Camera manufacturers seem to have chosen superzooms as the latest battlefield. Thankfully, the fight isn't just about who's got the biggest lens. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 incorporates several technologies from the company's Alpha DSLR products, including a 1/2.4-inch 10-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor (for 9-megapixel images) and a 20x f2.8-5.2 28-560mm-equivalent optically stabilised lens, based on the company's higher-quality G-series optics.
In theory, this combination should deliver better photo quality than we're used to seeing in this class. In practice, it doesn't. Fast performance, solid video and some truly interesting features make the £400 DSC-HX1 worth considering, but the spectre of middling photo quality can't be easily dismissed.
The design ranges from smoothly functional to awkward. The DSC-HX1 is relatively compact for a superzoom, measuring 114 by 84 by 91mm and weighing around 454g, with a big grip that makes it comfortable to hold.
The body is cluttered with buttons. On the top left, there's a button that toggles between the too-small electronic viewfinder and the tiltable but low-resolution 76mm (3-inch) LCD. Behind the pop-up flash sits the stereo microphone. Next to that is the power button, with a review button and custom button that you can use for one of only three shortcuts: white balance, metering or smile shutter. At the front top of the grip is the shutter, with a zoom switch. The zoom feels pretty typical for this class of camera -- it operates smoothly, but, because it's stepped, you never quite stop where you expect. In the middle lie the focus-selection and drive-mode buttons.
You adjust aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity via a jog dial that falls under your right thumb. We like this type of operation, and its presence is a blessing because the standard four-way navigation switch plus enter button is irritating to use. It's too flat, with no travel, so you always feel like you have to press harder but can't.
In addition to traversing the menus, this navigation switch toggles macro mode, flash options, the self-timer, and display options. Within the top-level menus, you can set image size, white balance, metering, bracket size (in third, two-third or full-stop increments) and type (exposure, white balance or colour), face detection, flash intensity and red-eye reduction, the amount of dynamic range optimisation, the amount of noise reduction, colour effects, contrast, sharpness, and the SteadyShot image-stabilisation mode.
Finally, the mode dial offers all the typical shooting modes -- manual
and semi-manual, intelligent auto, easy, 'anti-motion blur' (which raises ISO
sensitivity and shutter speed), programmed scene, and movie, plus two
novelties: 'sweep panorama' and 'hand-held twilight'.
In sweep panorama mode, you pan the camera horizontally or vertically while it continuously snaps enough shots to build a 4,912x1,080-pixel (standard) or 7,152x1,080-pixel (wide) panorama, which it automatically stitches together when you lift your finger from the shutter.