Sony DSC-H3 Review

 
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color, though strong oversaturation in the reds. About average performance in terms of hue accuracy.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 oversaturates strong red tones quite a bit, but actually undersaturates some of the greens. Still, overall color and saturation were pretty good, though the bright reds do tend to dominate depending on the scene. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Sony H3 did produce somewhat warm skin tones, though results were still quite good and natural. Most people prefer slightly warm skin tones over cooler, more bluish ones. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. Overall hue accuracy was about average, as the Sony H3 pushed cyan toward blue and some reds toward orange. Hue is "what color" the color is.


See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm color balance with both Auto and Incandescent settings. More than average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.3 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was very warm with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, though the Auto option had the slightly lesser cast. The strong warm cast results in slightly orange skin tones. The Sony H3 required a +1.3 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is more than average for this shot. In addition to the warm, orange color balance, the blue flowers are quite dark and purplish. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the DSC-H3 struggled a bit here.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Slightly flat color, though pretty good exposure. High default contrast, but better results with the low contrast setting.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Low Contrast
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 produced high contrast exposures in response to the harsh lighting. Exposure was pretty good though, as the camera actually required a little less than the average amount of positive exposure compensation on the portrait shot. The default contrast setting resulted in very dark shadows and strong highlights, but the low adjustment produced a more even exposure. The Sony H3 features a Dynamic Range Optimizer setting, but results were not much better than the standard contrast setting. Overall color looks just a hint flat on the house shot, thanks in part to slight undersaturation in the green tones.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,500 ~ 1,600 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,500 lines vertically. Extinction occurred right at 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, though noticeable edge enhancement. Noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.

Pretty good definition of high-contrast subjects, though noticeable edge enhancement in the shot above. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here.

Sharpness. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 captures fairly sharp images overall, with pretty good detail definition. However, in the crop above left, edge enhancement is visible along the lines of high-contrast areas such as the house trim. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows fairly high noise suppression, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited detail. Individual strands become lost, but are hinted at with color transitions in the lighter shadows. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a big jump in noise with strong blurring at the higher settings.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 produced low to moderate noise at the ISO 100 and 200 settings, though noise is slightly high at ISO 400. At ISO 800, there's a significant jump in the noise level, with stronger blurring. At ISOs 1,600 and 3,200, the higher noise drastically interferes with the image, altering color and practically eliminating all fine detail.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, though high contrast with default setting. Good results with the contrast adjustment. Excellent low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV
+1.0 EV +0.7 EV, Low Contrast Dynamic Range Optimizer

Sunlight. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 had some difficulty dealing with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows at its default contrast setting. Shadow detail is limited, with the effects of noise suppression evident in the form of smudged detail in deep shadow areas. The camera required about average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +0.7 EV. The camera's low contrast adjustment did a good job of producing a more even exposure, with better shadow detail. The Sony H3 also offers a Dynamic Range Optimizer setting, but results here were only slightly better than the normal contrast setting. Of the three, the shot taken with the low contrast option produced the best overall results. Of course, consider using the fill flash for better results in harsh lighting like this, or move to bright shade.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)




  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
100
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4 sec
f3.5
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8 sec
f3.5
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20 sec
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30 sec
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30 sec
f3.5
ISO
200
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2 sec
f3.5
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5 sec
f3.5
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10 sec
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20 sec
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30 sec
f3.5
ISO
400
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1.3 sec
f3.5
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2.5 sec
f3.5
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5 sec
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10 sec
f3.5
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20 sec
f3.5
ISO
800
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0.6 sec
f3.5
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1.3 sec
f3.5
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2.5 sec
f3.5
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5 sec
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10 sec
f3.5
ISO
1600
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0.3 sec
f3.5
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0.6 sec
f3.5
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1.3 sec
f3.5
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2.5 sec
f3.5
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5 sec
f3.5
ISO
3200
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1/6 sec
f3.5
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0.3 sec
f3.5
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0.6 sec
f3.5
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1.3 sec
f3.5
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2.5 sec
f3.5

Low light. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). Noise increased with higher ISOs, as you might expect, but results are good at ISO 100 (if just a hint dim at the 1/16 foot-candle setting). Color balance was pretty good with the Auto white balance. The camera's autofocus system worked fairly well, though it was not a match for its exposure system. It was able to focus on the subject almost down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, but down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (A useful trick for shooting in low light is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera is mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
A modest flash at close range, and definitely not a match for the camera's 10x optical zoom. Our standard shots required much higher than average exposure compensation, though coverage was pretty uniform.

38mm equivalent 380mm equivalent
Normal Flash
+1.7 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
+1.7 EV

Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, but still a little better than average. At full telephoto, the target was too far away for the flash to illuminate it. In the Indoor test, the Sony H3's flash underexposed our subject quite a bit at its default setting, requiring a +1.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results. And even here, the exposure is still a bit dim. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger orange cast from the room lighting. Again, the camera required a +1.7 EV exposure boost, though results are brighter from the longer shutter time.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f3.5
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see H3FL06T.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see H3FL12T.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright out to a distance of about 10 feet, decreasing in brightness slightly from that point on. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target remained bright to about 8-9 feet, but the images darken gradually from there.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle
Click to see FZ8FL_MFR098WM0100.JPG
9.8 feet
ISO 500

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the DSC-H3 seems to perform exactly as Sony says it will, producing a good exposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 100). Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings (or one if the company only specs one), at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, good color, good 13x19-inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 11x14, ISO 800 shots are still good at 8x10.

The Sony H3 had enough resolution to make good looking 13x19-inch prints. 11x14-inch prints were just a bit sharper, but that size held good quality out to ISO 400. ISO 800 shots started to get pretty fuzzy, but 8x10-inch images were quite good again. ISO 1,600 images were decent, but still soft and noisy in the shadows. 5x7s at this setting, however, were better, if a little faded. Finally, ISO 3,200 shots were only usable at 4x6, again with faded color. A pretty impressive performance overall.

When printing our indoor incandescent light shots, the story changes, but only a little. ISO 100 shots look better at 11x14, ISO 400 shots still look good at 11x14, ISO 800 shots still look good at 8x10, and ISO 1,600 is still usable at 5x7. ISO 3,200, on the other hand, is too muddled by false colors to pass muster even on a 4x6 print. This is a pretty expected and common outcome, as the incandescent light challenges the sensor's blue channel too much. Again, though, quite good overall.

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 iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 Photo Gallery.

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 gets a small 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...

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-H3 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!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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