Image quality was always going to be under the microscope when it comes to the HX50, especially when you consider the large focal range and the fact that the camera relies upon a 1/2.3-inch sensor more in keeping with the consumer compact category.
Click image above to access full gallery of test shots
One potential pitfall with the relatively small sensor size is the way in which the camera handles high ISO noise. Unfortunately, this is certainly an area where the HX50 struggles.
Fine detail is reasonable at the lower ISO settings of up to ISO 800, but it’s above this relatively low setting that fine detail really begins to suffer. By the time you reach ISO 1600 a great detail of fine detail is lost.
Noise reduction continues to be aggressive throughout the even higher settings, while at ISO 6400 and 12,800 noise reduction reaches its limit and heavy, grainy noise becomes apparent.
The smaller sensor also raises concerns about the camera’s dynamic range, although the good news in this department is that the HX50 displays relatively impressive results in this area. Even in areas of particularly high contrast the HX50 manages to capture shadow detail.
In theory the 20MP sensor should be capable of capturing a high level of detail, although the camera is let down by the fact that it only records JPEG files.
Images suffer from JPEG processing and display artefacts even at lower ISO settings – something that could have been avoided with the option to capture Raw files.
One area where the HX50 does excel is with its colour processing. Sony’s experience in this area shows as colour reproduction in good light is almost perfect, while the auto white balance is accurate in a range of different shooting conditions.
The HX50’s exposure system is also impeccable in good lighting conditions, proving itself almost equally reliable in more traditionally problematic shooting situations such as sunsets or reflections.
If you’re looking for a compact camera with a long zoom, there are few better specified than the Sony HX50 around a similar price point. Cameras such as the Fuji F900EXR and Samsung WB800F are around the same price, but feature a smaller zoom, while models such as the Samsung WB2100 and Fujifilm S8500 offer larger zooms but feature much larger bodies.
In that regard then the HX50 looks like a good buy, but it’s not without its flaws and there are better options if you could do without the large zoom. The Panasonic Lumix LX7 springs to mind at the same price, though its zoom is nothing like as long.
There’s no denying how impressive the combination of a large 30x zoom and compact body is, but its photos are adequate rather than spectacular. It’s a decent camera, but only if you really need its long zoom.