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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 Digital Camera Review

With a back-illuminated sensor, GPS, a compass and 10x optical zoom the Sony Cyber-shot HX5 could be the most feature-laden camera they've produced.

|  Sony Cyber-shot HX5 in Compact Cameras
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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 main image
Featuring 10Mp on the new Exmor-R CMOS sensor, 10x optical zoom and a GPS system that not only shows you where you took your pictures, but also which way you were pointing.

What seems like Sony's answer to the Panasonic TZ series, the HX5 has a 10x optical zoom, Sony G lens, manual modes, GPS and a built-in compass. Priced at £319, it also boasts the new Exmor R CMOS sensor, intelligent sweep panoramic mode and a HDR backlight correction.

Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Features
The unassuming exterior has a slim flash towards the top and a massive lens occupying the left half of the front. A small command dial on the right shoulder accesses the usual suspects of modes such as intelligent auto, program, manual, intelligent panoramic, film, scene modes and an easy mode among others. Also occupying the top plate is the shutter release which has the zoom rocker switch wrapped around it, the power button and continuous shooting button.

Quite a busy top for a small compact, but that seems to change tack because on the back there's only a few buttons crammed into the bottom right quarter. The problem being the giant screen taking up 85% of the space available. A dedicated film button is present with a menu button. I'm surprised to see a small menu because it wasn't long ago that Sony had three separate menu systems on their compacts, That seems to be a thing of the past now and I'm breathing a sigh of relief.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 dials
A small command dialgives plenty of modes including two manual options.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 rear view
A dedicated video button sits on the back next to the thumb pad.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 built-in GPS
The Built-in GPS system works automatically.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 screen
The rear is dominated by the 3in TFT LCD screen.

The new Exmor R CMOS sensor is designed to help low light photography. It's back illuminated which means that the circuitry that normally surrounds each photodiode is placed on the back so that more light can hit the light sensitive cells on the front. This allows faster shutter speeds, increased sensitivity to light and lower noise.

Compacts are generally used for days out or trips abroad and they document the journey for you in pictures. However, the HX5 goes one step further and also has a built-in GPS system so you can correlate the picture with your global position and put it on Google Maps.

Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Handling
As long as you operate the buttons with your thumbnail, you won't have any issues with working the camera. The buttons are too small for me to use any other way and I suspect that people with smaller hands could have the same problem.

As I previously mentioned, the menu has been simplified and it's refreshing to see but it doesn't look full enough. I don't think this is down to the amount of features available, I actually think it's down to the size of the font used. It's quite big and gives the feeling that they've made it bigger to fill the space.

The camera is well made, the body is metal and there's a metal tripod bush which I always like to see.

Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Performance
All images were taken in the highest resolution possible.

The Sony Cyber-shot HX5 has a built-in GPS system with a compass which on the surface doesn't really look necessary. It's not until you see the map system on the provided PMB software that the compass becomes a clever inclusion. Importing images and switching to Map view not only shows you where the images have been taken with a red drawing pin but also shows you which direction you were pointing thanks to the compass.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 screengrab of PMB software
The import screen for images taken shows the images on the date you selected to the right and the calendar to the left. The amount of images taken on that date are shown regardless of the camera used.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 screengrab of map view
Map view illustrates the location of where the picture was taken with surprising accuracy as well as the way you were facing.

The included software works more as a tagging and filing system because there's no editing features available.

With direct sunlight in the frame, the new Exmor-R sensor actually does quite well. There's still a large degree of detail in the shots I took in that situation. In more normal conditions, the metering system works flawlessly and even when there's a diverse amount of dark and light, the HX5 works well to maintain a good balance.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 metering in direct sunlight Sony Cyber-shot HX5 metering in diverse light
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 metering with side lighting Above left: Lens flare is present with the Sun in the frame but there's still detail in the shaded areas.

Above: In different lighting conditions, bright areas are kept under control while darker areas are still detailed.

Left: With strong side-lighting contrast looks good without the loss of detail.


It's a credit to the camera's dynamic range that displays a good amount of contrast while still keeping detail in the shadows and not burning out the highlights. With strong side-lighting, I found that the camera does exactly that which I think is pretty impressive.

The Sony Cyber-shot HX5 has a pretty good active focus system. It starts to pull the subject into a moderate amount of focus as soon as you point it at something which is pretty slow, but once you're ready to take a picture, it'll be prtty much in focus, so once you press the shutter button half way to focus, the faster focusing system comes into play and there's less to do which speeds the process up.

The face detection system has been expanded to include priority to children or adults faces and the smile detection can now decipher a large, normal or small smile and you can set the camera to only photograph when it sees one.

Switching the camera to manual mode opens up extra focusing options. You can choose the standard focusing set-up, focusing on a subject in the centre of the frame or focusing on a single central point. Interestingly, there's no particular macro mode for close-up work so if that's a mode you enjoy using, you'll be disappointed with the HX5.

Noise performance from the Sony at low ISO is excellent. At ISO125, I got sharp, colourful images with smooth tones and clean lines. Viewing the images at full magnification, noise can be seen, albeit mildly, from ISO400 in the form of purple and green colour spots in darker areas of images.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO125
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO125 noise test
ISO125 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO200 noise test
ISO200 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO400 noise test
ISO400 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO800 noise test
ISO800 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO1600 noise test
ISO1600 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 ISO3200 noise test
ISO3200 noise test

From ISO800, the image starts to decay with salt & pepper noise starting to take hold and this gets worse through the last two stages. It's not until ISO3200, the final stage, that the colour noise seen at ISO400 starts to creep into lighter colours and I think this is a pretty good result.

I think the HX5 does really well controlling noise in natural daylight as well. I didn't see a shot I was unhappy with until ISO1600, which is great for a small sensor. ISO3200 is pretty shocking though and shows little detail while giving the image a painted look.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO125
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO125 noise test
ISO125 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO200 noise test
ISO200 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO400 noise test
ISO400 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO800 noise test
ISO800 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO1600 noise test
ISO800 noise test
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 outside ISO3200 noise test
ISO3200 noise test

I like the balance of colour that the Sony gives across the board. All the primary colours get a gentle boost. Red is deep and rich while blue is bold and yellow is lovely and bright. Despite this boost to the strong colours, subtle hues are recorded nicely and I'm also happy with how the camera deals with tricky colours such as purple.

Out in the open and sky blue is lovely and deep while grass can come out a bit pale. Bright colours come out great so anyone looking to photograph some flowers with the HX5 will be in their element.

Dynamic range
The Sony Cyber-shot HX5 has a good dynamic range but it lacks the DR system that is present on Sony DSLR cameras. I'd like to see this feature bleed down into the lower echelons of photography and not simply be reserved for the higher specification cameras.

There's a bracketing feature on the camera so if you require a much higher dynamic range, you could easily bracket three shots and merge them in HDR merging software such as Photomatix or an in-built one found in editing suites such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro.

The Sony Cyber-shot HX5 has several white-balance settings for if the pictures you're taking come out a little off kilter with a slight cast. In daylight, the camera does well to cool down the warmth of the sun but I found that in shade the images were a bit too cool. Switching to shade mode adds a bit of warmth and the sunshine was recorded much more realistically in this setting.

Stronger light sources, such as fluorescent and tungsten benefit more from using the manual setting if you get the chance to set it up, but if that's not an option, the camera has preset modes for you to choose including three fluorescent modes. Either the Sony hasn't got the colouring right or there are more than three types of fluorescent lighting available because the preset mode came out with a nasty pink cast. This is meant to compensate the green of strip lighting so it's right, but I wonder if it's set too strong.

In contrast the tungsten mode wasn't strong enough and a slight orange cast still came through on the images I took in this setting.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 auto white-balance shade
Auto white-balance shade.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 white-balance shade
White-balance shade.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 auto white-balance tungsten
Auto white-balance tungsten.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 white-balance tungsten
White-balance tungsten.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 white-balance fluorescent
Auto white-balance fluorescent.
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 white-balance fluorescent
White-balance fluorescent

Battery life
By the time I'd finished the test, the NP-BG1 lithium ion battery was completely exhausted. I took around 300-400 shots and because of the lack of a viewfinder, I had to use the screen for each one. Because I was testing the camera, I also had to review every shot after it was taken. The Sony battery uses the Infolithium technology which gives a much more precise reading than previous batteries.

Replacement batteries are available online at various prices starting at £10 and going as high as just under £34.

Buffer read/write times
There are three modes of continuous shooting on the HX5; Hi, Mid & Lo. The Hi mode manages 10 shots in one second but then takes up to 17 seconds to store them all on the memory card using a Sony Memorystick PRO Duo Mark 2 MagicGate memory card. The download time is the same at all three settings. On an SD card, it finishes downloading a bit faster at around 13 seconds so it may be worth using an SDHC card instead.

Mid setting takes the same amount of photographs but slower which means they're taken over a longer two second period. Lo setting takes 10 shots, just like the other two settings but does it even slower than the Mid setting taking ten shots at 2fps.

Lens performance
Although it's not a Carl Zeiss lens, the Sony G glass is still very good and you can learn more about it here: Sony G lens information. At wide-angle there's no softness at the edge that I could see and chromatic aberration is at zero. There's a very minor amount of barrel distortion at wide-angle but it's so slight that I almost missed it.

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Sony Cyber-shot HX5 wide angle shot
Sony Cyber-shot HX5 zoomed in shot
The 10x optical zoom is helped along by the Sony G lens. Minimal distortion is present with no chromatic aberration.

I did get lens flare shooting directly into the sun and when it's slightly hidden behind something. The 10x optical zoom is quick and responsive. There are still the zoom steps present with the zoom rocker but that's to be expected.

Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Verdict
For a small, pocketable compact, the HX5 performs really well. Noise control and colour rendition are excellent and speed of the camera and the way it handles are respectable. Priced at £319, it's the same as a Canon Powershot S90 which has Raw recording, an f/2 lens that has a wide-angle view of 28mm but falls short on the zoom at 3.8x optical. It's £30 more than the Panasonic Lumix TZ10 which has 12Mp, a 12x optical zoom, Power Optical Image Stabilisation and built-in GPS. While the Sony G lens is very good, the Panasonic has a Leica lens. There are a few saving graces of the Sony such as the sweep panoramic mode, compass and back-illuminated sensor that the Panasonic can't offer you.

If I needed a compact camera, and wasn't looking for extended manual controls, then the performance of the HX5 has proven itself worthy. I'd recommend it if you fall under that demographic because it's a lovely camera to use and is very well made. The only reason that it's not Highly Recommended is because of the price.

Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Pros
Back-illuminated sensor
Built-in GPS and compass
Good build quality
Great colours
Excellent noise for a small sensor

Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Cons
Higher specification cameras available for the same price
Has some white-balance issues


Sony Cyber-shot HX5: Specification
Price £319
Optical zoom 10x
Resolution 10Mp
Sensor size 1/2.4in
Sensor type Exmor R CMOS
Max. Image size 3648x2736
Aspect ratio 4:3, 16:9
Focusing system TTL
Focus points 9
Focus types Multi, centre-weighted, spot, face-detection
Focus distance 5cm - infinity
File types JPEG
ISO sensitivity ISO125-3200
Metering system TTL
Metering types Multi, centre-weighted, spot
Exp compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
Shutter speed range 30sec - 1/1600sec
Frames per second 10fps
Image stabilisation Yes
Monitor 3in TFT LCD, 230,000 dots (76,000 pixels)
Media type SD, SDHC, Memorystick Duo, PRO Duo, PRO Duo HS, PRO-HG Duo
Interface USB 2.0
Power Lithium-Ion NP-BG1
Size 102.9x57.7x28.9mm
Weight 170g

The Sony Cyber-shot HX5 costs around £319 and is available from Park Cameras here:

Sony Cyber-shot HX5

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Photographs taken using the Sony Cyber-shot HX5

Inside the Church of Pinerollo (Italy, near Turin)MeatSheep skinBournemouth 2BournemouthSkyMalangShadowsUrban lighthouseSuspendedIMe by MeA hole of duskReflections at Barri del Panta CataloniaSpanish sunset

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