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Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 Review

7 Megapixels7 MegapixelsUltra-Zoom: At least 10X optical zoom.Ultra-Zoom: At least 10X optical zoom.Electronic View FinderElectronic View FinderStabilization: Compensates for tiny involuntary movements of the camera.Stabilization: Compensates for tiny involuntary movements of the camera.VGA Video: 640 x 480 or more but less than 1280 x 720.VGA Video: 640 x 480 or more but less than 1280 x 720.Manual Controls: Both fully-manual (M) and semi-automatic modes (T and V).Manual Controls: Both fully-manual (M) and semi-automatic modes (T and V).Custom White-Balance: Specifies exactly what should be white to the camera.Custom White-Balance: Specifies exactly what should be white to the camera.Action Photography: Shutter speeds of 1/1500 or more.Action Photography: Shutter speeds of 1/1500 or more.Night Photography: Reaches shutter-speeds longer than 4 seconds.Night Photography: Reaches shutter-speeds longer than 4 seconds.Spot MeteringSpot MeteringRuns on standard AA batteriesRuns on standard AA batteriesAccepts Memory Stick Duo memory.Accepts Memory Stick Duo memory.Neocamera detailed reviewNeocamera detailed reviewDiscontinued: No longer produced by the manufacturer. May still be in stock or found used.Discontinued: No longer produced by the manufacturer. May still be in stock or found used.

Performance - How well does it take pictures?

Straight out, the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 produces good looking image with highly saturated colors. There are several color modes including Normal, Vivid and Natural. By default, the camera uses the Normal color mode. Between normal and natural, differences are minimal. Both these color modes produce highly saturated colors, particularly reds and blues. Compared to reality, these colors are dramatically over saturated but reasonably hue-accurate, notwithstanding white-balance. This is clearly designed for out-of-the-box consumer appeal. With the Vivid mode, colors are completely over saturated and result in unnatural looking images. Basically, saturation goes from high to highest. It is a matter of taste, but realistic color is not the H5's strong point.

The Sony H5 has several white-balance options including automatic and custom. The automatic white-balance performs relatively well outdoors under most daytime conditions. Scenes dominated by snow gave mixed results. In bright daylight, colors were quite accurate with the snow being white. Under completely overcast conditions however, snow became very blue and no white-balance setting, not even custom, would render the snow as white. Under partially overcast conditions, using preset white-balance worked occasionally. Indoors, the Sony H5's automatic white-balance system performed rather poorly, leaving a strong warm color-cast. Under artificial light, preset white-balance drastically reduced the color cast, giving more neutral looking results. Custom white-balance was quite accurate indoors. Overall, automatic white-balance results were not that good but preset and custom settings managed to cope with most lighting conditions, only leaving the occasional color-cast.

White-Balance Performance
Sony H5 automatic white-balance
Automatic white balance resulted in unnatural colors with a purple blanket appearing blue. Taken in daylight.
Sony H5 daylight white-balance
Daylight white balance improved colors but still left a noticeable shift. Taken in daylight.
Sony H5 daylight white-balance
Cloudy white balance rendered the colors most accurately but somewhat oversaturated.

Exposure was accurate and consistent. Under most conditions the exposure was slightly conservative, thus reducing the occurrence of blown highlights. It being winter here, the H5 was subjected to scenes dominated by snow. This normally causes cameras to underexpose. The H5 did so by roughly one stop which is better than average. Night scenes were also exposed better than most digital cameras. All in all, a very satisfying metering system.

Given the compact size of its 35-420mm stabilized lens, some compromises are expected. This is a relatively bright lens with an F2.8 maximum aperture at wide-angle. The maximum aperture drops to F3.2 at 42mm (1.2X zoom), to F3.5 at 75mm and only drops down to F3.7 beyond. While the sensor can capture a good amount of details, the lens does not always let them through. Particularly, the lens shows a significant amount of softness near the edges and corners of the frame. In the center, details are good showing slight softness in the first half of the zoom range and moderate softness in the second half. Significant barrel distortion is present near wide-angle but quickly disappears past 50mm (2X zoom). Beyond that, the lens shows very little distortion, if any. The Sony H5 tries to avoid chromatic aberrations using its conservative metering system. However, when overexposure does occur, the H5 shows a significant amount of purple fringing. This is very common of ultra-zoom digital cameras, so it must be judged accordingly.

Noise is the biggest issue when judging image quality of digital cameras. The good news is that the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5, compared to its peers, shows below average noise levels at all ISO settings. Specifically, image noise is very low up to ISO 200. At ISO 400, noise is noticeable in bright areas and significant in dark areas. Practically, ISO 400 is usable in daylight and brightly-lit rooms which allow faster shutter-speeds, either to capture action or reduce camera shake. For low-light photography, ISO 400 is only usable for small prints: at 4"x6", noise is slightly noticeable. The ISO 800 and ISO 1000 options are generally too noisy for prints. There are only a handful of non-SLR cameras which do better.

Sony H5 Konica-Minolta A2

Konica-Minolta Dimage A2 and Sony Cybershot H5

To compare the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5, the closest camera on-hand was the Konica-Minolta Dimage A2. This is an ironic choice because the A2 will be 3 years old next month and Konica-Minolta's digital camera division has been folded into Sony. Not only that, the A2's sensor is made by Sony. With this in mind, we were curious to see if the Sony H5 would be better in most respects. In terms of spec, the A2 is also a large camera with one more megapixel of resolution, a stabilized 7X wide-angle optical zoom, built-in CCD-shift stabilization and a sophisticated feature set. Side-by-side, these two cameras look rather different. The Sony H5 is curvy with fewer external controls and an electric zoom. The KM A2 has straight edges, a mechanical zoom, movable EVF and LCD and is bristling with external controls.

The output from these cameras shows that the results of two years of evolution were mixed. On the positive side, the H5 shows less image noise at all ISO settings. The difference is rather small below ISO 400. However, the A2 clearly captures more details regardless of noise. This is clearly illustrated by the outdoor night crops. Exposure accuracy is close with the A2 being less conservative by about 1/3 stop. The dynamic range however is greater with the A2, probably because its sensor is twice as big. In terms of color, the A2 easily beats the H5. Colors from the Konica-Minolta A2 are more natural and far from being over saturated. White-balance is also much more accurate with the A2, specially under artificial light where the H5 leaves a strong color-cast. See the indoor day crops for an example. As for speed, the H5 is a small step back, the Konica-Minolta A2 is faster where it counts most: shot-to-shot speed, focus and continuous drive. Playback speed and playback zoom are much faster in the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 though.

Sony H5 battery door

The Sony H5 functions rapidly, similarly to other cameras in its class. The all-important shutter-lag is fast when pre-focused. The zoom controller moves the lens quickly when fully pressed. Entering playback mode and zooming images is also very fast. Moving between images is fast but the camera cheats by using low resolution proxies. These proxies are very blurry, so you have to wait an additional second or two before an adequate resolution image appears. Focusing is about average near wide angle, but can get very slow near the telephoto end, particularly under poor lighting. Nevertheless, focusing is accurate, even when it takes several seconds.

Conclusion

With so many features packed in a light camera body, the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 has tremendous consumer appeal. Its 7 megapixels sensor, stabilized 12X optical zoom, 3" LCD and highly saturated colors are designed to impress people looking for a more-is-better type of camera. The H5 has enough resolution for common print sizes and even midsize ones (10"x13") under ideal conditions. Its set of manual controls and long zoom ensure versatility. Image quality is good but far from perfect. The most problematic areas are significant edge softness and high chromatic aberrations. Colors can be good -although overly saturated- with the right choice of white-balance. For this reason, the H5 requires more interaction than most point-and-shoot cameras. Then again, we do not expect people to buy this as a point-and-shoot. Noise levels are below average. Exposure and focus are accurate. Another problem area is slow auto focus near the telephoto end of the zoom. The Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 can be recommended for most types of photography except action and architecture. For both these types of photography, the Fuji Finepix S6000fd or Fuji Finepix S9000 are recommended instead due to their excellent high-ISO performance and wide-angle lenses.

Good
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By on 2007/01/04
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Sony DSC-H5 Facts

Large digital camera
7 Megapixels Ultra ZoomISO 80-1000
12X Optical ZoomShutter 1/2000-30s
Built-in StabilizationFull manual controls
0.20" Built-in EVF 200K PixelsCustom white-balance
1.1 FPS Drive, 7 ImagesSpot-Metering
640x480 @ 30 FPS Video RecordingStandard AA Battery
3" LCD 230K PixelsMemory Stick Duo
Internal Memory
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