Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sony HX9V versus Fuji F550EXR

Now here are two cameras that are very appealing as concert cameras. I would seriously like to get my hands on the Sony to test directly against the Fuji in full concert shooting mode.

The video is obviously going to be much better from the Sony … so much so that it could replace my Panasonic ZS3 as my primary video camera. The F550 really cannot compete well, but I would need to record a concert where I have a better view before I can make the final call on that.

The ZS3 is pretty nice for stills at 400 ISO, but that does not really work at all concerts. Sometimes you must have the long reach and higher ISO clarity. So how well does the HX9V compete at higher ISOs?

Well, there aren’t enough of the usual sites with comparison shots to get a very strong feel for it, but the French site “LES NUMERIQUES” with its comparometer can give us a wee bit of insight.

I want to thank Joe from the HX9V Blog for providing many links that have allowed me to look a little further into this comparison.

I have gathered specifications from several sites and will provide here a summary of important characteristics (to me ;-) with what I think to be the leader in each category highlighted red.

Camera Sony HX9V Fuji F550EXR
Sensor BSI CMOS 1/2.3” BSI CMOS EXR 1/2”
Pixels 16mp 16mp / 8mp
Pixel Density 56mp / cm2 52 mp / cm2
Binning for noise / dynamic range No Yes
Multi-Shot HDR Yes No
Multi-Shot NR Yes Yes
Multi-Shot BG Blur Yes Yes
Contrast / Sharpness / White Balance Tuning Yes No
Stabilization Optical Sensor Shift
RAW No Yes
Burst 10fps 8fps(L) / 11fps(M)
Bracketing No Exposure / Dynamic Range / Film Modes
LCD 921k dots 460k dots
Manual Mode Yes Yes
A-Prio / S—Prio No Yes
Max Shutter 1/1600s 1/2000s
Min Shutter 30s 8s
Focal Range 24-384 24-360
Apertures 2 3
Min Focus Distance 5cm 5cm
3D compatible Yes No
Video Format AVCHD 60i / 60p / MP4 / MPEG-4 AVC(H.264) MOV 30p / 80fps / 160fps / 320fps MPEG-4(H.264)
Audio Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC WAVE
Microphones Stereo Stereo
Max Video Clip HD ?? (probably hours) 29m
GPS Yes Yes

Ok, that’s enough for now. They are very similarly spec'd, which leads one to believe that they might be competitive as concert cameras or general purpose shooters. So let’s have a peek at some clips from Les Numeriques:


You’ll need to click through to see the actual crops. What I see here is that the Sony has pretty heavy sharpening while the Fuji is more conservative. This makes it much easier to process these images as the pixels are not as bruised.

So, zooming in to 100% shows this more clearly.


Here we can see that the Sony resolves more detail, but also shows more obvious sharpening halos. That has the potential to give the Sony a more “digital” look.

When a low light shot is made without flash, we see a pretty big difference in auto white balance.


My own tests confirm that the Fuji goes wonky when you push too much blue channel, so it is fairly obvious why the Fuji engineers don’t do that with AWB.

Here, the Barbie image is shot without flash and the Fuji’s now infamous “over-exposure” tendency shows up clearly.


I don’t hold to theories about over exposure by the way … the photographer must learn the meter and then use that tool properly. Still, the review shows this and that’s useful knowledge. With a proper exposure for the Fuji, the detail would come out to be pretty much a tie at 400 ISO:


And here is the Achilles’ Heel for the Sony …

Complaints about this abound on the forums …


Even at this reduced size, you can clearly see the difference in details. Lots of detail at 1600 for the Fuji and none for the Sony, despite using a lower ISO. The smearing is evident on this camera as ISO rises even at such small sizes. This issue is what would stop me from adopting the Sony as a concert camera if anything would.

However, it handles chroma noise perfectly and I would love to test it anyway, as the video quality alone makes it a stunner …

Bottom Line

Tentative conclusions because I have not seen the camera shot with lower contrast and sharpening … also how does it respond when underexposing and then pulling up in post processing? I’ve used that trick successfully before, but much prefer the option of just shooting without worrying about such tricks.

Unless I get hold of an HX9V somehow to test, I would have to declare the F550EXR the better concert camera for me (please note the emphasis) as it is never just about the videos. I value stills and cropping too much. Which is really too bad, as I was drooling over the amazing Sony video … imagine what would happen if Sony figured out how to bin pixels using a funky Bayer-like mask …

For most people, though, the video is superb and the stills are not too bad at web sizes, so this just might be your best choice.

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