Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX300 review
1/2.3in 20.2-megapixel sensor, 50.0x zoom (24-1200mm equivalent), 645g
The Sony HX300 wasn't available in time for our round up of bridge cameras last month, but it's here now and we have the full low down on its competitors to measure it against.
Big numbers abound in the specifications, including a 20-megapixel sensor, 50x zoom, a 921,600-dot articulated screen and 1080-50p video recording. There are some notable weaknesses in the spec sheet too, though. A hotshoe might have spoiled the curvaceous design but we'd still like to have one. It can't save photos in RAW format, and 310-shot battery is below average for this type of camera. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is a decent size, but while Sony doesn't publish its resolution, we're confident that it's in the region of 200,000 dots rather than the million-plus resolutions used elsewhere. There's no eye-level sensor so switching between the screen and EVF with the accompanying button is a bit of a chore.
The rounded design makes for an extremely comfortable fit in the hand. There's a substantial lens ring that's assigned to zoom by default. It's a motorised rather than a mechanical zoom action, but the two-speed zoom motor is useful for fine adjustments. Flick to manual focus using the switch on the lens barrel, and the lens ring adjusts focus instead, with zoom still available via the lever by the shutter button. There's a dedicated focus button that gives quick access to Multi, Centre and Flexible Spot autofocus modes. In manual focus mode, this button activates a temporary 10x digital magnify function for precise adjustment.
The command dial can be pushed inwards to cycle through the ISO speed, shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation controls (depending on the selected mode). It's not the fastest system but it's easy to get to grips with. The centre button on the navigation pad accesses autofocus point selection. Overall, it's a superb set of controls, but it could be even better. The bottom of the navigation pad is assigned to Photo Creativity options, but these are only available in Auto shooting modes. An option to reassign this to white balance would be welcome to avoid having to visit the sprawling main menu.
PERFORMANCE - SHOT SPEED
Performance is a mixed bag. It was fast to focus, typically taking less than half a second from pressing the shutter button to capturing a photo. However, the time it took to save a photo varied widely depending on the ISO speed used – presumably because faster speeds use stronger, more processor-intensive noise reduction. When shooting brightly lit subjects in program mode, it captured a photo every second or so, although it was a little erratic. However, in low light at ISO 800, it slowed to two seconds between shots. At ISO 1600 it fell to 2.7 seconds. Switching to iAuto mode, the fastest it could manage in bright light was 1.8 seconds. These aren't terrible results but rival cameras from Panasonic and Fujifilm are faster and more consistent.
Continuous shooting was at 6.7fps for ten frames – not the 10fps speed that Sony claims but still a strong result. The camera only started to save these shots after capturing the last one, but it was ready to go again about eight seconds later. There's another, slower continuous mode that shoots at 2fps, but it also stopped for a eight-second breather after ten frames. Neither mode can update autofocus or exposure between shots.
Here we test video quality and stabilisation on the HX300 - clcik through to YouTube f
Video recording is possibly the HX300's greatest talent. Picture quality was crisp and detailed, and noise reduction kept low-light clips looking reasonably clean. The optical stabilisation performed superbly, keeping handheld shots reasonably steady at the long end of the enormous zoom range – something few other ultra-zoom cameras manage. It supports resolutions up to 1080p at 50fps and 30-minute clip lengths, but it's a bit frustrating that there's no 25p option at 1920x1080 resolution. The closest is a 1440x1080, 25fps mode in MPEG-4 format.