Image stabilization

The optical image stabilization system used on the HX1 IS features two modes: On (IS on all the time), 'Shooting' (IS is activated at half press of the shutter) and of course OFF.

Whilst both options produce the same results, the 'shooting' option will presumably use a little less battery power.

The design of the HX1 aids steady hand-held shooting - especially when using the EVF - producing sharp results at 2 stops under the 1/focal length rule without IS. Turning the IS on gives you another one or two stops (though as usual the effectiveness will vary from user to user). The presence of an effective image stabilization system is essential for a camera with such a long lens, especially one with a less than stellar maximum aperture at the long end of the zoom, which will inevitably result in lower shutter speeds in anything other than perfect light.

The stabilization test

In this simplified version of our SLR IS test, four hand-held shots were taken of a static scene with the stabilization off and on. The shutter speed was decreased and repeated (from 1/125 sec to 1/2 sec). The zoom was set to a position roughly in the middle of the zoom range (200mm equiv.), the test target was 6 m away from the camera. The test was repeated three times and an average taken.

The resulting images were then inspected and given a blur score - 'Sharp' (no visible blurring at 100%), 'Mild Blur' (the kind of camera shake that is tolerable at small print sizes) and 'Heavy Blur' (virtually unusable due to camera shake) and 'Very Heavy Blur' (little discernible detail).

Hand-held, no stabilization (200mm equiv.)

You can see from the chart that the mini-SLR design of the HX1 allowed a majority of recorded images to be sharp at 1/30th (3 stops below what would normally be expected) with IS turned off. With a few safety shots, even 1/15 sec is usable.

Hand-held, IS On (200mm equiv.)

With IS turned on, we could produce a majority of sharp shots at 1/15th sec, and down to 1/4 should be usable if you take a few extra images.

Specific Image quality Issues

The image quality performance of the HX1 is pretty much on par with what you would expect from a small sensor compact camera; the switch to a CMOS sensor hasn't made any dramatic improvements here, and at a pixel level the output looks quite unpleasant, over-processed and over-sharpened. Even at ISO 200 it is possible to notice noise in the image, especially in shadow areas.

The metering does a good job of keeping images well exposed, but the limited dynamic range of the small sensor used in the HX1 means that there are going to be blown highlights in images in bright conditions. The big 20x zoom is a little soft towards the edge of the frame, and towards the edges you'll see more color fringing too. Nearer the center of the frame the HX1 has less problems with color fringing, and when it does it is only one pixel wide so you need to be looking for it to really notice.

Despite the mini-SLR styling and handling, images from the HX1 never look even remotely as good as those from the cheapest DSLRs and, since there is only JPEG file format available, there is not really a huge amount of latitude to improve image quality in post processing.

The Low dynamic range of the small sensor used, means that in bright conditions, there are going to be clipped highlights in your image. A little bit of negative exposure compensation will help here, and being able to display a live histogram also helps you to see when you need exposure compensation. In the edge of the clipped highlight area, you can see a little bit of purple fringing too.
The lens on the HX1 performs relatively well in most conditions considering the wide zoom range, but towards the edges of the frame it is quite soft and more prone to CA than in the center of the image.