The bridge camera market is one of the sectors of the compact camera arena that is continuing to do well amid a general decline. They offer huge zoom ranges in a body similar in size to a DSLR in many cases.
Currently, the market-leading focal length range is a 50x optical zoom, which previously was offered solely by the Canon SX50. Now, Sony has introduced the HX300V, also offering a 50x optical zoom, and a pretty significant increase from the 30x offered by the Sony HX200V, the camera’s predecessor.
Sony has also worked hard on its lens technology offerings for its 2013 range of high-zoom compact camera models. Most notably this comes in its downsizing of the physical size of the lens unit. The company is now able to pack 50x optical zooms in the same kind of space that the 30x unit used to take up.
The company says that it has created a newly developed Advanced Spherical Lens, which includes both new technologies and others from cameras already existing in the range.
Sony believes that it has an advantage over its competitors because it produces all of the key elements of its key cameras in-house – that is the lens, sensor and processor. The Sony HX300V now features a newly developed 20 million pixel 1/2.3-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor.
Unlike many of the other bridge cameras currently on the market, the Sony HX300V boasts an impressively fast maximum aperture – at the widest end of the range – of f/2.8. This does rise up to f/6.3 at the telephoto end, but when you consider that its nearest competitor, the Canon SX50, starts at f/3.5, it’s an excellent starting point.
Adaptive Noise Reduction Technology is included on the camera, which boasts an ISO range of ISO 80-12800.
Another claim made by Sony is that the image noise level of the HX300V is the same as its predecessor, but with an increase in resolution. We’ll be keen to put that to the test when we receive a full sample in for testing
Build quality and handling
As far as bridge cameras go, the Sony HX300V is one of the largest ones on the market, being pretty much the same size as one of the entry-level or mid-range Alpha DSLTs. Looking at the camera at first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it has a detachable lens.
The camera also has a large grip, again similar to those found on Alpha cameras, and makes the camera very easy to hold – especially when shooting one-handed.
It’s also pretty weighty, which does give it an air of quality, and perhaps belies the fact that it is packing an incredibly large zoom range, which is an equivalent of 24mm – 1200mm in 35mm terms.
Unlike some of the other bridge cameras on the market, the zoom can be controlled via a ring around the lens, which acts as a "power zoom". This gives it a high quality feel, and will be appreciated by those familiar with DSLR-style cameras. That same ring can also be used to control manual focusing with the flick of a switch.
Although it’s difficult to fully pass judgement on the performance of the camera at this stage, we do have fairly high hopes for the Sony HX300V. Its predecessor performed reasonably well in our tests, and it seems as if Sony has put some real thought into the improvements it could make for its successor.
One area in which Sony has always excelled in is producing excellent electronic viewfinders, and the Sony HX300V is no different. Looking through it, the image provided is very clear and bright, which is very easy to use.
It’s nice to see such clarity on a bridge camera, since other competitors – including the Canon SX50 HS – have fallen some way short of the mark. It’s a shame, however, that there’s no eye-sensor to automatically detect when the camera has been lifted to the eye to turn off the rear screen.
Image stabilisation is a pre-requisite when we’re talking about zoom lengths of such massive proportions. Although we only got to test a pre-production sample of the camera, we can already see that the Sony HX300V has very promising potential.
Even while shooting handheld, the camera works to compensate for image shake, and the scene depicted on the screen/viewfinder remains very steady, making it incredibly easy to shoot.
Should the light levels drop, the camera shoots a series of photos and then overlays them onto each other to provide the best resolution and low noise image. We were able to see a demonstration of this, and were very impressed by how it worked to produce a detailed image, even at the telephoto end of the optic.
This is again something we’ll be very keen to test fully when a sample camera becomes available for our full review.
Cleverly, the Sony HX300V is capable of realising when it is on a stable or flat surface such as a tripod within a few seconds. This means it will turn off the image stabilisation, which should produce higher quality images.
The screen on the back of the camera is very good, with a high resolution and not suffering too badly from glare or reflections in the limited capacity we were able to test it. Given that the camera has an excellent EVF, it’s not too much of a worry for bright sunlight shooting conditions.
This year it seems like the bridge camera market may become more crowded than ever. Because it’s one of the only markets still doing well, manufacturers are putting more and more technology onto their offerings, and making them more appealing to a wider cross-section of consumers.
The Sony HX300V marks, on paper at least, one of the best compromises we’ve seen in terms of large zoom range, image quality and fast apertures. While it doesn’t boast the constant f/2.8 aperture of the Panasonic FZ200, it does also have a focal length which is more than double the Panasonic’s offering.
We’ll be looking forward to putting the Sony HX300V through its paces when a review sample becomes available.