Author Topic: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V  (Read 6541 times)

Kukkudrill

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Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« on: 19:48:28, 29/12/15 »

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Normally I take photographs with a digital single lens reflex camera or DSLR. DSLRs are unbeatable for image quality, but they are big and heavy. I decided that I needed a compact camera to take with me on hikes, especially now that I'm planning my first long-distance camping trek. As I did my research I settled on the following requirements for my new camera:


Compactness. I wanted the camera to be pocket-sized so it could fit into the hip-belt pocket of my rucksack.


Zoom range. My favourite DLSR lens is a 100-400mm, but I have never taken it with me on long walks because it's heavy. I wanted to regain the versatility that a long zoom offers.


A viewfinder. It can be hard to see LCD screen displays in bright sunlight. A viewfinder – a little DSLR-style window through which you squint to compose your shot – solves the problem. In addition, using the viewfinder means holding the camera close to you instead of away from you. This helps you to hold it steady, which is important when you' re shooting at full zoom.


GPS. Geotagging photos eliminates the "now where was I when I took this photo?" syndrome. Many cameras allow for photos to be geotagged using your smartphone’s GPS receiver. However, I decided I wanted a camera with its own GPS receiver. This makes geotagging less fiddly and it saves phone battery consumption.


Just two cameras met these requirements: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ60 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V. Both cameras pack a x30 optical zoom lens and an 18-megapixel sensor into a remarkably compact body. Both can also shoot videos in full HD format. I went for the Sony because it is appreciably smaller than the Panasonic, and because – having compared sample images from both cameras – I felt that the Sony delivers marginally better image quality than the Panasonic.


This said, one should not expect too much of any compact camera with a x30 zoom where image quality is concerned. No zoom lens is going to deliver sharp images throughout its range. The wider the zoom range, the more image quality is compromised. This is one reason why they don’t make x30 zoom lenses for DSLRs.
 
Furthermore, fitting a x30 zoom to a pocket-sized camera is only possible if the camera has a tiny sensor. Tiny sensors generate grain and resolve fine detail poorly. This is not about the megapixel count but the physical size of the sensor: squeezing more megapixels onto a tiny sensor only makes the problem worse. The main reason why DSLRs are bulky is because they have big sensors. In going for a compact camera with a long zoom I was consciously opting to sacrifice image quality for practicality.





As this photo shows, another advantage the Sony has over the Panasonic is a hinged screen which can be raised 180 degrees, great for shooting selfies.
 



The Sony has a pop-up viewfinder and flash, both of which are more fiddly to use than the fixed viewfinder and flash on the Panasonic. However, this is the price of the HX90’s greater compactness.
 
I've had the HX90V for nearly two months now and I thought I would post a review here in case others are looking for a good camera for hiking or travel purposes. I've learned a lot from this forum and this is a way of giving something back. So how does this camera measure up?
 
The camera handles nicely thanks to a protruding grip on the right side which allows you to hold it securely with one hand. It feels heavy for its size at 245g, indicating just how much gadgetry is packed into it.
 
Sony’s designers have pulled off a remarkable feat in making the HX90V so small, but even they couldn’t fit a x30 zoom lens completely within the camera body. The protruding lens housing adds bulk to the camera, but on the plus side it gives you something to hold on to with your left hand: two-handed shooting DSLR-style helps a lot in keeping the camera steady when shooting at full zoom.
 
And there is a very handy control ring around the lens housing which can be set to control various functions. I use it to set exposure compensation. Sometimes you’re taking a photo with large areas of background shadow, which can fool the camera into overexposing your main subject. You can avoid this by setting negative exposure compensation. This normally involves diving deep into the camera menu, but with my HX90V all I need to do is turn the control ring with my left hand while I'm framing my shot.
 
Anyone familiar with compact cameras will find it easy to get the hang of the various buttons on the back of the camera. The camera menu system is intuitive.



 
Image quality is a mixed bag. Colour rendition is accurate and exposure is generally good. The photo above is a good example. The autofocus is excellent: I have never yet had to delete an image because of poor focus. Images taken in good light are pleasing to see on your monitor – so long as you don’t expand them to full size. At full size you will see the effect of the small sensor as the camera struggles to capture fine detail, as the crop below (taken from the lower middle section of the photo) shows:





The limitations of the lens optics show up in wideangle shots such as this one, which suffer from blur in the corners – particularly the lower right corner in my camera’s case, as the next crop shows:





At high ISO settings grain becomes more and more visible in photos. The camera does its best to wipe away the grain, but at the cost of eliminating fine detail and giving images something of a watercolour-effect look. This is illustrated by the next sample image, which was shot at the maximum ISO setting of 3200, as well as the crop immediately beneath it from the full size image. The crop is from the nearest window in the picture.








I thought it's worth making a direct comparison between the HX90V and my DSLRs. Here is a first set of photos for comparison purposes:



Taken with my HX90V



Taken with a Canon 450D and 18-55mm lens


The Sony produced a better exposed photo than the Canon 450D. But a comparison at full size shows up the Sony's weaknesses:



HX90V



Canon 450D with 18-55mm lens


Both shots are framed just about identically, but the subject appears larger in the HX90V crop because the HX90V image is bigger to begin with – 18MP versus 12MP for the Canon 450D. But as the crops show, megapixels do not equate with image quality. The HX90V photo was taken at ISO80, the lowest setting, yet as the crop shows it is grainy and does not bring out detail as well as the Canon 450D photo. Compare the name of the yacht, which is easier to read in the Canon crop, and the lifebuoys at lower right.
 
The second set of shots compare the HX90V at full zoom with a Canon 7D and a 100-400mm lens, also at full zoom:



HX90V at full zoom (equivalent to 720mm focal length)



Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm (equivalent to 640mm focal length because of this camera's sensor crop factor)


I'm still amazed that my little 245g Sony can get me closer to a distant subject than a DSLR and lens combo weighing literally ten times as much. And once again the Sony image is the better exposed and more pleasing of the two when viewed at small size. The Canon image is noticeably dark and a little too cool in terms of colour tone. Again, however, crops from the full-size images show where the Sony falls short:[/size]



HX90V



Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens


The HX90V image appears soft and grainy compared to the Canon 7D image, which brings out fine detail much better.


However, neither of my DSLRs can tell me where I was when I took a particular image or allow me to transfer images wirelessly to another device. In these areas the Sony wins hands down.
 
The HX90V's in-camera GPS is easy to use. It does not appear to increase the camera’s power consumption excessively although I have not yet needed to keep it on for a whole day’s shooting. The image below shows how the location of a photo can be identified using Sony's PlayMemories Home app on a PC, obviously provided that the camera GPS was on when the photo was taken:



 
Like many other compact cameras, the HX90V can transfer photos wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet so you can email them or upload them to social networks. The HX90V is equipped with NFC (near field communication), which supposedly allows you to set up a connection between it and a compatible phone or tablet simply by holding the two devices against each other. I say supposedly because I have not yet been able to make this feature work. Not that I have missed it, because setting up a connection manually is very easy once you have downloaded the necessary app to your mobile.
 
My overall verdict? As I said I bought this camera for practicality not image quality. It scores highly for practicality with its combination of compactness and a long zoom range, not to mention other features like GPS and a tilting screen. Although I expected compromises where image quality is concerned, I admit I have been surprised at just how extensive the compromises are. Still, I'm very happy with it overall. This camera is not for you if you want professional-standard image quality. But if, like me, you’re looking for a small but versatile camera, and it’s enough for you that images look good when sized to fit a computer monitor, then this camera would make an excellent choice.
Make the most of the available light

beefy

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #1 on: 20:36:19, 29/12/15 »
what a great review...  O0
thanks for posting, its my birthday in Feb ...  ???

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Dovegirl

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #2 on: 21:56:32, 29/12/15 »
An interesting and helpful review  -  thanks

Kukkudrill

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #3 on: 22:03:41, 29/12/15 »
Thanks both  :)


Sounds like you're dropping hints there beefy  ;D
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lostme1

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #4 on: 22:07:37, 29/12/15 »
Thanks for a most helpful review. I am looking for a new compact camera and I keep moving between this one and the  Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ70. Can't quite decide.
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Kukkudrill

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #5 on: 22:31:55, 29/12/15 »
The TZ70 is much like the TZ60 which I mentioned in the review. Main differences are a reduction in resolution from 18 to 12MP (doesn't really matter) and the elimination of GPS (does for me). Assuming resolution and GPS aren't important to you, the main points as I see them are:


In favour of the TZ70
- easier to use (no need to pull out the viewfinder and flash before using them, though you have to be careful not to cover the flash with your fingers)
- ability to shoot in RAW format (if this matters).


In favour of the HX90V
- smaller size
- tilting screen.
Make the most of the available light

Rhino

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #6 on: 13:01:38, 30/12/15 »
Thanks for the review which i enjoyed and learnt a thing a two i didnt know and found the review very helpful  :) unfortunatly for me its a bit more than i would spend on a camera  :(
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April

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #7 on: 13:07:58, 30/12/15 »
Very detailed review Kukkudrill  O0
 
Sadly too much money for me to spend on a birthday present for beefy  ;D
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beefy

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #8 on: 15:51:33, 30/12/15 »
Thanks both  :)


Sounds like you're dropping hints there beefy  ;D
O0
Very detailed review Kukkudrill  O0
 
Sadly too much money for me to spend on a birthday present for beefy  ;D
Get saving ya bogger! ...  :D
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Hillhiker1

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #9 on: 16:33:06, 30/12/15 »
Great Review Kukkudrill, I thought I wandered into the photography forum for a minute there. Very interesting write up.. And I'm not even looking for a camera at the mo.  ;)

Kukkudrill

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #10 on: 21:38:45, 30/12/15 »
Thanks all for the comments.

Not a cheap camera it's true. To me it was worth the money, but I like photography ... in case no one has noticed  :) 

If anyone's interested the Sony's direct competitor, the Panasonic TZ60, is going for a lot less on Amazon at the moment.


EDIT: I wrote the above before checking the current price of the Sony HX90V on Amazon - it IS pricey at the moment - £80 more than what I paid. The price difference between the HX90V and the Panasonic TZ60 was much smaller at the time otherwise I'd probably have bought the Panasonic.
« Last Edit: 00:16:51, 31/12/15 by Kukkudrill »
Make the most of the available light

redeye

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #11 on: 06:32:26, 11/01/16 »
Great review. I have the Sony dsc hx50 and find it ok. Got it for the zoom really as my Sony hx9v, which was a better camera imo got water in it and died.

youradvocate

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #12 on: 12:20:31, 11/01/16 »
I really should spend the dough to get a new camera but I'll just invest in another elastic band and an inch of sellotape to hold it together. I dropped in onto a tamacked road in August 2015, its still working but the body fell apart.

Trenchfoot

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #13 on: 07:15:28, 12/01/16 »
Love this - really informative post Kukko  O0 , especially as I look to a new compact in the not to distant future  8) . I like the direct comparisons you have shared, it shows the quality as well as the usefulness of the compact, and the Sony certainly packs a powerful punch.  O0
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Kukkudrill

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Re: Compact camera for hiking - Sony DSC-HX90V
« Reply #14 on: 23:18:14, 14/01/16 »
Cheers all  :)
Make the most of the available light