Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 at a glance:

  • 20.4-million-pixel 1/2.3in Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • 50x optical zoom (35mm focal-length equivalent of 24-1200mm)
  • ISO 80-3200 (expandable to 12,800)
  • 3in, 921,600-dot Xtra Fine TFT LCD
  • Street price around £399

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 review- Introduction

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 is the successor to the HX300, and with a very impressive 50x optical zoom that has a 35mm focal-length equivalent of 24-1200mm it is a true ‘super-zoom’. However, while the HX400 supersedes the HX300, the new model has relatively few improvements over its predecessor. Competition is strong in this sector of the market, and when compared with, for example, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72, which was launched towards the end of last year, the FZ72 has a wider focal length than the HX400 at 20-1200mm and the same-sized sensor, while the Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR has a comparatively bigger 1/2in sensor and a 24-1000mm zoom range.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 review – Features

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 has a back-illuminated 1/2.3in Exmor R CMOS sensor measuring 6.17×4.55mm. This is the same-sized sensor as that used in the HX300 with an identical resolution of 20.4 million pixels. We found the combination of a small sensor size and a large number of pixels in the HX300 had an adverse effect on image quality, particularly at high ISO sensitivities. The same ISO 80-3200 sensitivity range is offered by the HX400 as found on the HX300. A higher ISO sensitivity of ISO 12,800 is possible on the HX400, but this requires the use of Multi Frame Noise Reduction that blends three images together in-camera to reduce noise.

As the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 does not shoot raw, it relies on the camera’s processor to reduce noise and subsequently improve JPEG image quality. Thankfully, the HX400 features the new Sony Bionz X processing engine that is found in Sony’s flagship compact system cameras, the Alpha 7 and 7R.

The headline-grabbing feature of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 is undoubtedly its lens, with the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* boasting an enormous 50x optical zoom. In 35mm terms, this is equivalent to a 24-1200mm focal length. At the 24mm end of the zoom, the maximum aperture is f/2.8 and this closes to f/6.3 at 1200mm. Of course, the longer the lens the more chance there is of camera shake when shooting handheld. Sony has made efforts to reduce this shake to the effect of 4.5EV by strategically balancing the lens elements. The lens also features a control ring that can be used to adjust the zoom as well as manually focus.

As is the case with many Sony cameras, there are plenty of advanced manual-focus controls on the HX400, including MF assist that will digitally enlarge a specific area by 5x or 10x to achieve precise focus. There is also focus peaking, which is used to highlight edges when they are at the optimum point of sharpness and can be controlled in colour and intensity via the menus.

Images can be composed using the electronic viewfinder or the tiltable, 3in, 921,600-dot Xtra Fine TFT LCD display. The EVF is a great addition to the HX400, especially in situations where there is a lot of available light and the LCD is difficult to see.

The HX400 looks very similar to Sony’s range of DSLR/SLT cameras, with its large front grip and all-black finish. The dimensions are identical to the HX300, measuring 129.6×93.2×103.2mm, although the HX400 is 10g heavier at 660g with battery and card. Sony claims that the battery should last for around 300 shots on a full charge, and it can also be charged via USB. As this type of charger is used for most smartphones and tablets, it is the closest thing to a universal charger that is available. In addition, Micro USB devices can easily be charged via an external battery pack.

Both Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity feature on the HX400, which allows users to connect a smartphone or tablet to the camera via the free iOS/Android Sony PlayMemories app. The phone or tablet can be used to control the camera wirelessly or to receive/share images. Sony has also released add-on applications to the Sony PlayMemories app that are available to download, such as time-lapse interval and multiple exposure.

Rather than putting GPS in every camera or offering a GPS adapter as an optional extra, Sony has opted to produce two versions of the camera – the HX400 without GPS and the HX400V with GPS fitted, which allows users to geotag their location and review it. For the travelling photographer, this feature will be very useful to keep track of where shots are taken.

For artistic photographers, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 has a variety of creative styles, such as portrait, landscape and sunset, where contrast, saturation and sharpness can be adjusted in the menus. Also available are picture effects that include toy camera, high-contrast mono, soft focus, HDR painting, rich-tone mono and miniature effects.

Image: The 24mm end of the lens is still sharp and only suffers from minor distortion

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 review – Performance

Image: The equivalent focal length of 400-800mm adequately covers most scenes, with 1200mm great for capturing details

The HX400 handles very well. Although it lacks a lot of the buttons that are normally used to change settings, everything is clearly labelled inside the menus. At first, these menus can appear complex due to the vast array of different settings available. I found it can take a while to familiarise yourself with these, but once you become used to them it’s easy to find what you want.

Comparing the resolution charts of the HX300 with the HX400 reveal that the new model is able to resolve more detail than its predecessor. However, I found that even at the sensitivity setting of ISO 80 there isn’t a lot of detail when previewing at 100%, although that is to be expected from a small sensor that is heavily populated by pixels.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to around 65mm. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

That said, when previewing images on a 13in monitor, the lack of detail didn’t appear to have detracted too much from the image in general. Up to ISO 800, images have a satisfactory balance between noise reduction and detail when previewed at small sizes. After ISO 800, the breakdown of detail starts to become noticeable and much of the finer detail is smudgy. Images above this ISO sensitivity are still usable, but they appear much softer and the lack of detail becomes more apparent in the images the further the ISO sensitivity is pushed.

The lens has a sweet spot at around f/5.6, where it is noticeably sharper than at most other apertures. In general, though, I found that the lens was reasonably sharp throughout its range.

Due to the presence of 15 elements in 10 groups, the lens often flares when pointed towards a bright light source, although most of the time I thought the lens flare added something to the image. This complex lens design is critical for the speed of autofocus. Even in low light, the focus is still surprisingly quick and locks on in a fraction of a second. In bright light and at wide angles, the focusing is near instantaneous. This slows further down the zoom range, although it is still very snappy even at 1200mm.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 review – Our verdict

In good light, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400 produces images that are comparable to a mid-range compact camera but with the advantage of a super zoom. This zoom range is extensive enough for the majority of situations, and I found it was rare that I needed to push the zoom above 1000mm. The optical stabilisation does a very good job of minimising camera shake.

For those who are sticklers for image quality, this camera is not ideal. In low light at high ISO sensitivities, detail in images appears smudgy due to the noise reduction. In bright light, images are not overly detailed but are still suitable for web use or small prints. However, this camera is suitable for those who simply want to document their travels or capture wildlife. The HX400 handles very well and is lightweight, while the LCD and viewfinder are clear. Most importantly, though, the zoom range leaves practically nothing out of reach.