The Imaging Resource
Sony DSC-H1 Digital Camera
Sony DSC-H1 Introduction
By Shawn Barnett
With the price of digital SLRs finally within reach, should you stick with the All-in-one digicam or move up to an SLR? Why buy a high-end digicam when digital SLRs are so close in price? Do digicams still have a purpose? What are the pros and cons? An avid photographer, I spent some time thinking about that myself. Come see what I discovered about digital SLRs versus all-in-one digicams.
Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H1 is a new form factor addition to a long and very broad line of digital cameras that reflect Sony's commanding position in the digital camera marketplace. Like many other long zoom cameras, the Sony H1 has a miniature SLR look and feel, with the big grip and large lens barrel. Rather than an optical viewfinder, there's a secondary LCD inside an eyepiece that you can use when in bright sunlight. Most of the functions will be familiar to users of other Sony digital cameras, as will be the generous 2.5-inch color LCD monitor that is appearing on more and more Sony digicams. What's new on the Sony H1 is the 12x zoom and Super SteadyShot image stabilization mechanism. The Sony H1 offers a Beach preset scene mode, in addition to the six other preset scene modes common to Sony cams, plus four metering modes offering full exposure control. Solidly built, the Sony H1 has a smooth and fast zoom mechanism and a good feel in the hand. Read on for all the details!
Like many other new Sony offerings, the new Sony DSC-H1 digital camera addresses a new market for the company: the Long Zoom Family Camera. It falls somewhere between the enthusiast workhorse of the Sony F828 and the Sony P150, and goes a few steps further. It offers a huge 12x zoom along with full manual exposure control, yet is simple to use.
Though the LCD monitor is quite large and dominates the rear panel, Sony managed to keep all the functions necessary close at hand and easy to operate. Though it's a little on the small side, the grip area offers a firm hold on 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 raised ridge 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.
Pressing the Power button on top of the camera does not produce quite the reaction we're used to from other Sonys, where the lens virtually bursts from its silo, but it still comes out quickly for such a long lens. The LCD comes on, the camera chimes, and the camera is ready to go. When it comes to actually taking a picture, the experience quickly becomes all about that wonderful 2.5-inch LCD display on the camera's back. More like a frame in a gallery than an LCD viewfinder, you'll be able to acquire subjects quickly and frame your shots better than with most other digital cameras. The display, while not "transflective," does have a special anti-reflective coating that makes it surprisingly usable in very bright lighting, even direct sunlight, and its contrast is excellent. (Sony has told us that they generally only use the transflective screen on models without an optical viewfinder, like the DSC-T1.) Daylight visibility is often a severe limitation of rear-panel LCD digital camera displays, one that the Sony DSC-H1 avoids almost entirely. Reviewing images is also easier with the larger display, making the camera's 5x Playback zoom that much more meaningful.
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, and also if it's selected by the user.
The Sony DSC-H1'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 480 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 become active when the shutter is pressed, but if you want to see the effect of the stabilization, put the camera in Continuous mode.
Typical of consumer digicams, the Sony DSC-H1 does tend to oversharpen its image a bit, but exposure is usually excellent, 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 H1, 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-H1 is designed to work with 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 145 minutes of on-time (with the LCD), capturing up to 290 full-resolution images. (Sony's official ratings, not ours.) 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 H1, 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-H1 is an impressive offering, and should do well against other long-zoom "family cams," 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 for better handholding of shots. Its big screen and quality lens should give most users a great experience capturing fine pictures they'll be proud to display.
- 5.1-megapixel CCD.
- 12x zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-432mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- Max 15-48x digital Smart Zoom (depending on res), plus 24x Precision Digital zoom.
- Electronic viewfinder.
- 2.5-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 storage (no card included), compatible with original Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro.
- USB 2.0 computer connection.
- 2 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger included.
- Software for Mac and PC.
- Super Steady Shot (tm) optical image stabilization for steady shots at telephoto focal lengths.
- Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Beach, High-speed shutter, Landscape, and Portrait 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 1/8 sec in Auto mode; 1/2,000 to two seconds in Program mode; and 1/1000 to 30 seconds in manual mode.
- Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/3.7.
- Creative Picture Effects menu (black and white and sepia).
- Image Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments.
- 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 64, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
- White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.
Beginning through intermediate users will be right at home with the Sony DSC-H1, and advanced users will enjoy its excellent portability and array of manual exposure control options, not to mention the long zoom. Although the Sony H1 is technically a high-end point-and-shoot digital camera, it has the manual controls necessary for an experience photographer to make exactly the image he's looking for. So, while it's designed to relieve you from complicated exposure decisions, advanced amateurs and business users will appreciate it for its quality, range, and varied shooting options. It appears well-built and its lens mechanism is fast. Accessory lenses make it more versatile for wide or telephoto use. Overall, an excellent "all around" camera, with good speed and resolution, a nice set of features, and effective image stabilization to really let you make the most of its long 12x zoom lens.
The Sony DSC-H1 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere, with a body style similar to other long zoom digital cameras on the market, a design new to Sony. Its silvery metal body is big enough for easy control with either one hand or two. Measuring 4.25 x 3.25 x 3.62 inches (107.8 x 18.4 x 91.2 millimeters) and weighing 17.71 ounces (502 grams) with the batteries installed, the Sony H1 is not exactly pocketable, but it fits into larger coat pockets and small packs with ease. When not in use, the telescoping zoom lens retracts neatly inside the body, and a substantial lens cap is provided for very secure protection. (This cap is arguably the most substantial we've seen to date, with a mechanism that controls four spring-loaded retractable cap retention cams. The heft of the cap reminds me more of a manhole cover than a lens cap.) Despite the Sony H1's heft, it is well-balanced and easy to hold, though its protrusions are likely to snag a bit in a coat pocket, so I recommend a camera bag to give this camera the protection is deserves.
The Sony DSC-H1 has a good grip up front and a reasonably clear area for your thumb on the back. The 12x, 6 - 72mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 36 - 432mm zoom on a 35mm camera) dominates the camera's left side (when viewed from the back), with a small and very bright orange lamp on the upper right of it, to help with focusing in low-light conditions. (This lamp also blinks less brightly when the self-timer is in use, flashing faster to let you know when the camera is about to snap the picture.) The flash is above the lens, concealed in a pop-up assembly. The Jog Dial is located under the shutter button on the handgrip.
The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) has a small plastic door that opens to reveal a small opening into the battery compartment, which accommodates the AC adapter cord. Above that is the neckstrap lashing point.
The left side has a large plastic door that flips out toward the front and reveals the A/V and USB jacks. Three vertical slots for the speaker are below that, with a neckstrap lashing point to the upper left on the lens body.
The camera's top panel includes the Shutter button, Focus and Continuous/Bracketing buttons, and the Mode dial. To the left is the Power button and three elongated holes for the microphone.
The Sony DSC-H1's rear panel holds the remaining camera controls and function buttons, along with a big 2.5-inch color LCD monitor for previewing and playing back images, and the electronic viewfinder (EVF) window. The big LCD is surprisingly readable in bright light, even direct sunlight, though it's not transflective like the display on the earlier Sony T1. Instead, Sony used an anti-reflective coating on the outermost panel of the LCD to improve contrast, color accuracy, and viewing angle. The result is quite impressive.
The LCD display reports a variety of camera and exposure settings, including the aperture and shutter speed settings (a nice bonus for those interested in how the camera will expose the image) and a three-stage battery gauge. The EVF is located above the LCD monitor, with the Finder Adjustment Lever beneath for dioptric adjustment. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner. Lower right of the LCD is a Five-way Arrow pad, with small arrows pointing in four directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right) and a set button in the middle. Each serves multiple functions, navigating onscreen menus scrolling between captured images in playback mode, or activating different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro).
Upper left of the Arrow pad is the Menu button; beneath that is the LCD Display On / Off button; and to the right is the Image Resolution / Erase button.
Finally, the Sony H1's flat bottom holds the threaded (metal, kudos for that) tripod screw mount, a speaker for audio playback, and the shared Memory Stick / battery compartment with a clever door arrangement. While most users of the H1 probably won't care, it is impossible to change the batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod.
The Sony DSC-H1 has two items that are not commonly included: an Accessory extension tube for attaching accessory lenses, and a lens hood that attaches to the extension tube. Unfortunately, the lens hood blocks the flash when shooting at wide angle, but it could still be useful at longer portrait distances, helping eliminate glare and lens flare.
Operating the Sony DSC-H1 in any of its automatic modes is straightforward, with only two additional controls when you enter Aperture, Shutter, or Manual modes. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Auto, Program, Aperture, Shutter, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Beach, High-speed shutter, Landscape, Portrait, Setup, Movie, and Playback modes. In all image capture modes, the DSC-H1 provides an onscreen LCD menu (activated by the Menu button), with a variety of options for adjusting image quality or adding special effects. The four arrows of the Five-way arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the button in the center of the pad functions as the OK button to confirm selections. When in shooting mode, the arrows adjust flash, macro, and self-timer, and quick review modes. In Aperture, Shutter, or Manual modes, turning the Jog Dial on the front of the grip allows you to select between shutter, aperture, and EV adjustments, and pressing the dial in makes the selection so you can adjust it with the dial. When in Manual mode, information on the LCD to the right of these values tells you by how many EV units it thinks your exposure is off, up to plus or minus 2EV.
An Image Resolution button calls up the available resolution settings, removing this item from the main menu system, thereby making it much quicker to access when needed. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when the latter is activated through the Setup menu). Overall, I was impressed by Sony's judicious use of space, especially with the large number of external controls provided, the extremely large LCD, and the relatively short learning curve the H1's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the H1 has one of the cleanest user interfaces I've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.
In record mode, the LCD monitor displays the subject with a fair amount of overlaid information, indicating approximate battery life remaining (graphically), flash mode, focus mode (macro or normal), autofocus mode setting, any currently-selected exposure compensation setting, ISO setting, the current size/quality setting, and number of images that can be stored on the remaining Memory Stick space at the current size/quality. It also warns when Super SteadyShot is off. Half-pressing the Shutter button causes the camera to display the shutter speed and aperture setting it has chosen for the current lighting conditions. Pressing the Display button beside the LCD once adds a small "live" histogram display to the information, pressing it again removes most of the information overlay, and pressing it a third time restores the default display. Pressing the Finder/LCD button right of the EVF switches between the LCD and EVF.
In playback mode, the default image display shows the most recently captured image, with a modest information overlay present. Pressing the display button once adds the exposure information and a small histogram to the overlay, pressing it again removes the information overlay entirely, and pressing it a third time returns to the default view. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom lever takes you to a display showing images on the Memory Stick in groups of nine small thumbnails, while a second press pulls up a 16-image index. (You can navigate a yellow outline cursor over these thumbnails by using the four arrow keys. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever will bring the currently-selected image up full-screen.) Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever when viewing an image full-size on the LCD screen will zoom in on the image, in 17 variable-sized increments up to a maximum magnification of 5x.
Power Button: Located just left of the Mode dial on the camera's top panel, this well-recessed button turns the camera on and off.
Mode Dial: Perched high on the right side of the camera's top, this ribbed dial sets the camera's operating mode, offering Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Beach, High-speed shutter, Landscape, Portrait, Movie, and Playback modes. (See menus and descriptions below.)
Shutter Button: Placed out on the grip's leading edge, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
Focus Button: Selects focus method, choosing among Multi point AF, Center AF, Flexible Spot AF, and Manual Focus.
Continuous/Bracket Button: Selects among Burst, Exposure Bracketing, and Multi Burst modes. Multi Burst fires 16 frames and saves them as a matrix of 16 images in one frame.
Finder/LCD Button: Switches between the 2.5 inch LCD and the electronic viewfinder.
Steady Shot Button: Cancels and re-activates Super SteadyShot mode.
Zoom Control: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls optical zoom and, when enabled via the Setup menu, Sony's "Smart Zoom" or Precision Zoom options.
In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of a captured image, which can go as high as 5x. (Very handy for checking focus or the expressions on people's faces in group shots.) Also in Playback mode, the wide-angle end of the button activates the Index Display mode, which displays either nine or 16 thumbnail images on the screen at one time. (Pressing the "W" end once pulls up the nine-image display, and a second press pulls up the 16-image display.)
Five-Way Arrow Pad: Located right of the LCD on the rear panel, this five-button array control features four arrow buttons, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, and right), with a Set or OK button in the middle (Sony describes it by its shape: a dot). In all settings menus, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. Pressing the center button confirms selections.
In any record mode, the Up button controls the Flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Slow-Sync, and Suppressed modes. The Right arrow turns the Macro (close-up) mode on and off, and the Left arrow accesses the Quick Review mode, which displays the most recently captured image on the screen. The Down arrow accesses the Self-Timer mode.
In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When Playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows scroll around within the enlarged view, while pressing the center button returns to the normal, 1x display. In Manual mode, the four arrows can control aperture and shutter speed after the middle button is pressed.
Menu Button: Upper left of the Five-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode. The Menu button also turns off the menu display.
Image Resolution / Erase Button: Lower left of the Five-way Arrow pad, this button displays the available resolutions in any record mode. Choices are 5M (2,592 x 1,944), 3:2 (2,592 x 1,728), 3M (2,048 x 1,536), 1M (1,280 x 960), and VGA (640 x 480). Movie resolutions are MPEG VX Fine 640 x 480 at 30fps (requires Memory Stick Pro), MPEG VX Standard 640 x 480 at 16fps, and 160 x 112 at 8fps.
In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently displayed image or movie.
Display / LCD On/Off Button: Off the lower right corner of the LCD, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with information display, the image with information and live histogram display, the image with limited information display (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles through the same series.
Camera Modes and Menus
Scene Modes: Marked on the Mode dial with a black line, these modes are for capturing images in specific situations. Seven "scenes" are available, including Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Beach, High-speed shutter, Landscape, and Portrait. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, although the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed to let ambient lighting brighten the background as well. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Candle mode is just for candlelit scenes, great for birthdays or services. A tripod is once again recommended. Beach mode optimizes the camera for bright situations and prevents color loss from overexposure. High Speed Shutter mode biases the shutter speed to better capture action. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away. Portrait mode biases exposure toward wider apertures for sharp subjects isolated against a blurred background.
Manual Mode: This mode provides total control over the exposure, as you're able to select both aperture and shutter speed independently of each other. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8 (depending on the zoom position), and the camera is capable of shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/2,000.
Aperture Priority Mode: Marked with an "A," this mode gives user control of aperture from f/2.8 to f/8 using the Jog Dial, while the camera selects the shutter speed.
Shutter Priority Mode: Marked with an "S," this mode allows the user to control the shutter speed, from 30 seconds to 1/1,000 second.
Program Mode: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with a black camera icon and a "P." In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while you control all other exposure variables.
Automatic Mode: Indicated on the Mode dial with a green camera icon, this mode puts the camera in control over the exposure and everything except Macro, Image Size and Quality, Zoom, Flash, and the Self-Timer.
Playback Mode: Playback mode is noted on the Mode dial with the traditional Playback symbol (a triangle enclosed within a black rectangle outline). In this mode, you can scroll through captured images, delete them, write-protect them, and set them up for printing on PictBridge-compatible printers. You can also copy, resize, and rotate images.
Movie Mode: A filmstrip icon marks this mode on the Mode dial. In Movie mode, you can record moving images and sound, for as long as the Memory Stick or internal memory has space. Resolution and quality choices are 640 x 480 Fine (30fps), 640 x 480 Normal (16fps), or 160 x 112 (8fps). While recording, a timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how many minutes and / or seconds are remaining on the Memory Stick, and how long you've been recording, so you'll have some idea of how much time you have left. Recording in 640 x 480 Fine (30fps) mode is only available with a Memory Stick Pro card.
The H1 offers a Multi Burst mode separate from the movie mode and selected in the menu in Auto, Program, Shutter, Aperture, Manual, and Scene modes, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This would be a fun way to catch someone crossing a finish line during a race, or to analyze golf and tennis swings.) A Burst mode is also available, and captures a rapid series of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down. Frame rates and the maximum number of images depends on the image quality and resolution settings, as well as the amount of available memory space.
Record Menu: Available in all Record modes but Auto by pressing the Menu button, the Record menu offers the following options (some options are not available in all modes):
- Metering Mode: Chooses between Multi-Metering, Center-Weighted, and Spot modes. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background have very different brightness levels. Center-Weighted also reads from the center of the frame, but from a larger area than Spot. Multi-Metering mode reads the entire frame to determine exposure.
- White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, to suit the light source. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, Preset, and Set Preset. The last item takes a reading from whatever the camera is viewing when selected and saves it as the setting for "Preset." (Use it with a white or neutral gray object to set the white balance for your current light source.)
- ISO: (Not available in Scene modes.) Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 64, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
- P.Quality: Sets image compression/picture quality to either Standard or Fine.
- Bracketing (BRK): Sets exposure bracketing racket step size when Bracketing mode is selected with the Continuous/BKT button. Options are +/- 0.3, 0.7, or 1.0 EV. Handy as a way to quickly get three different exposures, for times when you're not sure what the best exposure might be.
- Interval: When Multi Burst mode is selected via the Continuous/BKT button, sets the interval between shots, with choices of 1/30, 1/15, and 1/7.5 second.
- Flash level: Sets flash power to plus, normal, or minus.
- Picture Effects (PFX): Offers two creative shooting modes:
- Black and White: Takes photos in monochrome.
- Sepia: Records an image in monochrome sepia tone.
- Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation (color intensity) with plus, normal, and minus settings.
- Contrast: Alters the level of contrast in images with plus, normal, and minus settings.
- Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness or softness with plus, normal, and minus settings.
- Setup: Takes you to the Setup Menu.
- Folder: Selects the folder for recording and playing back images.
- Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting.
- DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF-compatible printer. Also removes the print mark.
- Print: Prints images if the camera is connected to a PictBridge-compatible printer. Options are All images in the folder, DPOF-marked images, a selected image, or the current image.
- Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval, whether or not the sequence of images repeats, and choose between different folders on the Memory Stick or in the internal memory, if multiple folders exist.
- Resize: Resizes the image to 5M (2,592 x 1,944); 3M (2,048 x 1,536); 1M (1,280 x 960); or VGA (640 x 480 pixels). (When an image is resized, the original image is left in place, and a new copy is made at the selected size.)
- Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
- Divide: Allows you to trim material from the beginning or end of a recorded movie, or to extract an interesting bit of action from the middle of a longer clip.
- Setup: Takes you to the setup menu.
Setup Mode: This mode allows you to change a variety of camera settings, and is accessible through each of the camera menus.
- Camera 1:
- AF Mode: Sets the focus mode to Single, Monitor, or Continuous. Monitor continuously adjusts the focus until you half-press the shutter button. Continuous does the same, but continues to adjust focus after the shutter button has been half-pressed and held.
- Digital Zoom: Switches between the Smart Zoom and Precision Zoom, or turns digital enlargement off. Smart Zoom restricts the digital zoom range to that which can be achieved without interpolating the image data. (No Smart Zoom is available at the full 5 megapixel resolution, progressively more is available as you reduce the image size.) Precision Zoom interpolates the image as needed to fill the currently selected pixel dimensions with the subject.
- Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on captured images.
- Red Eye Reduction: Enables or disables the Red Eye Reduction flash mode, affecting both Auto and Forced flash modes.
- AF Illuminator: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions to help the camera focus.
- Auto Review: Immediately plays captured image onscreen for two seconds.
- Camera 2:
- Expanded Focus: Zooms the view on the LCD screen by 2x when focusing in Manual Focus mode.
- Enlarged Icon: If set to On, this option temporarily enlarges icons on the LCD display when flash mode, the self-timer, or macro options are set. (Makes it easier to see the changes you're making.)
- Steady Shot: Selects between Shooting and Continuous SteadyShot modes. Shooting mode activates SteadyShot only when shutter is pressed. Continuous mode leaves the SteadyShot active at all times, which results in increased battery consumption, but may make it easier to see what's going on in the viewfinder at long telephoto settings.
- Conversion Lens: Must be set according to the accessory lens that is attached to the camera, to permit the camera to focus properly with the conversion lenses in place. Choices are Close-up, Tele, or Wide.
- Internal Memory Tool (no screenshot, appears only when no Memory Stick is present):
- Format: Formats the internal memory, erasing all files (even protected ones).
- Memory Stick Tool:
- Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
- Create REC Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
- Change REC Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded to.
- Copy: Copies images from the internal memory to a Memory Stick.
- Setup 1:
- LCD Backlight: Controls the level of the LCD's backlight, with options of Bright and Normal.
- EVF Backlight: Adjusts the electronic viewfinder's brightness setting, offering Bright and Normal.
- Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, turning them on or off. A Shutter option enables only the shutter noise.
- Language: Selects among Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, or English for the menu language.
- Initialize: Resets the camera to its default settings.
- Setup 2:
- File Number: Chooses between Series (continuing the shot number indefinitely, between cards or between memory format operations) or Reset, which resets the frame number by folder or whenever the Memory Stick or internal memory is reformatted.
- USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PictBridge, PTP, or Normal. PictBridge lets the camera print directly to compatible printers, without the use of a computer, while PTP is helpful for connecting to some software on Windows XP or Mac OS X systems.
- Video Out: Sets the timing of the video output signal to either NTSC or PAL.
- Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-H1 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 or Large capacity Memory Stick 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.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR receives a commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
See the specifications sheet here.
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.
See my test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For full details on each of the test images, see the DSC-H1's "pictures" page.
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
- Color: Good overall color. Auto white balance has trouble with incandescent lighting, but Manual option does well. The DSC-H1 produced good color in my testing. It oversaturated strong reds (as do most consumer cameras, although the H1 a bit more than most), but other colors were pretty accurate. Skin tones tended to be slightly yellowish, but were within what I'd consider to be an acceptable range. The camera's Manual white balance setting typically did the best job, and handled incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (no flash) very well, but the Auto white balance system had a hard time with that light source. All in all, good to very good color.
- Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but high contrast. The Sony DSC-H1 handled my test lighting quite well and generally did a good job holding onto both highlight and shadow detail, but the deliberately harsh lighting of my "Sunlit" Portrait test was a bit too much for it. It does have an effective contrast adjustment option that does a good job of taming the camera's high default contrast, but I found that the contrast control produced odd saturation breaks in skin tones when I tried it with the Sunlit Portrait setup. - I'd avoid the low contrast setting for shots of human subjects. In terms of exposure, the Sony H1 did well, requiring an average amount of exposure compensation on shots that normally require it. A good job overall, but I'd like to see a low-contrast adjustment that doesn't affect skin tones as adversely.
- Resolution/Sharpness: Good resolution, 1,350 lines of "strong detail." The DSC-H1 performed about average for a five-megapixel camera on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 1,100 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,350 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,700 lines.
- Image Noise: Noise present at all ISO levels, but kept pretty well under control up to ISO 200. Some noise is present in the Sony DSC-H1's images, even at ISO 64, but it won't be visible with most subjects at ISO 64 or 100. At ISO 200, the noise becomes visible on-screen and details soften somewhat, but the images shot there looked surprisingly good even when printed as large as 8x10 inches. At ISO 400, the noise level jumps dramatically and more subject detail is lost. ISO 400 shots are rough even when printed as small as 5x7 inches, really shouldn't be considered for use with for larger than 4x6 inch prints.
- Closeups: A very small macro area with good detail, though soft corners. Flash had trouble up close. The DSC-H1 captured a very small macro area, measuring 1.68 x 1.26 inches (43 x 32 millimeters). Resolution is high, with good detail throughout the frame, though the corners were soft. (Most digital cameras produce soft corners in their macro modes.) The H1's flash was partially blocked by the lens, resulting in overexposure in the very top of the frame and a shadow over the rest of the frame. - Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots.
- Night Shots: Good low-light performance, with moderately low noise and good color. Autofocus system works to a bit under 1/4 foot-candle (fine for average city night scenes) without AF-assist, in complete darkness on nearby objects with the AF-assist enabled. The Sony DSC-H1 produced good-looking images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color across its ISO range. Noise was fairly low in most shots, becoming high at ISO 400, but even there it wasn't as bad as I'd expected to see. Even with the autofocus-assist light turned off, the autofocus system worked down to light levels a bit less than 1/4 as bright as typical city night scenes, and with the AF light on, it could focus on nearby objects in total darkness. All in all, a good low-light performer.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: An accurate EVF and LCD monitor. The DSC-H1's electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at wide angle and telephoto. The LCD monitor turned in the same results, since it's essentially the same view on a larger screen.
- Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide angle. Moderate to high chromatic aberration at both wide angle and telephoto. Excellent corner sharpness at all focal lengths. I measured approximately 1.0 percent barrel distortion at wide angle (higher than average), but none at telephoto. Chromatic aberration was moderate to high at wide angle and telephoto. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) On a more positive note, the Sony H1's images were much sharper in the corners than I'm accustomed to seeing from consumer-level digital cameras, particularly those with long-ratio zoom lenses.
- Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Good shutter response, good shot to shot speeds. The Sony DSC-H1 is a pretty fast camera overall, with good startup and shutdown times for a camera with a telescoping lens, good to very good shutter response (full-autofocus shutter delay ranges from 0.28 - 0.78 second), and good shot to shot cycle times (1.24 seconds per large/fine frame). Its shutter lag when "prefocused" by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself is an absolutely blazing 0.011 second. All in all, great speed, especially for a long-zoom model, making the Sony H1 a good choice for shooting sports and other fast-paced action.
- Battery Life: Good but not exceptional battery life. The Sony DSC-H1 uses a two AA batteries for power, and two 2100 mAh NiMH batteries and a charger are included with the camera. Because it lacks a standard external power terminal, I couldn't conduct my usual direct power-consumption measurements, so we're dependent on Sony's own rating of the camera in this respect. (At least such rankings are now based on the CIPA standard, and so should be pretty consistent from manufacturer to manufacturer.) Using the included batteries Sony estimates that you can shoot about 290 shots per charge, a pretty reasonable number. Sony also sells 2500 mAh batteries for about $9, which would boost that number to 320. While these are pretty good battery-life numbers, they're somewhat lower than those of some competing models such as the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 (420 shots) and the Canon PowerShot S2 IS (550 shots).
- Print Quality: Good prints at 11x14 inches. ISO 400 shots best only at 4x6 inches, but ISO 200 usable at 8x10. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) Prints from the Sony DSC-H1 looked good as large as 11x14 inches, and even 13x19 prints from the i9900 looked good on the wall. (They were a little soft when viewed up close though.) As always, the tougher test was with high ISO images, and here the H1 was a bit of a mixed bag. Shots captured at ISO 200 actually looked pretty good at 8x10, very good indeed at 5x7, but those shot at ISO 400 were really only usable as 4x6 inch snapshots. (Even when printed at 5x7 inches, ISO 400 shots looked pretty rough.)
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Top 3 photos this month win:
1 Canon PIXMA PRO-100
2 Canon PIXMA MG6320
3 Canon PIXMA MG5420