Best Superzoom Cameras under $500

Evan Powell, Updated June 29, 2012


Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V

The Sony DSC-HX200V released in the spring of 2012 looks almost identical to the DSC-HX100V that came out a year earlier (a slight change to the grip is the only visible difference). Internally it is almost identical as well. Sony has squeezed an additional 2 megapixels onto the 1/2.3" sensor, so the spec now reads 18 MP vs. 16 MP. Unfortunately, this has done nothing to improve picture quality. Maximum ISO sensitivity has been boosted from 3200 on the HX100V to 12800 on the HX200V. That means with this new model you can get some grainy, noisy, fuzzy photos in low light that you couldn't get at all on the HX100V. Processor and auto focus speed has been improved some, but it was already fairly quick on the HX100V. All of the other benefits and limitations of the HX100V have been carried forward in this new model, right down to the lens cap that either automatically pops off or jams the lens when you power it on. The HX200V is not a bad superzoom bridge camera; it is in fact pretty good for many casual uses. But it isn't better than the HX100V. One wonders why Sony even bothered.

What's HOT about the Sony HX200V:

1. 30X zoom range with 810mm telephoto end--almost the reach of the Canon SX40

2. 1080p 60 video, excellent FOR HD movies, zoom motor noise is nicely suppressed in the audio track.

3. 18MP resolution, for what it's worth (marketing hype)

4. Up to 12,800 ISO if you don't mind bad picture quality

5. Fast action, rapid auto focus and shutter release

6. Fast shot to shot performance IF you don't move the zoom, one exposure per second. (FZ150 is a hair faster, one each 0.9 sec)

7. Proximity sensor auto switches between LCD and viewfinder when you hold it up to your eye. Nice! Why can't Nikon do this?

8. Excellent, bright 921,000 pixel LCD display

9. Good electronic viewfinder, bright, rapid response, easy to see, even exceeds the FZ150

10. Auto panorama mode with 3D option (no other superzoom camera has this)

11. Still photos in 3D

12. GPS

13. HDR mode

What's NOT so hot about the Sony HX200V:

1. Loses image detail and increases digital noise over the HX100V-the 18MP resolution does no good.

2. No lens hood or filter - unable to protect lens from the elements. (FZ150 comes with lens hood and filter threads)

3. Very slow shot to shot speed when zoom is moved-one exposure per 5.6 sec (FZ150 is one each 1.9 sec)

4. Wide angle is not quite as wide--27mm compared to the FZ150's 25mm, or the SX40's 24mm

5. No pause at transition from optical to digital zoom

6. Screen gets easily smudged when using the viewfinder, which makes it hard to see in sunlight

7. No hot shoe for external flash

8. Will not take external mic

9. Burst mode--10 frames per second, 10 frames max. About average for the group. The Panny FZ150 shoots 12 fps and buffers 12, but the Canon SX40 shoots at 10.3 fps and buffers only eight.

10. No RAW capture.

11. Goofy lens cap design-it either pops off automatically when camera is powered on, or jams the lens when it doesn't pop off.

A Look at the Sony Cyber-shot HX200V

As noted previously, last year's Sony HX100V is a fun camera, and the HX200V is fun also, being almost the same thing. Designed for the casual user, families on vacations, and most people who love taking snapshots but don't think of their photography as fine art. Though it has a boatload of features and controls, its basic operation is designed to be easy. It retains the HX100V's 30x zoom range, which is about middle of the road for superzoom bridge cameras these days. But the big problem we have with the HX200V is an elevated level of digital noise that appears in virtually every photograph regardless of light level or ISO.

For Sony HX200 memory cards, see Camera Accessories

These two shots were taken with the HX100V and HX200V respectively. They were taken at the same distance and zoom settings, but at different times of the day so the lighting is different. Nevertheless, this view at 100% pixel resolution shows clearly the problem we had over and over again...the noise on the HX200V is quite a bit more obvious:

Sony HX100V                   Sony HX200V
with noise filters on both cameras set to standard

This noise issue can also be seen when comparing the HX100V and HX200V side by side in our PhotoScope system:

PhotoScope: Compare Sony HX100V vs HX200V

The elevated noise levels compromise image detail on the HX200V. Though it boasts a whopping 18 MP on its small sensor, it cannot reproduce detail as well as the Panasonic FZ150 can with just 12 MP on the same size sensor. The following stop sign was photographed by both cameras from a distance of about 20 feet. When the photos are compressed they both look fine, but at full 100% pixel resolution the HX200V shows a substantial loss of image detail:

Panasonic FZ150                   Sony HX200V

Panasonic FZ150                       Sony HX200V

How big of a deal is the noise and softness on the HX200V? Well, it all depends on what you do with your photos. If you routinely compress those huge 18 MP files down to photos that are 600 pixels wide for Facebook or easy emailing, the noise and softness of the HX200V is of little consequence. This section of a wrought iron balcony was taken by the HX200V and the Panasonic FZ150 and compressed horizontally to 600 pixels:

Sony HX200V, 18 MP Superzoom Bridge Camera

Panasonic FZ150, 12 MP Superzoom Bridge Camera

As you can see above, the HX200V image is a bit soft and low in contrast, but you might not notice it if you did not have the FZ150's image to compare it to. The contrast can be boosted in post processing, but the loss of detail cannot be fixed. Overall, the HX200V is plenty functional for casual use, and for viewing photos at the compressed sizes most people view them at.

HOWEVER, if you blow them up, or if you like to crop smaller sections from your photos, the noise and softness of the HX200V becomes more noticeable. Here are two small crops from the above images showing what they look like at 100% pixel resolution:

Panasonic FZ150                   Sony HX200V

The Verdict

So, what can one say? The Sony HX200V has a ton of features and it feels good in the hands. It is fast to focus, and even locks on focus quickly at maximum zoom which many superzoom bridge cameras have trouble with (so do compact superzooms for that matter). It is a good vacation snapshot camera, and it is great for 1080p/60 movies. But based on our sample (purchased from Amazon, not a cherry review sample acquired from Sony), the HX200V is a step backward in picture quality even from the HX100V, which itself was not top of the class in the superzoom bridge category.