Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 at a glance:

  • 30x optical zoom
  • 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) Sony G lens
  • 20.4-million-pixel Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • Easy Wi-Fi shooting and sharing
  • Multiple-interface hotshoe
  • ±2EV dial
  • Optical SteadyShot
  • Street price around £320

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Introduction

Sony’s high-end travel compact cameras have impressed us over the past few years. In 2012, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V won AP’s Consumer Compact Camera of the Year award, while the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V won the same award in 2013. The latest version, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX50, shares a number of features with its predecessor, the HX30, but it has also inherited some of its characteristics from Sony’s premium compact camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, which costs £2,500. These features include an exposure-compensation dial and multiple-interface hotshoe, but more about these later.

The HX50 has a 20.4-million-pixel sensor compared to the HX30’s 18.2 million pixels. The HX50 also has a greater optical zoom range (a 30x optical zoom compared with the HX30’s 20x) and Wi-Fi connectivity. However, the compact travel camera category is a very competitive market and the HX50 is up against some stiff competition. Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-TZ40 has an 18.1-million-pixel sensor but a smaller focal range, while the Olympus SH-50 offers a 24x zoom and a 16-million-pixel sensor, although both come with a street price of around £250 compared to the HX50’s £320.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Features

Sony has opted to use the same Exmor R CMOS 1/2.3in sensor in the HX50 as in other cameras in the HX series. However, the new model has a 20.4-million-pixel sensor compared to 18.2 million pixels in the HX30. Sony claims the Exmor R sensor produces half the amount of noise compared to a conventional sensor using a back-illuminated design.

The standout feature of the HX50 is the extensive 30x optical zoom provided by the 4.3-129mm Sony G lens, which has a 35mm equivalent of 24-720mm. Of course, at 720mm there is the issue of camera shake, but Sony has used its SteadyShot technology to optically stabilise the lens to help avoid this. Measuring 108.1×64.3×38.3mm, the HX50 is currently the world’s smallest camera to feature a 30x optical zoom. With its extensive focal range, the camera is suitable for macro work, telephoto shots and everything in between.

The sensitivity range of the HX50 runs from ISO 80 to 12,800, although in iAuto it is limited to ISO 80-3200. After ISO 3200, the camera helps reduce noise by taking six pictures in succession and then combining them. These images are very quick to process thanks to the HX50’s Bionz processor, which is capable of processing 10 frames per second for up to ten frames and can be selected from the menu. Advanced Wi-Fi connectivity not only makes it easy to share photos directly with a smartphone or tablet and publish them online, but it also supports shooting directly from a smartphone or tablet.

As stated earlier, the HX50 has inherited some of its features from the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, one of which is an exposure-compensation dial. Exposure control is ±2EV in 0.3EV steps. The other feature is a multiple-interface hotshoe, which allows compatibility with a number of Sony accessories, including external flashes, microphones and the EV1MK electronic viewfinder. The EV dial is a brilliant addition to the camera, making it easy to correct any exposure metering inaccuracies.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Build and handling

Made from polycarbonate, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 offers the sort of sturdy build quality we have come to expect from a Sony camera. Weighing just 272g with battery and card, the camera is easy to carry, although due to its size it is best suited to a large pocket.

On the front of the camera body is a raised, textured, rubberised grip, the profile of which is roughly the width of a pencil. This makes the HX50 feel very secure in the hand, especially when shooting in portrait orientation. Another small textured thumb grip is located on the opposite side of the camera, just above the d-pad. Together, these grips give the camera a solid ergonomic feel.

On the back of the camera is a multi-functional scroll wheel that can be used to scroll through settings and pictures, which doubles as a directional control for navigating the menu controls. All but two of the buttons on the rear of the camera have a raised profile, making them easy to press and aiding general camera control. The two that do not have a raised profile are the playback button, which is sunk into the body slightly, and a designated movie-record button. Located just millimetres away from the thumb grip, the movie-record button is all too easy to accidentally press.

Manual shooting is easy thanks to the ability to tailor the HX50 to your needs. The memory-recall setting, located on the mode dial, allows the user to set three different custom settings that can be accessed quickly. I set up three settings – one for portraits, one for landscape and one for macro. While walking, I noticed some nice wild flowers and without any trouble I quickly recalled setting number three and my preference of macro settings to help me capture the shot I wanted.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Metering

Overall, I found the multi-metering mode  on the HX50 to be generally accurate. When shooting on a bright sunny day, scenes with high contrast have a tendency to be slightly underexposed when using evaluative metering, with the camera choosing to retain details in the brighter highlight areas. Thankfully, the addition of the exposure-compensation dial makes it easy to adjust the exposure quickly. It is great to have this premium feature in a compact camera such as the HX50. Shooting at +0.3EV achieved results better suited to my personal preference.

Apart from the evaluative multi-metering mode, centre-weighted and spot metering are also on hand for trickier situations. However, the multi-metering mode and exposure-compensation dial are all that most photographers should need with this type of travel compact camera.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Dynamic range

In general, the balance between the shadows and highlight detail is to be expected from a camera with a sensor of this size. A fair amount of shadow and highlight detail is usually retained in a well-balanced scene, but in more challenging conditions highlights and shadows are lost. Frequently, when the camera meters for the foreground, even on overcast days, little detail is resolved in the skies.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Autofocus

One of the HX50’s most important features is its focusing speed. Sony says high-speed AF is capable of focusing at 0.1secs, and when using the vast zoom lens at it widest focal lengths the lens does indeed snap quickly into focus.

However, as the lens zooms, the focusing speed decreases, and at the maximum 30x zoom length the system can take around a second to focus, particularly in dim light. In very low light the AF assist beam does a good job of helping to find focus.

Overall, the AF speed is about what you would expect from a travel zoom camera with such a huge zoom lens.

Images: The Sony HX50’s 30x optical zoom is extremely impressive for a camera of its size

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to around 100mm (equivalent) at f/5.6. 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 at the specified sensitivity setting.

Noise is tamed by Sony’s in-camera adaptive noise-reduction feature. The greatest amount of noise reduction is applied to areas with the least amount of detail. For example, a polished piece of metal typically has little detail, so the noise reduction will smooth the area and reduce noise. Around distinct edges and areas of heavy detail less noise reduction is applied, causing these areas to be noisier but retaining optimum detail and sharpness.

At ISO 80 hints of luminous noise start to appear around areas of high detail and on solid edges, while less detailed areas look smooth. In my opinion, throughout the lower sensitivity ranges this makes images look better.

After ISO 3200 the camera uses multi-frame noise reduction. It stacks six images on top of each other to reduce the amount of noise. This works effectively so long as the subjects are not moving at speed. ISO 3200 and above really tests the small sensor in the HX50, with images often losing lots of detail and appearing smudgy due to the in-camera noise reduction.

Shooting at ISO 400 achieves a comfortable balance between both speed and noise. Images are clear and the noise reduction is evident, but it doesn’t become an issue until ISO 800 and above. For most of my shooting the ISO setting rarely went above ISO 400.

Images: The highlighted area in the top image, can be seen enlarged in the bottom image. Although the results of our resolution charts are not that impressive, the HX50 is still capable of resolving some fine detail, such as in this macro shot of mint leaves

One of the things that really stood out for me was the detail the HX50 resolved with macro subjects. I photographed mint leaves at a focal length of around 10cm and found that even the tiny hairs on the stems of the mint leaves were sharp.

Slight purple fringing was present at the edges of some images, although it looks as though some in-camera reduction has taken place to make it softer.

Images: The highlighted area in the top image, can be seen enlarged in the bottom image. The slightly purple fringing can be seen in the edges of high-contrast scenes

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – White balance and colour

Adjustments for brightness, colour and vividness can be made via the bottom button on the direction-control dial. This can make the colours in an image warmer or cooler, brighten the images or adjust how punchy the colours are. This was useful when the white balance was a little off, enabling tiny adjustments to be made to compensate for this. However, overall, the white balance is accurate even in situations with conflicting light sources, and it is generally true to the scene.

Various picture effects are available, which take an image and process it in-camera. I found the rich tone monochrome to be very effective. This takes a black & white image and uses the HDR function to accentuate detail. Other picture modes such as toy camera and miniaturise make for some fun and creative ways to capture images.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video

Impressively for a travel compact camera, there is an electronic viewfinder – the EV1MK. However, at a whopping £379.99, this is nearly £30 more expensive than the HX50 itself. Thankfully the 3in, TFT Xtra Fine Trublack LCD, with an impressive 921,600-dot resolution, is excellent. Images on this screen are very clear, and by magnifying the image I was able to double-check some of the finer details.

Video is recorded in full HD 1080p, which is stabilised by the Movie SteadyShot optical stabilisation system that makes it great to use handheld. Zooming while video recording is slowed dramatically to make video footage smoother. Another advantage of this is the fact that zooming is inaudible and won’t be picked up by the internal microphone.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 review – Our verdict

Designed as a travel camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 has one really standout feature – its 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens. Packing this 30x zoom lens into such a small compact is an impressive feat.

However, given that the HX50 has a 20.4-million-pixel sensor, we would have expected the camera to resolve slightly more detail than it does. There are also signs of luminance noise even at ISO 80, although it does not become an issue until ISO 800. Colour noise is very well controlled and is kept to an absolute minimum even at high sensitivities.

With most camera manufacturers producing models with similar features, Sony has some stiff competition. However, the large zoom lens should really help the HX50 stand out from the crowd. Combined with excellent image stabilisation, the lens is very versatile and capable of taking a huge range of images. For those who want a small travel compact camera for summer holidays the HX50 is tough to be beat, although it isn’t without its flaws.

See sample images taken with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50