Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V

Offering a wide range of features from a 20x optical zoom lens to excellent low-light modes, the HX20V is a great buy for the cashed-up traveller.


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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


Are you a fan of travel cameras? If so, there are plenty of options on the market for 2012, including the newest addition to the range, Sony's HX20V. Continuing on the same track as its predecessor, the HX9V, this camera boasts a longer optical zoom lens (20x), as well as a few more features to improve the package.

Design and features

There's no doubt that the HX20V is one of the best-built travel cameras around. There's a firm but comfortable hand grip, which offsets the camera's sturdy construction. The mode dial at the top of the camera is pleasing to turn and responsive, while the buttons at the back do their job without taking up too much space. Above the 20x optical zoom lens is a stereo microphone, and there's also a pop-up flash alongside it that raises automatically when needed.

It's a camera simple enough for beginners to use and leave in automatic mode, and be done. Fortunately, for more experienced photographers, there's also a built-in manual mode, as well as program mode, and enough other shooting options to make most people happy.

Shooting options come in the form of intelligent auto; superior auto for reducing blur and noise; program; manual; MR or memory recall; iSweep panorama; movie; 3D; and scene or background defocus modes. There's a built-in GPS for automatically tagging location data on photos.

Photo filters are fun, just like we've seen on other Sony compacts, ranging the gamut from pop art to watercolour effects, and a painterly HDR mode.

Just a few of the photo filters on the HX20V, clockwise from top left: HDR painting, toy camera, watercolour and partial colour.
(Credit: CBSi)

While we're not fans of companies arbitrarily increasing sensor resolution just for the sake of marketing a few more megapixels, the HX20V could strike the balance right. Sony claims that the 18.2-megapixel backlit CMOS camera has an adaptive noise-reduction feature, which optimises each area of the image to best apply noise-reduction techniques. Sony also says that this camera has lowered the noise level to one sixth of that delivered by cameras with the previous technology on-board. We'll see if this holds true in our analysis of image quality.

The high-resolution, 3-inch screen is a big plus point, particularly when compared to other travel cameras in this class, which seem to miss out on pin-sharp displays.

The HX20V is one of the first cameras we've seen to tout its environmental cred openly on its sleeve, made of recycled plastic. The polycarbonate body is made up of 99 per cent reused materials, and is supposed to have excellent heat resistance. We didn't take the liberty of putting it in the microwave to test this claim.

Connectivity is through a mini-HDMI port at the side of the camera, and also through a proprietary mini-USB connector at the base, which doubles as the camera charger when hooked up with its power adapter.

Compared to

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Sony Cyber-shot HX20V Panasonic Lumix TZ30
12.1-megapixel high-sensitivity CMOS sensor 18.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor 14.1-megapixel high-sensitivity MOS sensor
GPS built in GPS built in GPS built in
3-inch 461,000-dot LCD 3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD 3-inch 460,000-dot LCD
25mm wide-angle lens 25mm wide-angle lens 24mm wide-angle lens

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • 1.40.60.3
    Nikon Coolpix S9300
  • 1.71.40.4
    Sony Cyber-shot HX20V
  • 20.80.3
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30
  • 2.52.10.3
    Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in FPS)

  • 10
    Sony Cyber-shot HX20V
  • 7.9
    Nikon Coolpix S9300
  • 4.1
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30
  • 2.5
    Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The HX20V can shoot at 10 frames per second in continuous mode, but only for 10 shots before it stops to process them. Sony rates the battery at 320 shots.

Image quality

Any snapshooter or travel photographer will be pleased with the image quality delivered by the HX20V. Colours are bright and punchy, perhaps a little too over-saturated in the red channel, although this is something that we've noticed before on other Sony compacts.

This camera performs particularly well in low light, and the sensor and image processor is impressive in these situations despite the resolution bump. It's particularly noticeable in superior auto mode, which does exactly what it promises — delivers clearer shots in low light with less noise.

This shot was taken in superior auto mode, which, when used in low-light situations, snaps several photos in quick succession to make a clearer, blur-free and low-noise shot. It works excellently, as you can see in this image with the 100 per cent crop inset. The EXIF data says that this was taken at ISO 800, and, given the way that the camera automatically stitches the photos together when using this auto mode and applies some special magic, no wonder they look much better than just shooting in Program mode at ISO 800.
(Credit: CBSi)

Automatic white balance does reasonably well when the flash is fired, but is a little too warm when used in dark situations without the flash. Skin tones in particular look a bit too crimson when the flash isn't used.

This photo was taken at the full extent of the 20x optical zoom. You can go further with digital zoom if required. The 100 per cent crop is inset, which you can see is quite over-processed. Still, for web use, this is a great-looking shot.
(Credit: CBSi)

Like other backside-illuminated CMOS sensors, the HX20V exhibits some over-processing on images taken in ample lighting. On the plus side, the camera and lens do well on keeping fringing at bay, something that usually exhibits itself in high-contrast areas.

While the lens is nice and sharp at its centre, this sharpness does drop off towards the corners of the frame.

ISO 1600 is really the top sensitivity you want to use if you intend to make any enlargements from your photos. You may be able to salvage a shot at ISO 3200, but the detail is pretty smeared; things get even worse at 6400 and 12,800, which is the camera's maximum sensitivity.

While the HX20V produces reasonably clean shots at lower ISO levels, beyond 800 is when things start to get a little messy. As with most other backlit-CMOS sensors we've seen, this camera also gives a slightly over-processed look to its shots.
(Credit: CBSi)

Video quality comes in a number of configurations, topping out at 1080/50p in AVCHD as its highest setting. There's also MP4 recording available, too. Quality is excellent for a camera of this class, with a sharp image and good colour representation. Sony does enable the full extent of the optical zoom while filming, and the auto-focus does an excellent job of keeping up with lens movement without you noticing that the focus changes. Sound is decent, thanks to the stereo microphone, with a wind cut option and an adjustable level (either normal or low).

The HX20V can capture stills during video recording, but the implementation is a little confusing. For starters, you can't snap them when recording at the highest-quality 1080p setting; you need to be shooting in 1080i. Secondly, there's no real visual indication on the screen as to when the shot has been taken seamlessly during video recording. It flashes "Capture", but then doesn't give you any other visual feedback to say that it's still shooting video.

The stills captured during video shooting aren't of the same quality as standalone stills, at a 16:9 aspect ratio and 13 megapixels. They're also pretty noisy, and present a smeary image even at ISO 400. Still, for web use, they should be fine.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/800, f/3.2, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/80, f/4, ISO 500

Exposure: 1/125, f/4.5, ISO 320

Exposure: 1/8, f/3.2, ISO 800

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Offering a wide range of features from a 20x optical zoom lens to excellent low-light modes, the HX20V is a great buy for the cashed-up traveller. The usual caveats apply, including limitations on the use of high-ISO images for enlargements due to noise, but the HX20V is one of the nicest travel cameras from the current crop.

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robbo354 posted a comment   
Australia

I have owned the Sony HX20V for about 6 months and recently took it and a Sony HX200V on an extensive oversea trip taking about 3000 photos. Could not fault the 20v, so much so I rarely used the 200v. Although my SLR takes marginally better photos it is heavy and bulking and is not as good in low light, and taking video with them is a pain. GPS worked well and very accurate. Great travel camera!!

 

rachel_09 posted a comment   
Australia

I am travelling to Europe in a couple of weeks and was set on purchasing this camera for my trip, but after reading this and SMH review I'm a bit worried about noise/smuding if I want to print some enlarged photos. SMH reviewer warns against any prints over a postcard size, and to get a compact with smaller pixels if you want larger prints. I don't know much about cameras and always thought larger zoom & higher pixels were better. I really like the other specs of this camera, including full HD video and 20xzoom.
Could anyone advise?

 

rachel_09 posted a comment   
Australia

I am travelling to Europe in a couple of weeks and was set on purchasing this camera for my trip, but after reading this and SMH review I'm a bit worried about noise/smuding if I want to print some enlarged photos. SMH reviewer warns against any prints over a postcard size, and to get a compact with smaller pixels if you want larger prints. I don't know much about cameras and always though larger zoom

SkyPuppy
7
Rating
 

"Easy to get shots you'd be happy to share"

SkyPuppy posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Panoramas are easy and the colors are vibrant.

The Bad:The flash is in an awkward location.

I've played around with one today and I am quite impressed with the quality of the photos. The colors are very nice and vibrant, although the red is quite pronounced, I like it.

The GPS worked well, with fast location positioning, but I think it soaked up quite a bit of the battery.

The 4 way selector on the back for selecting flash, self timer and so on, is actually a dial, which I found nice to use (when I remembered to turn instead of clicking as I do on others).

One main detraction is the placement of the flash and the only thing I can think to avoid getting in the way of it is to shoot one handed. Apart from that, everything else is laid out sensibly and similar to other compacts.

On a high note, there's a blur background function which simulates a large aperture, as you can't generally get a small depth of field on compacts. I think it does this by using the focusing system to map out what to blur as it takes two shots in one capture.

Overall, really happy to have used it to compare to my current compact.

 

RachelR1 posted a comment   

I will be using this for baby and toddler photography Do you think that the Sony is the better choice with shutter lag

 

camuser2355 posted a comment   
Australia

Hi Lexi,

Which is the better camera: HX20V, HX9V (last year's model) or Canon SX260?

 

SujayN posted a reply   

I'd say that the Canon SX260 is slightly better at photos than both the Sony. But at capturing Full HD 1080p videos, the Sony HX20V

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi there,

Really depends on what you are looking for and what you want to shoot. The HX20V beats the HX9V from last year in terms of image quality. Video quality is very similar. The SX260 delivers excellent photo and video quality but it's quite a bit slower in the performance stakes.

 

CathyV posted a reply   

I'd love to be able to take great close up pictures of my jewelry creations as well as pictures of my toddler. Which of these 3 cameras would be best?

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi Cathy,

For macro applications the SX260 delivers really good results. Take a look at the image samples in the review.

However, for a fast-moving toddler the HX20V will be a tad faster for continuous shooting if you need to capture all the action quickly.




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User Reviews / Comments  Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V

  • robbo354

    robbo354

    "I have owned the Sony HX20V for about 6 months and recently took it and a Sony HX200V on an extensive oversea trip taking about 3000 photos. Could not fault the 20v, so much so I rarely used the 20..."

  • rachel_09

    rachel_09

    "I am travelling to Europe in a couple of weeks and was set on purchasing this camera for my trip, but after reading this and SMH review I'm a bit worried about noise/smuding if I want to print some..."

  • rachel_09

    rachel_09

    "I am travelling to Europe in a couple of weeks and was set on purchasing this camera for my trip, but after reading this and SMH review I'm a bit worried about noise/smuding if I want to print some..."

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