In recent months the long-zoom compact has become one of the busiest areas of the digital camera market, with most of the major manufacturers launching new compact cameras with 10x or greater zoom capabilities. In order to make their products stand out in such as crowded market the manufacturers have had to load their cameras up with advanced features; we've already seen the Fujifilm F70EXR with its revolutionary new sensor design, and of course Pansonic's Lumix TZ10 with built-in GPS and 720p HD video and stereo audio. Last week I reviewed the new Canon SX210 IS, with its 14 megapixel sensor and 14x image-stabilised zoom lens, but today I'm taking a look at the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5, which manages to make even those outstanding cameras look a bit primitive.
Like most of its peers the HX5 is designed more for practicality than for style, but it's still a good looking camera, and is available in black or silver. It has an all-metal body which is rather box-like, but which has a rounded grip moulded into the right-hand end making it very comfortable to hold. It's quite small by long-zoom compact standards, measuring 102.9 x 57.7 x 28.9mm and weighing 200g including battery and memory card.
This is quite a bit smaller and lighter than either the TZ10 or the SX210. The specification is also impressive. It has a high-quality 10x zoom lens with a 25mm wide angle and the Sony G branding of the company's high-end DSLR lenses. The sensor is a 7.9mm (1/2.4-inch) 10.2 megapixel Exmor R CMOS chip, while the LCD monitor is a 7.5cm (3.0 inch) 230k unit which is nice and bright, although the angle of view is rather limited compared to the gorgeous screens on the Canon and Panasonic models. The HX5 has only just gone on sale this month and is available for around £300, which is pretty good value compared to its main rivals.
The HX5 is one of three recently announced Sony compacts featuring its new Sweep Panorama function, previously seen on the TX1 ultra-compact. This clever feature replaces the photo-stitched panorama function that has been a common feature of digital cameras for many years. Instead of taking single photos and then pasting them together in a photo editing program, with Sweep Panorama you simply pan the camera around while holding down the shutter button and it captures a rapid series images which it stitches on the fly into a single uninterrupted panoramic shot, in the case of the HX5 up to 7152 pixels wide and 1080 high. It can also be used in the vertical format to produce a 3424 x 1920 ultra-wide angle shot.