The HX9V is a nice camera to hold and use. It’s quite big and chunky though, even by travel compact standards. While it should fit inside most coat pockets, we suspect it’s too big for trousers.
The camera benefits from a fairly pronounced finger grip on the front to wrap your digits around, along with a thumb rest on the back. Both are treated to a rubberised coating to improve overall grip. Buttons are neatly spaced, with a one-touch movie recording button that allows you to instantly record movies conveniently placed next to the thumb rest. Assuming you don’t need to change any settings it should prove quite easy to use the HX9V single-handed.
Accessing and navigating your way through the HX9V’s menu system is all fairly straightforward too. For those familiar with other Sony products it all feels a bit like the XcrossMediaBar system used in the PS3. Basically, a list of options runs down the left-hand side of the LCD monitor which you can scroll through using the Up and Down points of the D-pad. Once you’ve found the setting you want to access, simply tap Right or Left until you’ve selected the right option and then click the ‘OK’ button in the centre of the D-pad to confirm.
The vast majority of shooting options you will need to access on a regular basis can be found in this way. For more in-depth settings though you’ll need to click on the Menu icon within the top-layer menu, which brings up everything from Time and Date options to card formatting and Digital Zoom options. Oddly, this is also where you’ll find the controls to switch between AVCHD and MP4 movie quality. If we’re being really picky we’d prefer to see this buried a little less deeply.
Apart from that though, we have few complaints with ease-of-use. Essentially, the HX9V isn’t all that complicated and this actually makes finding your way round it much easier.
In use, the HX9V offers speedy autofocus performance with the camera getting a near instantaneous focus lock in good light and only slowing down fractionally when light levels dip. In really dark conditions the HX9V will deploy an orange AF Assist beam to help it find focus.
We timed the HX9V’s start-up time at around three seconds, which is fairly standard for a compact of this type. Used in single-shot mode the camera takes around a second to process each image. You can keep on shooting individual frames at about one to one and half frames per second without experiencing any buffer issues.
With the camera set to burst mode the HX9V is able to shoot at an impressive 10fps at the full 16MP resolution. However, it can’t record more than ten images in one go and regardless of whether you reel off the full ten frames or just four or five, once you remove your finger from the shutter button the camera will momentarily freeze up, leaving you unable to shoot any more images until the ones you’ve already taken have been processed.
While the majority of shooting modes are easy to use and produce good results we did already mention our disappointment at the lack of Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority modes. The exclusion of Aperture-priority is especially regrettable because when used in Manual mode, the HX9V only offers a choice of two aperture settings – a minimum and a maximum one, with nothing in between. Given that this often entails the choice of just f/3.3 or f/8 it does somewhat limit the amount of manual control you really have over the camera.
We have no complaints at all with the 3cm, 921k-dot LCD monitor on the back of the HX9V though. Not only is it right up there with some high-end DSLRs in terms of quality and resolution, it’s also a joy to use and really brings your images to life when the camera is being used in playback mode.