Initially released in the fall of 2018, Sony’s HX99 is the official replacement to the previously released HX90. And it now sits at the top of their HX lineup of compact point & shoot cameras designed for casual shooters, beginners and travelers. On paper, it promises several exciting new additions, all of which unseen in the HX series, until now. And it appears to be an exciting release that packs a robust feature set into a compact and lightweight body, positioned as the ideal traveling companion.
Sony aims this camera to compete with Canon’s SX740, Panasonic’s SZ80, and Nikon’s A1000. In today’s post, we assess its strengths and weaknesses and answer whether this camera is your next worthwhile purchase.
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- What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony HX99?
- Image Quality
- Video Quality
- Focusing Performance
- Battery Performance
- Display & Viewfinder
- User Interface
- Physical Layout & Ergonomics
- Niche Features/Extras
- Video Capabilities
- Low Light Capabilities
- Autofocus Performance
- Lacking Features
- Is this a good beginner camera?
- Is this a good camera for you?
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony HX99?
It features a 1/2.3-inch 18.2MP Backside-illuminated CMOS sensor along with the BIONZ X image processor, a reasonable configuration for this class. And new for the HX series is the ability to shoot in RAW. Overall, the sensor and RAW format combine to produce strong image quality, despite the camera’s small size. Images remain reasonably sharp, with vibrant colors, and provide a good working dynamic range in the RAW format.
The camera also features a powerful 30x optical zoom ZEISS Vario-Sonnar f/3.5-6.4 lens. And the lens effectively produces a 24-720mm full-frame equivalent range. Sony has also equipped the lens with Optical SteadyShot, which optically stabilizes the lens to reduce handshake as well as Clear Image Zoom, which effectively doubles its range. And the Clear Image Zoom turns the lens into a 1,440mm equivalent, without any penalties. Impressive.
At the time of release, it was the first and only camera of its size to feature such an extensive zoom range and this level of capabilities. And the optical quality across its entire focal length is superb. Images are sharp wide open, all the way through to 1,440mm.
The camera also provides a continuous shooting speed of 10 fps without AF or 3.8 fps with AF, which is surprisingly fast considering its size. And the buffer depth is also excellent. It can deliver 100 JPEGs or 50 RAW images before buffering.
It shoots 4K UHD at 30 fps with a full pixel readout. And 1080p full HD up to 120 fps for super slow-motion videos. Both formats record at a maximum of 100 Mbps to the XAVC S or AVCHD formats. Finding these formats and frame rates at this price is quite surprising since typically only action cameras offer these. Nevertheless, this camera represents a significant update over its predecessor. 4K recording is new for the series, and so is 1080p at 120 fps. And overall, these are welcomed additions.
From a video quality standpoint, the camera provides excellent quality footage under well-lit conditions. The footage is reasonably sharp, with vibrant colors and a good working dynamic range.
The camera’s Optical SteadyShot also carries over into video recordings and offers three modes of intensity. Users can choose between standard, active, and intelligent active, the latter being the most aggressive. And they’re quite effective during video recording as well. They quickly compensate for a variety of movements caused when filming handheld to create reasonably smooth and steady videos.
The camera also obtains Sony’s Proxy Recording ability, which simultaneously records a lower quality 1080p file alongside 4K. This is a helpful feature if you plan on immediately sharing videos captured online.
The camera also offers the same Clear Image Zoom ability during video recording.
It has zebras for highlight clipping indication.
It uses a contrast-detection AF system and brings along with it Eye AF, Face Detection, Face Registration, and Lock-On AF. Eye AF, in particular, is new for the series, and a great addition for portrait work. It automatically detects and focuses on the subject’s eyes, even when looking down or when they’re backlit. Overall, autofocusing performance is excellent in bright conditions. The camera locks on quickly and accurately.
The camera’s LCD also allows users to perform smooth rack focusing during video recordings, which works very well.
It uses the NP-BX1 battery, which Sony rates for 370 shots per charge or 100 minutes of video recording.
Display & Viewfinder
It features a 2.95-inch Xtra Fine TFT LCD with a resolution of 921K dots. The screen also provides touch capabilities and articulates 180º forward, which is helpful for selfies or pieces to camera. The display quality of the screen is good for the class. It’s reasonably sharp and is bright enough to use outdoors. Since it’s a touchscreen, it also sports helpful touch gestures. These include touch focus, touch pad AF, and touch shutter.
It also features a 0.2-type OLED Tru-Finder with a resolution of 638K dots. Perfect for those who prefer composing in this fashion. The viewfinder is also retractable, and you can stow it away neatly when not in use. Plus, it also provides a built-in proximity sensor to automatically disengage the rear screen, preventing stray light during composing. Overall, it’s a welcomed addition and works well.
It uses standard Sony user interfaces and menus. And the menus are well-organized, though complex. Seasoned shooters will rejoice, however, as the camera provides full manual control. It also provides a healthy amount of customization over its layout. Several of the buttons are programmable, including the control ring, a nice touch.
It provides a dedicated custom button, marked C.
The camera provides a Zoom Assist, which fully zooms out, then quickly zooms back to the original focal length. This feature allows users to regain the framing of a moving subject and make it easier to find them again.
It obtains the customizable My Menu from Sony’s higher-end cameras.
It obtains the customizable Function (FN) menu for quick access to on-screen settings.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
The camera is physically reminiscent of Sony’s RX lineup of compact cameras, with a few exceptions. Its build quality is more in-line with the price point and features a full plastic body. However, it does allow the camera to weigh only 242 g, making it incredibly light considering its feature set. It also provides a good selection of physical dials for a level of manual control that quickly rivals its higher-end counterparts. Overall, the physical layout is excellent.
The camera provides a built-in zoom rocker switch, which surrounds the shutter, for smooth zooms.
It has a built-in pop-up flash.
It supports USB charging.
It has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC, for wirelessly pairing the camera to a smartphone or tablet. At this point, you can wirelessly transfer images and remotely control the camera via Sony’s Imaging Edge mobile app.
It has built-in Auto HDR for HDR JPEG images.
Sadly, both Active and Intelligent Active stabilization are not supported during 4K video recording. Thus, stabilizing 4K is slightly more challenging since you can only use standard optical stabilization.
Low Light Capabilities
As you’d expect, low light performance isn’t great. Mostly due to its smaller sensor and slow variable aperture lens. While the camera offers a native ISO range from 80 to 3,200, further expandable to ISO 6,400, going above ISO 1,600 isn’t recommended. Images quickly lose details following ISO 1,600, and the camera uses rather powerful noise reduction algorithms as well, further reducing detail.
Autofocusing performance does slow as the lens approaches more telephoto distances, and the aperture closes. While still usable, it does take some time before locking.
While the camera is reasonably comfortable to hold, it is rather small. And it can quickly become uncomfortable during prolonged use, even more so if you have large hands. Getting a wrist strap is a good idea with this camera.
Sony has placed the HDMI port on the bottom of the camera, next to the tripod socket. This placement is quite strange, and it means that you cannot use an HDMI device when the camera’s on a tripod or sitting flat on a table. Not entirely sure why those choose the design.
The camera uses MicroSD cards instead of standard SD cards. While this isn’t a deal-breaker, these cards aren’t quite as common, so they have much more limited options.
Unlike previous HX models, this camera lacks built-in GPS. The workaround here is to enable the Location Info Link on the camera and connect it to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The camera will then use your phone’s GPS to geotag images.
It lacks a microphone input.
It lacks a headphone input.
Is this a good beginner camera?
It makes an excellent option for beginners and casual photographers looking for a capable platform. It provides a package that matches much of the features expected on Sony’s RX series of cameras, which are three times its price. Yet, it does so at a price point that is very attractive to new users who may not need the added luxuries. Overall, it’s an incredibly capable camera that’s well suited towards beginners and enthusiasts looking for a simple all-in-one package.
Is this a good camera for you?
For those looking for an easy-to-use video camera, this could be a potential consideration. In good light, the 4K video quality is excellent, even despite its smaller sensor. If you currently film on a smartphone, this would be a substantial upgrade in image quality.
But, in the end, Sony HX99 is an excellent choice for the casual shooter or traveler looking for a compact, lightweight, easy-to-use companion that provides a well-rounded feature set. The price is a bargain considering its video capabilities, high-quality mega-zoom lens, and autofocusing performance.
Getting a similar feature set elsewhere requires spending twice as much. So it’s quite the feat on Sony’s part to create such a compelling package. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to travel light, without skimping out on image quality. And it’s arguably the best sub $500 point & shoot released to date. The addition of SteadyShot and Clear Image Zoom creates a versatile platform. Sure, its smaller sensor doesn’t compete with larger 1-inch or APS-C equipped cameras. However, for what’s offered here, it provides exceptional value.
Sony’s HX99 is a surprisingly brilliant release on Sony’s end. Despite both its smaller size and smaller 1/2.3-inch sensor, it offers capabilities and performance that rivals cameras three times its price. For what’s offered here at this price, it provides enormous value. And it stands tall as arguably the best camera in this segment of the market.