Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 Overview
by Greg Scoblete and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 05/19/2011
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 digital camera is a pocket camera with a 10x zoom starting at 25mm and reaching out to 250mm, a great choice as an everywhere camera, or a vacation camera. With a 16.1-megapixel sensor, a Bionz-branded image processor, the Sony H70 should offer good speed and image quality when needed. The Sony H70's lens carries the same Sony G branding as the company's digital SLR lenses, an indication of its confidence in the lens' optical performance.
The Sony H70 has a two step aperture, which varies from f/3.5 to f/5.5 across the zoom range. At wide-angle the alternate aperture is f/8.0, and the lens also includes a built-in neutral density filter. To help combat blur from camera shake, the Sony DSC-H70's lens includes an optical stabilization mechanism that works in concert with a built-in gyro sensor to detect and correct for camera motion. As with certain of Sony's other recent Cyber-shot cameras, the stabilization function works with up to 10x increased power in Movie mode, taking advantage of the more forgiving lower resolution of the movies as compared to still images.
The Sony H70 uses a 3-inch Clear Photo LCD display with a resolution of 230,000 dots, roughly equating to a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels with separate red, green, and blue dots per pixel. A nine-point autofocus system includes face detection capability, and can recognize up to eight faces in a scene. The face detection function can be disabled if desired, and can also be programmed to give priority to either adult or child faces. The AF system can also operate in either center-weighted or spot AF modes, and includes an AF assist illuminator.
As well as still images, the Sony H70 can capture either high-definition 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) or standard definition VGA (640 x 480 pixel) video at a frame rate of 29.97 frames per second. Movies are saved with MP4 compression, and include monaural audio. The Cyber-shot DSC-H70 also includes a sweep panorama function, which can automatically capture multiple shots by simply sweeping the camera across the scene, and then stitch these in-camera into a single image with an increased field of view. A Self Portrait Timer mode allows the photographer to get in the picture before the shutter is automatically triggered, and a Smile Shutter function ensures everybody is smiling before the shutter fires.
The Sony H70 stores images on Secure Digital, SDHC or the latest SDXC types. The Sony H70 is also compatible with Sony's own proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Power comes from a Sony InfoLithium NP-BG1 rechargeable battery. Connectivity options include both USB data, as well as standard definition composite and high definition component video outputs.
The product bundle includes Sony's Picture Motion Browser v5.3 and Picture Motion Browser Portable applications. Pricing for the Sony DSC-H70 is around US$230, and the camera is available in black, silver, blue, or red versions beginning March 2011.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 User Report
by Greg Scoblete
If there's been any upside to the Great Recession we're only now (we're told) dusting ourselves off from, it's that it helped drive prices down on everything from dental floss to digital cameras. Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H70 is clear evidence of this trend, packing a range of features into a very budget-friendly package. At a suggested retail price of $229, the Sony H70 delivers a 16-megapixel sensor, a 10x wide-angle zoom lens (25 to 250mm, 35mm equivalent), 3-inch LCD display and 720p HD movie recording. Throw in some manual control, several "Intelligent" scene modes and a compact design and you're looking at quite a capable digital camera in the Sony H70.
But there's a lot of competition for your camera dollar in this price range, including many cameras that can bundle big lenses into little bodies. Let's see how the Sony Cyber-shot H70 stacks up.
Look and Feel: The Cyber-shot H70 is comfortable to hold, with a rounded, ergonomic rest running down the left side. There's also a gently indented rest for your thumb to the right of the Sony H70's 3-inch LCD display. This little home for your thumb makes it easier to grip the camera one-handed, but it forces the camera's controls to cluster down at the bottom of the camera, and those controls are fairly small.
Beneath the thumb rest on the back of the camera you'll find a Playback button, a four-way controller for accessing the Display, Smile Shutter, Flash and Self-timer. Beneath these are buttons for the Menu and the In-camera Guide/Trash. These controls are not only small in diameter, but pretty flush with the Sony H70's body. Often they'll need a determined press to activate.
On the top of the camera you'll find an on/off button (also very flush with the camera but more responsive) a shutter button/zoom lever and a mode dial.
At 4 x 2 3/8 x 1 3/16 inches and weighing in at 6.8 ounces with memory card and battery, the Cyber-shot H70 is definitely pocketable and portable.
Aesthetically, the Sony H70 isn't much to look at. It's rather bland in black, but you'll also have a choice of more dynamic red, blue, or silver with a black lens barrel -- at least if you're shopping online.
Lens: The Cyber-shot H70 offers a 10x, wide-angle zoom lens (25-250mm, 35mm equivalent) with an aperture of f/3.5 - f/8.0 at the wide end, adjustable in two steps. It's a Sony G Lens composed of 10 elements in seven groups with four aspheric elements.
It's definitely nice to get this kind of optical zoom in camera just a smidge over an inch thick. It's doubly nice when it's a wide-angle lens, which is really useful for getting the scene in tight quarters. Sony also throws in what they dub their "Smart Zoom" technology, which delivers 12x when you're shooting at 10 megapixels. Unfortunately, the zoom is apparently not smart enough to automatically down-res your photo as you push past the 10x mark, so resolution must already be set to 10 megapixels before using Smart Zoom, which takes away some of the feature's utility. You can zoom still further if you lower the resolution more: at 5 megapixels you'll get 17x total, at 2 megapixels you'll get 24x (when shooting at a 16:9 aspect ratio). If you were inclined to take a VGA resolution photo, the Smart Zoom would propel you all the way out to 72x.
There's also a Precision Zoom function, which brings you out to 20x by cropping out a portion of the image and interpolating it back up to full resolution, though image quality deteriorates. As you zoom out past 10x, the LCD will display a box to help you frame the portion of the photo that will appear magnified. Unlike Smart Zoom, Precision Zoom will kick on while shooting at full resolution.
Sony's H70 also uses a nine-point autofocus system with face detection capable of recognizing up to eight faces in a scene.
Controls: The Sony DSC-H70 offers a mode dial atop the camera to access the camera's Scene Modes, iAuto, Program Auto, Manual Mode, Sweep Panorama Mode and finally, Movie Mode. There was room on the dial for additional functions, but Sony opted to keep it to this simple lineup.
When shooting in Manual Mode, you can control the aperture and/or shutter speed by hitting the button at the center of the four-way controller and then toggling left to right (for aperture) or up and down (for shutter speed). Pretty straightforward stuff. It's not every day you find these kinds of controls on a sub $250 camera, and they're nice to have, even if aperture is limited to just the lowest available (f/3.5-5.5) and the highest (f/8-13). What's a bit curious is that while you have the ability to adjust both shutter and aperture in Manual, there are no Shutter or Aperture Priority Modes. Those modes would have been useful as well, though the lack of a full range of apertures is probably why.
As mentioned above, the external buttons are on the smallish side, so you may need to use the edge of your thumbnail for them. But on the whole, they're responsive.
Modes: There's a fair amount to do on the Sony H70, enough to satisfy your average point-and-shooter with a little dollop of creative freedom thrown in, and the Manual Mode to slake the thirst of more advanced users. For starters, you have a selection of 12 Scene Modes -- the usual stuff: Portrait, Advanced Sports Shooting, High Sensitivity, Beach, Fireworks, etc. It's not as extensive a selection of scene modes as we've come to expect from a compact point-and-shoot, but it covers the important bases.
If you simply want a point-and-shoot experience, the Sony H70 is equipped with the company's iAuto or Intelligent Auto mode, which optimizes your exposure based on shooting conditions. Intelligent Auto Mode is also joined by an Intelligent Scene Recognition mode (set in the menu while in iAuto).
When you're shooting in Advanced Mode, the camera will snap two photos (one with the flash, one without) whenever it encounters scenes with low light or excessive backlighting. What's nice is that the camera will alert you when it's about to take two shots and will then display the images side-by-side briefly on the display. It takes a few seconds for the Sony H70 to process both images, so shooting in Advanced Intelligent Scene Recognition Mode can slow you down a bit, but it's a useful feature when used in challenging settings.
If you want a super-streamlined interface, you can set the Sony H70 to Easy Mode, which enlarges the text and icons and limits the number of settings you can access in the camera. I've never quite understood the appeal of Easy Modes (why make your camera less functional?) but your mileage may vary. You might want to use it as a mode to use when handing the camera to the kids or a complete novice.
Face Finding: The Cyber-shot H70 contains Sony's usual contingent of face-focusing technologies. Face detection can identify up to eight faces in a scene and you can set the camera to Child or Adult Priority to optimize focus on children or adults. There's also Blink Detection, which can be turned on or off to alert you when a subject is blinking.
Finally, there's Smile Shutter, which gets prominent placement on the camera's four-way controller and pauses the moment of image capture until a single person in a frame is smiling. You can adjust the sensitivity of the Smile Shutter in the menu so that the H70 can snap a photo at the merest hint of a smile or until your subject's chicklets are beaming. Smile Shutter is a neat trick but I find it has very limited utility outside of impressing people around you with what your camera can do (yes I do that, don't you?).
Sweep Panorama: Sweep Panorama is one of Sony's big bragging points, and for good reason: they've finally figured out how to make panoramic shooting on a point and shoot camera simple and the results are almost always impressive. Simply set the camera to Sweep Panorama using the Mode dial and a guide will appear at the bottom of the display pointing you in the direction in which you pan the camera. Then gently pan the camera in that direction and the camera assembles the panorama for you. Gone are the days of trying to align faint overlays of your previous image in the display - with Sweep Panorama the process is seamless. You can set the direction of your sweep, either horizontally or vertically and/or left to right and vice-versa, in the menu.
You can go super wide with ease using Sweep Panorama.
There are some tricks to shooting in Sweep Panorama, however. For one, it's best for static photographs. If any objects are moving in your frame, they're going to appear chopped up into many pieces or truncated depending on which direction they're moving as you pan.
HD Movie Mode: The Sony H70 boasts high definition video recording at 1,280 x 720 at 30 frames per second in the computer-friendly MPEG-4 format. Audio is recorded via a mono microphone (not surprising, given the price). There is an optional HD Output Adaptor cable as well, available for $40, which enables you to view your high def home movies on your HDTV or HD monitor. It's an RGB Component cable, so your HDTV will need to support this five-cord cable (RGB+LR).
You can use the camera's zoom while recording with a sensor-cropped focal length of 30 to 300mm. While it's nice to have access to the zoom while recording, the camera's microphone picks up the sound of the zoom motor, producing a distracting, high-pitched buzz every time you zoom. Not nice.
The video quality at 720p isn't particularly impressive either. The video clips I recorded were frequently on the noisy side, especially indoors. I found the focus was rather soft too, although the lens did a nice job keeping things relatively in focus as you zoom.
Sony provides a small amount of control over your videos: you knock back the resolution to VGA quality, adjust exposure, white balance, and choose from center or multi metering mode. You can also select from Standard or Active image stabilization, depending on your conditions. While it's not the most extensive movie menu set you can find in a compact digicam, given the price it's nothing to sneeze at.
DRO: Another useful mode is Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO), which helps to bring out details that would otherwise be obscured by shadow. You can adjust DRO settings in Program Mode with a choice of Standard -- which recovers some detail in shadowed areas -- and Plus, which claims to recover said detail without losing the highlights. In practice, it didn't appear that DRO Standard washed out too many highlights, but it definitely wasn't as effective as DRO Plus at pulling all the details from the shadows. However, DRO Plus did tend to wash out some of the colors in the frame.
Menu: The on-screen menu on the DSC-H70 is quite intuitive: it's easy to quickly find what you need, set it, and jump back into shooting. Hit the Menu button on the back of the camera and the Sony H70 will bring up a series of functions on the left of the LCD display, which expand out into the LCD as you highlight them. Each function is helpfully described for you by brief explanatory text on the display.
Once you dive into the camera's settings, the menu gets a bit more simplistic and less graphical (as you'd expect). You can pop out of the menu anytime by pressing the shutter.
One nice touch in the Sony H70 is the In-Camera Guide. It's accessible through a dedicated button on the back of the camera or in the menu. The guide not only explains almost all of the core functions of the camera, it also gives you easy access to the functions you were just learning about so you can make changes to the camera settings immediately.
The Guide is divided into six sections: Shoot/Playback Guide, Icon Guide, Troubleshooting, Objective Guide, Keyword and History. Shoot/playback explains the various modes in the camera while the icon guide explains what each icon on the H70's display means. In the 'objective guide' you can learn what specific functions do and there is some overlap here with the Shoot/Playback portion of the menu. In Keyword, you can search the Guide by select keywords (obviously) and in "History" you can view all the various guide pages you have already used in the event you need more information. All in all, quite a nice feature to have on board the camera, especially since the documentation provided isn't great, and is fragmented into multiple manuals and formats (PDF and HTML).
Shooting: The Sony Cyber-shot H70 makes for a pretty easy travel companion, given its trim size and light weight.
On the performance side, the Sony H70 is a bit of a mixed bag. It springs to life fast enough but when the flash is on, you'll notice some lag between shots. Burst mode isn't much help at all, it's a sluggish one frame per second at full resolution for just three images. The camera is many things, but it's definitely not a speed demon. That said, both iAuto and the Advanced Sports Shooting Mode did a nice job freezing fast-moving subjects.
There's no viewfinder on the Sony H70 but framing your shots with the camera's 3-inch display was no problem, even in very bright sunlight. The display's viewing angle is generous, although vertical angles are less forgiving than horizontal ones. You can adjust the display's brightness in the menu to compensate for glare or to conserve battery life.
The controls, while small, don't present much of an obstacle to quickly finding the setting you need. The exception is the mode dial -- it's not only small but it's often hard to wheel around into your desired position. Plus, the symbols for Sweep Panorama and Movie Mode look awfully similar, especially when you're holding the camera at arm's length. On more than one occasion I popped into Sweep when I meant to enter Movie. (Obviously, after a few days you'll remember what's where.)
As noted above, the Sony H70 is a 16-megapixel point-and-shoot. That's a fair amount of pixels sandwiched onto a 1/2.3" CCD image sensor that is 7.7mm in size. The obvious downside of packing so many pixels is digital noise, which reared its head quite frequently in Movie mode and crept into a few low-light and indoor iAuto snapshots as well.
There is an upside, though, to a high-resolution camera, which is the ability to crop the sensor for digital zoom purposes and still retain a printable image. The Sony H70's Smart and Precision zooms are a good example of this, giving you close-up beyond what the optical zoom can deliver. When you exceed the limits of the optical zoom, the camera will display a guide box on the LCD to help frame the crop. While shooting, the image looked very unsteady in the box and I was pretty sure the resulting snapshot would be a blurred mess. To my pleasant surprise, that turned out not to be the case: the photos were crisp and blur-free.
As mentioned above, the Cyber-shot H70 has a Manual Mode but no Aperture or Shutter Priority Modes, kind of a strange omission. Another oddity is that while the camera offers Macro focusing, there's no way to actually set the camera to Macro Mode. The Sony H70 will do so automatically -- in Program and Intelligent Auto Modes -- which is nice, but somehow incomplete.
Playback: The playback capabilities on the Sony H70 are rather modest, as far as it goes. You can playback your images in a slideshow with or without some pre-loaded music. If you opt for music you'll have a choice of four five-minute songs, none are particularly good so you may want to load your own, which you can do using the included software. You can also select various transition styles for your slideshow: simple, nostalgic, stylish or active. When set to simple you can also choose the interval at which images slide past.
If you just want to scroll through capture images and videos you can view them by folder or the date they were captured. There are basic editing functions included in the Playback menu that include resizing, red-eye removal and the ability to apply an unsharp mask effect to a photo (the camera usefully saves this edited version, preserving the original).
Storage & Battery: The Cyber-shot H70 has a two-in-one memory card slot for accepting Memory Stick Duo and PRO Duo cards or SD memory cards, including SDHC and SDXC varieties. There's no internal memory to speak of (you only can get about three full resolution stills out of the camera's 27MB of on board memory) so a card is a must.
The Sony H70 uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (NP-BG1) which is held in place with a tiny latch that you need to press to pop the battery. The latch is small enough that it was often awkward to get the battery out. It also feels a bit flimsy. Battery life is rated at only 145 shots per charge according to the CIPA standard, which is below average.
Both the battery and memory card are housed securely in a latched compartment at the bottom of the camera, which springs open and shut with nary an issue. The plug for the multi-connector cable is adjacent to the battery compartment -- so the door must be closed if you wish to use the connector cable.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft at upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Very mild blurring, upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70's zoom
shows only minor blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see
at center, and blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto,
performance is about the same. Good results overall.
Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: A small amount of barrel distortion, though barely visible
Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle and telephoto, as we measured under 0.1% barrel distortion at both settings. Thus, the Cyber-shot DSC-H70's processor has distortion fairly well locked down.
Tele: Moderately high and bright
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate
in terms of pixel count, though coloration isn't strong. Telephoto, however,
shows more noticeable distortion, with stronger blue pixels visible.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70's Macro mode captures a sharp image
overall, with strong detail throughout most of the frame, and a moderate amount
of blurring in the corners (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras
in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 2.85 x 2.14 inches (73 x 54mm), a little
larger than average. Some slight barrel distortion is also noticeable here,
along the top of the dollar bill and on the brooch (which almost appears to
bend backwards a little). The camera's flash produces an uneven exposure, with
a shadow from the lens in the lower left corner and a strong hot spot on the
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70's LCD monitor showed just over 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto. Very good results here; just a touch loose.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 Image Quality
Color: Overall color is bright and vibrant, though strong reds and blues are oversaturated a fair amount (a common occurrence among consumer digital cameras, presumably to appeal to consumer taste towards brighter-than-life color). Hue is off slightly for oranges, which are pushed toward yellow. Cyans are pushed more strongly toward blue, however. Dark skin tones show a noticeable shift toward orange, while lighter skin tones are near accurate. Very good results overall.
Noticeable red cast
Stronger warm cast
Good, if slightly cool
Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting
best overall, though it did have a slightly cool cast. Both Auto and Incandescent
settings showed fairly strong warm casts, however.
Horizontal: 2,100 lines
Vertical: 2,100 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct
line patterns down to about 2,100 lines per picture height in both directions.
Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,600 lines per picture height.
Wide: Fair, but dim
Slow Sync Flash
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) produced somewhat dim (but still usable) results at the wide-angle rated distance of 11.8 feet, though ISO was increased to 320. The telephoto test came out much brighter at 7.5 feet, but ISO jumped up to 800.
Auto flash produced dark results in our indoor portrait scene, at ISO 100 and a fast shutter speed of 1/60 second, and adding flash exposure compensation didn't help. However, using Slow-Sync flash, results are much brighter. Shutter speed slowed to 0.4 second, though, so a tripod is a necessity.
ISO: Noise and Detail: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 handles noise fairly
well up through ISO 200. Detail remains strong and fairly well-defined, though
soft overall. By ISO 400, detail definition decreases slightly, and color balance
cools a tad from some chroma (color) noise. Luminance noise becomes more of
a problem at ISO 800 on up, and results at ISO 3,200 are quite broken up and
pixilated. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.
ISO 100 shots look a little better at 13x19 inches.
ISO 200 shots still look good at 13x19 inches, though there's some softening due to noise suppression. This becomes negligible when printed at 11x14 inches.
ISO 400 images are pretty good at 11x14, but low-contrast reds are quite soft.
ISO 800 shots are good at 8x10, but there's some darkening in shadows, and darks are overall darker than they should be.
ISO 1,600 images look better at 5x7 inches, with the overall darkening of shadows continuing.
ISO 3,200 images are too mottled and dark at 5x7, and printing them at 4x6 doesn't help much. We'd call 4x6 prints usable, but not great.
Overall, the Sony H70 does fairly well for its price, though it's not quite on par with what we'd expect from a 16-megapixel camera thanks to the noise suppression that starts to blur detail even in the lowest ISO images. We recommend staying below ISO 1,600 for the best image quality.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 Performance
Startup Time: The Sony H70 takes 2.3 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's pretty good for a long-zoom camera.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.39 second at wide-angle and 0.42 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.015 second, which is very quick.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is quite slow, capturing a frame every 3.3 seconds in single-shot mode. Sony rates the H70's full-resolution burst mode at only 1 frame per second for 3 frames, also slow.
Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70's flash recycles in about 5.6 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.
Low Light AF: The Sony H70's AF system was only able to focus down to the two foot-candle light level unassisted which is quite poor, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF-assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70's download speeds are quite fast. We measured 8,827 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The retail box for the H70 includes:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 camera
- Battery pack (NP-BG1)
- Battery charger (BC-CSGD)
- Wrist strap
- Multi Connector Cable (USB, SD A/V)
- CDROM with Cyber-shot Software and User Guide
- Instruction Manual
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick Pro DUO memory card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Sony H70 Conclusion
Sony's Cyber-shot H70 is a pretty solid long-zoom compact. It has a modest feature set with only a handful of Scene modes, and a Manual Mode for some photographic experimentation, and a few "Intelligent" modes to do the thinking for you. The 10x, G-series wide-angle zoom performs well and gives the Sony H70 a nice optical punch. The Movie mode on the Sony H70 is something of a disappointment, though, and the performance can be a bit sluggish, but it's hard to argue with a camera that packs the features it does for the price. Features like Sweep Panorama and Advanced mode shooting make the Sony H70 a great travel companion as well, provided you're not in much of a hurry. In the bargain long-zoom category, especially for stills, the Sony H70 is a Dave's Pick.