Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

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The Good Compact, lightweight design; good features for the money; capable of snapping photos with excellent quality.

The Bad Slow shooting performance.

The Bottom Line The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 is a compact megazoom camera that is capable of taking some excellent photos, just at a leisurely pace, but at a good price.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 8

When Sony announced its Cyber-shot DSC-H55, the camera sounded less than thrilling compared with its line mate, the HX5V. It shares the same body, lens, and LCD that the HX5V has, but really that's all they have in common. Of course, Sony dropped the H55's suggested retail price by a $100 and its street price is even cheaper. As it turns out, its price is enough to make me overlook a couple shortcomings that it has. Its main issue is that its shooting performance is slow--really slow compared with the HX5V. If you don't need fast performance, though, this is a compact megazoom worth considering.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55
Price (MSRP) $249.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1x2.3x1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, f3.5-5.5, 25-150mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 (MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/1,280x720 at 29.97fps (progressive)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 310 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media Memory Stick Pro Duo; SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software Picture Motion Browser 5.0, PMB Portable 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Macintosh), Music Transfer

The H55 is a simple black (or silver) box with a slight cylindrical grip on its right side that gives you a place to rest your fingertips in front and thumb in the back. Its body is compact and lightweight considering its long zoom and wide-angle lens. Most of the H55's weight seems to come from its lens and battery pack. The lens is a G lens, which Sony only uses in its dSLR cameras, advanced HD camcorders, and a few Cyber-shots. Overall it has a nice design, but it's not quite perfect.

Its controls are fairly easy to master. On its top is the shooting mode dial, shutter release, zoom ring, and a power button. The power button is flush with the body, making it difficult to find it without looking. If not careful, you can, at least partially, cover its sliver of a flash bulb on its front-right side with your fingers.

On back to the right of the 3-inch LCD, which gets reasonably bright, but some will still struggle to see it in direct sunlight, are the remaining controls. There's a Playback button; directional pad with a select button at its center; Menu button; and Delete button. Along with navigating menus, the directional pad turns on the camera's smile- and timer-activated shutter release options, changes flash settings, and changes the brightness of the LCD as well as what information it displays. Unfortunately, the icons for each are just engraved in the pad making them a little difficult to see in dim lighting. Sadly, Sony removed the dedicated movie record button on the HX5V, so you need to change shooting modes to capture video.

The single Menu button accesses all settings, except shooting modes handled by the dial on top. Press Menu and a column of shooting-mode-specific settings appear on the left. At the end of the list is a toolbox icon for accessing general settings. What's also nice is the camera's capability to warn you about adjusting certain settings. For example, if you set the H55 to spot meter light, you won't be able to turn on Face Detection. The H55 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.

Like all of Sony's 2010 Cyber-shots, the H55 accepts both Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SD/SDHC cards for memory. There's a single slot for both card types next to the battery located in a compartment in the bottom of the camera. The battery cannot be charged in the camera and the door covering the compartment doesn't lock and slides open a bit too easily (something to keep in mind if you keep the camera loose in a bag). Next to the compartment is a proprietary multifunction port for connecting a USB/AV cable. A component cable version is available for purchase as well.

One last note about features: the camera has both standard optical image stabilization and an Active option that helps to suppress shake while the shooter is moving with the subject, such as running alongside someone playing soccer. It does help and, by help I mean it's worth switching on if you're in this or a similar situation.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80; 100; 200; 400; 800; 1,600; 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Easy, Intelligent Auto, Program, Manual, Sweep Panorama, Scene, Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child)
Metering modes Multi, Center, Spot
Color effects None
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Four photos

While lower-end compact megazooms tend to be targeted at those that don't leave auto mode, the H55 offers a nice mix of manual and automatic shooting. Its Program Auto lets you adjust ISO, white balance, autofocus points, light metering, and exposure values as well as control the amount of Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization used for rescuing shadow detail. The Intelligent Auto scene recognition mode turns out reliable results without any adjustments, but there are still a couple options available to you like exposure and setting face detection priorities. An Easy mode takes away all options except for image size (large or small) and enlarges onscreen text. There are 11 scene shooting options including Beach, Snow, Twilight, Pet, and High Sensitivity for low-light shooting without a flash. The camera has a version of Sony's Sweep Panorama feature, too, that allows you to quickly and easily take panoramic shots horizontally or vertically. Though fun, the results just are on par with a screen capture from a video clip. Consider them for Web use only, viewing on a TV from a proper distance, or very small prints. The H55's Movie mode records at resolutions up to 720p HD with a mono mic for audio and use of the optical zoom while recording.

There is a full Manual option for control over aperture and shutter speed. It's limited to two aperture settings each at the wide and telephoto ends; f3.5 and f8 for wide and f5.5 and f13 for telephoto. There are a few more sets of stops available through the zoom range: f4-9, f4.5-10, and f5-11. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/1,600 to 30 seconds. It's more than you get on most point-and-shoots, so I'm not complaining; just don't buy this expecting a lot of control. Also worth mentioning is that the H55 has exposure bracketing that will take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV.

The H55's Macro mode is activated automatically and can focus as close as 2 inches from a subject. The photos can be fantastic allowing for great prints at 13x19 inches even after some cropping. You won't be able to do that with every photo from the H55, but it is capable of doing it--more than I can say for other cameras in its class.

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