Sony's Cyber-shot HX9V has long been the most popular camera on CNET, and for good reason. It has a nice lens, great shooting options, and fast performance, and it takes good photos and video to boot. Its successor, the HX30V, is pretty much more of the same, which in this case is a very good thing.
The biggest difference between the two models is the lens: the HX9V has a 16x, f3.3-5.9, 24-384mm lens, while the HX30V gets a 20x, f3.2-5.8, 25-500mm lens -- all without a significant increase in size and weight.
In addition to the lens you get improved autofocus speeds and image stabilization; high-resolution stills while shooting video; new creative effects; Sony's Clear Image Zoom, which digitally extends the zoom range to 40x; improved GPS with logging; and a resolution bump from 16 to 18 megapixels.
Oh, and built-in Wi-Fi. And it works well, too, so you can take a photo you couldn't get with a smartphone, but then quickly use your iPhone or Android device to share it. But if you don't want Wi-Fi, you can shave $20 off your purchase and get the HX20V instead.
So, does all of that make it the best compact megazoom? Maybe. Like a lot of things, it comes down to your needs and how fat your wallet is.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V produces excellent photos both indoors and out for a compact megazoom, though pixel peepers probably won't agree. If you're considering buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'd be disappointed. For the most part, shots look very good at 50 percent to up to about 75 percent of their full 18-megapixel resolution. Above that, subjects will look a little more painterly and you'll see more noise and artifacts.That's still plenty of usable resolution, though, particularly if you're shooting with good lighting.
Below ISO 400, shots look good printed up to 10x13, which is more than most people need. Getting a very good 8x10 with some enlarging and cropping is certainly possible, too. And if you never print your shots, the HX30V's photos look great on a computer screen or HDTV.
As the camera goes above ISO 400, subjects do get noticeably softer, but shots are usable at small sizes up to ISO 1600. If you want better low-light shots of still subjects, Sony's Handheld Twilight mode still produces some of the best high-ISO photos I've seen from a point-and-shoot. I wouldn't bother using the two highest ISOs, though, as they look more like artist's renderings than photos and have off colors.
The default Standard color mode produces pleasingly bright, vivid colors, but they might not be accurate enough for some users. If you want more accurate colors, the HX30V does have a Real color setting and three other color modes in addition to Standard. There are also adjustments for contrast, saturation, and sharpness.
Movies captured by the HX30V are excellent as well. The 1080/60p and image stabilization makes for some smooth movement. Shooting fast-moving subjects with a pocket camera typically results in ghosting and judder, but that's not the case here. If you're looking for a single device for capturing photos and movie clips (it has a 29-minute continuous recording limit), this is one of the best options available. The optical zoom does work while recording, though you may hear it moving in quiet scenes. The stereo mic produced good audio and in the menu system you can find settings for the mic level and wind noise reduction.
One of the more important improvements Sony promised for the HX30V is faster autofocus. Not that the HX9V was slow, but faster focusing is always appreciated. The HX30V's shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- was 0.3 second in bright conditions, so shooting feels very fast. Even in low light and with the lens extended it was nearly as fast at 0.4 second. From off to first shot is a quick 1.5 seconds, though it did drop to 1.8 seconds from shot to shot. It feels faster than that time suggests, though. The only time it really lagged was when using the flash. That drove the shot-to-shot time up to an average of 4 seconds.
The camera's burst-shooting mode is officially capable of up to 10 frames per second, but it actually averaged 11fps. However, this burst shooting sets focus and exposure with the first shot, and once you've fired, you're stuck waiting for the camera to save the photos, generally a second or two per photo.
In comparison, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 can shoot at up to 10fps without continuous autofocus and 5fps with autofocus. Overall, though, the Sony's speed is excellent for a point-and-shoot.