• Price When Reviewed: 405

  • 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

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

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Image noise was a problem in a lot of our test shots, even when using ISO 400. Anything higher than that will make photos look too grainy and also introduce discolouration in dark areas. The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 ships with a feature called DRO, which attempts to lighten dark or shadowed areas of photos, and this can also cause noise. In short, the low-light performance of this Sony digital camera is not impressive.

One of the most interesting features of the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is its ability to shoot sweeping panoramas. You set the dial to the panorama setting, press the shutter button, then move the camera towards the right to capture your panorama. It's the easiest method we've ever seen for capturing panoramas, and it does a very good job overall (the overall image size of the panorama is 4,912-x-1,080). It can be used for fun at a party, or when you want to capture a breathtaking landscape. For landscapes, plonking the camera on a tripod is recommended. This is probably the best method for taking in-camera panoramas that we've seen — even better than the in-camera stitching of the Olympus Mju Tough 6000 and Mju Tough 8000.

The Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 shoots videos at the Full HD resolution of 1,920-x-1,080 using the MPEG-4 (AVC/H.264-compliant) codec, and footage looks clear and vibrant at this resolution. However, fast motion exposes some tearing and blurring, much like what we saw with the Nikon D5000. It's better suited to tripod usage for interviews or shots in which the camera doesn't have to be panned. You're better off not using the zoom function; partly because you can't focus after a certain point, and partly because the zoom is very slow and makes a lot of noise that will be picked up in the video. There aren't any external microphone jacks, so this noise is unavoidable.

To make the camera as user-friendly as possible, Sony has included various face detection modes (which can be set to focus automatically on any face, or prioritise children or adults), as well as a smile shutter. The smile shutter is supposed to takes a photo automatically when a smile is detected, but it failed to react to any smiles in our tests. However, face recognition worked like a charm.

Our overall impression of this camera is that it's a little underdone. It has plenty of useful features — the long zoom, the panorama mode, the ability to record HD video, the excellent viewfinder, the manual controls — but its pictures lack definition when viewed at their full size, and its design needs to be improved.

However, if you want an advanced compact with a big zoom, and if don't plan on making big prints of your photos, then the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 is worth considering. You will have to get used to its odd physical characteristics (such as the poor shutter button, narrow body and non-rotating LCD screen).