Sony HX20V review : image quality and sensitivity

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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V is the flagship of Sony’s Cyber-shot range of compact cameras. This year, Sony has packed all available technologies in a tiny camera : 20x zoom lens (25-500mm) with optical image stabilization, Exmor R backlit CMOS sensor of 18-megapixel, 1080p movie recording, 10 fps, HDR, 360 3D swipe panorama, GPS sensor…. Ahead of our full review of the Sony HX20V (which we received with a Sony HX200V, the same specs packed in a bridge camera body with a 30x zoom lens equivalent to 25-750mm).

I shot my loyal 10 Hong-Kong dollars note with the HX20V. I always use this same exact piece of printed paper to compare cameras high ISO image quality. Here is a 100% display crop of the 18-megapixel photos shot with the HX20V. be careful while examining the 1pixel/1pixel image : this kind of pixel peeping session can lead to missinterpretation as images may appear ugly but once printed, defects are often invisible, dilluted in resolution.

What do we see here ?

The HX20V is overloaded with pixels : 18 million on a tiny little 1/2.3″ sensor when a mirrorless camera like the NEX-5N has 2 million less photodiodes on a sensor that is much bigger. Therefore the surface of each transistor+lens gathering light is small, very small. You will notice 2 quality thresholds :

  • At ISO 400 image quality falls a bit but Sony did a good job preserving small details as well as color accuracy. But again, the 18MP sensor delivers a high resolution images that will look much better once printed, I would say till A4 and even A3 print sizes.
  • Above ISO 1,600 : there is a huge fall off. Images at ISO 3,200 and ISO 6,400 suffer from a poor SNR and that leads the HX20V firmware to blure the image a lot to reduce noise in the image. At these ISO settings, the HX20V piles multiple images.
As you can see, the HX20V doesn’t suffer from any colored noise and that is something I appreciate on a camera.

 

Sony HX20V review : ISO 100 to ISO 12,800

 

Do you need high sensitivities on the HX20V ?
No ! Smart, the camera will most often shoot multiple images in 10 fps to blend them. As soon as the light is too dim, the HX20V tends to take images that way. That is pretty smart because that way the camera doesn’t have to increase its ISO setting and I have to say that it works  pretty well. The camera’s firmware is pretty good at aligning layers of various shots. It also uses that to create real HDR images like you will see on the HX20V sample image gallery.

So, the Sony HX20 is fully loaded with 18MP. There is a debate on whether it is interesting to increase resolution on cameras or not… On paper, it should hurt the sensbility of the camera. So I decided to compare the ISO 400 and ISO 1,600 images of the HX20V, a 2012 camera based on a 18MP sensor, with the same images shot with the HX5V, a 2010 camera based on a 10MP sensor, a sensor designed on the same technology : back side illuminated, Exmor R.

 

Sony HX20V vs HX5V ISO 400 Image comparison
This 100% crop image of the Sony Cyber-shot DSCHX20V compared to its 2010 predecessor, the HX5V speaks for itself : not any additional noise in spite of the extra resolution, but a near doubled pixel count that is bringing back a lot of details that where washed out on the HX5V, a camera that was well known for its pretty goog high ISO performance.

 

Finding 1 : in spite of a high increase of pixels, at ISO 400, the HX20 offers an image that is not any noisier than the HX5, a 10MP camera. Sony’s sensor engineers are just fantastic and are to be accounted for this great performance. But, pushing the analysis further, at ISO 1,600, the HX20 offers an image that looks less spoiled by the noise cancelling algorythm than the HX5, a camera that benefits from photodiodes twice as big.

Finding 2 : the much high pixel count of the HX20V offers a substantial amount of additional details reproduced on the sensor. It will also drawn noise in definition and the overall image quality of the HX20 is really convincing and has improved over the HX5V, a camera which was a reference a few months ago.

To put it all in a nutshell : the Cybershot DSC-HX20V will probably be among the best 1/2.3″ sensor compact cameras in spite of its huge resolution, a resolution that actually helps improving the image quality. I may not be a big fan of superhigh megapixel cameras but I have to admit that these comparison images are pretty convincing, aren’t they ?


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