Sony HX90V. Perfect (almost) second/first/travel P&S superzoom

Sony HX90V. Notice finger grip, and control ring around lens next to the body.
Sony HX90V. Notice finger grip, and control ring around lens next to the body.

I really like the Nikon P900, which I am using for the majority of my bird and wildlife photography these days, and which does a good job on nature photography of all kinds (it is hard to argue with the excellent 83x zoom and amazing image stabilization), but since I switched to it from the Sony HX400V, there are several things the Sony did well that I find myself missing. The main ones are: fully adjustable in-camera HDR and more robust Dynamic Range Optimization options, reliable macro, and Anti-motion Blur mode for inside shots. The Nikon does all these things, after a fashion, but it does not do them as well as the Sony HX or RX series.

Then too, I have now passed both the Sony HX400V and the Canon SX50HS, my previous “back up cameras”, on to others. That left me with just one camera for trips, and it is never safe to travel for more than a few days with only one camera. What if something bad happens? Imagine it: stuck in Panama for a week without a working camera. Never!

Which is why the Sony HX90V, when it was first announced, appealed to me. It has the pop-up electronic view finder from the RX 100 iii and iv; the control ring around the lens from the whole RX series (see above); the finger grip from the RX 100 iv (also in the pic above); a flip up 180 degree, selfie ready, LCD like the Alpha 5000 and 6000; and the world’s smallest 30x zoom …24 to 720mm equivalent field of view (and a ZEISS Sonnar at that). Given past experience with Sony’s souped up digital Clear Image Zoom, that means possible pics out to 1440mm in a pinch.

And it is small enough to carry along with the Nikon P900 without even thinking about it.

Sony HX90V at 720mm and Nikon P900 at 2000mm.
Sony HX90V at 720mm and Nikon P900 at 2000mm.
Viewing options. Pop-up, pull out EVF, flip up LCD.
Viewing options. Pop-up, pull out EVF, flip up LCD.

It also has the truly inspired Function button and menu I had loved on the HX400V…which gives you easy access to anything you are likely to want to set…and three fully programmable memory locations for settings you use often. And, of course, the traditional Sony Creative Styles options, which allow you to fine tune how the jpeg images are processed and encoded in the camera before they are written to the card. (Sony’s answer to RAW.) All in all, the level of control possible with the Sony simply puts the Nikon in the shade…it is a good thing the Nikon lens and IS are so good!

Of course, no amount of control matters if the images are unsatisfying. Like all Sony cameras, especially the P&Ss, the images from the HX90V will not stand a lot of pixel peeping…they are not as clean at the pixel level as Nikon or Canon images. However, at normal viewing and printing sizes, they are simply excellent…sharp, vibrant, and lively.

Since it is a primary interest of mine, we will begin with a few in-camera HDRs: you can set in-camera HDR for anything from 1 EV differences in exposure, for a very subtle effect, to 6 EV differences, to capture deepest shade and boldest highlights. There is also an Auto setting which does an excellent job in all but the most extreme conditions. 

Then you have macro effects down to 5 cm (2 inches). I find that about 35-40mm equivalent works really well, along with DRO level 5 or Auto. You actually get an excellent macro effect.

The long end of the zoom is useful, with or without some Clear Image zoom, for close-ups of bugs, and the occasional grab shot of a cooperative bird. This (along with super-bright sunny days) is where the pop-up EVF comes into play! It is much easier to hold the camera still when it is up to your eye.

The flip up selfie mode on the LCD panel does a good job.


Me at Nubble Light, in Maine
Me at Nubble Light, in Maine

Panorama shots are as easy as they are with any Sony. You have your choice of “standard”, “wide”, or “360 degree.”

Wild roses along the Bridle Path
Wild Roses along the Bridle Path


Big Beach, Kennebunk ME. Wide format pano.
Big Beach, Kennebunk ME. Wide format pano.

Some of the Picture Effects are also interesting. I have enjoyed playing with HDR Painting, which can be adusted to one of three levels, and produces a nice “slightly over the top”, tone-mapped HDR look.

In-camera, HDR Painting Picture Effect. This is on the "low" setting.
In-camera, HDR Painting Picture Effect. This is on the “low” setting.[/caption

[caption id="attachment_856" align="alignright" width="660"]Illustration Picture Effect, Blueberries. Illustration Picture Effect, Blueberries.

Sunsets are always a good test of a Point and Shoot. I tried both the Multiple Frame Noise Reduction Mode and in-camera HDR. I like the results from HDR better. Pleasing rendition of colors, and very little noise in the image.

Sunset over Back Creek, with fisherman :)
Sunset over Back Creek, with fisherman 🙂

I went to Strawberry Banke, a local historical district in Portsmouth NH, today, and had a chance to try out several modes for indoor use. I tried straight in-camera HDR, Anti-Motion-Blur Mode, and Multi Frame Noise Reduction (with is actually an auto ISO setting). All three worked well, and provided higher ISO equivalent images in low light that showed much less noise than you would expect. Anti-Motion Blur tended to have the most noise, as it consistently selected higher ISOs suitable for moving subjects. In-camera HDR was relatively clean, and, as expected had the most extended range…usable highlights and open shadows. Multi Frame Noise Reduction ISO mode produced the cleanest looking images, amazing clean for hand-held indoor shots in very dim natural lighting, but would not be suitable for indoor action. This is a hand-held Multi Frame NR shot in a historical kitchen with only window and fire light. I think it is pretty amazing.

Strawberry Banke hearth cooking demo. Portsmouth NH. Multi Frame NR
Strawberry Banke hearth cooking demo. Portsmouth NH. Multi Frame NR

So…all in all the Sony HX90V is a great second camera. It does everything I had hoped, and almost everything the Nikon P900 does not do well. It is even a great first camera. The degree of control offered, the viewing options, the excellent long zoom, the advanced multi-frame features, etc. put it right there in the top choices for a P&S superzoom for nature and creative photography…as long as you don’t need more than 720mm of reach (1440mm with Clear Image zoom).

And finally, of course, the Sony HX90V was conceived as a travel zoom…and as that I can not imagine a better choice! It does it all and it does it all well…fits in a large pocket…and is the ideal camera to carry absolutely everywhere you travel. Good job Sony!

Wood Lily landscape.
Wood Lily landscape.

7 thoughts on “Sony HX90V. Perfect (almost) second/first/travel P&S superzoom”

  1. Thank you for this overview of the Sony HX90V. I recently purchased the camera used but in great shape and with a warranty. I wanted something very small for travel, that would complement my film camera with 50mm lens (Leica M6). The idea being I would use the Sony where the Leica won’t do. As most of my shots get posted to my website or in a photo book, I didn’t need to spend more than 3x the price for a super zoom with 1″ sensor. Besides, the Sony checked all the boxes with its EVF, tilting screen, GPS, and of course its zoom range. In the few weeks I’ve shot with the camera, I’ve been very pleased. As you wonderfully illustrate, the camera can take sharp and clear images in most situations. It comes down to learning how to make full use of its functions. Sure, it isn’t perfect. It does struggle with motion in low light and very high ISO, and I might not be able to get the results I want if printing large prints, but I’m okay with those few limitations. Besides, if that “perfect” camera comes out in the next couple years, it won’t be so painful to upgrade given the price I paid for the HX90V. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a bargain used. Again, thanks for the honest and thoughtful review. Happy point ‘n shooting.

  2. Would there be any prayer of using the Sony HX90V, or newer HX99, as a first bird photography camera?

    I am more interested in being able to bring something home from my birdwatching experiences, and in being able to make added field identifications, than I am in nature photography generally.

    These pictures are lovely.

    1. For ID shots the HX90V or HX99 would work fine…both reach 720mm equivalent…and while not at their best at the long end of the zoom, should be good enough for record shots.

      1. Thanks so much for the response!

        If I can ask one more thing: would everything on cameras in this class be sufficiently small and fiddly that it would be prohibitively hard, in practice, to get those reference shots of any birds that weren’t static? Or could I get birds overhead—or a-hop through the canopy—some useful proportion of the time?

        I’m obviously invested, as so many questioners are, in hearing encouraging noises about the camera that I’ve somewhat arbitrarily singled out (simply because it’s small and affordable, and wouldn’t require major changes in the amount of gear I carry and the way I bird).

        But I’m rational enough, too, to hear that it really wouldn’t work very well, or even that it would represent the worst of both worlds: enough extra equipment to become an encumbrance, without enough extra optical punch to get many more IDs.

        I asked about the HX99 on, and immediately learned about the different between contrast-detection and phase-detection autofocus, so I guess that’s my biggest remaining concern, is that the autofocus simply wouldn’t work well enough to capture any birds that weren’t, in effect, posing.

        Longtime listener and fan, first-time caller. I got Pentax DCF SP 8x43s long ago after reading your thoughts about them, and still use them, with pleasure, almost every day.

        1. The difficulty with both the Hx90v and the 99 is that they are so small that “following” moving birds is difficult. Much easier with a camera that fills the hand and has a decent eye-level finder. I have used cameras with Contrast Detection auto focus extensively for birds, and it works well enough…even warblers feeding in Ohio are within range…within reason. It is always a trade off between portability and ease of use.

  3. Excessive smallness—who’d have thought, ten years ago, that would ever become a problem? But I can easily imagine that it is indeed a handicap in those situations. It’s good to hear that contrast-detection autofocus isn’t ipso facto disqualifying.

    I have been shifting all over the place in my criteria, the more I learn about this market! The only constants seem to be that the RX10IV, which I of course want, is too expensive; that interchangeable lenses with a useful amount of zoom on even an APS-C body are too large (and quickly get too expensive, too); and that compacts with 1-inch sensors never have enough zoom.

    I perked up, briefly, when I heard about the Olympus Stylus 1S—a tiny camera with a Goldilocks sensor: larger than 1/2.3, but smaller than APS-C. But its amount of zoom doesn’t seem to have struck the same just-right balance for nature photography.

    So I have less and less idea what I’ll get! Maybe just the HX80/B, as a less painful way, financially, to start learning.

  4. In the end I got a demo model Panasonic Lumix ZS70 (or, in Europe, TZ90). It’s extraordinary how dense, wandering, and unplanned the user interfaces have gotten on consumer cameras, as bloat overwhelms usability, but I’ve found your posts and those of Peter Smallman at very helpful in starting to take pictures with it.

    In terms of the speed and success rate of the continuous autofocus, and the ability to capture good images even at full 720mm zoom extension, I don’t think I could be much happier. So far I’ve only been able to use it on overcast days or close to sunset, but the results have nonetheless been very good.

    I can see more detail in my pictures than I can with an 80mm spotting scope at 30x, and have been able to ‘slow down’ and unpack my impressions of distant sea ducks with the photographs, learning more plumage variations than I could have managed otherwise. After a few sessions’ practice I felt comfortable with the EVF, which does make a difference when zooming and panning around.

    Some day I know I will want a camera with a larger sensor than the Lumix’s 1/2.3″ sensor, but for price, size, zoom, autofocus, handling, and usable resolution—if not for ease of use—I am already content.

    I have found editing to hold its own fascination. I’m using an old copy of Aperture I already had, after converting the Lumix’s RAW images to Adobe’s DNG format, and having a lot of fun.

    In short, thank you for turning me on to bird photography with small point and shoots!

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