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Sony H300 Review -- First Impressions

Preview posted

If you're on a quest for an affordable camera with plenty of telephoto reach, then you're the target customer for the Sony H300. With a 35x optical zoom lens and a pricetag barely above $200, the H300 should fit your bill. SLR-like styling should make for a comfortable grip, too, although the lack of a viewfinder means you'll be at arm's length from your subjects.

The Sony H300 is based around a Super HAD-branded, 20.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch type CCD image sensor. Compared to the more commonplace CMOS chips, CCD sensors save a little on cost, but they're typically much slower.

That's borne out by the H300's very modest full-resolution burst capture rate of just 0.8 frames per second, although the depth of 100 frames means that, at least, you shouldn't often be troubled by an even slower rate due to the buffer filling. Sensitivity ranges to as high as ISO 3,200 equivalent.

In front of the imager is a Sony-branded, 35x zoom optic with a generous 25mm-equivalent wide angle and a powerful 875mm-equivalent telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/3.0 at wide angle to f/5.9 at telephoto.

As you'd expect, Sony has included Optical SteadyShot image stabilization in the H300, and it features a new Intelligent Active mode that's said to stabilize movies even better than the Active mode of past models. (And we were already pretty impressed by the latter, which turned in usable results even when shooting while walking.)

The H300's contrast-detection autofocus system offers up multi-point, center, and spot AF modes, and includes both tracking and face tracking functions. There's also an AF illuminator to help get sharp shots of nearby subjects in low light.

Although it has an SLR-like design, the Sony H300 lacks any form of viewfinder, providing only an LCD monitor. It's based around a 3.0-inch Clear Photo LCD panel with ~460,000 dot resolution or ~480 x 320 pixels, with each pixel comprised of separate red, green, and blue dots.

Like its pricier, viewfinder-equipped and longer zoom sibling, the H400, Sony's H300 long-zoom lacks any external flash connectivity, but it does include a built-in popup flash. With auto ISO sensitivity, this has a working range of around 29 feet at wide angle or 15 feet at telephoto.

Although the focus here is clearly on affordability, the Sony H300 still offers up both Program and Manual shooting modes. (Sadly, it forgoes Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority modes, even though there's plenty of room on the sparsely-populated Mode dial for both.) Most H300 owners will probably rely on the single-shot Intelligent Auto mode, and there are also both Panorama and Scene modes. The latter include High Sensitivity, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Soft Skin, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Gourmet, and Pet Mode.

Exposures are determined with Multi-pattern, Center-weighted, or Spot metering, and +/-2.0EV of exposure compensation is provided in 1/3EV steps. Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer function is also included, to help hold onto highlight and shadow detail in difficult lighting conditions.

The Sony H300 supports not just still imaging, but also video capture. Although you can't shoot Full HD video, likely due to the use of a slow CCD imager, the H300 can capture HD (1,280 x 720 pixel; 720p) video at a 30 frames-per-second rate. Videos recorded by the H300 include monaural audio.

The Sony H300 offers two wired connectivity choices: USB 2.0 High Speed data, or composite standard-definition video output using the same port. Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, as well as on Sony's own proprietary Memory Stick Duo cards. Power comes courtesy of four AA batteries which are rated at 350 shots per charge (Sony didn't say what type, likely Ni-MH).

Available from February 2014, the Sony H300 ships only in a black-bodied version for about US$220.

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