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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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5 min read

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 is another great camera in the company's 2009 point-and-shoot lineup. It seems as if Sony took its equally excellent W290 compact camera and expanded it into a megazoom. It has a new menu system that makes operation easier, a pleasing combination of shooting features, and some valuable extras such as 720p HD-quality movie capture with use of its 10x zoom lens. It also looks cool, performs fast for its class, and takes very good photos. There are a couple minor design issues, but nothing that keeps this from being a quality compact megazoom.

OVR
8.0

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20

The Good

First-rate design; simple operation; excellent feature-to-price ratio.

The Bad

Narrow lens; lens cap is a pain.

The Bottom Line

If you don't mind its extra bulk and narrow lens, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 is an otherwise excellent compact megazoom camera.

The black H20 is chunky and heavy, especially in comparison to Panasonic's ZS3 or ZS1 megazooms, and they have wider, longer lenses. You can't really stick the H20 in your back pocket; it's more of a jacket pocket/small bag camera. Despite this, though, the design for the H20 is quite good, mainly because it's really comfortable to use. Controls are all well laid-out and big enough to make operation easy. The Mode dial on top sits in easy reach of your thumb and isn't overcrowded with icons. Also on top is the power button, shutter release with zoom ring, and a Smile Shutter button that tells the camera to keep shooting pictures as long as the subject is smiling and there's space on the Memory Stick.

Gone from this model is Sony's confusing Home and Menu buttons setup from previous models. That relied on the user remembering which to press to access context-sensitive shooting controls and which got you to the menu for all settings. Now there's just one Menu button giving you access to shooting controls as well as a selection for seeing all settings. What's also nice is the camera's ability to warn you about adjusting certain settings. For example, if you set the H20 to spot meter light, you won't be able to turn on Face Detection. The H20 tells you onscreen that Face Detection is not available because of Spot metering being selected. Cameras from other vendors generally make you guess what needs to be shut off in order to turn on a blacked-out option.

There are two things worth mentioning that hurt the overall package. One, unlike a majority of the cameras in the compact megazoom category, the lens is protected by a physical cap instead of a mechanical cover. If you forget to remove it before powering up, the camera stalls out and you have to remove the cover and turn the camera off and on again. Two, while the current trend is to have a wide-angle lens, the H20 is particularly narrow at a 35mm-equivalent 38mm. If you frequently find yourself taking pictures of large groups of people in confined spaces, this probably won't be a good fit.

Though it does have a Manual mode, a majority of the H20's shooting options are geared for getting the best pictures with the least amount of setting fiddling. Program Auto handles shutter speed and aperture, but gives you access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering among other things. Then there's Sony's Intelligent Auto that picks from eight scene types (branded iSCN) and turns on face detection and image stabilization. Sony's iSCN can be set to Auto or Advanced, the difference being that in difficult lighting the camera will automatically take two shots with different settings so you have a better chance of getting a usable photo. A SCN mode lets you select from 10 scene situations that are less commonly used, such as Fireworks, Beach, and Gourmet for food pictures. Also in there is an Advanced Sports option for keeping moving subjects in focus, which worked well in my tests. An Easy mode takes away all but a couple basic shooting options--perfect if you're handing the camera off to someone for a couple quick shots. Lastly, if you want to shoot video, the camera does have a Movie mode capable of 720p HD-quality video, and you get full use of the optical zoom while recording.

Performance in megazooms is usually fairly slow, but Sony managed to get the H20 faster than other cameras in its class in most respects. Its start-up time is 1.5 seconds (assuming you remember to take the lens cap off). In bright light, shot-to-shot times averaged 2.1 seconds and only extended to 2.8 seconds with the flash in use. Shutter lag was reasonable at 0.4 second in well-lit conditions and 0.7 second in dim lighting. For continuous shooting, the camera manages 1.7 frames per second.

The photo quality from the H20 is very good, though it's really only reliable at ISO sensitivities below 400. At that ISO noise reduction kills a lot of fine detail and sharpness, making edges fuzzy. However, the results are certainly fine for prints below 8x10 inches. ISO 800 is suitable for 4x6-inch prints and smaller, as long as you don't mind the blurry details. I can't recommend using the 1,600 or 3,200 settings for anything other than capturing the moment. On the upside, there's very little color shift at these higher ISOs.

More importantly, the lens is sharper than most megazoom cameras--even out to the corners. There's also little in the way of purple fringing even in extreme contrast conditions that would normally cause it. However, there was some lens flare in direct sunlight, but it's to be expected. Colors, while not entirely accurate, were nonetheless pleasing and natural.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 is an all-around excellent camera. It's well-designed, comfortable to use, and has a good mix of features including three types of automatic shooting modes and a manual mode if you want to tinker with shutter speeds and apertures (though there are only four available). The menu system is refined from other Sony cameras, simplifying use. And while its photos are not stellar, they're very good for its class--and for Sony.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20
2.8 
2.1 
0.7 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
2.3 
2.1 
0.7 
0.5 
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
2.4 
2.3 
0.8 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
2.3 
2 
1.1 
0.5 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
2.3 
2.5 
1.1 
0.9 

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

OVR
8.0

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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