Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Difference Between an Amateur, Freelance, and Professional Photographer

by Sean Farmer

I’m a professional photographer, with the equipment, studio, and taxes to prove it. I wasn’t always a professional photographer, however. Once upon a time I was an amateur/hobbyist photographer. Making the transition from an amateur photographer to that of a professional photographer is probably the most illusive aspect of being a photographer, and is idolized by a simple term. That term being: “Freelancer”.
Now this can be confusing to many who seem to have the impression that professional photographers are freelance photographers, especially when many professionals claim to be such. So to put it as simply as possible, the main aspects that define the difference between these three are: The type of equipment used, comprehension of photographic technique, style of work, and profitability. The difference between the three types of photographers is what truly sets the status and state of your self and your work.

Amateur Photographers

This is probably the broadest category of photographer, simply because it’s all inclusive of whoever doesn’t fall within the realm of the other two categories. Amateurs include anybody with a point-and-shoot camera and those with excessively low grade SLR cameras, who typically take “party pics”, shoot on a “for fun” basis, or only ever shoot their friends. Many of those who fall under this category are either still learning and/or mastering basic photographic technique or simply don’t care about technique. Probably the absolute most defining aspect of this group is simply that those under its realm do not (and usually cannot) make a living based from photographic endeavors.

If you are using a Point and Shoot Camera like this, You will always be an Amateur. Image by

Professional Photographers

Professional Photographers are the smallest type of photographers, but the most commonly misrepresented. These people have worked hard and show it in not only their mastery of basic photographic techniques, but also in there own independent styles and techniques. Usually people on this level have their own high-end equipment, studios, and private high profile clientele, and maintain their standard of living (and usually well-exceed it) based only on their photographic endeavors.

Professional photographers tend to specialize in a certain aspect of photography such as studio photography. Image by

Freelance Photographers

The in-between class of photographer, those in this group typically suit a large range of clientele, both personal and commercial, and maintain a high quality of equipment to pursue such. This status is typically reached after mastering all basic photographic techniques, and characterized by the in progress development of personal styles and techniques of their own. Freelance photographers usually cannot live well off their income, but can easily supplement it through there photographic endeavors.

Working as a Freelancer can feel like a competition of abilities and wills. Image by

Now you might be wondering why I felt it was necessary to classify and define these three groups, and the answer is simple. There is no mention of artistic ability within any of these classifications. How amazing your photographs are does not define what level your on. I have personally seen a 10 year old pick up a camera and within 10 minutes shoot professional-grade photos. Your ability is your ability, but identifying your standing as a photographer will help teach you what you need to learn and work on to become the professional photographer that you want to be. I only recently transitioned into that of professional photographer after many years of hard work as a freelancer, but most photographers have yet to move on from that of amateur status.

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Nikon V1 verses Canon Powershot G1X

by MatthewBamberg

As the camera companies put more attention to the future they look to the new models with much bigger sensors than any of the point-and-shoots of the past, anywhere from 5-7 times the size of most point-and-shoot models. To be sure this isn’t a totally new thing. Leica has always made these cameras, but they use a different focusing system (Rangefinder), are handmade and cost a fortune. This is good news for photographers of all levels on a lot of fronts. The camera companies had to do something to compete against the exponential expansion cell phone camera use.

It took awhile for the big companies to come around to the trend, a couple of years. In my last article about mirrorless cameras I reported that Panasonic, Olympus, Sony and Samsung were the only companies that made the beasts. Now that Nikon and Canon have jumped on board the trend has solidified. The real question is will this turn out to be a new technology revolution that causes the slow demise of the dSLR.

At last, Canon enters the a new point-and-shoot camera to the market and they’re doing with a bang, introducing the Canon Powershot G1X with a large sensor (13.2mm x 8.8mm) that is bigger than the one on the Nikon V1/J1. In the sensor size category, this gives Canon a one-up on Nikon’s. Caveat of this camera: no interchangeable lenses, making the in-camera lens it does have worth an extra look.

Canon, however is left behind, releasing this camera instead of a mirrorless one like other companies have. Technically as far as I can see a mirrorless camera has to have interchangeable lenses something that Canon’s model does not have and Nikon’s does, therefore the new big-sensored Canon is not of the mirrorless variety. Nikon wins the interchagable lens option round by a big margin.

Both cameras have good lenses with image stabilization. The assortment of lenses for the Nikon V1/J1 (Nikon V1 is pricer) include: 10 mm f/2.8 (27mm equivalent), 10-30mm (27-81mm 35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6, 30-110mm (27-81mm 35mm equivalent) f/3.8-f/5, and 10-100mm(27-270mm equivalent) f/4.5-5.5 “power zoom” lens.

The Canon G1X in-camera lens is 15mmX60mm or 28mm – 112mm 35 mm equivalent and f/2.8 to f/5.8 aperture, not a great lens for wide-angle architecture shots, but just fine according to Canon’s press release about it: “Utilizing Ultra high refractive index Aspherical (UA) elements and precision glass moulding technology, the lens achieves both a compact size and pin-sharp clarity for the most discerning of photographers.” (All they’re saying there is that the lens is specially made to reduce spherical and other aberrations.)

Both cameras can produce Raw files, making editing details less comprising for the photo, but have different aspect ratio (the proportions of the size of the image). The Nikon produces a 3:2 ratio, the same as most dSLR cameras. The Nikon, a 4:3 aspect ratio the same as most point and shoots and micro-four-thirds cameras (another type of mirrorless).

There’s a big difference in resolution, too. The Nikon has 10.1 MP and the Canon a 14.3 MP sensor. In terms of picture quality, this leaves the Nikon at a moderate disadvantage. If you weigh its smaller sensor size, which is significantly important for a sharp image at 100 % resolution and its lower resolution, it is a double-whammy signal of a lesser quality picture. The Canon’s bigger sensor and higher resolution is the winner overall. If it only had interchangeable lenses it’d be perfect!

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W510 review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W510 review

One of four entry-level Cyber-shot compacts announced in January 2011, the Cyber-shot DSC-W510 is a 12 Megapixel model with a 4x optical zoom and a 2.7 inch LCD screen. The next model up the range, the W530 has a 14.1 Megapixel sensor, then comes the W560 which adds a larger 3 inch screen and 720p HD video. Finally there's the W570 which has a 5x optical zoom and 16.1 Megapixel sensor.

One of the Cyber-shot W510's strong selling points is it's 4x optical zoom which starts at a very impressive 26mm equivalent wide angle extending to 104mm equivalent at the telephoto end of the range. Optical image stabilisation is a rare commodity at this end of the price range and, like Nikon, Sony provides a digital processing alternative in the form of SteadyShot.

The W510 provides a good range of beginner features like face and smile detection as well as more advanced options including exposure compensation, manual ISO selection and metering and focus modes. It also features Sony's Sweep Panorama mode which, along with its superb wide angle performance, makes it an obvious choice for landscape and travel photography. The W510 is powered by a Sony lithium-Ion battery and is slim and light, another point in its favour as a holiday camera.

It's a crowded market at this price point, with plenty of differentiation between models costing roughly the same, so it's worth shopping around to get exactly what you're looking for from a budget point-and-shoot. The Canon PowerShot A1200 and Nikon's COOLPIX L24 share a similar price tag to the W510, but in other respects are very different cameras. Read our full review to discover which of them come closest to your ideal budget compact.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 design and build quality

Compared with AA-powered compacts like the PowerShot A1200, PowerShot A800 and Nikon COOLPIX L24, the first thing that strikes you about the Cyber-shot W510 is its slimness. At only 20mm wide it's around a third slimmer and weighing 119 grams well over a third lighter than the Canon and Nikon Models.

The lightness does make it feel little insubstantial, but it's a solidly engineered product, everything fits precisely and there are no shakes or rattles. The on/off switch and shutter release are flush mounted on the ridged top panel. The shutter button is a slim rectangular shape and if you've got big fingers you'll find it a bit fiddly compared with the big round button used on the PowerShot A1200 and COOLPIX L24.

On the rear panel to the right of the 2.7 inch LCD screen the controls are arranged in a way that looks and feels quite spacious. At the top in the thumb position is the zoom rocker and below that on the right edge is a three-way mode selector with positions for still, movie and Sweep panorama modes. This is nicely thought through, Sony clearly wanted to put Sweep Panorama somewhere accessible, rather than burying it away on a scene mode menu. Putting it in the middle position on the mode selector means you can get to it easily, but it doesn't get in the way of the more mainstream stills and movie modes; to select those you just push the switch all the way up or down. Below the playback button is a four-way control disc for menu navigation and one-touch access to display, flash, self-timer and smile shutter controls and and below that are menu and delete buttons.

A small panel on the right covers and protects the USB / AV port. The W510 includes a USB cable to transfer your photos to a PC, but no AV cable for TV viewing. This is the same deal as on the Canon PowerShot A1200 and Nikon COOLPIX L24. If you want to connect the camera to a TV you'll need the VMC-15CSR1 cable available as an optional extra.

On the bottom of the camera is the combined battery and memory card compartment. Like all recent Sony compacts the W510 takes SD cards as well as Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo cards. It's compatible with SDHC cards but not the newer SDXC fast high-capacity cards. The tripod bush is on the left end of the bottom panel and to the right of it is a mono speaker for audio output when playing back video clips.

The Cyber-shot W510 has a built-in flash unit with a quoted maximum range of 4.8 Metres at the wide angle lens setting. The flash provides bright and fairly even illumination and though there's a slight drop off at the frame edges, you have to be looking for it to notice it, that's quite an achievement given the 26mm field of view of the W510's lens.

The flash is fairly quick to recharge between shots, and depending on the amount of power used it can be instantaneous or take up to three to four seconds. If the flash isn't ready when you press the shutter release all the way down an icon flashes on the screen indicating that it's charging, then the shutter fires (even if you've taken your finger of the button by now) as soon as the flash is charged up.

This is the opposite of what the COOLPIX L24 does, which is to flash the icon, but not fire the flash unless you release the button and try again when the flash is ready. The Sony approach is better, because you get a shot as soon as possible, but it'd still be nice to have the option to abort if the flash isn't ready.
The flash has four modes, Off, (always) On, Auto and Slow Synchro. In Auto mode it fires only in low light and Slow Synchro provides fill-in illumination for natural light shots. There's a red-eye reduction option on the Shooting Settings menu which pre-fires the flash to reduce the risk of red-eye and if you forget to turn this on there's a software filter in the playback menu you can use to post-process photos..

The Cyber-shot W510 uses a proprietary Sony Lithium Ion NP-BN1 battery which provides enough power for 220 shots using the CIPA (Camera Imaging Products Association) standards for testing. That's on the low side and a long way short the 450 or so shots you could expect with the PowerShot A1200 or COOLPIX L24 with a pair of AA NiMH rechargeables. The former will get you even further if you rely solely on its optical viewfinder, but it's not all good news, the AA-powered cameras are significantly bulkier and heavier than the Cyber-shot W510. Remaining battery power is shown on a three-segment icon and if you buy an info-lithium battery you get a more detailed readout of remaining power.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 lens and stabilisation

The Cyber-shot W510 has a 4x optical zoom lens with a focal length range of 4.7 - 18.8mm, giving a 35mm equivalent range of 26 - 105mm. The 26mm wide angle is exceptionally wide for a budget compact and is ideally suited to interior and group shots. It's also good for panoramic landscapes and if you want to take in a really wide field of view you can switch to Sweep Panorama mode, about which more later.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 coverage wide

Sony Cyber-shot W510 coverage tele

The 105mm telephoto doesn't inspire the same enthusiasm, but, at this price level at any rate, you can't have your cake and eat it. It's good for portrait shots and framing scenes, but it won't get you anywhere near close enough to distant action like wildlife or sports. Having said that, the same could be said of the Nikon COOLPIX with its slightly longer 134mm reach, and that doesn't have anything approaching the W510's wide angle field of view.

Press the on/off switch and the two-segment lens barrel extends by around 18mm. The camera is ready to shoot in around two seconds. The zoom travels the full distance available quietly and smoothly in just under a couple of seconds. We managed to nudge it through eight steps in either direction, which is more than enough control over a 4x range.

The W510's zoom is disabled during video shooting, you can't even use the digital zoom, though you can, of course, zoom to frame your shot before you start.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 Program mode / SteadyShot mode

The W510 doesn't have Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation, for that you need to head-up the range to the W560. It does have SteadyShot though, which post-processes the image to reduce or ideally eliminate blur caused by camera shake. On higher end Cyber-Shot compacts Optical SteadyShot tends to be enabled by default with no option to disable it. On earlier budget Cyber-shots like the W310 it was activated from the settings menu. On the Cyber-shot W510 SteadyShot gets a more up-front role with its own exposure mode.

To produce the crops above we shot the same scene hand-held with the Cyber-shot W510 with the lens set to its maximum 105mm (equivalent) focal length. We took one shot in Program mode with the sensitivity manually set to 100 ISO and another in SteadyShot mode which sets the ISO sensitivity automatically.

The crop on the left is from shot taken in Program mode and the one on the right from the shot taken in SteadyShot mode. Neither crop shows much evidence of camera shake, but the one on the right actually looks less sharp, possibly at least partly because of the higher sensitivity. One interesting thing that this demonstrates is that it's possible to hand-hold the Cyber-shot W510 at 1/20th of a second even without SteadyShot.

Because SteadyShot sets the ISO automatically and raises it in low light to provide a faster shutter speed, it's impossible to determine how much affect the processing alone has on the image. In this instance, which is fairly typical, we'd say Program mode produces the best result. Ideally you'd be able to enable SteadyShot with manually selectable ISO. But let's not forget the Cyber-shot W510 is essentially a point-and-shoot compact. For casual snappers, having the sensitivity set for you and Steady-shot processing to clean up any residual camera shake is a useful option to be able to rely on.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 screen and menus

The Cyber-shot W510's 2.7inch LCD screen has 230k pixels and provides a reasonably bright and punchy view of proceedings, but the illumination drops off rapidly when you tilt it at an angle so it's not the best for overhead shooting or reviewing photos with a crowd of friends.

The top button on the control disc activates a menu with three screen display options, normal, bright with info and bright image only. Brightening the image can help in some circumstances, though not bright sunlight which is the nemesis of all LCD screens. We're a bit peeved that the only way to get detailed exposure info in playback is on the brighter than normal screen option, but at least you can view things like ISO setting, which is more than you can do on the COOLPIX L24. The W510 has one other display feature, you can select a lower resolution option to save on battery power.

The W510 has an extremely straightforward and easy to use menu system that overlays the screen image in two strips one that runs down the left side of the screen and a horizontal fly-out strip that provides options for the current menu selection.

The topmost item is the record mode with intelligent Auto, Program, SCN (scene modes) and SteadyShot options. The next one down provides an Easy option which disables a lot of the buttons and menus and enlarges the menu font, after that come the exposure mode-specific settings, but even intelligent Auto mode provides a fair few options including burst shooting, exposure compensation, scene recognition, smile detection sensitivity and face detection. Switch to Program exposure mode and you can add ISO sensitivity, white balance, focus mode, metering mode and DRO (Dynamic Range Optimiser) to that list.

At the very bottom of the menu is the familiar Sony toolbox icon that links to a more conventional four-tab menu with shooting settings, main settings, Memory card tool and clock settings. Aside from card formatting this is mostly stuff you're only likely to need access to on rare occasions. These include the display resolution setting mentioned earlier, digital zoom, red-eye reduction and a 3x3 grid overlay. In Playback mode there are options for a slideshow (without the music option often provided on more expensive Cyber-shots), basic editing including resizing and red-eye removal and DPOF printing functions.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 exposure modes

The Cyber-shot W510 has two main exposure modes - intelligent Auto is the point-and-shoot mode and Program Auto provides additional manual control over some settings as outlined earlier. Scene detection is employed in intelligent Auto mode to attempt to produce a more suitable exposure by identifying the subject and lighting conditions and selecting the appropriate scene mode. The W510 recognises Twilight, Twilight portrait, Twilight using a tripod, Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Landscape, Macro and Portrait scene types.

Sony goes a step further with its scene detection than many competitors, with an advanced mode that shoots two consecutive images using different settings, you can then choose which of the two you prefer. It does this in an intelligent way that really does increase your chances of getting a perfect shot. If it recognises Twilight mode, for example, it takes the first shot with the flash in Slow Synchro mode and the second with the ISO sensitivity boosted.

On the Cyber-Shot W510 SteadyShot gets its own mode as opposed to being always on or an option buried in the shooting setting menu.

The Cyber-shot W510 has nine scene modes including High Sensitivity, Soft Snap, Landscape, Portrait, Pets, Waterside and Snow. While it's good to have scene modes, Scene detection renders them if not superfluous at least less useful. The Cyber-shot W510's Sweep Panorama mode on the other hand is something that you would never want to be without once you've tried it.

Selected using the mode switch on the rear panel Sweep Panorama makes the taking of ultra-wide angle panoramic images, once the preserve of enthusiasts with specialised equipment, as simple as pressing the shutter release and panning. The results are truly impressive. There are two size options the widest of which measures 7152 x 1080 pixels. You can shoot vertical as well as horizontal panoramas and automatically scroll the images during playback. The COOLPIX L24 has a Panorama Assist mode which helps you align individual shots for subsequent stitching using supplied PC software, but Sony is the only compact manufacturer that can lay claim to foolproof pan-and-shoot panoramic photos. You can see an example of the field of view provided by the wide size panorama below - click it to view a high res version. We also have another W510 panorama sample and another W510 panorama sample.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 focusing and face detection

As you'd expect on an entry-level compact, the Cyber-shot W510 has face detection. It can be activated in intelligent Auto or Program modes and detects up to eight faces in the frame. Like the Canon PowerShot A1200 you can toggle the priority face, not with a dedicated Face button, but by pressing the central button on the control disc. Face detection on the Cyber-shot W510 is pretty effective in good lighting and holds onto faces reasonably well. It's certainly a lot better than on the Nikon COOLPIX L24, but we think that the Canon PowerShot A1200 has the fastest and most responsive system.

When no faces are in the frame the Cyber-shot W510 defaults to 9-area autofocus which is is quick and accurate even in low light, though in very poor lighting, for example in a club, the lack of an AF assist lamp is felt. In Program mode you have the option to switch to centre AF which uses only the central area. Again this is quick and decisive and can be used to focus on a central object then, keeping the shutter button half-pressed, recomposing your shot. But the W510 doesn't share the PowerShot A1200's AF and AE lock functions, which allow you to lock focus and exposure and neither does it have an AF tracking option.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 movie mode

The Cyber-shot W510 can shoot 640 x 480 pixel (standard definition VGA resolution) video at 30 frames per second and also has a QVGA 320 x 240 pixel option again at 30fps. Footage is saved using a Motion JPEG codec at an average bit rate of 9Mbps and saved with mono audio in an AVI wrapper.

The white balance and exposure compensation can be adjusted for video as can the metering mode with the choice of Multi or Centre modes. You can't use the optical zoom while shooting and the digital zoom is also disabled, though given the awful quality that results on compacts that have it, that's no great loss. The lack of HD quality is a little disappointing and puts the Cyber-shot W510 in the shadow of the similarly priced PowerShot A1200. If you must have HD and like what the W510 has to offer, you could consider the W560, though it is significantly more expensive. The final thing the W510 has going for it as a video camera is that you can switch into movie recording mode at a flick of the shooting mode switch.

Sony Cyber-shot W510 drive modes

In Burst mode the Cyber-shot W510 can shoot at a little over 1 frame per second. Sony claims 1.17fps, and the best we managed was 1.13fps but the difference is academic. At these rates you won't be able to capture fast action like sports, but you can get some nice short sequences providing your subject doesn't move around too much. The screen keeps up fairly well, displaying the previous shot a fraction of a second after it's been taken, but it's still pretty difficult to frame a moving subject using anything other than guesswork

Sony Cyber-shot W510 sensor

The Cyber-shot W510 has a 1/2.3in CCD sensor with a maximum image size of 12 Megapixels producing 4:3 shaped pictures with maximum dimensions of 4000 x 3000 pixels. There are three lower resolution 4:3 settings plus two cropped 16:9 options at 9 and 2 Megapixels. All images are saved as JPEGs with no control over the amount of compression. Full resolution JPEG file sizes are typically around 4.5MB in size. The ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 3200 ISO and the shutter speed range goes from 2 seconds (1s in Program Auto mode) to 1/1500th. To see how the quality of the Cyber-shot W510 measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.

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Think Tank Airport Acceleration backpack review

Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 review

The Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 is a camera backpack designed to accommodate two pro DSLRs, several lenses including a 500mm f4, and a 15in laptop, while looking discreet and complying with most airline carry-on restrictions. It sits between the smaller Airport Antidote v2 and the larger Airport Addicted v2 in the Think Tank backpack-without-wheels range.

I needed a serious camera bag for a trip to Florida to photograph a Space Shuttle launch which had to meet several key requirements. First, I would be carrying three entry-level to semi-pro DSLR bodies, along with three lenses, one of which would be a hefty 500mm f4 model. The bag would also need to accommodate numerous accessories including a laptop.

Packed full of valuable equipment, the bag needed to confidently protect its contents while also not revealing their identity to potential thieves, and with no desire to check it in, the bag also had to meet airline carry-on requirements. While hard sides and wheels would be beneficial for toughness and ease of urban transportation, NASA's additional security demands ruled-out both.

These requirements quickly narrowed my choices down to a handful of models, all of which I hope to evaluate in the future. Starting with two of the major players, I essentially had to choose between the Lowe Pro Trekker or Think Tank Airport ranges. Interestingly while the larger options from each range would meet my requirements, they did so with quite different styling: Lowe Pro's Trekker bags look more like traditional hiking backpacks, whereas Think Tank's Airport bags are quite business-like in comparison. I decided I'd test one from each company, starting with the Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 here.

I chose the Airport Acceleration v2 over the versions on either side of it based on capacity. I wanted the smallest possible bag which could accommodate all my gear, and in particular the 500mm f4 lens. While the smallest Airport Antidote bag could impressively accommodate a typical 400mm lens, it was too tight a squeeze for a 500mm f4. Conversely, while the largest Airport Addicted bag could easily accommodate my gear including the 500mm f4, it did so with space to spare. So I opted for the middle option of the Airport Acceleration which turned out to be a perfect fit: it's not too large, yet manages to squeeze in the 500mm f4L while mounted on a body, while accommodating another body and lens alongside.

Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 packed for launch

Before going any further, here's a photo of the Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2, fully-loaded with all my equipment for the trip: a Canon EOS 7D and two EOS 600D / T3i bodies, along with EF 500mm f4L, EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L and EF-S 10-22mm lenses. There's also the two Rode microphones, a PowerShot S95 and a pair of small binoculars in there, along with a Samsung Netbook in the outer sleeve (although room for something much larger if desired).

Outer design and straps

The main bag itself has external dimensions of 47x33x18cm and maintains its depth across the entire width and length, unlike a typical backpack which gradually tapers-in at the top. As such, it maximises its internal area, but equally looks quite boxy when worn on your back. The external material feels tough and features a layer of internal padding about half a centimetre thick. The bag weighs between 1.5 and 3.2Kg depending on the configuration of supplied straps, tripod attachments, laptop sleeve and internal dividers. A waterproof cover is also supplied, packed into a small pouch.

Almost the entire outer rear surface is padded for comfort on your back, although the padding also serves to hide and store the shoulder and waist straps if desired. The outer sides of the padding lift open, allowing you to slide the shoulder straps in, before the padding is velcro'd back in place. Meanwhile, a wider channel running along the lower part of the rear surface can accommodate the waist strap. With all the straps 'packed' away, the bag looks surprisingly neat and boxy, and some may prefer this configuration for transportation in planes or through x-ray machines. You can however unpack the straps in seconds when required. The waist strap can also be removed entirely if preferred.

The shoulder straps aren't as sculpted as the most innovative backpacks, but are reassuringly wide and well-padded, not to mention securely attached to the main bag. Each strap features a D-ring and a thin stretchy pocket for small accessories. Finally, a smaller (vertically adjustable) strap provides additional support across the top of your chest if desired.

Substantial padded handles are attached to the top and the side of the bag, allowing you to easily carry or manoeuvre the bag into position into luggage storage. Below the upper handle is a small zippered-pocket designed for passports and tickets, which is handy storage when passing through airport checks. On top of this is a small window for an address or business card. It's tempting to stuff these pockets full of items, but they quickly mount in thickness, in turn making it harder to comfortably grip the handle. The pocket is also not quite wide enough to hold most airline tickets without folding, at least across the perforated section before boarding.

Side mounting and tripods

On the opposite side to the second handle you'll find a large stretchy pocket designed to grip small water bottles or the base of small tripods. Occupying roughly one third of the side of the bag, the pocket certainly looks big, but in use you may find it only accommodating smaller items - my 70mm diameter Klean Kanteen water bottle is quite narrow, but stretched the pocket to its limits, while also dangling precariously at times. Try and squeeze all three legs of even the smallest tripod in there and you'll struggle, but to be fair in use you'll actually only slip two of the legs in the stretchy pocket, and leave the third dangling on the outside.

Think Tank provides a number of additional straps to hold tripods securely in place. Two thinner straps slide through channels on the side of the bag and wrap around tripod legs to hold them tightly in position, while an optional foot 'cup' hangs from the side with an adjustable strap to accommodate larger tripods.

The largest tripod you'd want to carry on the side of the bag would be in the Manfrotto 190 class. Two of its legs will slip neatly into the stretchy side pocket, leaving the two straps to hold it in place. Larger models can be accommodated using the foot cup, but once they start getting too big and heavy, they'll make the bag feel unbalanced on your back - so for comfort and stability, I wouldn't personally strap anything much bigger than a Manfrotto 190 on the side.

Front pocket and laptop accommodation

The entire front surface of the bag is home to a single large unpadded pocket which can be used for a thin jacket or jumper, a 17in laptop in a thin sleeve, or more commonly, the supplied laptop sleeve / shoulder bag. This is one of the cleverest parts of the overall design, as the presence of the supplied laptop sleeve or lack-of, transforms the look and size of the bag as a whole.

The laptop sleeve features a padded main compartment which can accommodate a 15in model with ease; slot a smaller laptop inside and you'll have room for a decent-sized book. The rear side of the laptop sleeve has a thin pouch for A4 documents or a magazine, held closed with velcro. The front side has a zippered pocket that's shorter but thicker. The sleeve itself comes with a removable shoulder strap, so you can use it as a standalone laptop bag if desired.

With the laptop sleeve packed full, it'll add around 7cm to the thickness of the overall bag, taking it to around 25cm in total. In this configuration the bag looks pretty large and may not comply with airline carry-on restrictions. The clever part is the sleeve can be removed in seconds, allowing the front pocket to fold flat and reduce the bag thickness back to 18cm. This makes the bag much smaller, not to mention lighter, and allows it to comply with most carry-on regulations. Meanwhile the laptop sleeve will be accepted by most airport x-ray operators without having to remove the actual computer. As such you can approach the x-ray area with the bag on your back, then simply pull out the laptop sleeve for separate scanning, then slot it back in again on the other side. Then when you reach the aircraft, you can judge whether you need to remove the sleeve again in order to fit the bag into the overhead compartment or under the seat in front.

I did this entire process several times during my trip to the US and found it faster and easier than previous bags I'd used. The only weak point in the chain is the basic clip on the front of the main pocket which can open pretty easily, allowing access to the sleeve within. Think Tank has already anticipated this by including a security cable and padlock which is attached to the main bag via a small zippered section in the main pocket flap. Ultimately a more secure clip for the front pocket may be preferred by some, but it would in turn make the bag thicker and could catch on tight luggage compartments; as compromises go, it's not all bad.

Inside the bag

A reassuringly heavy-duty zip allows the entire front surface of the bag to open to reveal the contents. ALl the zippers on the bag have cables which allow you to easily pull them open and shut, while the zippers for the main compartment also feature metal holes if you'd like to fit a padlock.

Like most backpacks, you'll need to remove the bag from your shoulders before opening it to access anything. The access is also conventionally from the front of the pack, which theoretically could allow someone to open it while it's on your back. Some prefer solutions where the main compartment opens from the rear for greater security.

Once opened, the benefit of a boxy design becomes clear as there's not a single bit of wasted or unusable space. The internal dimensions are only around 1cm smaller than the external dimensions, giving you a volume of 45x31.5x17cm to play with; again unlike traditional backpacks, this 17cm depth is maintained throughout the entire compartment, providing great flexibility.

Think Tank provides the bag with a wealth of well-padded dividers allowing you to configure the inside exactly as desired. The width can accommodate two small-to-medium sized DSLRs side-by-side, both with lenses attached; the depth allows many lenses to be stored vertically to save space, while the length is sufficient to contain a Canon 500mm f4L lens while mounted on a body. You really can get a lot of kit in this bag and position it for quick and easy access. The inside of the main flap features two see-through laminated mesh pockets for small accessories.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 review

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 review

The Sony Cyber-shot TX10, announced in January 2011, is a 16.2 Megapixel compact with a 4x stabilised zoom and a 3 inch LCD wide touch-sensitive screen. Like other TX-series models the TX10 is, in Sony's words, 'sleek and stylish', with a non-extending lens protected by a slide-down panel when not in use. A well as sleekness, the other defining characteristic of the TX10 is ruggedness: it's water proof and dust proof to a depth of 5 metres, shockproof against a drop of up to 1.5 Metres and freeze proof down to -10C.

The Cyber-shot TX10 has all of the features you'd expect to find in a mid-range compact including fully auto exposure modes with scene detection and Face AF as well as trademark Sony features like sweep panorama and multi-angle 3D modes. The stacking composite low-light modes for which Sony's Exmor R back -illuminated sensor is well known are complemented in this model by a new HDR mode. As well as all that it's a capable video camera with full HD 1080i and 25fps 1080p video recording.

We've compared it alongside two similarly priced touch-screen compacts, the Canon IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS and the Panasonic Lumix FX77/78. Can the TX10 deliver all you'd expect from a 'conventional' compact, or does its ruggedness come at the cost of compromises elsewhere? Read our full review to find out.

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 Design and controls

At only 18mm wide, the Cyber-shot TX10 is compact by any standards. If you're serious about water-based activities it'll slip inside your wetsuit and you'll hardly know it's there, but I suspect for most people its ability to work in the wet will be a secondary consideration, in which case it'll fit equally comfortably in your shirt or jeans pocket.

The slide down front panel serves as an on/off switch, exposing the lens and powering up the camera at the same time. Likewise, you just need to slide the cover back up to turn everything off. There's also an on/off button on the top panel which gives you on-screen access to the menus, other settings and playback, but obviously, you still need to slide the cover down to shoot.

The only other physical controls on the camera are the lozenge-shaped shutter release, a corner-mounted zoom rocker and, on the bevelled rear edge of the top panel, a playback and a dedicated movie record button.

The rear of the camera is entirely given over to the LCD screen. It's clear plastic from top to bottom and left to right, but the actual screen area, even in 16:9 movie mode, doesn't reach all the way to the edges and there's ample space on the right for your thumb to grip without activating any of the screen icons. When shooting in the 4:3 aspect ratio, touch-icons are arranged in the black vertical strips either side of the image.

For touch-control the TX10 screen is light and responsive, but in general use I found that in bright outdoor conditions, even when it wasn't sunny, the TX10 screen was quite hard to see. For an ordinary compact this would be a minor irritation, but for a touch-screen camera it can make the simplest things, like switching exposure mode, or using touch-focus, more demanding than they should be.

To protect it from moisture and dust, the Cyber-shot TX10 has more rugged doors and covers on ports than usual. In place of the usual flimsy plastic flap, a hinged rubber-sealed door on the right side opens via a catch to reveal an A/V / USB port and a mini-HDMI port. On the base of the camera a similarly constructed door covers the combined battery and card compartment. Like all recent Sony compacts the TX10 takes SD/HC/XC as well as Sony's Memory Stick Duo and Pro Duo cards.

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 lens and stabilisation

The Cyber-shot TX10's 4x optical zoom has a very useful 25mm wide angle extending to 100mm at the telephoto end of the range. Compact manufacturers are increasingly opting for super-wide-angles, a trend I'm happy to see. Both the Canon IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS and Panasonic Lumix FX77/ FX78 start at a similar focal length, though the Canon lens has a significant light-gathering advantage over the TX10 when zoomed-out: f2.0 vs f3.5, which lets the Canon gather almost four times as much light, thereby allowing faster shutter speeds or lower ISOs under the same conditions.

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 coverage wide

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 coverage tele

The Cyber-shot TX10 has Optical SteadyShot lens-shift image stabilisation which unlike the IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS and Lumix FX77 / 78 is not configurable, it's always on and can't be disabled.

In the conditions in which the shots below were taken we were able to get a steady hand-held shot at 125 ISO with a shutter speed of 1/15, so the Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation is effective. As you can't turn it off, I'm not able to show the usual comparison, instead the below crops are from shots taken using, on the left Anti motion Blur and on the right Handheld Twilight scene modes.

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 low-light:Anti Motion Blur / Handheld Twilight

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 shooting modes

The Cyber-shot TX10 has Intelligent Auto exposure mode with scene detection.

Nothing special there you might think, but the TX10 takes it further with an Advanced mode that takes two shots with different settings so you can choose the best one. For example in Twilight mode the first shot is made with the flash in slow synchro mode and a subsequent one with increased ISO sensitivity. Scene detection also recognises subject movement and when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

The TX10 has a second Auto mode called Superior Auto. This takes a burst of images and produces a composite. It's particularly effective for backlit scenes where the TX10 is effectively producing an in-camera HDR composite.

Program auto mode provides control over ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering and focus modes, but, unlike the IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS, there are no semi-automatic exposure modes. The scene mode menu includes the usual suspects – Pet, Beach and, of course Underwater plus several options including Anti motion blur, Hand-held Twilight, and Backlight Correction HDR that produce a composite image form a burst sequence.

The TX10 includes the pan-and-shoot iSweep panorama feature for which Cyber-shot compacts are well-known adding an underwater variant As you can see from the example on the right you can pan vertically as well as horizontally. If you own a 3D TV you'll be particularly interested in the Cyber-shot TX10's new 3D shooting modes, 3D still Image and 3D sweep panorama. But if you've yet to be convinced of the benefits of 3D TV you can still enjoy 3D panoramic shots with Sweep Multi Angle 3D, a faux 3D effect that can be viewed on the Cyber-shot TX10's LCD screen by tilting it.

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 movie modes

The Cyber-shot TX10 provides a wealth of movie modes: starting at the top is FX mode, 1080i HD encoded like the other HD formats in AVCHD format at around 24Mbps. If you value the ability to squeeze more footage on a card FH mode reduces the bitrate to 17Mbps and there's a third HQ mode at 1440 x 1080 and 9Mbps. All these HD modes are encoded as AVCHD files and all are interlaced at 50 or 60fps depending on region. If you choose MP4 encoding you get three options 1440 x 1080p, 720p and VGA at 25 or 30fps depending on region. The maximum recording time in any format is 29 minutes which, at the best quality AVCHD setting will occupy around 6GB.

Not only can you use the Cyber-shot TX10's virtually silent optical zoom during movie recording, you can also take still pictures with a 16:9 aspect ratio at a size of 2304 x 1296. The stereo mics produce good quality sound and there's a wind noise filter buried away in the Shooting settings menu. Sony recommends you use class 4 speed or faster SD cards for movie recording. A dedicated movie shooting button is a plus, but there's a long, long delay - nearly 4 seconds - between pressing the button and recording beginning which is simply unacceptable. You wouldn't expect to wait that length of time for the shutter to fire when taking stills and it should be no different for video.

Sony Cyber-shot TX10 handling

Because of its non-extending lens, the Cyber-shot TX10 is quick to start up, but only marginally faster than extending lens compacts like the IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS and the Lumix FX77 / FX78. The corner-mounted zoom and slim profile shutter release on T-series cyber-shots are things I've never felt comfortable with, but you may feel differently and, as always, I'd recommend you get your hands on one to try before purchasing.

The TX10's face detection works well, adjustable sensitivity on the smile shutter and adult and child priority options on face detection greatly improve the chances of making it work in just the way you want. The Cyber-shot TX10 boasts impressive burst shooting capabilities with a 10fps mode that shoots 10 frames in exactly one second plus a more pedestrian 2fps mode, although once again beware as it takes a while to record a burst to the card and free-up the camera for subsequent shooting.

The menu system works well with the touch-screen and is easily navigable; the first screen providing frequently used settings with shooting settings, formatting etc on a second level menu. Like the IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS, the Cyber-shot TX10 menus are configurable, so you can add personal favourites to the vertical strips on the main display.

In the water the TX10 produces great results, but current touch-screen technology just isn't suited to use in the wet. The Cyber-shot TX10's touch-screen is inoperable in the water. Even when you get out of the water you need to give the screen a wipe and dry your hands before you can use it. This is a bit of a let down because it means you can't change modes, to use the underwater panorama scene mode for instance, or to switch from underwater to a non-aqua mode while you're still in the water but not under it. You have to select your mode while dry, then get on with it, which pretty much confirms our initial opinion of the TX10 as primarily a land camera that's good for occasional use in the water.

The Cyber-shot TX10's 16.2 Megapixel Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor produces images with a maximum size of 4608 x 3456 pixels that are JPEG compressed to around 4MB.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V review

The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is a 16.2 Megapixel pocket super-zoom with a 16x stabilised optical zoom lens, 24mm wide angle coverage and a 3in LCD screen. With a new 16.2 Megapixel back-illuminated Exmor-R CMOS sensor, which it shares with the jointly-announced HX100V 30x super-zoom, the Cyber-shot HX9V is capable of full resolution fast burst shooting and full HD 1080p60 video.

Like the earlier HX5, the Cyber-shot HX9V has a built-in GPS receiver which appends lat, long, and altitude information to the image EXIF data. Sony has introduced some new panoramic and 3D shooting modes in addition to the composite modes - Hand-held Twilight and Anti motion Blur - for which its Exmor-based models are now well-known. The Backlight Correction HDR mode has been upgraded to use three rather than just two shots and, like the earlier HX5, the HX9V provides full manual control (albeit still with only two apertures) in addition to Program, two intelligent Auto and a variety of scene exposure modes.

While there's a lot of new stuff to talk about the two things that will occupy most people's attention are the new 16x zoom range and the performance of the new 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor. For existing Sony compact super-zoom owners and those new to the market the question will be how does the Cyber-shot HX9V improve on the HX5 and how does it compare with this year's models from Panasonic, Canon and Nikon: the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10, PowerShot SX230 HS and COOLPIX S9100 respectively. For the answers to those questions all you need do is read our full review.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V Design and controls

Compared with 'conventional' compacts, super-zooms tend to be chunkier and heavier, and the Cyber-shot HX9V is no exception. It looks and even feels like the Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 with very similar body styling and control arrangements. The HX9V has a bigger, textured grip on the right side of the body which, along with a thumb pad on the rear, provides a secure and comfortable grip.

The other main differences between the two models are that the Cyber-shot HX9V's mode dial is mounted at the right end of the top panel and the dedicated movie button is just above the thumb pad on the rear. Next to the on/off button at the rear of the top panel is a custom button to which you can assign one of five settings – the default is exposure compensation.
The rear panel has a four-way control wheel for menu navigation and one-touch activation of display, flash, self-timer and continuous shooting controls. There's a playback button, a menu button and a delete button that also activates Sony's excellent In-Camera Guide which provides detailed information and tips on all of the HX9V's functions including an interactive icon guide.

The 920k pixel screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio which makes it the same shape as the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 and COOLPIX S9100. It's ideal for shooting stills but when shooting 16:9 HD video you'll only be using part of the screen with black horizontal bars top and bottom. So if you're more a movie than stills shooter the Canon PowerShot SX230's 16:9 screen may be a better fit. In bright daylight conditions the screen is quite difficult to see, that's a criticism that can be applied to most compact screens, but Sony screens generally seem less contrasty than those of other manufacturers and it was harder to make out detail on the Cyber-shot HX9V screen than on the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10, PowerShot SX230 HS or COOLPIX S9100.

The HX9V, like the PowerShot SX230 HS and COOLPIX S9100 has a pop-up flash, but it only pops up when needed, i.e. when forced on or in low-light when set to Auto. The quoted flash distance with the ISO sensitivity set to Auto is 5.6 metres and the flash recharges pretty quickly in around three seconds. You need to be careful when using the flash not to obscure it with your index finger which naturally wants to rest right in front of it. The flash retracts automatically when you select a 'non-flash' exposure mode, for example, Movie, or you can push it back in when you're done.

Like the earlier HX5, the Cyber-shot HX9V uses a proprietary connector on the base to connect to a computer and download images, but there's also a mini HDMI port behind a door on the right of the camera body. The NP-BG1 battery is charged in the camera using the supplied charger, or you can charge it while connected to a USB port. The battery has sufficient power for an impressive 415 shots using the CIPA standard measurements, though that will diminish with use of the GPS.

The GPS can be switched off when not in use to conserve battery power. When activated a satellite symbol appears on the screen and when sufficient satellites have been aquired latitude and longitude positional co-ordinates are displayed. However, in use we weren't able to get the HX9V's GPS to provide location data for any of our test or gallery images which was, to say the least, somewhat disappointing. We hope to retest another unit in the future to report on this functionality.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V lens and stabilisation

The Cyber-shot HX9V has a 16x stabilised optical zoom with a (35mm equivalent) range of 24 – 384mm. That's a big step up from the 10x zooms of the earlier HX5 and the other current pocket super-zoom the HX7V and, probably no coincidence, exactly matches the range (and maximum aperture) of the Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V coverage wide

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V coverage tele

What can you say about a compact camera with a 16x zoom range that encompasses a super wide-angle and a long telephoto, except that there are unlikely to be too many situations where you find you can't frame your subject exactly the way you want.

The Cyber-shot HX9V's lens has Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation and, as on most other Cyber-shots, it's always on and has no configuration options. There's one exception to this which is that you can choose the more aggressive Active SteadyShot stabilisation in movie mode. The crops below are from handheld shots of the same scene taken at the full zoom extent of 384mm equivalent in Manual exposure mode at 1/10th of a second on the left and Anti Motion Blur mode on the right. Since you're unable to switch it off, there's no way of showing a with and without comparison.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V, IS Off / Continuous

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V shooting modes

The Cyber-shot HX9V's intelligent Auto mode with scene recognition will be familiar to anyone who owns a recent compact from any manufacturer. Intelligent Auto mode detects the shooting conditions and sets a scene mode accordingly. It's able to recognise 'conditions' as well as scenes, i.e. whether the camera is mounted on a tripod or if the subject is moving, it's very sure-footed and produces great results.

But the Cyber-shot HX9V goes beyond bog-standard scene recognition in two ways. The first, iSCN Recognition Advanced mode, is not new and takes a couple of shots using different settings from which you can then choose the best one. A new position on the mode dial, Superior Auto, combines scene recognition and multi-shot compositing to produce a superior result. Superior Auto is designed to get better results in low-light conditions and effectively automatically activates Hand-held Twilight, Anti Motion Blur or Backlight Correction HDR modes. Each of those modes can of course be selected manually with the mode dial in the SCN position.

Background Defocus, another new addition to the mode dial, processes the image to produce a shallow depth of field effect that isn't usually possible on compacts even when, as with the CyberShot HX9V, they offer fully manual exposure control. Three levels of defocus are provided and the examples below show the strong setting alongside the same image shot using manual exposure with the lens at its 24mm (equivalent) focal length and the maximum aperture of f3.3.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V, Background Defocus / Manual

It's inconceivable that the Cyber-shot HX9V wouldn't include Sony's unsurpassed iSweep panorama mode and in fact it adds a new high resolution mode which produces a 43 Megapixel image measuring 10480 x 4096 pixels. This is fast image processing on a large scale and the results are pretty impressive though, as you can see from the full resolution example on the gallery page, there can still be one or two small stitching errors.

Another new position on the Mode dial, 3D, supports shooting of 3D still images and panoramas for viewing on a 3D TV as well as Sweep multi-angle panoramas that can be previewed on the cameras screen.
That just leaves the M position for manual exposure control, Program auto an and MR position for recalling one of three custom setups. Given that there are only two aperture settings – f3.3 and f8 at 24mm and f4.9 and f14 at 384mm, Manual doesn't offer the scope you might expect, but you can at least set the shutter speed anywhere from 30 seconds to 1/1600th. This means you can grossly under or over-expose for special effects way beyond the standard compensation scale, and of course control motion blurring within the constraints of the aperture and ISO range.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V movie modes

With every other 2011 pocket super-zoom offering full HD video recording it would be a surprise if the Cyber-shot HX9V didn't and its best quality delivers 1080p at 50 or 60 fps depending on region. There's also a 1080i (again, 50 or 60 interlaced frames) option. The 1080p mode encodes in AVCHD format at 28Mbps and there are two quality options, 24Mbps and 17Mbps, for the 1080i setting. Finally, there's a 1440 x 1080 mode which is encoded at 9Mbps. Switching to MP4 (H.264) encoding provides three further options, 1440 x 1080, 720p and VGA (640 x 480). Using the best quality mode you'll fit around 15 minutes of footage on a 4GB card, if you have a larger card fitted the maximum recording time is limited to 29 minutes.

You can use near-silent zoom while recording movies and shoot still images in all but the 1080p50/60 mode. In AVCHD modes stills are recorded in a 16:9 format measuring 2304 x 1296 pixels.

As I mentioned earlier, the Cyber-shot HX9V has two movie image stabilisation modes, Active Movie SteadyShot being a 'stronger' version of the standard SteadyShot. And it works, it's particularly useful for shots where you're walking, or even running while shooting.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V handling

The Cyber-shot HX9V is ready to shoot in a little over two seconds after pressing the on/off button, not lightning fast, but fairly average for a compact super-zoom. The dual-speed zoom rocker provides a good combination of speed and control and, as I've said before, is almost totally silent.

I've already talked about face detection, which can be prioritized for adult or child faces, if you're shooting things rather than people there's nine-area AF, Centre AF and Flexible spot AF which lets you reposition the AF area anywhere in the frame. There are also two new semi and fully manual focussing modes, though in practice I found it quite difficult to tell, even from the magnified screen, when objects were precisely focussed and, in any case, the auto focussing does a very good job in virtually all conditions.

Continuous shooting is one of the Cyber-shot HX9V's great strengths. Like the earlier HX5 it can shoot a 10-frame burst at 10fps. One of the minor drawbacks is that you then have to wait a while for the data to be written to the card, but the good news is that the HX9V speeds this process up significantly compared with earlier models, taking around eight seconds before it's ready for another burst.

The Cyber-shot HX9V has a 16.2 Megapixel backlit Exmor R CMOS sensor that produces still images with a maximum size of 4608 x 3456 pixels. Files are saved as jpegs and there are no quality/compression options. File sizes are typically around the 5MB mark. The shutter speed range is from 30 to 1/1600th of a second and the ISO sensitivity can be set from 100 to 3200 ISO.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V review

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V review

The Sony Cyber-shot HX100V is a 16.2 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 30x stabilized lens and a flip-up 3 inch LCD screen. Released concurrently with the Cyber-shot HX9V pocket super-zoom in February 2011, the HX100V shares the same Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor in a larger SLR-styled body with a much longer zoom range.

With a sensor in common, the HX100V shares many of the HX9V's features, including 1080p50/60 HD video, 10fps burst shooting, 3D and sweep panorama modes, along with a built-in GPS receiver. The Cyber-shot HX100V also includes the composite Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes in addition to new Backlight Correction HDR and Background Defocus modes.

The Cyber-shot HX100V is Sony's first DSLR-styled super-zoom model since the Cyber-shot HX1 back in 2009. Since then Canon and Panasonic have established a strong position in this market with the PowerShot SX30 IS, and the Lumix FZ100 and FZ45 / 40 (not to mention the latest FZ47 / FZ48). Does the Cyber-shot HX100V have what it takes to re-establish Sony in the Super-zoom market, or has two years out of the game given the competition too much of a lead for Sony to regain? Let's find out in our full review of the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V Design and controls

The Cyber-shot HX100V looks good and feels comfortable to hold. With what's become classic super-zoom styling it closely resembles a mini DSLR. At 122x87x93mm and weighing 577g including card and battery, it's a little smaller and lighter than the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS. To provide a little more context, that's around fifty grams lighter and broadly the same dimensions as Sony's SLT-A35. These super-zooms are designed to go on a strap around your neck or in a bag, so if you're looking for something more pocketable check out our Sony Cyber-shot HX9V review.

The HX100V's plastic body has a matt speckled finish which looks good and provides a tactile grip. There's room for three fingers on the grip with your right index finger resting comfortably on the shutter release and your left hand supporting the camera, SLR-style, beneath the lens. In the end, it's a personal choice, but I really liked the way the HX100V felt and handled.

Behind the shutter release is a custom button to which you can assign various functions and another for changing the focus mode. Behind those on the right side of the top panel are the mode dial, on/off button and an override button for manually switching between the electronic viewfinder and LCD screen. Ordinarily the HX100V uses a sensor to switch to the EVF when you put your eye to it. The EVF is bright, but visibly pixellated and I preferred to use the 3 inch screen, but it is a useful alternative for sunny conditions and has the added advantage of dioptre adjustment for those who wear glasses.

The 3 inch LCD screen is articulated and can be folded out and up or down for waist or overhead viewing, though unlike the PowerShot SX30 IS it can't be folded in to protect itself or face the front. The 920k pixel screen is detailed, bright and reasonably contrasty but looks less vibrant and punchy than the smaller 2.7 inch screen on the PowerShot SX30 IS. Using the four-way controller you can select one of three information overlays including a live histogram view.

The Cyber-shot HX100V has a built-in flash that pops up when required i.e if the flash is forced on or set to auto mode and the light conditions require it. It also has Slow Synchro and rear curtain modes. The flash has a quoted auto ISO range of 12.7 metres, which sounds impressive, but more useful is the Guide number - 18 Metres at 3200 ISO which equates to 3 metres at 100 ISO. In practice the Cyber-shot HX100V provided bright even illumination and recycled between shots in a couple of seconds.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V lens and stabilisation

The Cyber-shot HX100V's Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 30x zoom lens has a range of 27-810mm (equivalent) with a maximum aperture of f2.8-5.6. That's such an impressive range that it seems bad-form to criticise, but the truth is that, even with a massive zoom range, the maximum wide angle view is an important factor. It's worth noting its rivals from Canon and Panasonic zoom out a little wider to deliver greater coverage, while the Canon also actually out-reaches it a little at the telephoto end too, with 840mm vs 810mm. That said, there's very little in terms of subject matter that the Cyber-shot HX100V can't cover.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V coverage wide

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V coverage tele

The Cyber-shot HX100V has Optical SteadyShot lens-shift image stabilization which is activated by default, can't be turned off and has no optional settings other than for movie shooting (see the movie section below). In place of our usual before and after shots then, the below crops are from shots taken at the same time with the lens at its maximum zoom extension of 810mm equivalent. The crop on the left was taken in Manual exposure mode at 1/20 of a second and the one on the right in Anti Motion Blur mode.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V, Optical SteadySho

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V, Anti Motion Blur

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V shooting modes

A glance at the mode dial provides a quick overview of the Cyber-shot HX100V's available shooting modes. Starting with the PASM Program, semi-auto and manual modes followed by a Memory recall mode for one of three custom setups. Then there's the iSweep panorama position. In addition to the Standard and Wide panorama modes available on earlier Sony compacts, HX100V has a new HR mode which produces truly stunning high resolution panoramas measuring 10480 x 4096 pixels - see a sample of the standard 4912x1920 mode below.

Skipping past the Movie mode position for now, next up is the 3D position which provides, appropriately enough, three options; 3D still image and 3D Sweep Panorama produce 3D images that can be viewed on a 3D TV, Sweep Multi Angle produces a 3D image that you can view by tilting the camera screen. Though surprisingly effective, I doubt most people will use the last one more than once or twice as the novelty of viewing a 3D image on a 3 inch screen quickly fades.

The Cyber-shot HX100V has 16 scene modes, the most notable of which are the composite options that shoot a burst of images and combine them to produce a better result than would be possible with a single exposure. Hand-held Twilight and Anti Motion Blur will be familiar to owners of recent Sony compacts with the Exmor-R CMOS sensor that makes these modes possible. Backlight Correction HDR shoots three frames to capture detail in the shadow, mid-tone and highlight areas of a scene with a wide tonal range and Background defocus uses two exposures to simulate shallow depth of field.

You can of course use the HX100V in fully automatic mode, and there are in fact two automatic point-and shoot options. Intelligent Auto employs scene recognition to identify the subject and set an appropriate scene mode. The HX100V can tell if the camera is on a tripod allowing longer exposure times or if there's motion in the frame in which case it will increase the ISO sensitivity and use a faster shutter speed to arrest the movement. In Advanced mode scene recognition takes two shots using different setting so you can choose the best result. For Backlit portraits for example, one shot is made using the flash and a second with the brightness and contrast of the face and background adjusted.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V iSweep HR panorama

A new position on the mode dial, Superior Auto, combines scene recognition and multi-shot compositing to produce a superior result. Superior Auto is designed to get better results in low-light conditions and effectively automatically activates Hand-held Twilight, Anti Motion Blur or Backlight Correction HDR modes. Each of those modes can of course be selected manually with the mode dial in the SCN position, but incorporating them into a new auto position on the mode dial makes them more accessible to novices who might not otherwise bother with them.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V movie modes

The Cyber-shot HX100V's best quality video mode is 1080p at either 50 or 60 fps depending on region. This is encoded in AVCHD format at one of two rates: 28 and 24 Mbps. There are also two interlaced (60/50i) AVCHD options encoded at 17 and 9Mbps. Switch to MPEG4 encoding and you have the option of 1080p at 12Mbps, 720p at 6Mbps or VGA (640 x 480) at 3Mbps. Continuous shooting in any mode is limited to 29 minutes and, at the highest quality 1080p setting you'll fit around 35 minutes of footage on an 8GB card.

The Cyber-shot HX100V's Optical SteadyShot stabilisation works very well for movie recording and there's an 'extra strength' Active SteadyShot setting which damps damps down camera movement even more. The zoom motor has a single speed setting when recording movies and is virtually silent. The HX100V has a dedicated movie record button and pressing the shutter release while recording captures 16:9 still images at 2304 x 1296 pixels in all but the highest quality video mode. It will also capture still shots using smile shutter during movie recording which is a nice touch.

Sony Cyber-shot HX100V handling

My biggest handling gripe with the Cyber-shot HX100V is the lens cap: it attaches to the non-extending outer barrel and pops off every time you press the on button without removing it first which, if you're me, is every time you press the on button. On one occasion the cap got wedged in one side of the lens, preventing it from extending but fortunately no permanent damage was done. The HX100V also lacks a hotshoe which may or may not be important to you, but if it is both the PowerShot SX30 IS and Finepix HS20 EXR have one.

The camera takes about two and a half seconds to ready itself which is sluggish, but makes up for it with very swift autofocus that's almost instantaneous in good light. The HX100V has face detection AF and in the absence of faces defaults to a nine-area AF system. Alternatively there's Centre AF and Flexible spot AF with fifteen areas to choose from. The focus mode is chosen using a dedicated button on the hand grip behind the shutter release which means if the current mode isn't doing the job you can quickly change it without having to hunt through menu. Or, you can switch to manual using the sliding switch on the lens mount and use the focussing ring on the lens. This is the HX100V's secret weapon, it's something none of the competition has and I very quickly grew to love it.

Although the focus ring works very well to manually focus in conjunction with the focus button which provides a magnified view of the subject, it's when the focus is set to one of the auto modes that it comes into its own, switching its function to a manual zoom ring. Control isn't direct, but when you twist the ring the zoom motor activates, smoothly zooming in or out while you continue to turn. And while we're on the subject of physical controls another one that makes the HX100V much easier to handle, particularly for manual exposure modes is the thumbwheel.

It will come as no surprise then that a physical button – the nine o'clock position on the control pad - is used to select bracketing and continuous shooting modes. The HX100V has two burst shooing modes; 10fps and 2fps. In testing both shot their 10-frame burst in precisely the specified times: 5 seconds and 1 second respectively.

The HX100V has a 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor which produces images with a maximum size of 4608 x 3456 pixels at a single jpeg compression setting that results in files between 3 and 5MB in size. It has an sensitivity range of 100-3200 ISO and a shutter speed range of 30 - 1/4000.

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