Sony DSC-H5 Review

 
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Sony DSC-H5 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color, though often a slight warm cast. Slight oversaturation of strong reds and blues, but very good results overall.

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.

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. The Sony DSC-H5 does oversaturate the strong red tones, and certain blues a little, but not as much as do many cameras, and the results are pleasing. 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. Here, the H5 did render skin tones a bit on the warm, orange side in most cases, but many consumers find slightly warm skin tones pleasing. (Warmer skin tones are definitely more pleasing than those on the cool or magenta side.)

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Though the DSC-H5 often produced a slightly warm color balance (especially outdoors), and pushed reds toward orange slightly, overall results were quite accurate.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, though a hint warm. A little more positive exposure compensation required than usual.

Auto White Balance +1.3 EV Incandescent WB +1.3 EV
 
Manual White Balance +1.3 EV  

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was pretty warm with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, though the Manual option produced more accurate results. The Sony DSC-H5 required a little more than the average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +1.3 EV. Despite the slight warm cast, overall color with the Manual white balance setting is excellent, without strong purple tints in the blue flowers. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the H5 performed very well indeed 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
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward a warm cast and high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.

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

Outdoors, the Sony DSC-H5 tended toward a warmer color balance, though overall color was generally pretty good. The H5 performed about average in terms of exposure, requiring the typical amount (or slightly less) of positive compensation we're accustomed to seeing among consumer digital cameras. The H5's default contrast is rather high, producing washed-out highlights and dark shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of our "Sunlit" portrait test shown above right. Like other recent Sony cameras, the low contrast option helps with harsh lighting like this, but produces undesirable saturation variations in Caucasian skin tones, rendering some tones almost grey - For that reason, the sample of the "Sunlit" portrait test shown above was shot with the default contrast setting.

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

Resolution
High resolution, 1,350 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,350 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,350 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,350 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,700. 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. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,600 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

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

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images overall, though some edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, though with visible edge enhancement. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Sony DSC-H5 captures fairly sharp images, albeit with some visible edge enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

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. The crop above right shows this, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing only limited detail. At low ISO settings though, the H5's detail preservation was average to better than average.

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

ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,000

Noise levels are low to moderate at the Sony DSC-H5's lower sensitivity settings, with higher noise at ISO 400 (as you'd expect). That said, shots captured at ISO 400 don't look bad when printed at 8x10 inches and under. At ISOs 800 and 1,000, however, noise levels increase dramatically, with a strong pattern and strong blurring, and a general desaturation of colors. ISO 800 and 1000 shots are only usable to about 5x7 inches under daylight-balanced lighting, or 4x6 inches under incandescent light sources.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast and limited shadow detail. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and much darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
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.)

The Sony DSC-H5 produced high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows under the harsh lighting of the test above. Noise suppression is visible in the shadows, contributing to the loss of detail there. Though some areas look a little dark at +0.7 EV, I preferred it to the image at +1.0 EV, which had too many blown highlights for my preference. (Some readers may prefer the shot at +0.3 EV, although I felt the lower skin tones were a bit dark there. In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  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
80
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3 sec
f2.8
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7 sec
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13 sec
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20 sec
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30 sec
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ISO
100
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2.5 sec
f2.8
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5 sec
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10 sec
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15 sec
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30 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
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1.3 sec
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2.5 sec
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5 sec
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8 sec
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20 sec
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ISO
400
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1.3 sec
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2.5 sec
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4 sec
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10 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
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1/3 sec
f2.8
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1/1 sec
f2.8
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1.3 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
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5 sec
f2.8
ISO
1000
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1/4 sec
f2.8
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1/2 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1.6 sec
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4 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Sony DSC-H5 captured bright images down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level (about 1/8 as bright as average city street lighting at night). Though images are fairly bright at the lowest light level, the dimmer exposure resulted in a strong pink color cast. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level even with its AF assist light turned off, which works out well for its exposure system. With the AF-assist light on, it could focus on nearby objects in total darkness. Do keep in mind though, that the very long shutter times necessary here absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick 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.)

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera 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
Dim exposures at the default exposure setting; the camera required average to slightly more than average exposure compensation for flash exposures. Pretty good range though.

36mm equivalent 432mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.0 EV Slow-Sync Flash +1.3 EV

Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, and the flash a bit out of range for our viewfinder accuracy/flash coverage target at telephoto (thanks to the long 12x optical zoom range), despite it's substantial power. Indoors, under incandescent background lighting, the DSC-H5's flash underexposed our subject a fair bit at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode required a little more positive compensation at +1.3 EV, though overall coverage is more even. However, the longer shutter speed results in a stronger orange cast from the background lighting. (Most cameras require about +1.0 EV of exposure boost on this shot, so the H5's performance is about average.)

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
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ISO 100
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1/40 sec
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ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft
Click to see H5FL06T.JPG
1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f3.7
ISO 100

 The DSC-H5's flash was bright and powerful, with excellent intensity all the way to 14 feet at ISO 100.

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see H5FL_MFR029WA0125.JPG
29 feet
ISO 125
Click to see H5FL_MFR022TA0200.JPG
22 feet
ISO 200

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, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims. In the shots above, the H5 seems to perform exactly as Sony says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto. These are really excellent range figures. Even allowing for the ISO boost to 200 in telephoto mode, the range here is way beyond what's common for digicams.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, good 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 and 1000 shots are marginal at 5x7, good at 4x6.

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.)

With the Sony DSC-H5, we found that it had enough resolution to make good looking 11x14 inch prints. At 13x19, its prints were softer looking, but probably fine for wall or table display. At high ISO, image noise levels are held in check up to ISO 400, but the jump to ISO 800 gets quite a bit rougher. ISO 800 shots under daylight-balanced lighting look OK at 5x7 inches, those shot under incandescent lighting are really only usable as 4x6 inch snapshots. (The very warm color balance of incandescent lighting forces the camera's already-noisy blue channel to work harder, producing higher noise.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 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-H5 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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