Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is a hybrid digital camera that can shoot 9-megapixel still shots, as well as 1920x1080 videos!

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1

Pros

  • Excellent viewfinder, 20x zoom, useful in-camera panorama mode, can shoot Full HD video

Cons

  • Noisy images, photos lack clarity when viewed at their full size, shutter button does not have a distinct step for focusing, body feels too narrow, LCD screen does not rotate

Bottom Line

If you want an advanced compact with a big zoom and if don't plan on making big prints of your photos then the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is worth considering. However, you will have to get used to its odd physical characteristics (such as the poor shutter button, narrow width and non-rotating LCD screen).

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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is one of the new hybrid digital still cameras that can be used to shoot good quality video. At its core, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is an advanced compact camera, but it's capable of shooting video at the full high-definition (Full HD) resolution of 1920x1080. It has a massive 20x zoom lens and lots of manual features to play with, but it can be a little awkward to use.

It's a 9-megapixel camera with a 28-560mm zoom lens, and unlike most compact cameras it has a CMOS-based sensor instead of a CCD-based one. Most importantly, it has a viewfinder that replicates all of the information you would normally see on the LCD screen; it's handy to use when you're shooting in very bright sunlight. It gives you a full view of the scene, and it also displays all your settings, focus points, and even the histogram (if you have it enabled). Using the viewfinder is also a good way to conserve battery life.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a minimum aperture of f/8.0. It has a manual mode that lets you use the thumb-dial to quickly change the aperture as well as the shutter speed (from as slow as 30sec to as fast as 1/2000th of a second). Because its zoom is so long, the camera's body is bulky and it's not entirely comfortable to use; it just does not feel wide enough when you hold it in your hands. There's not much to hold onto when using the camera, apart from its deep handgrip. It feels like it needs more room on the left side.

We don't like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's shutter button. It does not have a distinct half-way point for focusing; on most cameras, you can feel a solid step at the halfway point, but with the HX1, you don’t feel anything. You have to use very slight pressure to focus and then press the button all the way down. Another feature that's awkward is the LCD screen, which pops out and tilts up and down but does not flip downward nor swivel. This means you can't use it for self-portraits — you can only use it for taking photos at high or low angles.

When the camera's zoom is extended, it sticks out of the body by approximately 4.5cm. Holding the camera while it's at maximum zoom can be difficult, as even miniscule amounts of shake will be noticeable on the screen. However, switching on the built-in image stabilisation does a good job of countering the effects of the shaking so that you can clearly see what you are shooting. That said, you should use a tripod or monopod when you intend to use the camera at its maximum zoom, especially in dim lighting.

For focusing, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 has five different modes: you can set it to focus the entire screen, in the centre; you can select any of 117 points on the screen manually; there is a semi-manual focus mode (you set this by entering the distance you want to limit the focus to); and it has a full manual focus mode, which is surprisingly effective as it allows you to finetune your focus in small increments. The full manual focus mode is especially useful for extreme close-ups (1cm away from the subject). You can't use a manually selected focus point as well as manual focus, however; it's either one or the other.

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's image quality is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it produces nice, vivid colours and there is nary a hint of chromatic aberration in high-contrast areas; on the other hand, its images are not crisp. Photos tend to look blotchy and ill-defined when viewed at their full size. This shows up particularly in pictures of trees and plants, as their leaves just blend into each other. Photo sharpness is optimal at a lower resolution; 1920x1080, for example. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 definitely won't give you good results if you plan to crop your photos closely in order to focus on fine details.

Image noise was a problem in a lot of our test shots, even when using ISO 400. Anything higher than that will make photos look too grainy and also introduce discolouration in dark areas. The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 ships with a feature called DRO, which attempts to lighten dark or shadowed areas of photos, and this can also cause noise. In short, the low-light performance of this Sony digital camera is not impressive.

One of the most interesting features of the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is its ability to shoot sweeping panoramas. You set the dial to the panorama setting, press the shutter button, then move the camera towards the right to capture your panorama. It's the easiest method we've ever seen for capturing panoramas, and it does a very good job overall (the overall image size of the panorama is 4912x1080). It can be used for fun at a party, or when you want to capture a breathtaking landscape. For landscapes, plonking the camera on a tripod is recommended. This is probably the best method for taking in-camera panoramas that we've seen — even better than the in-camera stitching of the Olympus Mju Tough 6000 and Mju Tough 8000.

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 shoots videos at the Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 using the MPEG-4 (AVC/H.264-compliant) codec, and footage looks clear and vibrant at this resolution. However, fast motion exposes some tearing and blurring, much like what we saw with the Nikon D5000. It's better suited to tripod usage for interviews or shots in which the camera doesn't have to be panned. You're better off not using the zoom function; partly because you can't focus after a certain point, and partly because the zoom is very slow and makes a lot of noise that will be picked up in the video. There aren't any external microphone jacks, so this noise is unavoidable.

To make the camera as user-friendly as possible, Sony has included various face detection modes (which can be set to focus automatically on any face, or prioritise children or adults), as well as a smile shutter. The smile shutter is supposed to takes a photo automatically when a smile is detected, but it failed to react to any smiles in our tests. However, face recognition worked like a charm.

Our overall impression of this camera is that it's a little underdone. It has plenty of useful features — the long zoom, the panorama mode, the ability to record HD video, the excellent viewfinder, the manual controls — but its pictures lack definition when viewed at their full size, and its design needs to be improved.

However, if you want an advanced compact with a big zoom, and if don't plan on making big prints of your photos, then the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is worth considering. You will have to get used to its odd physical characteristics (such as the poor shutter button, narrow body and non-rotating LCD screen).

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