Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V camera

This super-compact camera has a 30x zoom, Wi-Fi, and GPS

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Excellent GPS and Wi-Fi
  • Good video, photos in good lighting

Cons

  • Noisy shots in dim, dark lighting
  • Heavy noise reduction past ISO 400
  • No RAW photo mode

Bottom Line

If you were looking for a travel-zoom camera in the past, we’d have gone straight to recommending a Panasonic. Sony’s new HX50V crams 20 megapixels -- too many, really -- on its tiny sensor, with a 30x zoom lens and all the trimmings you could want. It’s a great all-round camera, although it’s not made for dim or dark environments.

Would you buy this?

If you want to buy a camera with a lot of zoom, you don’t have a great deal of choice. Most decent super-zoom cameras are big, with bodies that mimic digital SLRs in design and size. Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V (or just ‘HX50’) is out to challenge that — it’s the smallest camera ever to sport a 30x zoom, and it’s got plenty else besides.

Sony Cyber-shot HX50: Design and features

When it’s turned off, the Cyber-shot HX50 looks, basically, just like any other compact digital camera. It’s made for right-handed use, and can be used with the one hand alone.

Front-on, the camera’s face is simple enough — there’s a big circular array for the collapsing lens, there’s a LED to assist autofocus in poor light, and there’s a finger-grip. No complicated control dials or buttons to worry about. The top and back of the HX50 is where the action happens.

Viewing the camera from the top down, you’ll see from left to right the HX50’s manually-triggered pop-up xenon flash, an accessory hot-shoe (more on that later), and the main shooting controls. There are two dials on the top right — one for changing the shooting mode, with various automatic modes as well as the more hands-on P/A/S/M, and a dedicated exposure compensation dial. There’s a combination zoom rocker and shutter button, and on/off switch.

The HX50, top-down and front-on.
The HX50, top-down and front-on.

The HX50’s back has a standard 3-inch LCD screen, which has the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the camera’s sensor, so you’ll use the whole screen for framing photos. Next to a little thumb-grip is a dedicated movie recording button, which works in any shooting mode. There’s also a customisable button, which you can pre-set to any of a huge number of options, next to a dedicated playback button.

Further down the back is a five-way navigation pad that also doubles as a control dial — if you’re shooting in a manual mode, this is where you’ll change shutter speeds, apertures, and ISO settings, although the whole process is a little finicky. Below the dial is a delete button and quick-menu access, through which you can access the more complicated main menu.

The rear face of the Sony HX50.
The rear face of the Sony HX50.

Apart from its massive super-zoom lens, the Cyber-shot HX50V’s big selling features are its integrated Wi-Fi chip, and internal GPS sensor and antenna.

The Wi-Fi exists to connect the camera to your smartphone, with a Sony PlayMemories app available for iOS and Android. All you’ve got to do is hit the Menu button then scroll to the Wi-Fi setting. You can use the PlayMemories app to use your smartphone as a remote viewfinder for the camera, controlling its zoom and focus, changing a few shooting modes and settings, and taking pictures and recording video.

GPS is especially useful in a travel camera; it’s good for logging specific landmarks and sights that you’ve seen on your worldwide travels. We geo-tagged all the photos that we took with the HX50V, and found that the GPS was generally quick to start up, accurate, and didn’t seem to have too much of an impact on the camera’s battery life — which itself is good.

Sony Cyber-Shot HX50V: Specifications, performance, and picture quality

In our time with it, we found that the HX50 was a quick, but not blazingly fast, camera. It’s able to start up or turn off in around two seconds, although a lot of this is spent waiting for the lens to extend or retract. It’s quick to confirm focus and can capture a photo with around 0.3 seconds of shutter lag, which is par for the course for most compact cameras. It can capture a burst of 10 full-resolution photos in a second, but otherwise shot-to-shot time is around two seconds.

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V has a 20.4-megapixel Exmor-R CMOS sensor accompanying its lens. This is both a good and a bad thing — plenty of megapixels means larger prints, and theoretically more detail, but given that the HX50’s imaging sensor is smaller than the finger-nail on your pinky finger, that’s just too many pixels in such a compact area.

The up-shot of this is if you’re in good light, like outdoors on a sunny day, you’re going to get more detail than on a lower-megapixel sensor. The down-side is that in anything other than ideal conditions, images quickly start to show image noise, both graininess and colour speckling, and blurring (from noise reduction fighting those aforementoned image noise effects).

This image was captured in the camera's Intelligent Auto+ mode, snapping three frames and stitching them together for better contrast overall.
This image was captured in the camera's Intelligent Auto+ mode, snapping three frames and stitching them together for better contrast overall.

Video handles the noise better than photos, with the HX50 being one of the best non-enthusiast compact cameras we’ve tried in terms of its video performance. The option to capture footage in 1080p Full HD, at 50 frames per second, is excellent — the resulting video files are smooth and reasonably detailed.

The camera’s sensor extends from a native base of ISO 80 up to a maximum of ISO 3200, which is a versatile enough range. Photos do start to show significant image noise above ISO 400 though, so if you’re shooting at the longer end of the camera’s super-zoom range, or if you’re in dim light, you’ll start to see quickly-increasing amount of noise as light levels drop.

The lens on the HX50, though, is excellent. In equivalent terms to a full-frame digital SLR, which you’ll usually find matched to a ‘standard’ 24-70mm zoom lens, the HX50 has a lens that’s capable of covering the 24-720mm focal lengths. This is a huge distance, and it means the HX50 is incredibly versatile. The camera’s lens isn’t particularly fast (in terms of brightness) at its maximum or minimum zoom, though, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5-6.3. Optical image stabilisation works very well to control hand-shake even at maximum zoom.

This is the HX50 at minimum zoom.
This is the HX50 at minimum zoom.

This is the HX50 at maximum zoom.
This is the HX50 at maximum zoom.

The HX50 is generally quick to focus, and didn’t hunt or stutter while we were using it. It’s not a great camera for close-up ‘macro’ photography, though, with a minimum focus distance of around 50mm at the widest focal length.

You can see that the ruler only starts to come into focus beyond the 50mm mark.
You can see that the ruler only starts to come into focus beyond the 50mm mark.

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V’s battery is rated for 400 shots, or 200 minutes of movie recording time. This is more than enough for a week’s holiday, although a huge advantage comes from the fact that the DSC-HX50V can recharge its battery over any high-current USB connection — so if you’ve got a laptop with a Fast Charge USB port, or if you’re carrying a smartphone and its charger on your holiday, you can use either of these to charge the HX50 through its micro-USB port and not have to worry about an additional box to carry.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V: Conclusion

The HX50 is, as super-zoom cameras go, pretty good. It’s got heaps of features built-in, has the ability to take external accessories through its hot-shoe, and the lens itself is great.

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