal day-to-day use it is very effective, and even at the long end of the HX9V's zoom, we're impressed by how few images we've shot that suffer from camera shake. When
shooting video the image stabilization system does well too, and even while panning quickly the video is nice and smooth with little 'overcorrection'. Although the HX9V does not allow control over stabilization when shooting stills there are 2 modes available when shooting movies: Standard and Active. In 'Standard' mode the camera corrects for more high-frequency low-amplitude motion that usually occurs when the camera is held in-hand. 'Active' stabilization helps to correct for more high-amplitude motion that can occur when walking while filming.

The HX9V's optical image stabilization can help to produce acceptably sharp images when coupled with higher ISO settings even in fairly low light and at the full extent of the zoom. However, as with all stabilization systems blur from subject motion will always be problematic.

Sony's optical image stabilization performs well and keeps the majority of our test images sharp even at the full extent of the zoom.

Summary

The Sony HX9V is a very capable camera when it comes to image quality and video, shots are generally sharp from edge to edge, colors are vivid and well-exposed and the video quality is probably the best out of our group test. However, much like its predecessor, its image performance is overshadowed by sluggish operational speed. Slow start-up and playback make the HX9V irritating at times when you are either unprepared for an unexpected photo opportunity or want to review your images while shooting restless subjects such as children or pets. Depending on your needs as a photographer, the HX9V can either be the perfect travel companion or frustratingly slow.

What has really stood out for us in this camera is the unusually versatile suite of high-speed shooting features that the HX9V offers. In particular, 'Hand-held twilight' mode can be genuinely useful in low light situations such as at a party or in a pub. This mode can deliver well balanced, colorful images from situations that would otherwise require a tripod or a flash.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Shooting full 1080p video in 60p. High-speed shooting modes like 'hand-held twilight' and 'backlit HDR' provide versatility in difficult shooting environments.
Not so good for
Slow shooting and playback performance make an otherwise capable camera frustrating to use at times.
Overall score
75%
One of the best-specified cameras in its class, the HX9V offers more features than anyone would be expected to use in day-to-day shooting. Image quality from its 16MP sensor is very competitive, although noise-reduction can be somewhat over-aggressive. Our biggest concern is the rather slow operation, which is frustrating in a camera which is otherwise such a fine performer.

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