As well as the innovative Sweep Panorama function, the HX5 is loaded with even more advanced features. Perhaps the most significant is its full HD 1080i video recording mode, with stereo audio recorded via a pair of microphones on the top panel. Video is recorded in the high quality AVCHD format, which does mean you’ll need a big memory card, since a minute of HD video is around 80MB.
The video quality is superb, with a huge amount of detail, virtually no visible compression and excellent exposure and colour reproduction. The image stabilisation provides very steady hand-held shooting, and the optical zoom, which can be used while recording, doesn’t affect the soundtrack.
The sound quality is also very good, but the microphones are very prone to wind noise when shooting outdoors in even the lightest breeze. Unfortunately there isn’t any provision for an external microphone, although with the way that video recording on compact cameras is going I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on future models.
The HX5 is also the latest compact camera to feature built-in GPS location tracking, and also has an on-screen compass which appears to actually be magnetic, since it works indoors and is affected by a magnet moved near the camera.
The GPS tracker automatically adds longitude and latitude co-ordinates and direction data to the EXIF data of photos and video clips, for geotagging your shots using applications such as Google Earth or Locr. Unlike the Panasonic TZ10 the GPS doesn’t appear to have any seriously detrimental effect on battery duration, so presumably it’s not permanently active.
Another advanced feature is in-camera HDR, or High Dynamic Range imaging, which helps to improve very high contrast images. It works by taking three shots in quick succession, exposed for highlights, mid-tones and shadows in turn, and then merges them together into one picture with greatly expanded dynamic range.
One has to feel slightly sorry for Ricoh, who were the first to introduce this feature on a compact camera with their CX1 in mid-2009. Ricoh keeps on coming up with clever ideas which are then appropriated by other more popular brands. The HDR feature on the HX5 does work, but I have to say it’s nowhere near as dramatically effective as Ricoh’s implementation.
The HX5 has a list of other useful features that is too long to fully explore in this review, but some of the highlights include optical image stabilisation, D-Range Optimisation for improved results in high contrast shots, advanced face detection with smile detection and the option to set children as a priority, and a hand-held twilight mode, which helps low-light capability by taking a rapid series of shots and combining them into one blur-free image. It offers optional manual exposure with an aperture range of Features in playback include red-eye correction, sharpening, rotating and resizing, as well as the option to play a slide show with effects and music.