It's not uncommon for camera manufacturers to sell two (or more) models of essentially the same point-and-shoot camera -- one with the latest features and technologies and a stripped-down version. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H90 is the stripped-down version of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10V.
A casual look at the two side by side and you might think they're the same camera mainly because they have the same 16x, f3.3-5.9, 24-384mm Sony G lens. Look a little closer, though, and you'll see that the H90 has fewer shooting modes on its dial; a mono mic instead of stereo mics; no one-touch record button for movies; no HDMI output; and slightly different controls. You may also notice that the HX10V has a Sony Exmor R 18-megapixel sensor, while the H90 simply says 16 megapixels on it.
It's that sensor (as well as the image processor that backs it up) that makes the HX10V a better camera than the H90. At the time of this review, the models were separated by about $70, which is not a small amount, but compared with the differences in the cameras it's worth saving and buying the higher-end model.
The exception to that, however, is if you just want an above-average compact camera with a versatile lens for taking photos and movie clips in daylight of slow-moving or stationary subjects like portraits, landscapes, dead things, rocks, etc. For that, the H90 is plenty of camera, especially if you can get it for less than $200.
Photo quality from the H90 is very good for its class, but like most compact cameras -- particularly those with CCD sensors -- it still stumbles at higher ISOs. Photos at ISO 80 and 100 are relatively sharp with a decent amount of fine detail and low noise. At ISO 200, subjects soften some, losing sharpness and fine detail.
At ISO 400, images get noticeably softer and there's an increase in noise in darker areas of images. If you're printing at and below 5x7 inches or sharing online and not doing much enlarging and heavy cropping, the results are fine. The camera seems to favor ISO 400 when left in auto, too, when you've got the lens fully zoomed in even in daylight. Photos at ISO 800 and 1600 look painterly from noise reduction, so subjects will appear soft and smeary; it's even worse at ISO 3200, making pictures unusable.
What all this means is that if most of your shooting is done outside in good lighting, the H90 will turn out very good results for the most part. The 16-megapixel resolution isn't really usable for enlarging to full size and heavy cropping. For small prints and Web sharing, though, most people should be pleased with the results.
The same can be said about its video quality. Movie clips are on par your average smartphone; good enough for Web use, but you probably won't like looking at them on a large HDTV. Panning the camera will cause judder and you may also see trailing behind fast-moving subjects. Both are typical of the video from many compact cameras, though. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you will hear it in your recordings, especially in quieter scenes.
If you're considering the H90 for regularly photographing fast-moving kids, pets, and sports, I wouldn't recommend it; it's just too slow. Though its lens pops out reasonably fast, it takes about 3.1 seconds from off to first shot. Shot-to-shot times averaged 2 seconds. Using the flash extends that wait to 5.9 seconds on average. Its shutter lag -- how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed without prefocusing -- is OK for its class, but still long; 0.4 second in bright lighting, and in low-light conditions the lag goes up to 0.7 second. However, having just a little less light drove the lag up to 1.9 seconds. Using the zoom lens in dim conditions will slow things down considerably, too.
Its continuous shooting speed is somewhat slow, too, shooting at 1.1 frames per second. That's with the focus and exposure set with the first shot, so if your subject is moving relatively fast, it might not be in focus for all of your photos. Now, that's not to say you won't get the occasional action shot, but the chances of you getting the shot you wanted aren't great.
Design and features
The overall design of the H90 is nice and simple. Most people familiar with digital cameras should be able to use it out of the box, but there is a full user manual embedded in the camera for quick reference whenever you want. The body is a bit chunky, but will still fit in a jacket pocket.