In December, I went for my family vacation and was planning on what camera equipment to bring to capture the memories. Coincidentally, Sony Singapore asked if I wanted to review the DSC-HX99 compact camera, so I agreed. The HX99 looks identical to another Sony compact camera, DSC-WX800, both announced at the same time. The difference: the HX99 comes with a pop-up EVF and a small grip. HX99 retails at S$699 while WX800 goes for S$599. I assume the image quality and operations are largely identical, so if you are considering the WX800, this review is probably relevant too.
From the product photos, the HX99 also looks similar to the premium RX100 series, but the HX99 sensor is a mere 1/2.3-inch whereas the RX100 series is 1-inch. While the HX99 can achieve a whopping 30-times zoom to 720mm, due to the relatively small aperture of f/6.4 at maximum zoom range, the auto ISO turns out high and the images lack the sharpness and details, though the SteadyShot (Sony’s optical image stabiliser) helps to reduce shaky images.
Fortunately, the AF is quite fast and I managed to snap some distant planes taking off from the airport. Under strong lighting, slight chromatic aberration can be observed.
Often when you zoom in so much, you end up missing the big picture. One useful feature is Zoom Assist, which everyone should assign one of the custom keys to utilise. What it does is that when the camera is in any zoom position, activating Zoom Assist will zoom out the camera with a white frame appearing on the screen that shows you the original zoom position. Once you release the button, the camera will zoom back into the white frame. While using Zoom Assist, you can also change the size of the frame with the W/T lever, effectively adjusting the final zoom position, so that upon releasing the button, the camera will zoom into the size of the white frame. Extremely helpful.
The 180-degree tiltable LCD screen is great for any selfie lover, and helps to encourage the subjects like children to look at the camera. The pop-up EVF is also useful for times when the sun is too bright for framing, or when you are in a dim area where the large LCD screen is distracting, though the EVF is quite small for long use. The LCD screen supports limited touch functions, like touch AF, but not full touchscreen operation.
Other features include the ability to capture 4K videos in 25p, store still images in Sony RAW, connect via Bluetooth and Wifi to other devices. The usual mode dials are available to let you select the optimal shoot settings for a fuss-free operation, or you can go full manual. The lens ring a a bit laggy to use and I often over-adjust. The camera can be charged with micro USB cable via powerbank, and it uses micro SD card or Sony M2 card for storage.
Compact Camera or Smartphone
This is one of the most frequently asked questions in today context. With smartphone image quality getting better, consumers are questioning whether it is still relevant to carry a compact camera. I also wrote a separate article on what camera to bring for vacations. My recommendation: if you shoot mostly wide angle scenery, portraits, food, and close-ups, go for smartphones with built-in A.I. to auto-optimise the images. After the vacations, these photos are ready to be shared instantly, no need to post-process.
If you like to zoom-in on distant objects for shots, then bring a premium compact camera or a mirrorless camera which captures better quality images and makes them worth carrying. For the HX99, the greatest advantage is its amazing 30-times zoom capability, but even so, the image quality is average and I feel it’s not impressive enough for me to use them often during the vacation, relying more on my Huawei P20 Pro smartphone that provides A.I. image processing.
The Sony DSC-HX99 is a solid-built compact camera with 30-times optical zoom and pop-up EVF. These are the biggest features on this camera, and might be the only good reasons. If you need better quality images from a dedicated camera, you should at least get the RX100-series which comes with a larger 1-inch sensor. Otherwise, your premium smartphone probably captures better-looking images and is more convenient. Still, the ability to pocket a 720mm-lens camera is tempting enough to go for it. Great for surveillance and a little spy action, perhaps?