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Performance & Photo Quality

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V offers some of the best performance of any compact travel zoom on the market. The table below summarizes its performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares

Startup

1.4 secs Average
Autofocus

0.1 - 0.3 secs (W)
0.5 - 0.9 secs (T)

Above average
Autofocus (Low light) 0.8 - 1.0 secs Above average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot (no flash) ~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot (with flash) ~ 3 sec Average

Very nice! The only time you're really be waiting for the HX20V is when it's combining multiple exposures, and even that doesn't take long.

After all of the multi-shot features that I've covered in this review, you can probably guess that the DSC-HX20V is going to be pretty quick when you put it in burst mode. There are two speeds to choose from in burst mode: low and high. Here's what kind of performance you'll get in both of those modes:

Image quality Low speed High speed
Large/Fine JPEG 10 shots @ 2.0 fps 10 shots @ 10.0 fps
Tested with a SanDisk UHS-I SDHC card

As you can see, the HX20V can shoot very quickly in high speed mode, and at a decent rate in low speed mode. While the 10 shot limit isn't surprising at the highest speed, it is disappointing to see at the low speed option.

Image Quality

Indoors

Photos are taken under indirect lighting provided by two Smith-Victor Q80 lamps at a focal length of ~38mm (equivalent) and an aperture of f/3.5.

And that brings us to our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare the results from this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. I'll have a comparison of various travel zoom cameras after this test, so stay tuned for that. Keeping in mind that the crops below only display a very small portion of the total scene, let's take the HX20V from ISO 100 to 12800!

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800
ISO 1600 ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12800

The first three crops are relatively close in terms of quality, with just a bit more noise visible each time you go up a stop. You start to see some detail loss and grain-style noise at ISO 800, but it's still usable. Noise increases more at ISO 1600, making this a smart place to stop in most situations, saving ISO 3200 for desperation. As I mentioned back in the night shot discussion, the camera uses a multi-frame noise reduction system at ISO 6400 and 12800, but the resulting images are mushy messes. Unfortunately, there's no RAW support on the HX20V, so we can't see if more detail can be extracted by using that format.

Below is a test that I ran in my Coolpix S9300 review. It compares four GPS-equipped travel zooms, including the HX20V. The crops of the test scene are presented at their native resolution, at ISO 800. click on the thumbnails for the full-size images.

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Nikon Coolpix S9300
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V

While none of the cameras are perfect, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V produces the best-looking photos in the group (though some may prefer the Canon). If you downsize the 18 Megapixel photos produced by the HX20V down to the native resolution of any of the competition, they'll look even better.

Nighttime

This shot was taken in manual exposure mode at F4.5 at 23.5 mm (132 mm equiv)

Next up is our night test scene. You can take shots like this by using the Auto or Scene modes, or using the manual exposure controls. Keep in mind that there's the aperture limitation that I mentioned earlier, though. I went for the manual controls, of course, and got a photo that was well-exposed, though not without some fairly strong highlight clipping. The buildings are pretty sharp, though you'll find plenty of noise and artifacting here at ISO 100. Purple fringing levels were moderate.

Let's us that same scene to see how the HX20V performs at high sensitivities in low light:

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800
ISO 1600 ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12800

There's just a slight increase in detail smudging when you go from ISO 100 to 200. Things aren't much worse at ISO 400, but even so, I'd stop here in most situations. You'll see the corners of the US Bank building start to disappear at ISO 800, and they're totally gone at ISO 1600. The sensitivities above that should be avoided. I should point out that the camera uses multiple exposures at ISO 6400 and 12800 to attempt to reduce noise but, as you can see, it doesn't do anything good.

Macro

The HX20V has an auto macro mode, so there's no button to push in order to take close-up photos. The minimum focus distance is 1 cm at wide-angle, and 1.7 m at full telephoto.

Our usual macro test subject came out looking pretty nice - at least when downsized. Colors are nice and saturated, without the color cast that often appears under our studio lamps. When you view the full image, you'll find that it's fairly sharp, though there's a lot of detail smudging due to the heavy noise reduction being applied to these 18 Megapixel images. I'll come back to this subject again shortly.

Red-eye reduction

Compact cameras are prone to redeye and it's definitely a problem on the HX20V, even with the redeye reduction pre-flash turned on. Thankfully, there's a removal tool in playback that does a pretty good job of reducing this annoyance.

Straight out of the camera (flash redeye
reduction on)

After removal tool in playback mode

Distortion

There's very little barrel distortion to speak of on the HX20V's 25 - 500 mm lens. I didn't find corner blurring to be an issue, and the small amount of vignetting visible in the above chart was not present in real world photos.

Overall Image Quality

The HX20V's photo quality is not wondrous - far from it. But given what most people will do with the HX20V (downsize for the web or print something other than posters), it's more than adequate. The camera tends to underexpose by 1/3 stop, so you're going to want to either bracket your shots, or just bump the exposure compensation. The camera will clip highlights at times, and the HDR feature is worth trying in those situations. Colors looked good in both natural and artificial light.

A small 18 Megapixel sensor is going to produce a lot of noise, and Sony uses some pretty strong noise reduction to combat it. The results can be seen in any of our sample photos: fine details are smudged, and areas of low contrast appear mottled. If you're a pixel peeper (someone who views images at 100%) or plan on making giant prints (we're talking larger than 11 x 14 here), then you will undoubtedly notice. However, if you're downsizing for the web or making 'normal size' prints, then the noise and detail loss will blend away. One of the other annoyances on compact cameras, purple fringing, was generally not an issue on the HX20V.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and perhaps print a few of the images if you can. Hopefully then will be able to make your own decision about the DSC-HX20V's image quality.

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