Based solely on form factor and body dimensions, the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V could easily be mistaken for one of Sony's entry-level DSLRs, like the Sony SLT-A35. The HX100V's SLR-like design, however, belies its true nature as a small-sensor superzoom camera. The HX100V is aimed at users for whom pocketable size is trumped by the desire for more traditional DSLR styling and functionality, larger control points and a zoom lens that would be unwieldy, to say the least, if coupled with 'traditional' compact camera ergonomics.

From the top, the HX100V doesn't look too dissimilar to Sony's range of DSLR and SLT interchangeable lens cameras. A raised 'pentaprism' hump and generous handgrip distinguish it completely from compact cameras like close-relation the HX9.

The HX100V's 3in LCD screen dominates the rear of the camera, and with your hand in a shooting grip, the small number of rear controls are mostly obscured by your thumb. The movie recording button is well-placed for quick operation though.

Of course, with the HX100V, you also get an articulating rear LCD and and a built-in EVF. The protruding hand grip coupled with its light weight (compared to entry-level DSLRs) makes the HX100V a very comfortable camera to hold. While the SLR-like shape of the camera makes a strap or small shoulder bag the most practical method of carrying it, we have spent considerable time simply carrying it in hand on photo-taking excursions. Button placement follows a sensible layout, with the rear thumb dial providing access to ISO and exposure adjustment controls while your hand remains in the shooting position.

Specific handling issues

Overall, the HX100V offers an impressive amount of control over its various features which will be welcomed by users wishing to expand beyond auto-everything operation. You have access to the standard PASM modes as well as seven additional options via the camera's mode dial. On-camera buttons are generally well-placed and offer positive feedback when engaged. It is all too easy though to inadvertently rotate the rear thumb dial when handling the camera. It extends perhaps a hair too far inward from the edge of the body for our tastes and moves at the slightest of touches.

Fortunately, controlling exposure settings with the thumb dial first requires a press of the dial to activate an exposure parameter, so in many cases rotating the dial by accident will not change your settings.

The rear screen on the HX100V is hinged along the bottom of the camera and can rotate to position the screen facing up or down. This design offers obvious benefits when shooting in landscape mode; it is less useful though when the camera is held in the portrait orientation.
As you'd expect, given its mini-SLR design, the HX100V falls comfortably in hand. Though relatively lightweight, the camera balances well with the zoom lens at its telephoto end, for a very comfortable, relaxed handholding experience.

A dedicated focus mode button lets you switch among three AF modes, including a moveable spot AF mode in which the 4-way controller can be used to move the AF point around a central area of the frame. Alternately, you can use the thumb dial to move the focus point, but as the dial operates left to right, moving the focus point up or down requires you to scroll through the AF grid stepwise. This makes the 4-way controller a faster option in such instances.

The Custom button can be configured to trigger AE lock, display WB selections, the ND filter settings, select the metering mode or activate the smile shutter function. Actually selecting a WB setting, engaging/disengaging the ND filter or changing the metering mode requires use of either the thumb dial or 4-way controller to navigate through the options and make a choice.

The control ring surrounding the lens can be configured for either manual focus or zoom operation. Setting it to control the zoom makes it easier to get slightly more precise framing compared to using the control lever. With the control ring set to MF, pressing the Focus button engages a 7x (approximate) magnification view on the EVF or, more practically, the rear LCD. The practical use of this feature is limited, however, as there is no way to shift the 7x view to other areas of the image. You can only view the center of the frame at this magnification.

The zoom/focus switch controls the behavior of the lens ring. In AF/zoom mode, turning the lens ring operates the zoom function, duplicating the behavior of the zoom lever surrounding the shutter button.

With the switch set to MF, rotating the lens ring controls focus.

Also confusing is the fact that exposure compensation values can be scene or mode specific. An exposure compensation value set in one of the PAS modes does not carry over to any of the automated modes, which is sensible enough. But should you want to quickly switch between scene modes for example, you'll have to re-engage settings that automatically reset to their defaults after either taking a picture or switching shooting modes, for that matter.