Body & Design

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V is a compact ultra zoom camera whose black body is a mixture of metal and plastic. The camera is well put-together, though some of the design decisions are a bit frustrating. The buttons on the back of the camera are very small and tightly packed, while the handy custom button on the top is hard to reach. There's no room for your fingers when the flash is popped up, and Sony's placement of the USB port on the bottom of the camera is bit puzzling. Thankfully, these things were just minor annoyances, and didn't make using the camera more difficult.

As you'd expect for a compact with an 20X optical zoom lens, the HX20V has an optical image stabilization system (which Sony calls Optical SteadyShot), which reduces the risk of blurry photos in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. In movie mode, an 'active' IS feature further reduces shake in your videos, with the ability to reduce motion in three directions, including rotational.

Behind the lens is an 18.2 Megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which Sony brands 'Exmor R'. This is the highest resolution sensor that you'll find in a compact camera, and we'll see how the image quality looks later in the review.

Body Elements

Amazing to think that Sony has packed a 20X zoom lens into a camera this small!

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V uses an all new F3.2-5.8, 20X optical zoom Sony 'G' lens. This lens has a focal range of 4.45 - 89.0 mm, which is equivalent to a very useful 25 - 500 mm. The lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.

An AF assist light (upper left) lights up when the self-timer and Smile Shutter features are being used.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The working range of the flash is 0.4 - 7.1 m at wide-angle and 1.5 - 3.9 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), both of which are above average. You cannot attach an external flash to the HX20V (the same is true for all of the competition).
The main thing to see on the back of the HX20V is its high resolution 3-inch LCD display. With 921,000 pixels at its disposal, everything is incredibly sharp. Outdoor visibility is average, and the screen could be brighter in low light situations, as well. You can increase the ISO to boost the screen brightness, though this will result in noisier photos.
Now let's talk about buttons and dials. And thumb rests. Next to that nice spot for your right thumb is the camera's dedicated movie recording button, which allows you to record videos in any shooting mode.
Under the thumb rest is the button for entering playback mode, with the four-way controller / scroll dial below that. The four-way controller / dial is a bit small, but it gets the job done. You'll use these for menu navigation, adjusting exposure, and flipping through photos. The four-way controller also offers direct buttons for Display, Photo Creativity mode, and the drive and flash modes.
On the top of the HX20V we have the shutter release button, which is surrounded by the zoom controller. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.2 seconds. The lens moves at variable speed, so if you barely tap the controller, it'll move just a tiny bit. Bump it a bit more, and the lens will travel further.
On the right side of the HX20V is its micro-HDMI port, which is under a rubber door.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, which is neither centered nor in-line with the lens. To its right is the battery/memory card compartment, which is protected a plastic door of average quality. In-between the two is a very poorly placed micro-USB port (not visible)

As you might imagine, you won't be able to access anything down here while the camera is on a tripod.

Now let's take a look at how the HX20V compares to our group of travel zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 13.1 cu in. 208 g
Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 13.8 cu in. 209 g
Nikon Coolpix S9300 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 14 cu in. 215 g
Olympus SZ-31MR iHS 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.6 in. 18.1 cu in. 226 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.3 cu in. 185 g
Pentax Optio VS20 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.8 cu in. 213 g
Samsung WB850F 4.3 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 10.3 cu in. 227 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in. 15.1 cu in. 221 g

The HX20V is one of the larger cameras in our group, but not by much. I found it very easy to carry around, in my jeans pocket or just with the wrist strap.