Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX200V review
1/2.3in 18.0-megapixel sensor, 30.0x zoom (27-810mm equivalent), 583g
The combination of 30x zoom and 18-megapixel sensor means this camera should be pretty good at capturing details in faraway subjects. Sadly, though, such a high resolution in a 1/2.3in sensor had the usual effect of boosting noise levels more than details. Even in bright light at ISO 100, subtle details were obscured by noise reduction. A combination of heavy noise reduction and sharpening plus slightly soft focus gave bolder details a spidery quality. Slight chromatic aberrations and heavy purple fringing around highlights didn't help, either. Comparing telephoto shots to the same scene taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, the Panasonic resolved much more fine detail, despite its lower-rated zoom and megapixel count.
Focus is a little vague at the long end of the zoom, and heavy digital sharpening and noise reduction has led to turbulence around high-contrast lines - click to enlarge
It's also disappointing that Sony has taken to implementing a Clear Image Zoom function that's available separately from its digital zoom. It looks exactly like digital zoom to us, doubling the zoom range to 60x but adding no discernible extra detail. In fact, it served mostly to exaggerate the turbulence in fine details caused by image noise, even in bright light at ISO 100. At least it's possible to turn both Clear Image Zoom and Digital Zoom off in the menu.
The Clear Image Zoom accentuates noise and hasn't added any detail that we can see - click to enlarge
When lower light demanded higher ISO speeds, image quality held up surprisingly well. By ISO 1600, shadows were a little grainy but overall image quality was still good enough for viewing on screen on small prints. This is important not just for indoor photography but also for telephoto shooting in anything but direct sunlight, as fast shutter and ISO speeds are needed to avoid blur. The camera frequently raised the ISO speed to 800 in these situations, and while smudged, spidery details were all the more visible, they weren't terrible. Skin textures were handled less successfully at faster ISO speeds, though.
Noise reduction appears to be working hard here, but it copes well with the bold shapes and smooth colours of this clock - click to enlarge
Skin textures are less forgiving. At similar exposure settings to the clock photo, the results here are less impressive - click to enlarge
The HX200V's videos are more impressive than its photos. They're recorded at up to 1080p, 50fps and 30 minutes in AVCHD format. Picture quality was crisp and detailed, and exhibited remarkably little noise in low light. The optical stabilisation did a fantastic job of keeping handheld shots steady at the full zoom extension, autofocus was responsive and smooth and the zoom motor had a minimal impact on the high quality stereo soundtrack.
It's disappointing that there's no manual control over video exposures, but Sony makes up for it with the ability to capture 13-megapixel photos while recording videos. This isn't available when recording at 50fps but that's a fair compromise. Using this function in low light, the videos exhibited significantly lower noise than the photos of the same scene, even when the photos were resized to the same dimensions.
In many respects the HX200V is very similar to the Panasonic FZ150. http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/digital-cameras/1286875/panasonic-lumix-dmc-fz150 They both excel for video, and while the FZ150's manual exposure control for video gives it a distinct edge for creative video projects, the HX200V's ability to capture photos and videos simultaneously will be more popular with casual users. The FZ150 is the faster of the two for photos, particularly with its ability to shoot at 5.4fps with updating autofocus. However, the HX200V's GPS function will be more appealing for some people.
Then there's the FZ150's superior image quality. The HX200V doesn't have any other aces to pull out of its sleeve, so the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 remains our top recommendation.