Sony H2 Overviewby Stephanie Boozer
and Shawn Barnett
Review Posted: 05/19/2006
Last year, Sony released the Cyber-shot DSC-H1 as a new form factor addition to its long and very broad line of digital cameras reflecting the company's commanding position in the digital camera marketplace. Like many other long zoom cameras, the Sony H1's miniature SLR look and feel immediately instilled confidence, with the big grip and large lens barrel housing the excellent 12x optical zoom lens. The newly-released DSC-H2 model updates the H1 with a larger CCD at 6.0-megapixels, and extends a few capabilities as well, with a wider ISO range and an optional function guide for onscreen help. Most of the H2's functions will be familiar to users of other Sony digital cameras, and newcomers to the line will appreciate the camera's simplicity. The Sony H2 features the same 12x optical zoom lens and Image Stabilization technology as the H1, and offers full manual to full auto exposure control, with a nice selection of creative tools at the user's disposal. Read on for all of the details!
Like its predecessor, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1, the new Sony DSC-H2 digital camera takes direct aim at the Long Zoom Family Camera market, offering an impressive 12x optical zoom lens along with full manual exposure control, while not getting too complicated for novice users. For the most part, the H2 is an update of the H1, with a larger, 6.0-megapixel CCD, expanded ISO options (80 to 1,000 equivalents), and expanded partial manual exposure control modes (Aperture and Shutter Priority shooting options). Control layout is slightly different from the previous model, as are the overall dimensions (just slightly), but the most noticeable physical difference is the smaller 2.0-inch LCD display. We loved the large, bright 2.5-inch LCD display on the H1 model, and do miss its presence on the H2. That said, the H2's 2.0-inch LCD monitor is fairly bright, even outdoors in bright daylight.
Though a large lens barrel and fairly large LCD monitor dominates a large portion of the camera body, Sony managed to keep all the necessary functions close at hand and easy to operate. The grip area offers a firm hold on the camera, with rubbery texture that really grabs your fingers as they wrap around the camera. The lens is large enough that you'll want to support the camera with your left hand and wrap your right hand down to cup the camera's bottom. Your thumb finds a decent resting place on the back, slightly overlapping the zoom buttons. A series of raised bumps helps keep your thumb from slipping off. The Five-way navigator is below and within easy reach, but the buttons are firm enough that they're not easily activated by accident. It is not impossible, though, so you should be careful, especially when shooting vertically, because your thumb can move and press a button unintentionally.
A half-press on the shutter begins the focus operation. In low light, a very bright orange LED illuminates the scene when necessary, reaching impressively far for effective autofocus even in near- or total darkness. The fast Multi-point AF determines the closest object and focuses quickly, showing brackets around the areas that will be in focus. Everything about the camera feels quality and performs competently. When necessary, a pop-up flash deploys automatically, or the user can pop it up by switching to either of the forced flash modes.
The Sony DSC-H2's zoom is fast and smooth, not to mention quiet. With some experience and finesse, you can move the zoom either slowly or quickly, by varying the pressure applied to the buttons. If it's more comfortable in bright daylight, the EVF offers a good view, at the same 354 x 240 resolution that the back-panel LCD displays; it's a little small, but serves its purpose. The Super SteadyShot image stabilization system is activated with the press of a button. It can be set to "Shooting" or "Continuous" mode in the Setup menu. In Shooting mode, the stabilization only becomes active when the shutter is pressed, but if you want to see the effect of the stabilization, put the camera in Continuous mode.
Top shot is full wide, bottom
is full digital zoom
I was able to capture some great baseball shots from pretty far away via the digital zoom, and I was impressed with the results, especially at night. Though it has high ISO settings, I'd avoid them in all but the most urgent situations; the baseball shots were set by the camera to ISO 320, and turned out great.
Typical of consumer digicams, the Sony DSC-H2 does tend to oversharpen its image a bit, but exposure is usually quite good, with or without flash. Sharpness can be adjusted in the menu, as can contrast and saturation, so the user has some control over how the camera renders its images. Actually, "control" is probably the best way to describe the Sony H2, because it offers a very simple interface, yet perhaps the most control over light gathering of any camera in Sony's lineup. It's that huge focal range that gives you such a feeling of power: With just the press of a button, you're suddenly all the way across the house to where junior is making a silly face, and you're more likely to get a sharp shot with the help of the Super SteadyShot.
One favorite feature of mine is the intelligently designed battery/Memory stick door. It is hinged in the middle, so you can get to the Memory stick without having to turn off the camera or remove the batteries. Just pull to release the Memory Stick half of the door, or slide to the right to release the whole thing, exposing both batteries and memory card. That the Sony DSC-H2 is designed to work with only two standard AA batteries is impressive indeed.
Included with the camera are two Sony NiMH AA Stamina batteries, delivering 2100 mAh at 1.2V. They'll last about 400 full-resolution shots with the LCD enabled, which is pretty good. Alkaline, Manganese, Lithium, and NiCd batteries are not recommended. Unlike most current manufacturers that use AAs, Sony includes a charger and two batteries right in the box with the H2, a valuable addition. I suggest you buy at least two more, even though the battery life on this camera is pretty good (though less so than other Sony cameras due to the zoom lens and Super SteadyShot mode). Read my NiMH battery shootout page to see which batteries currently on the market are the best.
The Sony DSC-H2 is an impressive offering, and should do well against other long-zoom cameras and as I've often pointed out, optical image stabilization is a huge benefit for long-zoom cameras. It is handsomely constructed, with a feel of quality. It also has reasonable heft offering a more stable shooting platform. Its flexible exposure modes and quality lens should give most users a great experience.
- 6.0-megapixel CCD.
- 12x zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-432mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- Max 16-52x digital Smart Zoom (depending on res), plus 24x Precision Digital zoom.
- Electronic optical viewfinder.
- 2.0-inch color LCD monitor.
- Full Manual through Automatic exposure available, including Aperture and Shutter priority and seven Scene modes.
- Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
- 32MB internal memory.
- Sony Memory Stick Duo storage (no card included), compatible with Memory Stick Pro Duo.
- USB 2.0 computer connection.
- 2 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger included.
- Software for Mac and PC.
- Super Steady Shot optical image stabilization for steady shots at telephoto focal lengths.
- High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Beach, High-speed shutter, Landscape, and Portrait preset modes.
- Movie recording mode (with sound).
- Multi-Burst slow motion mode and Burst continuous shooting mode.
- Email (VGA) modes.
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 1/4 sec in Auto mode; 1/2,000 to one second in Program mode; and 1/1,000 to 30 seconds in Manual mode.
- Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/8, depending on zoom position.
- Image Sharpness and Contrast adjustments, plus Image Color options.
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Metering modes.
- Adjustable AF area and four AF modes.
- Auto ISO setting or 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,000 ISO equivalents.
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven options, including a manual setting.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.
In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-H2 digital camera are the following items:
- Neck strap..
- Two NiMH AA batteries and charger..
- USB cable.
- AV cable.
- Lens Adapter ring.
- Lens Hood.
- Lens Cap and retainer cord.
- Software CD containing Picture Package (ver.1.6 for Windows), Pixela ImageMixer VCD2 (for Mac), a PC-based tutorial, and USB drivers.
- Quick-guide manuals and registration information.
- Extra NiMH batteries. (Read my NiMH battery shootout page to see which batteries currently on the market are the best.)
- Large capacity Memory Stick Duo or Large capacity Memory Stick Duo PRO. (Memory Stick PRO versions can handle high-res movie data and give faster download times.) This should be used for all current Sony cameras.
Like the preceding Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1, the Sony DSC-H2 offers optical image stabilization with a very long zoom lens. The Sony H2 provides more manual exposure control than many other long zoom digital cameras, yet is easy to use in full-auto mode, and its seven preprogrammed scene modes help with tricky subjects. The design and layout of the H2 is very user-friendly, and the camera boasts accurate EVF and LCD displays. Occasionally modes can get confusing to those more familiar with Sony's other point-and-shoot models, but a brief look at the manual will quickly make it all clear. The Sony DSC-H2 is fairly fast on the draw, with faster than average shutter response, a smooth and responsive zoom, and very good shot to shot cycle times. Optical quality is very good, but we were disappointed with the high chromatic aberration and softness in the corners at telephoto; that's part of the tradeoff found in a very long zoom that we think most will find acceptable. In use, the camera was great for a day at the stadium, as well as chasing the family around the yard. As I mentioned, though, I'd avoid the high ISO settings completely, relying instead on the Super SteadyShot to handle low light. That the Sony H2 does all its tricks with two AA batteries is impressive, and two spare NiMH AA's will give you another 400 shots. Overall, given the low price and good performance, the Sony H2 is a bargain in a 6 megapixel 12X zoom, and a clear Dave's Pick.