Sony DSC-H50 Review
Sony H50 Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Oversaturation in strong reds and blues, and some color shifts, but overall pleasing color.
Saturation. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 oversaturates strong reds and blues a fair amount, but other colors are about right. Despite the strong reds, overall color was quite pleasing across a broad range of subjects. 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 H50's skin tones were a bit on the pink side, but still within believable limits. 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. The Sony DSC-H50 showed small color shifts relative to the
correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, most notable
pushing blue toward cyan for better skies. Orange was also pushed toward
yellow, and some blues toward violet. Still, overall color was pleasing.
Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Very warm color balance with the Auto and Incandescent settings, but good color with Manual white balance. Less than average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was quite warm in both Auto and Incandescent white balance modes, while the Manual setting produced more accurate color. The Sony H50 required a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is just a little less than average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting looks very good, though the blue flowers are very dark and purplish. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the DSC-H50 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.
Good overall exposure and color, though high contrast under harsh lighting with the default contrast adjustment.
|Auto White Balance,
Default Exposure and Contrast
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 performed quite well, with good exposure in both outdoor shots above. The camera typically took much less than the average positive exposure compensation to get good exposures. Default contrast that would be high is tempered by the Sony H50's Dynamic Range Optimizer that automatically helps retain shadows and highlight detail, though there are still blown highlights in the outdoor house shot. Overall color is quite good, with vibrant hues and good overall saturation.
High resolution, 1,500 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction occurred right before 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.
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images overall, with only minor edge enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Some noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.
|Good definition of high-contrast
elements, with only minor
|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-H50 captures a lot of fine detail, with good sharpness overall. Some enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, as well as a small amount of blurring in some areas from noise suppression. 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 moderate noise suppression, with the darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited fine detail. Individual strands begin to merge in the darker shadows. You can also see chroma noise among the hair strands, despite the noise suppression. 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 jump in noise with losses in detail and color balance at the higher settings.
|ISO 80||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 produces low to moderate noise at its lower sensitivities, but noise levels and blurring pick up at ISO 400. At ISO 800, noise pixels are bright and distracting, and by 1,600, alter the color of the entire image. At ISO 3,200, noise is so strong that it dominates the image. All shots above were taken with the camera's Noise Reduction option set to Standard, but we also shot a series with the High and Low settings.
|ISO 400, Standard NR||ISO 400, Low NR||ISO 400, High NR|
As you can see in the crops above, decreasing Noise Reduction to Low increased noise but sharpened the image slightly. The High setting resulted in much stronger blurring. At ISOs 1,600 and 3,200, results were similar. Thus, the increased Noise Reduction may help tame noise level slightly, but at the cost of even more fine detail.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast and limited shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|-0.3 EV||Default Exposure||+0.3 EV|
Sunlight. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 performed fairly well under harsh lighting. At the camera's default exposure setting, highlights are hot, but shadow detail is good. The Sony H50's Dynamic Range Optimizer settings did help tone down the exposure, reducing contrast and producing a more even overall exposure, so definitely consider those settings under harsh lighting like this. A fill flash is also useful in situations like the one shown above, but it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
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.)
Low light. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 performed very well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 80). Noise increases with higher ISOs, but this is expected, and the camera does have an adjustable noise reduction setting to help compensate. (Still, Noise Reduction trades detail for only slightly decreased noise.) There were also quite a few "hot pixels" visible at lower light levels at some ISOs. Color balance was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting, however high ISOs had a greenish tint at lower light levels. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject down to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (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.)
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 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.
Coverage and Range
A powerful flash at close range, though not a match for the camera's 15x optical zoom. Our standard shots required slightly lower than average exposure compensation, coverage was pretty good.
|31mm equivalent||465mm equivalent|
Coverage. Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, with falloff in the corners of the frame. At full telephoto, the target was too far away for the flash to illuminate it. In the Indoor test, the DSC-H50's flash underexposed our subject only slightly at its default setting, requiring a +0.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results (less than average). The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though it required more positive exposure compensation at +1.3 EV. Coverage is much better with Slow-Sync mode, and though the background incandescent lighting results in a warmer cast, the mood of the scene is preserved.
ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright out to a distance of about 13 feet, decreasing in brightness slightly from that point on. At full telephoto and ISO 100, images began to darken slightly after about 8 feet.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 200
Auto ISO 320
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle test, the results are inconclusive. The target is clearly underexposed, but the Sony H50's preflash system would likely have overridden the exposure due to the reflected reading from the near wall, which is white. At telephoto, the Sony H50 boosted ISO to compensate however for the greater distance, but the result is pretty good. 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.
Below average print quality, good color, usable 8x10-inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are better at 8x10. ISO 3,200 shots are too soft at 4x6.
The Sony H50 presented us with a surprisingly difficult problem, with corners that appear relatively sharp on our high-contrast test target, but the entire right side of the images are very soft on our Still Life target. Judging from the center alone, images look good printed at ISO 80 and 11x14 inches. But the softness on the right side doesn't get acceptable even at 8x10, and is still noticeable, if not objectionable, at 4x6 inches. Proceeding with an analysis of just the overall center, though, the Sony H50's ISO 200 shots still look good at 11x14, though with slightly softer detail. The ISO 400 shots are better at 8x10, though soft blobs of purple and green are evident on close inspection. ISO 800 shots are soft at 8x10, but not bad held at arm's length. Color, saturation, and contrast are faded at ISO 800, however. The overall result is better at 5x7. ISO 1,600 shots are softer and more faded, but still usable at 5x7 and 4x6, again from arm's length. ISO 3,200 shots are almost usable at 4x6, but only for a brooding, somber scene, thanks to the deep, noisy shadows and muted color.
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-H50 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-H50 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.