The Sony HX1 is very SLR-like in appearance with its deep handgrip, protruding lens barrel, popup flash, and nicely offset EVF eye piece. Cosmetically there are very few changes from the H50, and from a distance it is quite easy to mistake one for the other. The controls are logically laid out, with dedicated buttons for most of the shooting settings, and anybody who has used a superzoom, especially a Sony one, will be right at home on the HX1.
In a move that was welcomed by some in the dpreview office, the rear scroll wheel which was set around the multi controller on the H50 (a layout I personally preferred) has been moved to the top back of the camera where the zoom rocker used to be. The wheel has a 'push click' to cycle between the various settings it controls (such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO, depending on what shooting mode you are in) and it's easy to use - though we'd still prefer dual dials for the ultimate 'SLR like' operation.
The tilting rear LCD moves 90 degrees up or down, meaning you can shoot over your head or down low with ease. The design of the rear LCD is not quite as flexible a fully articulated unit such as that on the Canon SX1 IS, but it's still better than having a fixed one. Unfortunately though, its benefits disappear almost completely the moment you turn the camera to portrait orientation.
On the HX1 there is no button to manually raise the built in flash. Instead you must set the flash to Auto or On (through the menu); when you press the shutter release the flash will then pop up automatically. Not quite as intuitive as having a dedicated button and automatically activating the flash whenever it is flipped up.
The mini-SLR design of the HX1 means that you will not be fitting it in the average coat or jacket pocket, and when shooting it is more comfortable hanging around your neck than dangling from a wrist. Fortunately the decision by Sony to use a Li-ion battery instead of AAs means that the camera feels pretty light, and should not give you a sore neck after a long outing. The only real design flaw we found with the HX1 is that the lens cap is quite loose and prone to falling off as you take it out of your bag (or pocket if you have a really big one), and we can envision a brisk trade in lens caps as owners lose the original. Overall the construction of the HX1 feels solid despite the liberal use of plastics, and should take a few bumps in its stride.
In your hand
With a deep, textured hand grip (much deeper than on the H50), the HX1 is quite comfortable to hold. Your index finger naturally sits on the shutter button, and the decision to move the zoom rocker from the back of the camera to around the shutter button makes zooming more natural and comfortable. The camera feels light in your hand and is well balanced, but the placement of the rear multi controller means that, like all such cameras, it can be difficult to use one handed.
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