Operation and controls

For the HX1 Sony hasn't made huge changes over the H50; the external interface tweaks include moving the zoom rocker, swapping the custom and play button locations, and moving the rear scroll wheel. The biggest change in the interface is the disappearance of the home menu system, which is replaced by a vertically scrolling menu that has large icons and help prompts. The current settings for each function are displayed on the left bar for quick reference.

Like most of the other superzooms on the market, the HX1 is styled like a mini-SLR, and is a shooting priority camera - meaning that it will go into record mode whenever you half press the shutter button ready to take a picture. If you are coming from a less complex compact camera, the HX1 can take some time to master, but with the extensive help prompts Sony has placed throughout the interface, it should take less time than some other cameras.

Unlike Canon with the SX1 IS and SX10 IS, Sony has decided to keep movie recording to its own mode - there's no separate movie button. Zooming is available during movie recording, although it's much slower than normal to keep camera noise to a minimum while filming.

Rear of camera

The rear of the camera is dominated by the 3" tilting LCD which will move 90 degrees either up or down. To the right is the menu button, the multi controller, and the delete image button. At the top of the camera is the EVF, which protrudes nicely from the back of the camera, and (for the most part) prevents you from smudging the rear LCD with your nose. The play button is situated between the EVF and the custom function button (which can control smile shutter, white balance, or metering mode).

To the top right, just below the mode dial is the new scroll wheel. It functions much like the scroll wheel on the H50 when in playback mode and navigating through the menus, and controls aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation in record mode. The new scroll wheel can also be pressed. In menus and playback this confirms settings (the same as pressing the set button), but when shooting images, pressing the wheel down will cycle through the user controllable setting (such as aperture, EV and ISO). Finally apart from the absence of the scroll wheel and the home button, the multi controller is unchanged from the H50, allowing you to change display settings, activate macro mode, turn the built in flash on and off, and activate the self timer.

Top of camera

A top view of the HX1 reveals just how much the lens barrel protrudes (it's shown here at the widest setting). The top panel is fairly well covered with button and dials, including dedicated buttons for burst and focus modes.

Display and menus

The menu system has been overhauled for the HX1. The home menu from the H50 is gone, replaced by a vertical scrolling selection of panels (think the home menu turned side ways). Overall the menu interface is quite straightforward to use.

Record Menu

The most basic recording screen showing battery level (including number of minutes remaining) and the number of shots remaining on card at the current image settings. Note also the indicator for macro mode set to auto. You can choose to overlay much more shooting information, including the current shooting mode, the current aspect ratio and image settings, a live histogram, a grid to help framing, exposure compensation settings, shutter and aperture values, the current ISO setting, and the current focus mode.
There are 3 auto focus modes (Multi AF, Center AF, and Flexible Spot AF) and two manual focus (Semi Manual, Manual Focus) modes on the HX1. One of the more interesting modes is Semi manual which allows you to select an approximate focus distance, and the camera will try to lock focus on a subject at that distance. When the camera has focused on a subject, the focus brackets will turn green to indicate.
Pressing the continuous shooting button brings up this menu. Continuous shooting is available at three speeds, the fastest of which is 10 frames per second. Regardless of which of the continuous shooting speeds you have selected, the HX1 can only shoot 10 images before it must pause to save the shots to card. There is also the bracketing function which can be set in the menu system to a choice of white balance, exposure or color bracketing. In order for the HX1 to shoot movies, it must be in the movie shooting mode. in this mode the user can select between 1440 x 1080, 1280 x 720 and 640 x 480 resolutions. The highest resolution, whilst technically '1080p', is recorded in 4:3 aspect ratio and anamorphically stretched out to 16:9 to fill an HDTV screen.
The Home menu system from the H50 has been (thankfully) dumped, replaced by a simpler menu system. The current setting for each function is displayed for quick checking. A useful help prompt is displayed about each setting option, but it takes a second to show up. The settings not shown in the main menu are accessed via the final item in the main menu. While many of the settings in this section are items you may only set once, hiding the format card option in here seems like a rather odd decision.
There is a smile detect shooting mode, which detects faces and waits for a smile before taking a picture. In use this function was very hit and miss, and a subject making any kind of face would trigger the shutter. After you shoot a burst of images the HX1 IS must pause to store all these images onto the Memory Stick. You can see from this animation that the HX1 is only capable of shooting a maximum of 10 images in a burst.
The ISO stacking functionality in the HX1 shoots a number of images in a burst and processes them together to create a image that has less noise than if a higher ISO setting is used. The HX1 has two manual focus modes. The first one displays a distance scale and allows you to select the focus distance. The second more interesting mode also displays a distance scale and will try to focus on the closest subject to the selected focus distance.