This is what happens when you don’t overhaul your imaging chips for 3 years, Canon. The new Sony HX9v compact out-resolves the 600D’s video mode for resolution, and has 1080/60p. It is also a lot closer to a DSLR in terms of dynamic range than I expected it would be. It fits in my pocket and has a stabilised 24-380mm lens.
It has an image processor powerful enough to handle 43 megapixel panoramas in-camera as well, but that along with the incredible ACT stabiliser is something I’ll go into more detail on in the full review later.
The HX9v’s video mode is to compacts what the 5D Mark II’s video mode was to DSLRs.
Thought I am excited about it remember this is still a compact with a VERY small sensor and NOT a replacement for a DSLR. But what this footage highlights is just how good the HX9’s video is for a compact and the capabilities it offers that a DSLR just cannot do as well, like 1080/60p, pocketable 24-380mm optics, AF tracking and stealth.
I bought the Sony HX9v mainly because I wanted something more advanced than an iPhone for spontaneous urban photography – it had to be something pocketable, since my style is partly inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson – to capture the magic of a place and the soul of its people. To do that the best camera is the one you have on you and you need to capture moments within a blink of an eye, and you can’t do that if you’re half way through changing a lens or trying to nail a shallow depth of field.
I also bought it for the video mode, which is by far and way the most advanced currently seen on a compact camera. Never has such capability been contained in such a small imaging tool. The HX9v splits the GH2 and Canon DSLR 1080p on the starting grid, producing more detail than the 600D with less moire and aliasing. The HX9 comes close to matching the GH2 for resolution, and 1080/60p is a huge benefit over 24p since you can choose to give footage a dreamy slow-motion look or convert it to cinematic 24p or 25p. You have the choice!
It’s also a much better format for Twixtor 1000fps slow-mo since it gives the software more than twice the amount of frames to work with.
Here’s a funny thing – Henri Cartier-Bresson was known to cover up the shiny chrome parts of his Leica to make it more stealthy and less striking so he could capture people as they would be in reality not as they would behave in front of camera.
He also dumped his medium format for a smaller more versatile camera.
The tiny Sony HX9 has the same artistic advantage in this regard. This time over larger DSLRs. In fact it’s even less intimidating than a Leica rangefinder or mirrorless large sensor cameras like the Fuji X100 and Panasonic GF3.
In video mode it is certainly easier to focus than a DSLR. Usually you want manual focus and a focus puller but sometimes you just want it easy. It has fast and reliable AF in video mode as well as live AF tracking whilst recording, which acts as a semi-manual focus assist. You can run & gun and capture spontaneous city life on it, film documentary style footage without having to concentrate 100% on actually nailing a sharp image, which is very difficult with a DSLR and spontaneous movement.
I find myself turning my attention almost 99% to the subject and image when using the HX9 whilst with a DSLR I am challenged with the rig, the follow focus, and generally nailing a very narrow focus – which is fine for narrative but not for vignettes of real-life or run and gun documentary.
Like any compact it can’t disobey the laws of physics, it’s small size and retractable 24-380mm lens require it to have a much smaller sensor than a DSLR or mirrorless system camera. The HX9 is an artistic tool for me, and I didn’t buy it to replace my DSLR for professional jobs. It can’t hold a candle to a large sensor in low light, and it’s lens is F3.3 at best, usually more like F4.5 at anything other than 24mm. It is however possible to get shallow depth of field in certain kinds of shots where the subject is close and the background far away and a deep depth of field is often more desirable than shallow. Shallow DOF is one style and a filmmaker should know when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. It’s been overused recently in the DSLR community.
Unwisely Sony upped the megapixel count of the HX9 to 16MP from 10MP seen in the last generation HX5. Obviously they saw a decrease in sales and put it down to customers being put off by the low numbers on the box. It’s time these kind of customers educated themselves!!
Photos are not finely resolved at the per-pixel level because of the amount of noise reduction but the low light capabilities are dramatically improved from having such an effective stabiliser and Handheld Twilight mode. Things could have worse, but it could have been a low better if they’d kept megapixels at a sane level!
As you can see from the shots from inside a tunnel in the video, the HX9v’s dynamic range isn’t actually at that bad. It’s not quite as good as the DSLR in video mode, and it’s certainly quite far off in stills mode compared to the 600D and it doesn’t have raw. But I have my DSLR for that. The HX9 does have a slight tendency to overexpose as well, rather than protect highlights. It seems to enjoy lifting the gloom. That cheeriness can be toned down with the exposure compensation which handily is on it’s own button on top of the camera. That button is programmable and can be set to something else.
The camera has full manual control for stills but not for video but again I have my DSLR when that’s needed. The auto-mode is actually very intelligent and unlike the earlier compacts in video mode it doesn’t bat the exposure around constantly as you move the camera, it’s much more sensible and smooth with it. The AF tracking works well on detailed objects and people, and you can use it as a kind of manual focus mode for video by locking onto a part of the image of your choosing rather than letting the AF choose by itself. In manual stills mode you have proper control and even manual focus on a sliding scale from macro to infinity along with a magnified focus assist like the GH2.
There are some great Canon compacts that do 1080/24p but they don’t come close to offering all of what the HX9v does in one product. The SX230 is a nice try but it lacks the 920k LCD, 24mm wide angle, build quality, 60p and Sweep Panorama amongst other things. Sony’s Sweep Panorama can also be used to do ultra wide fish-eye shots when used in the vertical direction and the results are stunning, and of very high resolution. The Canon IXUS 220 is smaller and has a 24mm wide angle but it lacks the long lens and 60p of the HX9v – both necessary for attractive shallow DOF slow-mo videos.
Watch out for the full HX9 review soon and more footage including the handheld stabiliser stuff which is frankly mind-blowing.