Sony's 2011 Cyber-shot lineup has three compact megazooms in it: the high-end HX9V, the low-end H70, and, snuggled in between, the HX7V. The HX7V is essentially a beefed-up version of the H70, featuring the same lens and body size, but backed by a high-speed, 16-megapixel Exmor R backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor instead of a slower CCD sensor. That sensor among other things gives the HX7V many more shooting options, such as a Background Defocus mode to simulate a shallow depth-of-field, and creating high-resolution panoramas. And it does most everything quickly.
Now, as for photo quality, it really comes down to what you're expecting.
|Key specs||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.1x2.3x1.1 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||7.3 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||10x, f3.5-5.5, 25-250mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (interlaced; 24Mbps)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li ion rechargeable, 300 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC; Memory Stick Pro Duo; Eye-Fi Connected support|
|Bundled software||Picture Motion Browser 5.5, PMB Portable 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Mac), Music Transfer|
Photo quality is very good to excellent, but pixel peepers or those expecting miracles from a point-and-shoot will likely be disappointed. There's little difference in quality from ISO 125 to ISO 400. The only real issue I have is that photos aren't very sharp even at its lowest ISO. Noise reduction kicks in more at ISO 800, which softens details more and dulls color. There's a noticeable increase in noise and noise reduction at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, making colors more washed-out and making subjects appear painterly; you'll probably want to reserve these two highest sensitivities for emergencies when you need to shoot in low-light conditions or get a faster shutter speed regardless of the results. But, as with all of Sony's cameras with Exmor R sensors, there are shooting options for improving low-light/high ISO shots, so just leaving it in auto won't always get you the best results.
The 16-megapixel resolution is completely unnecessary and doesn't get you much more room to crop or enlarge. If you're looking at buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'll be disappointed--especially at higher ISO sensitivities. That said, prints at 8x10 at ISO 800 with the lens fully extended still looked good, just somewhat painterly. Overall, anyone looking for a snapshot camera for regularly making 8x10 prints or smaller or images to be viewed on a TV or computer screen should be more than satisfied with the HX7V.
Color is excellent from the HX7V. While blues and reds may not be as accurate as other colors, they are bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that, things get slightly washed-out and muddy-looking.
Movies captured by the HX7V are excellent as well, on par with a very good pocket video camera. The 60i frame rate and image stabilization make for some smooth movement, too. You will see some ghosting with fast-moving subjects, though, and things look a little oversharpened on occasion. It won't replace a full-fledged HD camcorder, but if you'd like a single device for capturing good photos and videos, this is one of the better options available. The optical zoom does work while recording (though you will hear it moving in quiet scenes), and the stereo mic is a nice extra.
|General shooting options||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Custom|
|Recording modes||Easy, Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Program, Manual, 3D Still Image, SCN, Background Defocus, Intelligent Sweep Panorama, Movie|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child)|
|Macro||1.9 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||10 shots|
Despite giving it a full manual mode, Sony keeps shooting options geared toward snapshooters on the HX7V, but it's so loaded with automatic modes that it could get very confusing. For those who like to leave it in auto, there are three options: Easy, Intelligent Auto, and Superior Auto. Easy mode takes away all options except for image size (large or small) and enlarges onscreen text. Intelligent Auto picks from 10 scene types and turns on face detection, dynamic range optimization, and image stabilization. Superior Auto takes Intelligent Auto and adds three multishot modes--Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur, and Backlight Correction HDR--to shoot photos with the best possible settings.
Why not just leave it in Superior Auto? Multishot modes like these rapidly take photos and overlay them to help remove blur, correct exposure, and reduce noise. However, they don't work well with moving subjects and they require additional in-camera image processing so they take longer than a simple snapshot taken with Intelligent Auto and other single-shot modes. If there's a chance your subject might be moving--even slightly--while you're shooting, I'd stick with Intelligent Auto. Also, these multishot modes plus 11 others are available in the HX7V's scene mode (SCN), so you can always pick the appropriate one when you need it. That said, Superior Auto does allow you to take full advantage of the camera's capabilities in an automatic mode.
If you want to take more control, Program Auto lets you adjust ISO, white balance, autofocus points, light metering, and exposure values. There is a full manual option for control over aperture and shutter speed. It's limited to two aperture settings each at the wide and telephoto ends (using a neutral density filter); f3.5 and f8 for wide and f5.5 and f13 for telephoto. There are a few more sets of stops available through the zoom range: f4-9, f4.5-10, and f5-11. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/1,600 to 30 seconds. It's more than you get on most point-and-shoots, so I'm not complaining; just don't buy this expecting a lot of control. Also worth mentioning is that the HX7V has exposure bracketing that will take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV. It doesn't do this terribly fast, though, so you may want to use a tripod and use this only with still subjects.
Along with these options there's Sony's Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode for capturing horizontal or vertical panoramas with one press of the shutter release; this is unlike other cameras that require you to take several shots. Intelligent Sweep differentiates itself from Sony's regular Sweep Panorama by automatically detecting faces and moving subjects to avoid distortion. It's definitely one of those features you might not care about until you try it. Once you realize that it's fun and works well, you end up using it all the time. Added in this mode is a high-resolution option that produces larger and better-looking results. And by larger, I mean huge: the resolution is 10,480x4,096, and a single shot is up to 20MB.