Sony Cybers-hot DSC-HX20V review

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With a powerful G series 20x zoom lens, the Sony HX20V is Cyber-shot most advanced high-end ultrazoom compact camera. Sony has packed practically every bit of technology they had into this camera : a new super high definition backlit CMOS sensor (18MP Exmor R), Full HD 60p movie recording, 10 fps, fast autofocus….

 

Sony HX20V and HX10V technical specs summary

  • Exmor R (Backlit CMOS sensor) 18-megapixel
  • 20x G series zoom lens (25-500mm) on the HX20V and 16x (24-384mm) on the HX10V
  • 3-way SteadyShot optical image stabilization
  • Fast autofocus : 0.13s under daylight / 0.20s in low-light
  • ISO 100 – 3200 ISO (up to ISO 12,800 in extended modes)
  • PSAM modes
  • Auto mode with scene detection / Superior Auto Mode
  • 9 art filters
  • 10 fps
  • Smile detection
  • Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) 50p video recording with stereo sound
  • Swipe Panorama + 3D
  • GPS
  • 3″ / 921,600 dots LCD screen Clear Photo TFT LCD
  • MicroUSB, USB Hi-Speed 2.0, Micro HDMI
  • Lithium-ion battery : NP-FH50
  • Battery life : 320 still images or 75 minutes of video
  • weight : 254 grams with battery
  • Dimensions : 106,6 x 61,9 x 34,6mm
  • Playmemories Home software installed

 

Sony HX20 REVIEW
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V review

High-end camera, premium finish

Launched at $399, the Sony HX20V is the Cyber-shot flagship and could not afford any lack in its built quality. The camera body feels and is tough, all parts are well assembled and you never hear any plastic noise. The coating is a quality material. The HX20 finish is fully relevant with its high-end position. So is its nice well defined LCD screen of 3″ / 921,600 dots. It is not a touch screen but I did not miss a sensitive user interface.

 

20x zoom lens : 25-500mm / versatility

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V zoom range is gigantic : 25-500mm in a compact camera body, we wouldn’t have thought that possible a few years back. But it is now a reality. Of course, with such a substantial optical range, the HX20V firmware and lens correction algorithm have a lot to do to reduce distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration of the G series lens (Sony’s best optical lenses are G-signed). Although its wide range, the lens is pretty fast with a f/3.2 at wide-angle and a truly decent f/5.8 at the longest focal length. Of course, it is optically stabilized on 3 axis and gets an active mode when shooting moving while you are walking. If this was not enough versatility for you, note that it also offers a super macro mode at 1cm from the subject in wide angle. With that lens, that lets you shoot a scenic landscape at 25mm and seconds after, shoot a remote object at 500mm, the Sony HX20V is a perfect travel lens. It is not super sharp at 500mm and often lacks of homogeneity on the field, but it offers a very decent optical quality for its zoom range.

 

sony HX20V review
Sony HX20V review : I appreciated the 3" / 921,600 dots LCD screen which you make forget that compact cameras often don't have a viewfinder.

Fast AF

When Sony unveiled the HX20, they said it has a 0.13s lightning fast AF under daylight) and a 0.20s focusing speed under dim light. I did not measure it but the HX20’s autofocus is fast, very fast. Actually, you barely notice any delay. Sony has worked a lot on contrast detection AF for their mirrorless range (NEX cameras) and they now use their research for their Cyber-shot line. Neat. That really contributes to the ease of use and pleasure when taking photographs with the HX20V, which is also a remarkably efficient camera, in multiple ways.
18MP Exmor R sensor and smart imaging tech

 

New Exmor R 18MP sensor

One could fear a sensibility issue with that little sensor (1/2.3″) loaded with pixels, featuring 18 million photodiodes. But actually, it behaves pretty well as I detail this bellow in the image quality section of this review. The hX20V can reach ISO 3,200 and it can be further boosted to ISO 6,400 and ISO 12,800 with multiple shot noise reduction. The sensor offers quite a lot of high-end and fun functions like :

  •  1080p movie recording (60p)
  • 10 fps burst rate
  • swipe panorama image (Sony has the best panorama mode on the market, let it be said…)
  • 3D images
  • HDR (a real HDR mode, that takes multiple exposure bracketed images and then blends them. Not a single shot HDR that only does some tone mapping on the photo).
  • Low-light handheld image and motion blur reduction (still thanks to the multiple shot system of the Superior Auto mode)
  • Bokeh mode : the HX20V takes multiple images, sharp and blur, and then blends them to a nice looking image with a natural style bokeh effect. Neat for portraitures or in macro mode to enhance your subject.
  • Intelligent flash exposure : the camera will take a batch of flash / natural light images and blend the well lit subject with an enlightened background. Works very well.

I had never has a camera with so many advanced features that actually do work and bring something to the user. What it brings is mostly better looking images and a % of good shots which is the highest of any compact camera. Low light, backlit, high-contrast… the HX20V overcomes all these challenging situations. This is the most efficient compact camera I ever tested.

 

GPS sensor for travellers

With a 2(-500mm lens, the HX20V must be appealing to you if you are into traveling or outdoor activities. Then, a GPS sensor really comes in handy to geotag your images and movies. Then, you can browse your photo library on a map like on Google Earth, Adobe Lightroom 4 or Photoshop elements 10, Apple Aperture or iPhoto. I almost always advise a GPS on a digital camera. The downfall is that it costs a bit of battery life, but it enhances your chances of managing your images in a few years from now. Many amateur photographers don’t see the interest if such a feature. But, even if you don’t care now, I say : choose a camera with a GPS sensor. You’ll thank me in 15 years when you will be browsing your 80,000 images photo library via the map tool.

A fun camera

Does a high-end camera has to be a dull camera ? NO. And the hX20V offers a variety of auto and superior auto mode (the one with multiple shooting HDR, handheld, NR…), has 3D stills for 3D lovers, 9 creative filters like HDR painting, pop colors, soft high-key, toy camera, miniature…). I wish Sony has thought of the B&W lovers and had gifted the HX20V with more black and white possibilities like color filters. And of course, you will probably play with the bokeh mode or the smile detection smart self timer.

 

sony cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera review
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V : 25-500mm lens

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V review : image quality

 

I have been convinced by the HX20V image quality during this review. When you look at the images at 1:1 scale, you’ve got to be frightened. There is s smear and it doesn’t look apetizing. But that is at 100%. printed, the HX20V gives high results and its lens makes a decent job for such a focal range. The in-camera softwares make a real performance at improving image quality, tonal range, color reproduction and combined with the Superior Auto mode, they offer the HX20V the image quality I wish every other camera brand could offer.

I was fearing that the extra megapixel count of the new 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor would hurt the low-light image quality. I was also wondering if this extra resolution was really a benefit to the camera’s image quality. Si I shot my loyal 10 Hong-Kong dollars note with the HX20V at various ISO settings. And it did pretty good. Still, I notices 2 quality thresholds :

  • At ISO 400 image quality falls a bit but Sony did an excellent job preserving small details as well as color accuracy. 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 substantial fall off. Images at ISO 3,200 and ISO 6,400 suffer a lot more and that leads the HX20V firmware to blur the image a lot to reduce noise. At these ISO settings, the HX20V piles multiple images to improve image quality.

 

Sony HX20V review : ISO 100 to ISO 12,800

 

Do we really need high ISO on the HX20V ?
Not really. The cyber-shot DSC-HX20V will often shoot multiple images at lower ISO settings 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. I have to say that it works pretty well. The camera’s firmware is particularly good at aligning layers of various shots, an operation at which many other cameras fail when it comes to HDR for example (check my Canon G1 X review…).

Do I find the 18 megapixels on the final images ?
There is an interesting debate on whether it is worthy to increase resolution on cameras or not… In theory, it should hurt the sensibility 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, to the images shot with the HX5V, a 2010 camera featuring a 10MP sensor designed on the same technology : back side illuminated, called Exmor R in Sony’s marketing.

 

Sony HX20V vs HX5V ISO 400 Image comparison
This 100% crop image of the Sony Cyber-shot DSCHX20V compared to its predecessor, the 2-year old Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V speaks for itself : not more noise in spite of the extra resolution, but a near doubled pixel count that is bringing a lot of details back, while they where washed out on the HX5V, a digital camera that was a reference in terms of high ISO performance.

 

Finding 1 : in spite of a high increase of pixels, at ISO 400, the HX20 offers an image that is not noisier than the 10-megapixel HX5. At ISO 1,600, the HX20 offers an image that looks less damaged by the noise cancelling algorythm than the HX5, a camera that benefits from photodiodes twice as big. Sony has improved high ISO image quality of the HX20V over the HX5V albeit its doubled pixel count.

Finding 2 : Yes, the 18-megapixel sensor of the Sony HX20 offers a visible extra amount of details captures by the camera. Yes, the HX20V benefits from the high-definition sensor. But that is not it : it will also drawn noise in definition and the overall image quality of the HX20 is better than the HX5V.

 

 

Sony HX20V review CONLUSION

 

Before I let you with the HX20V gallery, just a few words to wrap up this review of the Sony HX20V. It is going to be brief because the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V has wan my consideration and affection as probably the best megazoom camera on the market. This camera is fast and fun to operate. It gets almost all its images right thanks to Sony’s latest imaging technologies and the innovative Superior Auto mode that gives the HX20V an advantage over its competitors. Its 25-500mm is precious, its 18MP BSI CMOS sensor actually adds extra definition to the images with extra crop freedom and add to this 60p Full LD video recording and we have a winner.

You understood : I highly recommend the Sony HX20V to any body looking for an efficient high-end superzoom camera or a high-tech versatile travel camera that will remain compact enough to be slipped in any pocket. Bit it comes with a price tag that equals its qualities. So, if you are on a budget, you may want to consider its smaller brother, the Sony HX10V, which gets the same 18MP sensor but with last year’s HX9 24-284mm zoom lens and 60i instead of 60p movie recording. It is sold $70-100 less than the HX20V. You can also consider the Panasonic TZ30 / ZS20, an other 20x camera, that I reviews with the HX20V (Sony HX20V vs Panasonic ZS20 / TZ30 coming soon) or the Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR which also has a backside illuminated CMOS sensor. They are all a few tens of dollars cheaper than the HX20V but may not offer the same technology package… Finally, if you are looking for a smartcamera, I just received a copy of the Samsung WB850F,  a 21x compact camera with built-in Wi-Fi,maybe the only feature I wish the HX20V had and has not….

Sony HX20 main qualities

  • 25-500mm lens
  • overall image quality (printed, not watched at 1:1)
  • 1920 x 1080/60p
  • 921,600 dots / 3″ screen
  • GPS sensor
  • Superior Auto mode (HDR, intelligent flash, motion blur reduction, low-light handheld…)
  • 10 fps
  • Swipe panorama
  • Bokeh mode
  • Reactive autofocus
  • Built quality

If I had to find negative points about the HX20…

  • High price tag (but best in class camera)
  • You want a user manual ? Go find it online yourself !

 

Sony HX20V review : image gallery

 

You can download the full resolution JPEG files  by clicking on the following miniatures.

 

Sony HX20V at ISO 800 and 35mm, f/5 and 1/125s. Click on the image to download the original file, in full resolution.

 

Sony HX20V shot in wide-angle, 25mm. (ISO 100). Next image is the same, zoomed in at 500mm. Click on the image to download the 18MP image right from the camera.

 

Same image as above but with the HX20 at 500mm.

 

 

ISO 1,600. The camera was used in HDR mode. I am not a tremendous fan of the texture effect on this one but I have to say that the Sony HX20V HDR mode works really well for 80% of the HDR images I took.

 

Interesting image shot at ISO 800 with the HX20V which image stabilization did a great job. It was shot at 1/20s. Effective. Now take a look at the next image.

 

In this image, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V was set on the bokeh mode. In this mode, it takes a serie of focus/defocus images and then blends them to give a delicate and convincing bokeh effect. And it works.

 

I took this photo in a presbyterian cloitre under dim light. The HX20 took multiple bracketed images and blended them to a final photo which is well exposed and sharp although shot handheld at ISO 800.

 

An other convincing HDR image. The outside was much brighter than the inside and the HX20V did bring a decent exposure back of the inside while not burning any highlights of the inside. You can even see the fresque and its colors very clearly. This is amazingly easy and efficient.

 

This image was shot from the departure of the pilgrimage of St James of Compostela from Le-Puy-en-Velay, France, to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. The image was shot with the camera HDR mode. Bellow, the same composition without HDR.
The same image, but without the HDR mode on. See the difference ?