With its 12X-zoom Cyber Shot DSC-H1, Sony joins the megazoom competition. Although slightly larger and heavier than its competitors, the H1 holds its own thanks to a broad feature set, speedy performance, and a generally well-thought-out design. We have a few quibbles and wish that the photos were sharper, but overall, the H1 may please enthusiasts hankering for a camera with an extended focal range. Weighing 1 pound, 2 ounces when loaded with a Memory Stick and two AA batteries, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H1 marginally outweighs the rest of its 5-megapixel megazoom competition. But it's certainly not enough to be noticeable when toting the camera around all day; in fact, this extra bit of volume and weight adds to the H1's solid and substantial feel--a plus when you're working with long focal lengths. Overall, the H1 is well designed and works well in almost all shooting situations.
Just next to the microphone, the H1's power button sits almost too flush with the camera's top surface, making it a bit difficult to find without looking. From here, you can also access the shutter, focus, and continuous/bracket buttons as well as the mode dial. The H1's large 2.5-inch LCD occupies most of the camera's rear real estate and is complemented by a small EVF (electronic viewfinder). At the top of the LCD, you'll find the button that switches views between the LCD and the EVF, as well as an on/off button for the camera's Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization feature.
The zoom lever sits above the four-way controller and central Set button. Three additional buttons access the menu, the display options, and an image-quality/delete key. We had to reference the camera's documentation to figure out that resolution was controlled by an external button, while the H1's compression levels were accessed via the menu system. While the menus are easy to navigate, you should be able to set both of these options from the same place.
Bundled with a Read This First pamphlet, a printed manual, and a helpful tutorial on CD, the H1 comes with a decent set of documentation. However, the information included in the pamphlet is not included in the manual, so you may need to jump back and forth between the two in order to find the help you need. Naturally, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H1's main attraction is its 12X zoom, image-stabilized lens. With a 36mm-to-432mm (35mm-camera equivalent) focal length, it delivers a respectable, although not exceptional, wide-angle view as well as a telephoto reach that would set you back big bucks if you were using a digital SLR. The lens itself doesn't extend much farther than the lens barrel when the camera is turned off, so the camera remains well balanced. The H1 uses Sony's Super SteadyShot stabilization system; though billed as an optical stabilizer, it's really more of a hybrid system that uses horizontal and vertical motion sensors in the lens for detection, then compensates algorithmically using the extra pixels on the image sensor (rather than physically moving the lens). Semantics notwithstanding, however, it works very well. You can quickly activate it with a dedicated button on the back of the camera after choosing whether it should work continuously or at the time of focus lock.
Enthusiasts will appreciate the H1's solid feature set, which includes full manual exposure controls; three-point adjustable sharpness, contrast, and saturation; choice of three metering modes; preset and custom white balance; and sensitivity levels from ISO 64 to ISO 400. Seven standard scene modes, continuous shooting, bracketing, multiple AF focus modes (including selectable focus points), adjustable flash intensity, a live histogram, and the ability to enlarge the onscreen icons round out the highlights of the camera's features.
Although the H1 offers several resolution options, compression choices are limited to Fine and Standard. But the camera's high resolution (640x480 at 30fps) movie mode adds to its appeal. While the H1 doesn't deliver the best movies we've seen, their quality is quite good, limited only by the size of the media card. There are also two other resolution options, including a video e-mail setting that produces small files for delivery over the Internet.
The camera comes with only enough internal memory to hold about a dozen high-res still images, so you'll need to budget for a Memory Stick. The H1 comes with two 2,100mAh rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride batteries and a rather slow but compact charger. If you want AC power, you'll need to purchase a separate AC adapter. Sony bundles a lens hood and a lens adapter ring with the camera, so you're set to take advantage of optional accessories such as filters and conversion lenses. Although the camera doesn't have a hotshoe, an accessory flash is available; the H1's pop-up flash extends up to 22 feet on Auto ISO (so be prepared for some image noise). The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H1 does not disappoint when it comes to overall performance. It took less than 2 seconds to power up the camera and take our first shot. Time between shots was minimal: about 1.3 seconds, although flash doubled that time.
At high resolution, the H1's burst mode captures up to 9 images at about 1.5 frames per second. VGA-resolution (the lowest setting) speeds things up a hair but will capture up to 100 images.
Surprisingly, the camera uses a Sony-branded f/2.8-to-f/3.5 12X zoom lens rather than the usual Carl Zeiss model; though we found it responsive, we spotted noticeable focus and convergence problems on the left side of the lens. The image stabilization worked quite well and facilitated shooting at about one to two steps lower than we normally would when hand-holding a camera. For example, at 1/80 second, which is normally an iffy shutter speed for this reviewer, our main subject's face was sharp, while his hands were blurred just enough to show motion.
Aided by its AF illuminator, the H1 generally focused quickly, hesitating only slightly in almost total darkness. Our one gripe there is that the LCD--which works well in sunlight--did not gain up in low light, which made it difficult to compose our shots. Although the EVF offers a good alternative to the LCD, it's rather small. But there is a diopter for adjusting the view for an individual's vision.
|Shutter lag (typical)||Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time|
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|
Most of our macro shots turned out well, especially when adjusting the flash intensity. However, the H1--regardless of focal length--delivered a slightly soft image lacking in fine details. The lens seemed to have some resolving issues on the left side: focus dropped off sharply and seriously exacerbated the otherwise moderate purple fringing in those areas. On the other hand, the H1 kept image noise well under control, at least as high as ISO 200. After that, it became more noticeable, but we've seen worse.