Design and features
Although it's not the biggest full-size superzoom we've tested this year, the HX200V is by no means small. It is, however, comfortable to use, with a well-formed right-hand grip and enough weight, thanks to the hefty lens, to help you keep the camera steady.
While it may not seem like it has many direct controls over settings, it actually does. There's a zoom control around the lens barrel, which is good for small zoom adjustments and can be used for manually focusing the lens, too. You'll also find a programmable Custom button on top, right behind the shutter release and zoom ring, which can be used for an exposure lock, white balance, ND filter, metering and Smile Shutter, Sony's smile-activated shutter release.
Next to that is a Focus button that can change your autofocus mode, or, if you're manually focusing, give you a focus check so you can see whether your subject is actually in focus. Lastly, there's a jog dial to the right of the thumb rest for changing ISO, exposure compensation, shutter speed and aperture. You have to press in on the dial to advance through until you arrive at the one you want to change. If you make a lot of changes to these things, it can get tiresome.
The LCD is large and bright, making it easy to see in bright conditions; you'll still struggle in direct sun, but you can always use the electronic viewfinder, though I found that to be somewhat small. (Note: there is a proximity sensor next to the EVF, allowing the camera to jump from the LCD to the EVF when you bring it to your eye. It takes a second or two to switch, which might anger some users. There is a button to just change between the two, but you have to cycle past the sensor option.)
With all its capabilities, the HX200V can be tricky to use, particularly if you're not familiar with more advanced compact cameras. However, the menus are easy enough to navigate, and if you're not sure what something does, there's a full manual stored on the camera. That's good, because some of the shooting modes have a lot of settings, and there are a lot of buttons on this model. It might take some time to get acquainted with all that this camera can do.
In Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto, Sony gives you some extra control over Brightness, Colour and Vividness.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Like all of Sony's higher-end cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V has a lot of shooting options that take advantage of its fast Exmor R sensors and Bionz image processors. 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 on-screen text. Intelligent Auto picks from 33 scene types, and turns on face detection, dynamic range optimisation and image stabilisation. Superior Auto takes Intelligent Auto and adds three multi-shot modes: Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur and Backlight Correction HDR. These multi-shot modes can also be selected as distinct modes in Scene options, along with 13 others, like Soft Skin, Gourmet and Pet.
If you're willing to take control away from the camera, there are Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter speed-priority and Manual modes for control over aperture and shutter speed. Available apertures are f/2.8, f/3.2, f/3.5, f/4.0, f/4.5, f/5.0, f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1 and f/8.0 for wide, and f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1 and f/8.0 for telephoto. (You can also turn its neutral-density filter on or off.) Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/4000 second to 30 seconds. Plus, you get a live view of your exposure, so you can see about what you'll get at your chosen ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The Program mode will handle shutter speed and aperture while you take care of everything else, including colour modes, contrast, colour saturation and sharpness. If you come up with a group of settings you like, the Memory Recall mode lets you store three groups of settings for quick shooting with your preferences.
The HX200V's movie mode is one of the best you'll find in its category (though the Panasonic FZ150 bests the HX200V in shutter and aperture controls). It's capable of recording in full HD at 1080/60p at 28Mbps in AVCHD. It'll record at lower bit rates, too, in AVCHD, or you can switch to MP4 format at resolutions of up to 1440x1080 pixels. While there is a dedicated movie mode, you can also just press the record button anytime you want to start shooting. Pressing the shutter release while you're recording will grab 13-megapixel stills, too (though this is not available when recording at 1080/60p).
This is a fast-performing camera for its class. Its shot-to-shot times are on par with other CMOS sensor-based superzooms — about one second without flash, but slowing down to about three or four seconds with the flash in use. Its shutter lag, though — the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without pre-focusing — is almost nothing in bright lighting. It was almost as good in dimmer conditions or with lens extended. You will notice some slowdown in autofocus speeds, with the lens extended and in low light, but it's still better than others in this class.
The HX200V's burst setting allows you to capture at full resolution at up to 10 frames per second for 10 photos. 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-FZ150 can shoot at up to 10fps without continuous autofocus and 5fps with autofocus, and it doesn't need to stop nearly as long to store images. Overall, though, the Sony's speed, particularly its shutter lag, is excellent for a point-and-shoot and the superzoom category on the whole.
The photo quality from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is very good to excellent, though it really depends on your needs and expectations. If you're considering buying this instead of a high-resolution digital SLR, you'd be disappointed. Like all of Sony's 2012 high-megapixel Cyber-shots, most pictures viewed at full size aren't impressive. However, there's plenty of usable resolution here, particularly if you're shooting with lots of light.
A 100 per cent crop from a macro photo taken on the HX200V.
(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)
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 HX200V'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 we've seen from a point-and-shoot. However, we wouldn't bother using the two highest ISOs, as they look more like an artist's renderings than photos, with off colours.
The default Standard colour mode produces pleasingly bright, vivid colours, but they might not be accurate enough for some users.
(Credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)
Again, the HX200V is not a dSLR (it doesn't even have the capability to capture RAW images), but for people looking for a long lens and some better control over results than the average point-and-shoot offers, it's a safe bet. See more sample images in our review gallery here.
The HX200V's video is as good as its photos. With plenty of light, you get nice-looking, smooth video when recording at the camera's maximum AVCHD resolution of 1080/60p. There is very little trailing on moving subjects or judder when panning the camera, though some is noticeable when viewed at larger screen sizes. In low light, movies do have more visible noise and artefacts and look softer, but are still very good. You do have use of the zoom lens, which you may hear moving in quieter scenes. Audio quality in general is very good, too, but unfortunately you're limited to the stereo mic on top.
It might seem like all of the full-sized superzooms are about the same, just with different lenses, but they're not. Even among the high-end models from each manufacturer there are differences that might make you choose one over another. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V is an excellent choice for someone looking for a high-performance, long-lens compact camera that's very good in auto, but allows you to tailor your results if you're willing to take some of the control away from it. However, if you want the most control, check out the Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150.