By Elias Plastiras PC World Australia | on June 16, 2009
Pros: Excellent viewfinder; 20x zoom; useful in-camera panorama mode; can shoot Full HD video
Cons: Noisy images; photos lack clarity when viewed at their full size; shutter button does not have a distinct step for focusing; body feels too narrow; LCD screen does not rotate
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is one of the new hybrid digital still cameras that can be used to shoot good quality video. At its core, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is an advanced compact camera, but it's capable of shooting video at the full high-definition (Full HD) resolution of 1,920-x-1,080. It has a massive 20x zoom lens and lots of manual features to play with, but it can be a little awkward to use.
It's a 9-megapixel camera with a 28-560mm zoom lens, and unlike most compact cameras it has a CMOS-based sensor instead of a CCD-based one. Most importantly, it has a viewfinder that replicates all of the information you would normally see on the LCD screen; it's handy to use when you're shooting in very bright sunlight. It gives you a full view of the scene, and it also displays all your settings, focus points, and even the histogram (if you have it enabled). Using the viewfinder is also a good way to conserve battery life.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a minimum aperture of f/8.0. It has a manual mode that lets you use the thumb-dial to quickly change the aperture as well as the shutter speed (from as slow as 30sec to as fast as 1/2000th of a second). Because its zoom is so long, the camera's body is bulky and it's not entirely comfortable to use; it just does not feel wide enough when you hold it in your hands. There's not much to hold onto when using the camera, apart from its deep handgrip. It feels like it needs more room on the left side.
We don't like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's shutter button. It does not have a distinct half-way point for focusing; on most cameras, you can feel a solid step at the halfway point, but with the HX1, you don’t feel anything. You have to use very slight pressure to focus and then press the button all the way down. Another feature that's awkward is the LCD screen, which pops out and tilts up and down but does not flip downward nor swivel. This means you can't use it for self-portraits — you can only use it for taking photos at high or low angles.
When the camera's zoom is extended, it sticks out of the body by approximately 4.5cm. Holding the camera while it's at maximum zoom can be difficult, as even miniscule amounts of shake will be noticeable on the screen. However, switching on the built-in image stabilisation does a good job of countering the effects of the shaking so that you can clearly see what you are shooting. That said, you should use a tripod or monopod when you intend to use the camera at its maximum zoom, especially in dim lighting.
For focusing, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 has five different modes: you can set it to focus the entire screen, in the centre; you can select any of 117 points on the screen manually; there is a semi-manual focus mode (you set this by entering the distance you want to limit the focus to); and it has a full manual focus mode, which is surprisingly effective as it allows you to finetune your focus in small increments. The full manual focus mode is especially useful for extreme close-ups (1cm away from the subject). You can't use a manually selected focus point as well as manual focus, however; it's either one or the other.
The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's image quality is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it produces nice, vivid colours and there is nary a hint of chromatic aberration in high-contrast areas; on the other hand, its images are not crisp. Photos tend to look blotchy and ill-defined when viewed at their full size. This shows up particularly in pictures of trees and plants, as their leaves just blend into each other. Photo sharpness is optimal at a lower resolution; 1920x1080, for example. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 definitely won't give you good results if you plan to crop your photos closely in order to focus on fine details.