The superzoom compact, or «travel zoom» as it’s often called, is one of the few remaining growth areas in the compact camera sector Its defining feature is a high-magnification optical zoom (usually around 20x) that retracts fully into the camera so that you can still fit the camera in a pocket. Sony’s new Cyber-shot HX50 breaks new ground in offering a staggering 30x optical zoom, the highest magnification available in a pocketable camera.
The lens in question is a 24 — 720mm equivalent, f/3.5-6.3 Sony G lens, which features Sony’s SteadyShot optical image stabilisation. The HX50 also sports a 20.4MP Exmor R CMOS sensor, coupled with its Bionz processor, which is capable of shooting at 10 fps, for up to 10 frames. It can shoot at up to ISO 3200 natively, and to 12,800 using Sony’s By Pixel Super Resolution technology, which uses multi-expo sure overlays to reduce noise.
As you’d expect, it can shoot full HD movies in either the AVCHD or MP4 formats, white built-in Wi-fi connectivity not only gives the HX50 direct web upload connectivity, but enables the camera to be controlled from a smartphone or tablet.
The HX50 offers a high degree of manual input, including the full range of semi-manual PASM modes, a Custom button to which you can assign a variety of functions, and a Memory Recall setting which enables up to three commonly used settings to be stored. But for those who prefer to let the camera take charge there’s Sony’s Intelligent Auto setting, a choice of scene modes and nine Picture Effects filters.
The HX50’s businesslike black body signals that it is a camera designed to appeal to the serious photographer. It feels sturdy and substantial, though it weighs lust 272g with the battery. There’s a decent-sized rubberised handgrip on the front and a textured thumbrest on the back, which you’ll need for stability with that ЗОх zoom. The milted metal dials are stiff enough not to bo knocked accidentally, and the exposure compensation dial is located prominently on the corner for easy access with a thumb. The multi interface hotshoe enables the attachment of an external flashgun, microphone or EVF. The buttons are a good size, but sadly there is no ability to shoot in Raw.
It takes a second or so for the HX50’s big lens to extend into its shooting position at switch-on, and in the Intelligent Auto+ mode it takes a simitar length of time to process each shot before you can take another, but in the other modes it runs a lot more quickly. The zoom control can go briskly from wideangle to telephoto, but holding it steady at full extension is another matter, especially without a viewfinder. There is an optional clip-on EVF available (the EV1MK) but at £380 it’s more expensive than the camera. At the wideangle setting the camera’s AF system wastes no time snapping the images into focus, but in common with other such lenses, the more you zoom the more it struggles to achieve quick focus. Low light also poses challenges for the AF system.
The evaluative metering system on the HX50 does a good job of getting the right exposure in a wide range of conditions. Whether shooting into the sun, tackling the lasers and strobe lights of a rock concert, or coping with the low ambient light indoors, the exposure compensation dial was rarely required. (There are centre-weighted and spot metering options should you require them.) The white balance, too, put in a good performance, even in difficult mixed lighting situations. Of course all this is of little benefit if you can’t see the image on the LCD screen which, in strong sunlight, suffers badly with reflections, making the camera all but unusable in these conditions.
With no option to shoot Raw, it’s lucky that in good light at low ISOs, the JPEGs look great — very sharp, vibrant colour reproduction and unobtrusive noise — but one of the problems with cramming so many pixels onto such a small sensor (1/2.3tnch) is that at ISO 800 and above, aggressive noise reduction causes an ever-increasing loss of fine detail. At ISO 3200 they’re pretty soft, although you only really notice this when you enlarge them. The lens is sharp corner to corner and distortion is kept respectable for such a wide zoom range.
The Sony HX50 is impressive and disappointing in equal measure. Fitting such a lens into so small a camera is some achievement, and will find a ready audience, but we wonder whether a less pixel-dense sensor would have been better. Also, although it offers a tot for the enthusiast, the lack of Raw, and the reflective LCD screen let it down a bit.