Sony HX400V review
Sensor resolution: 20 megapixels, Focal length multiplier: 5.58x, Viewfinder: electronic (201,000 dots), LCD screen: 3in (921,600 dots), Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths): 24-1,200mm, 35mm-equivalent aperture: f/16-35, Weight: 660g, Size (HxWxD): 95x128x115mm
The Sony HX400V is a bridge camera, which means it sits somewhere between a compact and SLR. However, these days there are so many cameras that occupy this territory that it feels less like a bridge and more a spaghetti junction. There's a wide array of sensor sizes and zoom ranges available, with or without interchangeable lenses and in a variety of shapes somewhere between compact and SLR.
The HX400V is a bridge camera in the more conventional sense, combining a 1/2.3in sensor – the standard size for entry-level compact cameras – with a truly enormous 50x zoom lens. The 24mm (equivalent) minimum focal length gives an expansive wide-angle view. The 1200mm maximum means you can read the text on a £1 coin from 20 metres away.
The plastic body is a little creaky but the rounded shape should provide some rigidity. It's also exceptionally comfortable to hold and use. The substantial handgrip fits snugly in the hand, and the back is contoured for a secure thumb grip. The lens ring controls either zoom or manual focus, and encourages a secure two-handed grip that helps to avoid shakes.
Using the electronic viewfinder can further aid stability by providing another contact point with your body. However, this one isn't particularly inviting to use, with a 201,000-dot resolution that looks decidedly blocky compared to the 921,000-dot LCD screen. The screen tilts up and down, allowing you to press your elbows into your sides for greater stability and shoot at waist height.
There's a reasonable allocation of buttons, switches and dials, including an auto/manual focus switch on the lens barrel and a command dial. Dials are useful for adjusting settings quickly, but this one suffered from an uneven rotating action on our test sample. There's a Custom button that can be assigned to one of 20 functions, plus a Function button that reveals a further 12 on the screen. These 12 can be customised too, picked from a list of 23. With the centre of the navigation pad assigned to autofocus area, it's quick to access key settings regardless of whether you're using the screen or viewfinder.
Wi-Fi and NFC are built in for wireless transfers and remote control with Apple iOS and Android devices. We'd like more comprehensive remote control functions but there's enough to take group self-portraits. GPS is built in too, so photos can be automatically plotted on a map in compatible software such as Lightroom and Picasa.
1080p video is recorded in AVCHD format at a choice of 24, 25, 50 or 60fps, with comprehensive control over exposure settings for those who want it. The optical stabilisation performed exceptionally well for videos, keeping handheld shots reasonably steady at the full zoom extension. Video details were exceptionally sharp and clean in bright light, but indoor shots fizzed with noise.
A big zoom is perfect for action photography, but only if the camera is fast enough to keep up. The HX400V put in a mixed performance in our tests. It was quick to focus, but 1.5 seconds between shots is a little below par. Continuous shooting was at 9.2fps or 2fps, and in both cases lasted for 10 frames. Then the camera locked up for 12 seconds while these shots were being saved. The Panasonic FZ200 is only a little faster at 10fps for 12 frames, but it kept going at 1.3fps after the initial burst, so it's much less likely you'll miss a critical moment with that camera. Flash photography on the HX400V was particularly slow at up to nine seconds between frames.