Way back at the start of 2007 TechSmart predicted that GPS in cameras would be the next big thing. Obviously things progressed a bit slower than we expected, since only now are we beginning to see the first compact camera models with onboard GPS and geotagging capabilities making their way to market. Sony is leading the charge here in SA with their latest Cyber-shot, the DSC-HX5V. And what a camera it is. This 10.2 megapixel shooter sports not only GPS, but also HD video shooting capabilities featuring AVCHD compression technology (more about that later), with the cherry on top a very cool G-series lens with 10x optical zooming capabilities.
GPS for geo-tagging
With the proliferation of onboard GPS on cellphones, a number of cellphones for a long time now have had the ability to geotag photos, so the functionality isn’t really new. Geo-tagging is nice for those trips down the coast or weekend break-aways, since photos can be pulled very easily into Google Maps, or Google Earth via Picasa to show exactly where they were taken. The PMB (Picture Motion Browser) software that comes with the Sony is also quite grand, with it being able to sort your photos via a cool calendar interface, while incorporating Google Maps to show the location of the picture. We can definitely see the benefits of geo-tagging for estate agents or civil engineers, so as an added extra onboard GPS is a welcome addition.
The GPS can take its time to get going though. We had to wait outside for awhile for the GPS to find the appropriate satellites, with no way to see how far the camera has progressed. Once connected a satellite icon will appear on-screen alongside a little compass showing your direction, since Sony’s geo-tagging solution not only tagging images with latitude, longitude and altitude, but also with your magnetic direction. Geo-tagging raises some questions about privacy, but Sony offers a simple solution- simply turn the GPS off.
We can't really comment on the effect of the GPS on battery life, since we had the camera for just too short a period. The info Sony has on their website also doesn't state if the 310 shots battery life mentioned is with or without the GPS switched on.
For too long we’ve been stuck with nasty looking 640 x 480 video recording, so bless the guy’s heart who manage to make compact camera capable of HD video recording. The HX5V, thanks to its use of their BIONZ processor and Exmor R Sensor, is capable of 1920 x 1080i video recording in the AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) format. Jointly developed by Sony and Panasonic, we’ve seen AVCHD being used on camcorders and it's good to see Sony using this format on their compact cameras now as well. It allows for very good compression of data while retaining image quality, using the same MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression as Blu-ray disks. Enough about the technical, what needs to be said is that the Sony’s HD videos look smashing. We also loved Sony’s inclusion of a one-press video recording button at the back, allowing you to instantly record video without having to struggle to first find the video mode on the top dial.
What a lens
The HX5V's G-series lens needs a special mention for two reasons. Firstly because of its 10x optical zoom capabilities (also available in video mode with the zoom not picked up on the microphone), and secondly because it has an excellent 25 mm wide-angle working brilliantly for landscapes. The lens’ speed of F3.5 isn’t the best we’ve seen (the Canon's S90’s f2 takes the cake) but also not the worst.
Too much choice
The Sony’s large amount of shooting modes brings almost too much choice to the equation. It leaves you paralyzed having to decide if a scene calls for the Anti Motion Blur-, Twilight- or High Sensitivity mode. We just gave up after awhile and shot on the very handy Easy mode, which makes the choices for you by automatically changing its shooting mode depending on the shooting situation. The same Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode found on the DSC-TX7 is available on this model. It helps you capture really wide angle shots by simply moving the camera in the designated direction. This works well enough, since you don’t have to struggle to align your shot as with previous panorama incarnations, but you don’t have so much control about how much you want to capture. The PMB software though makes viewing these images a pleasure, since it will scroll through the image showing all the details.
Sony doesn’t often drop the ball on the design side, but they could have done better with the back of the HX5V. For a camera that cost about R4 000 the buttons looks cheap and plasticy. The 3” screen though is a treat, especially while shooting movies. It contains a good 230,400 pixels, but not nearly as much as the Canon S90’s mighty 461,000 squeezed into the same area.
Finally a big thank heavens! was sighed when we saw that Sony with new found wisdom finally included a SD card slot alongside their proprietary Memory Card one. It's our format of choice, since not only is SD card much cheaper and readily available than Memory Card, but if you’ve had a digital camera before you most probably have some extra SD cards lying around somewhere.
If the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V was a cellphone it would have been one of today’s feature rich smartphones. There are an incredible amount of cool features to discover on this camera, not the least of which being its GPS geo-tagging capabilities, a cool lens and its HD video recording. For a compact with a lot of extra on the side, we think that the RRP of R3 999 seems a fair asking price. Visit www.sony.co.za for more info.
PROSWide-angle and 10x optical zoom, GPS, HD video recording
Buttons on the back looks a bit cheap, GPS can take its time