Sony already dominates much of the compact digital camera market here in the UK, but the company is looking to cement that position with two (technically three) new travel compacts; the HX90 and HX90V, and the WX500. Announced earlier this morning, we got the chance to try both cameras ahead of their May launch in order to see whether the current champion, Panasonic’s TZ70, can be dethroned.
First up, the HX90 and HX90V. The two cameras are almost identical, with the V suffix indicating the high-end model includes integrated GPS functionality. Otherwise, both have the same 18.2 MP Exmor R CMOS sensor, paired with Sony’s BIONZ X processor and a ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T 30x optical zoom lens. The ZEISS T coating on the lens is supposed to reduce reflection and lens flare, although indoors during our demo session we weren’t able to test out its effectiveness. The cameras weren’t running final firmware either, so we’ll have to wait until review samples arrive to pass judgment on image quality.
The biggest addition is a pop-up OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF), which slots back into the camera body for compactness and can be set to power the camera on and off when activated/deactivated. An eye sensor automatically switches between EVF and LCD when you raise the camera to your face, which is a very welcome touch. The 638k dot OLED looked very sharp during our hands-on, despite its compact size. It should make framing shots in bright sunshine a lot easier than relying on the LCD display.
Because the EVF isn’t fixed in place, the extra room on the rear of the camera has allowed Sony to fit a 16:9 aspect ratio display – Panasonic’s TZ70 can only fit in a 4:3 aspect ratio screen to make room for the fixed EVF. The 3in display also articulates 180-degress upwards for obligatory selfie shooting modes, but there’s no way to articulate the screen downwards for framing shots from a low perspective. The pop-up flash will also get in the way of the screen when flipped.
It’s no surprise that the HX90V looks very similar to the RX100, Sony’s most popular premium compact in years. The company has borrowed much of the design, including the layout of the buttons and control dial on the top of the camera, and the overall shape. Sony has managed to add a fixed grip, which makes for a particularly comfortable shooting position. A control ring around the lens now lets you assign manual focus, step zoom or other functions, and six of the rear buttons can be customised to specific features.
Videographers will appreciate the addition of XAVC S and AVCHD video file formats, while you can still default back to MP4 if you want easy uploading to social networks. 5-axis image stabilisation should keep your footage steady too. Other welcome inclusions like WiFi and NFC are onboard as well, which makes it easy to pair a smartphone to use Sony’s PlayMemories app for remote shutter control, image transfers and special effects like Beauty mode.
The WX500 travel zoom is very similar to the high-end HX90V, except Sony has removed the OLED EVF altogether in favour of reducing the size down even further. It still gains a 30x optical zoom lens, a 10x improvement over the outgoing WX350, and retains the 180-degree tilting LCD display. It’s also available in a choice of red and white colours, as well as the standard black model.
Comfortable to hold, lightweight and just about small enough to fit in a pocket, all three new additions to the CyberShot range look and feel like competent travel compacts with plenty of user-friendly features. We can’t wait to get them in for a full review.
There’s currently no indication of UK prices for either the HX90/HX90V or the WX500, but early US prices suggest the former could retail for around £290 before tax and VAT, while the latter could cost around £225 plus VAT. Considering the Panasonic TZ70 currently costs around £350, we’re expecting the HX90V to arrive at a similar price. We’ll be taking a closer look when review samples arrive a little closer to launch, so if you’re planning a compact camera upgrade in time for the Summer be sure to check back soon for our final verdict.