Sony DSC-H9 Review

 
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Sony DSC-H9 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall color and hue accuracy, with minor oversaturation of some colors, and slight undersaturation of others.

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 DSC-H9 oversaturates red and blue tones, and skews orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green. Dark purples are also pulled toward blue to keep skies from turning purple. Although some may find the H9's colors a bit dull compared to other consumer models, we found its colors pleasing on a wide range of typical 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. Here, the H9 performed well, with only slight warmth. 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 DSC-H9 showed very small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, and overall had more hue-accurate color than most consumer cameras we test. 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
Very warm Auto white balance, only slightly better in Incandescent mode. Good color with the Manual white balance settings, though still a hint warm. About average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.0 EV
Manual White Balance
+1.0 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was very warm in Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting had a strong yellow cast. Manual mode was the most accurate. The H9 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, about average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is quite good, and though the blue flowers are somewhat purple, there's more blue than we normally see. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint.) 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
Good color and exposure, though slightly high contrast in harsh lighting.

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

Outdoors, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 performed pretty well, with good exposure in the outdoor far shot. The camera required about average positive exposure compensation on the portrait. Default contrast is on the high side in harsh lighting. The DSC-H9 captured good color outdoors, without too strong of a warm cast. Significant detail is lost in the shadows, however.

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

Resolution
High resolution, 1,600 ~ 1,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,600 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,600 lines vertically. Extinction didn't really occur, though lines began to merge around 1,900-2,000 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
Sharp images overall, with only minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements, with some minor
edge enhancement. Serious detail loss in the shadows, however, along with major losses in green leaves.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here. This is a little higher than we're used to seeing at ISO 100.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 captures reasonably sharp images with good detail definition, with just slight enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. As noted earlier, there is a lot of detail lost in the shadows, with a fuzzy effect from the anti-noise processing. Trees and grass also suffer from this lost detail.

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 an odd mixture of noise, noise suppression, and detail. You can see some blurring, some fine strands of hair, and some chroma noise (random colors). There is little to no shadow detail.

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

ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,600
ISO 3,200

Noise levels are low to moderate at the Sony DSC-H9's lower sensitivity settings, with much higher noise at ISO 800 and above. While noise is low below ISO 200, the effects of noise reduction (smudging, lack of fine detail) are evident, steadily increasing to ISO 400. At ISO 800, fine detail is obliterated by significant "grain" pattern and blotchiness, and grey patches appear where highlights once were, changing the overall color balance. Noise is so high at ISO 1,600 that little detail is left, and the image has a strong water-colored look to it. We're not sure why Sony bothered with ISO 3,200.

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

Default Exposure +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 had a hard time with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Shadow detail is limited, with the effects noise suppression evident in the form of smudged detail in deep shadow areas. The camera required a slightly less than average amount of positive compensation at +0.7 EV, making its metering a bit more accurate than most in this particular test. 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. Marti's face was a tad dark with the default exposure. (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.)

Note: 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
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1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
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3 sec
f2.7
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7 sec
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ISO
100
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2.5 sec
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10 sec
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25 sec
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30 sec
f2.7
ISO
200
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1.3 sec
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ISO
400
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13 sec
f2.7
ISO
800
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0.3 sec
f2.7
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0.6 sec
f2.7
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1.3 sec
f2.7
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3 sec
f2.7
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7 sec
f2.7
ISO
1600
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1/6 sec
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1.6 sec
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3 sec
f2.7
ISO
3200
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1/13 sec
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f2.7
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0.3 sec
f2.7
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0.8 sec
f2.7
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1.6 sec
f2.7

Low light. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 captured bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night) at all ISO settings. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just below the 1/4 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
Slightly dim exposures at the default exposure setting; the camera required average exposure compensation for flash exposures.

31mm equivalent 465mm equivalent
Normal Flash
+1.0 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
+0.7 EV

Coverage. Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle; and though it was more even at telephoto, the intensity drastically decreased. Indoors, under incandescent background lighting, the Sony DSC-H9's flash underexposed our subject a little at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results. Slow-Sync flash required only +0.7 EV exposure compensation, and resulted in a strong orange cast.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
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1/40 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
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f2.7
ISO 100
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ISO 100
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ISO 100
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f2.7
ISO 100
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ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
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f2.7
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
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1/40 sec
f2.7
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
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1/50 sec
f4.5
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.5
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.5
ISO 100
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f4.5
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.5
ISO 100
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f4.5
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
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f4.5
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.5
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f4.5
ISO 100
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f4.5
ISO 100
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f4.5
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright all the way out to a distance of 15 feet. At full telephoto and ISO 100, images are bright out to about 8 feet and darken from there.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see H9FL_MFR320WA0400.JPG
32.0 feet
Auto ISO 400
Click to see H9FL_MFR197TA0400.JPG
19.7 feet
Auto ISO 400

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range. In the shots above, the DSC-H9 to performs close to how Sony says it will, producing somewhat dark exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto, although it did have to boost ISO to 400 to achieve those distances. Admittedly, the wide angle shot was probably reduced by the pre-flash when it saw the white wall in the foreground.

Note: 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.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, good 13x19 inch prints, though with trouble in the corners. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are still good at 8x10; quality at higher ISOs goes down quickly.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 had enough resolution to make good looking 13x19 inch prints, with a significant exception: the corners were soft and chromatic aberration is quite noticeable at this size. ISO 200 shots are better at 11x14, and ISO 400 images are better reserved for 8x10; chromatic aberration is still noticeable at this size. ISO 800 images still look good at 8x10 at arm's length, but are still better at 5x7; chromatic aberration has become negligible at this size. ISO 1,600 images are passable at arm's length at 5x7, but okay at 4x6. ISO 3,200 images are only passable at 4x6, but just barely; thus ISO 3,200 is not recommended.

Note: 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.)

 

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-H9 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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