Sony Cyber-shot HX30V Digital Camera Review$369.99
The compact camera market has been characterized as a bit of a sinking ship in the past couple years, under siege by smartphone cameras on one side and entry-level mirrorless models on the other. But the truth of the matter is that there's still plenty of innovation in this space, especially with regard to the insanely long optical zoom ratios crammed into tiny camera bodies these days.
While the "travel zoom" category got its start with 7x or 10x optical zoom cameras, the Sony HX30V sports a borderline-ridiculous 20x optical zoom. With a body that will easily slip into a jacket pocket and a backside-illuminated 18.3-megapixel image sensor, the $419.99 ($375 street price) HX30V presents a potent combination of features, hardware, and design.
In our labs, the HX30V produced very accurate colors, and its automatic white balance system worked well under a wide variety of lighting conditions. The camera did struggle in our sharpness tests, with images becoming softer as you zoom in further. The unexpected surprise with the HX30V was its excellent bright-light video quality—it shoots very sharp 1080/60p video that renders motion beautifully.
We found the camera much more frustrating in the real world, however. The menu system is designed to not overwhelm you with too many options, but it instead winds up being an awkwardly stratified list. The "Easy" mode is certainly a boon to novices, but enthusiasts will be frustrated by the hamstrung manual controls.
Otherwise, the HX30V handles well. The presence of a chunky front grip and a rear thumb rest with rubberized coating makes it much more pleasing to hold than much of its competition. It's never easy to keep a shot steady with 20x optical zoom, but the grip goes a long way toward making it an achievable feat.
Travel zoom enthusiasts are probably feeling a bit spoiled of late. The category has come a long, long way in a short period of time, and huge zoom ranges in compact bodies are common now. The HX30V doesn't lag behind the competition, but it doesn't do much to rise above its peers, either. It's a solid camera that's relatively easy to use, offers adequate still image quality, and excellent video (in good light). The real problem is the competition. Rivals like the Canon SX260 HS are going for around $100 cheaper, which makes the HX30V a harder sell.