Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX20V review
1/2.3in 18.0-megapixel sensor, 20.0x zoom (25-500mm equivalent), 254g
The camera's file management leaves a lot to be desired. As with all the other Sony cameras we've seen recently, the HX20V doesn't seem to like being given a blank SDHC card, and took 12 seconds writing folders to the card before any photos could be taken. Photos and videos are stored in separate locations on the card – an inevitable symptom of using the AVCHD format, which uses a convoluted file structure – but the camera uses a third folder for its MP4 video recording. At least Sony no longer expects the user to switch manually between different folders when playing back photos and videos on the camera.
It also gathers them all in one virtual folder when connected to a computer via USB. The USB socket's location on the base of the camera isn't ideal, though, as it meant we had to rest the camera on its screen or its lens. More worryingly, we couldn’t retrieve photos saved to the internal memory using the USB cable. The camera offered us a link to register online and an installer for its PlayMemories Home software, but after installing this we still couldn't access the internal memory. We eventually solved the problem by switching from MTP to Mass Storage mode in the camera's setup menu.
The trees and gravel look detailed but the skin and hair textures reveal the limitations of the HX20V's noise-reduction processing - click to enlarge
Inspecting photos on a computer revealed a complex set of strengths and weaknesses. Wide-angle shots exhibited sharp focus and were packed with detail, thanks to the 18-megapixel resolution, but noise reduction glossed over subtle textures such as grass and hair. It struggled to disguise noise in skin textures – arguably the most important part of a photo. We also found that out-of-focus areas in a scene tended to look quite scruffy, suggesting that the noise-reduction processing didn't know how to deal with blurry images. The fact that this scruffy appearance was common across the entire image in telephoto shots suggests slightly soft focus in these shots. Whatever the underlying reason, the HX20V was a little disappointing for telephoto shots.
Details on the tree trunk and leaves are pretty good here, but noise reduction copes less well with the out-of-focus leaf in the foreground (top-left) - click to enlarge
These issues with noise didn't bode well for image quality in low light, but in fact the HX20V coped surprisingly well. By ISO 800, the turbulent noise artefacts were only a little worse, and there was still a reasonable amount of detail in dense textures. It couldn't match the Canon SX260 HS in low light but it wasn't too far behind, and it narrowly surpassed the Panasonic TZ30. Its ability to capture, align and combine six frames to reduce noise levels in low light gave it a further boost.
It's an impressive zoom range for such a small camera, though - click to enlarge
This camera is a tricky one to weigh up. We can't fault it for features, and its high-resolution panorama mode and ability to capture photos and videos simultaneously are two of the best features we've seen for a long time. It's fast and reasonably straightforward to use, and we could bring ourselves to live with its awkward file management. It's an outstanding video camera, but photo quality is the sticking point. Photos are consistently respectable, but never really much better. It's also quite expensive at current prices. If you're tempted, we'd recommend holding out for our review of the HX10V, which is very similar except for a 16x zoom and a much lower price.