Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX99 Review

What We Love. For an affordable camera that will only set you back $450, Sony's latest compact release is certainly packed with features. The Sony HX99 has a 28x optical zoom that comes in plenty handy, Optical SteadyShot to help with camera shakes, Zoom Assist for more accurate framing when zooming in, uncropped 4K at 30fps, fast continuous shooting of 10fps for action shots, and an LCD screen with touchscreen functionalities and is tiltable up to 180 degrees. It also boasts a versatile lens-mounted control ring that's customizable, the ability to record images in RAW format, and the tiniest retractable 638 k-dot OLED viewfinder, not to mention Sony's famous EyeAF to quickly detect and track subjects accurately. All those features together should make for an incredible compact that you can easily take out and put away in your pocket when you're traveling or on-the-go. It's perfect for casual everyday use, traveling, and even vlogging, and is a step up from your smartphone camera.

What We'd Change. Unfortunately, the Sony HX99 falls a tad short when it came to execution. Though we had high hopes for this pocket-sized wonder due to its excellent features, it hasn't quite met our standards as far as performance. For instance, while its autofocus is supposed to boast a speedy 0.09-second response, not to mention EyeAF detection and tracking, it's not always as accurate. Then there's its ISO, which has a limited extended range of 6400 and below-average noise handling even at ISO 80. Plus, while it does tout a viewfinder, it's so small that it just kind of gets in the way of shooting, and you're just much better off using the LCD screen. Lastly, it lacks weather-proofing, and the battery life is only at 370 at full charge.

Pick This Up If... if you're thinking about upgrading from a smartphone, but you don't want to worry about an interchangeable-lens system OR you need a compact, lightweight camera that's affordable and versatile enough to shoot photos and videos of family vacations, holidays, and all sorts of friends-n-family life events.

or

INTRO

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_20.jpg
Click on any image in this review to see or download a full resolution file!

On paper, the new Sony HX99 is made of all the right stuff, from its super zoom range (at the time of its release, the camera was touted as the world's smallest compact camera with a 24-720mm zoom) to its autofocusing system and extensive video capabilities that includes 4K at 30fps.

In fact, it's just the kind of camera you'd want by your side--or rather, in your pocket--when you're snapping away during your travels or at events, recording your most special family memories, or vlogging, if that's your thing. It's also a great option for those who prefer a simple, all-in-one camera to interchangeable lens systems (hi, Mom!).

SonyHX99_ProductShots_08.jpg
In practice, it isn't that simple. The Sony HX99 does take beautiful images, but there are a few things that miss the mark that impact the overall image quality like its AF accuracy and its ISO performance. Still, it is a good compact camera, and certainly a step up from your camera phones.

GEAR USED

SonyHX99_ProductShots_13.jpg
To test our Sony HX99 loaner, we used the JOBY GorillaPod 3K stand as well as our old Manfrotto tripod.

KEY FEATURES

SonyHX99_ProductShots_02.jpg
  • 18.2MP 1/2.3 inch (7.82 mm) Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • BIONZ X processor
  • 28x optical zoom lens
    • 24-720mm equivalent
    • F3.5-6.4
  • +/- 3.0 EV, 1/3 EV step exposure compensation
  • 0.2-type 638,400-dot electronic viewfinder (OLED)
  • 2.95" (921,600-dot) Xtra Fine TFT Tilting Touchscreen LCD
  • Native ISO: 80-3200
    • Extended ISO: 80-6400
  • Continuous Shooting 10fps
  • Video Modes
    • XAVC S 4K: 30p 100M / 30p 60M / 24p 100M / 24p 60M
    • XAVC S HD: 60p 50M / 60p 25M / 30p 50M / 30p 16M / 24p 50M
    • High-Speed Mode: 120p 100M /120p 60M
    • AVCHD: 24M FX / 17M FH
  • Creative styles: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Black & White, Sepia
  • Picture effects: Toy camera, Pop Color, Posterization, Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Color, High Contrast Mono, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Richtone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, Illustration
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • WiFi

WHAT'S IN THE BOX

SonyHX99_ProductShots_07.jpg
  • Rechargeable Battery Pack NP-BX1
  • AC Adaptor
  • Micro USB cable
  • Wrist Strap
  • Instruction Manual

BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN

SonyHX99_ProductShots_10.jpg
At 102.0 mm x 58.1 mm x 35.5 mm and about 8.6 ounces with the battery and memory card inside, the Sony HX99 is tiny and can fit in almost any pocket (sorry, skinny jeans). It's beautifully built, sleek in all-black construction and made of high quality construction, though we're not quite sure if it will survive a high fall.

For a tiny little thing, it's actually peppered with dials and buttons. The top panel has the zoom dial, mode dial, shutter button, on/off button, and flash switch. The right-rear panel, on the other hand, has the movie record, Fn, Menu, playback, and delete buttons, as well as the multi-selector buttons. Other features include a customizable control ring mounted on the lens and the viewfinder switch on the left side. Despite that, the camera doesn't actually feel cluttered and offers enough space for your thumb and fingers to get a good grip.

SonyHX99_ProductShots_11.jpg
Unfortunately, it doesn't have dust sealing and waterproofing, which makes it susceptible to the elements. If you're traveling with this camera, it might be a good idea to invest in a case that will help protect it.

ERGONOMICS

SonyHX99_ProductShots_03.jpg
Yes, there is a viewfinder on the Sony HX99 that's accessible using the finder switch, and it's a pretty good one. However, it's also so tiny it's hard to look through it. In fact, it only gets in the way of shooting so we mostly utilized that three-inch touchscreen LCD screen, which dominates the back portion and offers a stunning display.

As far as general handling, the camera is pretty small. However, the size is something you'll get used to. Plus, the grip at the front and the thumb rest in the back help give you a steadier hold; although larger hands might need to utilize the included lanyard in case of accidental slippage.

SonyHX99_ProductShots_05.jpg
The LCD has tilting abilities up to 180 degrees so you can reach some difficult angles as well as easily shoot still and video selfies. However, it is limited and does not tilt down nor turn left and right, which is disappointing anytime you're trying to shoot low or high angle portraits.

MENUS & DISPLAYS

Unfortunately, the Sony HX99 doesn't have a focus joystick. But its vibrant LCD screen does allow touch focusing and touch shutter, the latter of which is not available in more advanced models like the Sony a7r III and the Sony a7 III.

The HX99 has your typical Sony Main and Function Menus, but with the slightest variations to match this camera's features. At this point, we've gotten used to Sony's complicated menus, but casual users and beginner photographers may find this too intricate. We wish they had made it simpler, or included a Guide Mode like the ones on Canon cameras, especially because Sony still hasn't added touchscreen functionality to menu navigation. In other words, it may prove frustrating from those used to smartphone photography.

SPEED & AF PERFORMANCE

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_26.jpg
When it comes to speed, the Sony HX99 is rather impressive. Thanks to its BIONZ X image-processing system, this pocket-sized camera can shoot up to 10fps when in burst mode for up to 155 images buffer. Granted, it's processing smaller amounts of data at only 18.2MP per image, but that continuous shooting is on par with the much powerful a7r III.

Combining that with this camera's fast AF that locks focus in as quickly as 0.09 seconds and Sony's legendary and super responsive EyeAF that detects a subject's eye even when in profile, the HX99 is a promising little camera for capturing some action shots. Although like the a7r III, it's probably not fast enough for the high-speed stuff.

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_21.jpg

Sadly, the HX99's AF doesn't quite meet our expectations. At least, not when it comes to accuracy. During our shoots, it suffered its share of missed focus and soft shots, even though the face and eye detection appeared to be functioning perfectly (the camera signals when focus when the EyeAF box turns green). This is kind of bizarre, as Sony is usually known for its amazing autofocusing systems.

METERING

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_12.jpg
While the Sony HX99 offers several light metering modes -- Multi Pattern, Center Weighted, Spot, Entire Screen Avg, and Highlight -- it, unfortunately, misses the mark when it comes to accurate metering especially in higher contrast situations. Our shots were often too bright (strangely enough, even when there's not a lot of light to work with), leaving our highlights blown out. Thankfully, the dynamic range on this camera is decent, allowing us to recover some details when processing the images after the fact.

STILL IMAGE QUALITY

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_15.jpg
Its poor noise handling and exaggerated smoothing, unfortunately, has a way too obvious impact on the Sony HX99's overall still image quality. That and the fact that its metering is a little off will make you work just a little harder to get better images, which kind of beats the point of a point-and-shoot camera. Additionally, ghosting and flare aren't as properly minimized as we had hoped so it would be a good idea to avoid shooting directly in the direction of a light source.

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_07.jpg
The good news is that when you hit that sweet exposure spot, your images will be sharp, vibrant and detailed. So detailed, in fact, that it managed to capture bees from a few feet away at only 115mm. It's never going to compete with anything enthusiast-level or above, but thanks to its back-illuminated CMOS sensor and its advanced BIONZ X processor, it does have a dynamic range and level of sharpness that are a step or two up from your phone. Plus, to help with sharpness, it touts in-body image stabilization with its Optical SteadyShot for reducing camera shake.

The HX99 also handles chromatic aberration remarkably well so that, notwithstanding the high noise levels, your images will come out very clear. If there were any signs of purple fringing, you'd have to really zoom in and look hard for them.

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_17.jpg
(24mm view)

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_18.jpg
(100mm View - an example of a missed AF shot)


The one biggest thing that makes this camera superior to that of an iPhone or another smartphone is that it actually does offer a much higher image quality across the longer focal lengths. Yes, in practice, there's some quality degradation there, but it's very minuscule and definitely not quite as glaring as it would be if you were zooming in with your iPhone.

ISO PERFORMANCE

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_ISO100.JPG

Due to its smaller sensor, the Sony HX99's sensitivity range is a fairly limited 80 to 3200, which is digitally expandable to 6400. (For comparison, the pricier Sony's 1"-sensor RX100 series cameras boast a sensitivity range to ISO 12,800, which helps with noise across the board.)

To make matters worse, the HX99's noise handling is also very underwhelming. Even with amazing morning light and ISO 80, this camera doesn't keep the luminance noise down, which again affects the overall image quality. If there's some good news in this, it would be that it does actually manage chromatic noise rather well, keeping it at bay until around ISO 1600.

VIDEO QUALITY


The Sony HX99 has some pretty nifty video capabilities, recording 4K videos with full pixel readout at 30fps and 24fps, 100M and 60M bitrates as well as Full HD videos at 60, 30 and 24fps, not to mention super slow-motion of up to 120fps. There's no oversampling of 4K movies or S-Log and HLG recording, unlike the Sony RX100 VI we reviewed a few months back, but we're pretty happy with the overall selection.

Unfortunately, despite that impressive selection of formats, the camera's ineffective noise handling, poor metering, and not-so-accurate focusing also make an impact on its video quality.

However, you will get more pleasing results when you're shooting in low contrast situations. And that Optical SteadyShot is rather impressive. It's super effective in minimizing camera shake especially when you're walking while shooting or zooming in all the way on a far-off subject.

WIRELESS PERFORMANCE

The Sony HX99 offers several connectivity options through their newly revamped Imaging Edge app, formerly the PlayMemories Mobile app. These options include Bluetooth for geotagging, One-touch remote, and photo uploading using the mobile app as well as using your laptop or desktop computer as a remote and viewer through the Imaging Edge desktop software.

Connecting the camera to the app or software is pretty straightforward and quick, although it won't seem to automatically connect after establishing that initial connection, which would have been helpful when you're on-the-go.

PROS & CONS

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_10.jpg
Pros
  • Sleek and fits in your pocket
  • Vibrant and sharp images
  • Incredible zoom
  • Several video formats on hand
  • Uncropped 4K at up to 30fps
  • Optical SteadyShot is fantastic
  • Affordable
  • Beautiful LCD with touchscreen functionalities
  • RAW format available
  • Fast EyeAF
  • Customizable control ring
  • Affordable price tag
Cons
  • Poor noise handling
  • AF not so accurate
  • Metering a little off
  • Highest ISO sensitivity at 6400
  • No weatherproofing
  • Battery life is only ok
  • Viewfinder is tiny

FINAL THOUGHTS

SonyHX99_ImageProduct_16.jpg

There are many things we appreciate about the Sony HX99. For a small and very affordable compact camera that slips easily in your pocket, it is loaded with features people might typically look for in a higher end body. That includes uncropped 4K recording at 30fps, fast EyeAF, great touchscreen functionalities, and a powerful zoom.

However, its poor noise handling, hit-or-miss autofocusing, and not-so-accurate metering make us hesitate. These are, after all, very basic features that shouldn't be compromised. But then again, we must remember that this has a 1/2.3-inch sensor, and it wouldn't be fair to compare its performance to that of a camera with a bigger sensor. So the question we should be asking here is this:

How does the HX99 measure up to a smartphone camera, which typically touts a similar sensor size?

The HX99 has a wider zoom range, better dynamic range, slightly sharper images, the aforementioned EyeAF, more video recording options, and Optical SteadyShot, not to mention, a more affordable price tag.

Our recommendation: if you're a casual shooter that needs a travel or everyday companion to record memories or if, up until now, you've pretty much relied on your iPhone for your shooting needs, the Sony HX99 is an upgrade worth considering.


SonyHX99_ProductShots_14.jpg

Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.