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Christmas Gift Guide

ISO comparison

High Sensitivity mode

Macro

Zoom range

Zoom quality--ISO 80

Zoom quality--ISO 400

Manual mode

Sweep Panorama

Lens distortion

Fringing

Color

Photo quality from the H55 is generally excellent for its class, but like most compact cameras it still stumbles at higher ISOs. Photos at ISO 80 and 100 are sharp with very good fine detail and low noise. At ISO 200 subjects soften some, losing a touch of sharpness and fine detail. At ISO 400, images get noticeably softer and there's an increase in noise in darker areas of images. However, this is only visible when they're viewed at 100 percent. If you're printing at and below 5x7 inches and not doing heavy cropping, the results are very good. Photos at ISO 800 and 1600 look painterly from noise reduction, so subjects will appear soft and smeary. Smaller prints will little or no cropping is possible, but not much else. ISO 3200 isn't good for much beyond Web use at small sizes.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET
The camera does have a High Sensitivity mode that locks it into using ISO 3,200. If you can't use a flash or move to a brighter area or you're trying to get a faster shutter speed, use it. But don't expect great results.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
The H55's Macro mode can focus as close as 2 inches from a subject and the photos can be fantastic. The inset shot, for example, withstood a heavy crop and looked great printed at 13x19 inches. 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.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
The lens is very flexible, able to capture whole scenes or zoom in to inspect finer details. Of course, your ability to enlarge those zoomed-in shots will vary depending on your ISO.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
This shot was taken with the zoom fully extended at ISO 80. Most compact megazooms would've turned fine details like hair into mush when zoomed out, but you can clearly make out individual strands.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Unfortunately, one of the problems with compact megazooms is that when the lens is extended, you may have to use a higher ISO to compensate for smaller apertures. Plus, you may be standing in plenty of light, but if you zoom into a darker area, you'll need to bump up the sensitivity. That's what happened here. Taken at ISO 400, subject details are mushy and there's visible noise. However, that's at 100 percent; the photo is perfectly usable for a 4x6-inch print.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
The H55 does have a Manual mode, but it is very limited. Shutter speeds can be set from 30 seconds to 1/1,600 second. Only two apertures are available at each the wide and telephoto ends; f3.5 or f8 and f5.5 and f13, respectively. 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.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
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.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Sony does an excellent job of controlling barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens and pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. I saw little to no evidence of either in my test shots.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Fringing is also kept well under control. In high-contrast areas where there are no strong borders, such as leaves against a white sky, you will see some. But it's not readily visible until you're viewing photos at 100 percent.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Color is excellent from the H55. While blues and reds maybe aren't as accurate as other colors, they are bright and vivid. Plus, they're consistent up to ISO 800; above that things get slightly washed out looking. Exposure and white balance are strong as well.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
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