Sony Cyber-shot HX1 Hands-On Review

by on March 9, 2009

in Sony

The Sony Cyber-shot HX1 is a powerful new point and shoot camera with an incredible spec list.  Sony had the HX1 on display after it was announced at a press conference just before PMA 2009.  The HX1 is yet another hybrid camera, which were very prevalent at this year’s PMA.

At first blush, the HX1 looks like just another super zoom point and shoot camera.  Dig a little deeper into the features though and you will find some unique and powerful specs.  One of the biggest new features is the Sweep Panorama, which allows you to hand-hold the camera and pan from side to side.  The HX1 captures a 7152 x 1080 panoramic image from a number of images captured and stitched in-camera.

In addition to the Sweep Panorama, the HX1 is capable of capturing full-size 9.1 megapixel images at 10 frames per second.  This is made possible by the mechanical shutter used by the HX1, which is a stark change from electronic shutters found on traditional point and shoot cameras.

Here’s a video where I got some hands-on product introduction before taking the HX1 for a quick spin:

Sony Cyber-shot HX1 Key Features

  • 9.1 megapixels
  • 1/2.4″ Exmor CMOS sensor
  • 20x optical zoom
  • Sony G lens
  • 10 frames per second
  • Sweep Panoramic mode
  • 3 Shot Exposure bracketing
  • 1080p HD video capture

Sony Cyber-shot HX1 Handling and Performance

Sony had several pre-production models on hand after the press conference.  While I was able to spend some time shooting with the camera, I was unable to get any sample images to share.  (UPDATE: I was able to get some sample panoramic shots from Sony UK.  I have embedded them at the bottom of the post.)

The HX1 feels much like other super zoom cameras – smaller than a DSLR, but still too big to carry in a pocket.  It will work fine in a purse or small camera bag though.  It feels fine in the hand and the controls are readily accessible.  The zoom switch is operated by the index finger at the shutter button, which is intuitive and easy to get to.

Several other camera functions are accessible with one press of a button on the camera as well.  There is a frame rate mode button / shot bracket button right behind the shutter release.  The Sweep Panorama mode is found on the mode dial and only requires a single press of the shutter once it is activated.

Sweep Panorama

When I first saw the Sweep Panorama demo at the press conference, I was blown away.  Some have scoffed at this feature as unnecessary or silly.  While I think there are number of features in the majority of today’s point and shoot cameras that we could do without, I believe that there is room for innovative and useful features as well.

Is Sweep Panorama a feature for everyone in their day to day use? No; however, I’m willing to bet that a good bit of the target audience will find a way to use this for some fantastic panoramic shots.  Just think about how many panoramic shots the average photographer stitches together…  Not many.  I’ve probably finished less than a couple dozen myself, ever.

The HX1 brings a capability to the masses that previously just wasn’t practical for most people – perhaps, even most photographers.  It’s not going to replace any gear for serious panoramic shooters though – just make it easier and more accessible for the rest of us.

Below is a short video of the first public demo of this feature at the Sony press conference.

10 fps Burst Shooting

The 10 fps shooting speed was also impressive.  The camera’s reaction is not quite what you would get from a Nikon D3 or Canon 1D Mark III; however, the resulting images were not that bad.  Again, Sony had no problems showing off this feature on stage with a live subject.  One 10 fps burst produced a couple of solid, action freezing images.

When I had the opportunity to try this feature out myself, I was pleased with the results.  Again, you don’t get to feel and hear the mirror bouncing up and down like you do in a DSLR, but it works nonetheless.  I think soccer moms and dads will be happy with the results captured with this frame rate.  For the price, I don’t know that there is anything on the market that compares.

Sony Cyber-shot HX1 Overall Performance

Autofocus appeared to be pretty swift and accurate for the most part.  There are a number of focusing modes, which include multi-auto select, center, flexible spot, semi-manual and manual.  Unfortunately, as with most point and shoot cameras, manual focus is not very well implemented.  You use buttons on the back of the camera to shift the focus across a range of points rather than fine tuning it like in the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS.

The great 20x zoom range is a big selling point of the HX1.  That’s an equivalent of 28-560mm on a full frame camera.  Combine this zoom range with the 9.1MP CMOS sensor at 10fps and you have a very formidable feature set.  Speaking of CMOS, this is the first Sony point and shoot camera to feature the Exmor CMOS sensor and Bionz image processing.  While I haven’t got image samples to share just yet, the low light images looked pretty good on the HX1′s LCD.

Another nice feature on the HX1 is the tilting 3″ LCD.  While I would prefer to see a tilt and swivel feature on a super zoom camera like the Canon PowerShot SX 1 IS, the tilting LCD on the HX1 does just fine.  It has a 230k dot resolution, which is more than capable (even if it’s on the lower end of some of today’s specs) to handle what you need the HX1 to do.

Finally, the HX1 offers users the ability to capture 1080p video at 30fps in MPEG4 AVC/H.264 format.  You also get an HDMI output if you can’t wait to get the video off the camera.

Conclusion

I have to give Sony some major kudos for the HX1.  It’s not everybody’s camera.  However, anyone that is looking for a super zoom point and shoot camera should have the HX1 near the top of a rather short list.  The killer features, like Sweep Panorama and 10 fps, will be enough to seal the deal for some.  Pixel peepers will appreciate the CMOS sensor and Sony’s restraint of using only 9.1 megapixels in this camera.  I certainly acknowledge this point as a gesture of Sony taking image quality seriously in this camera.

While it’s a pricey $499, the HX1 is positioned nicely with it’s feature set among the numerous other “me too” super zoom cameras out there.  It definitely deserves some serious consideration for those looking for something in this category. Check availability on Amazon.com.

Sample Panoramic Images

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{ 3 comments }

1 Kelly Reece March 14, 2009 at 10:47 am

Thank you for the review! I am interested in the type of quality we might expect from a panorama produced by the hx1. Would we be able to achieve something close to http://www.regal360.com/index.php/features.html ?

Regards,
K

2 Jai May 12, 2009 at 11:06 pm

wow! that was an awesome review. Loved the sweep panaroma! just awesome! Already bookmarked your site- thanks for sharing all the info.

3 pakmenu October 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm

about the 10fps function: YES there is something for a similar price that not only compares but does 6x! faster! The Casio Exilim EX-F1 Pro I’ve been drewling all over lately, but not been able to find in China…

it cost about 600euro (~800usd) and has a buffer (fast ddr ram) for 60 x 6Mp pics, it reads out the CMOS PARRALEL instead of secuentially (eliminating the ‘sweeping trees effect’ mentioned as reason for the mechanical shutter)

the buffer continually shoots, and as you press the button you can have 60 shots of every 1/60th second that happened BEFORE you pressed the shutter! OR 2 seconds of every 1/30th second or 6 seconds of footage of every 1/10 second etc until i think 1 minute of every second.

also instead of only recording the pictures BEFORE you press the shutter the buffer can be set to 50/50 so 30 of the past pics, and 30 of the pics taken AFTER the shutter is pressed are taken.

then… you can view all 60 frames, and select (all/one/some/none) which ones you want to save.

OH did I mention 60i full HD h264MOV (but alas with wav sound) and 300/600/1200fps fast footage? (really cool: a mode in which 30fps and 300fps can be alternated in the SAME video clip for those very cool slowmo effects.)

the only thing bugging me is: I hate interlacing… and would like to have 720p 60fps. having holes and gaps in my video (that’s what interlacing is: half of your picture is empty lines) isn’t my idea of cool.

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