In Sony's Cyber-shot range, an 'H' in the model name stands for 'high-performance', and the Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V superzoom has it by the bucketload. It boasts half a dozen ground-breaking technologies, each of which would make headline news on their own. The £320 HX5V is right at the cutting edge of technology, then, but can it deliver the picture quality to go with it?
Hi-tech high jinks
Where to start? The HX5V's 10x, 25-250mm-equivalent zoom matches the wide-angle capability of Panasonic's class-leading Lumix DMC-TZ10 and almost matches it at the telephoto end of the range. But, while the TZ10 can shoot 720p high-definition movies, the Sony can shoot in 1080p.
The HX5V's 10.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and high-speed Exmor image-processing system deliver high ISOs, exceptional continuous-shooting speed (10 frames per second at full resolution for 10 frames), Sony's unique 'sweep panorama' mode, and a low-light feature that combines an automated sequence of six handheld shots into a single image of a quality you just wouldn't get from a single hand-held exposure.
The HX5V also includes a built-in GPS receiver for geotagging photos automatically, and an on-screen compass that always indicates due north. It'll show you the way home if you get lost, and tell you where you took your pictures while you were wandering around.
It all works brilliantly. As long as you're out in the open, the HX5V's GPS receiver will hook up to the GPS satellite network in 4 to 5 seconds. (It works intermittently in the shadow of tall buildings and will stop working indoors, but that's a failing of GPS systems in general.) From then on, location tags are added to your pictures in a standardised format that any geotagging software should be able to recognise -- you don't have to use the bundled Picture Motion Browser software. If you view the pictures using Google's Picasa, say, each thumbnail shows a red geotag icon in the corner, and Picasa's Places panel loads a map showing you where you stood to take the picture practically down to the nearest yard.
The sweep-panorama mode is stunning. It's a shame the panoramas are downsized from the camera's full resolution, but the way in which the HX5V can stitch together a seamless panorama on the hoof from a single, smooth-panning movement is uncanny.
The zoom range is excellent in a camera that's small enough to fit in any pocket, the control layout is clear and efficient, and, most of all, it's a really responsive snapper to use. The zoom speed is good, but the autofocus speed is extraordinary. Sony continues to lead the field in this area by some margin. Even at full zoom, it locks focus in half a second or less, and, at shorter focal lengths, it's practically instantaneous.
Noisome noise reduction
But your first set of photos brings you back down to earth with a bump. The outright resolution is fine -- 10.2 megapixels is more than enough to ensure good image quality. The problem is Sony's noise-reduction software, which is so aggressive that, even at the minimum ISO, the HX5V will smooth over whole tracts of subtly textured, low-contrast detail. The HX5V might be pushing back the frontiers of imaging technology, but the picture quality has gone backwards, not forwards. This is extremely frustrating.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V initially seems like a brilliant camera that works supremely well. But then it goes and turns out these weirdly over-processed images. If it were an £80 budget camera, you might turn a blind eye, but it isn't. The difference between the quality of the camera and the quality of its results verges on painful.
Edited by Charles Kloet