Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Straight out, the Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 produces good looking image with well 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 slightly over-saturated colors compared to reality. Notwithstanding white-balance, the H9's colors are reasonably hue-accurate. Vivid mode produces highly saturated colors, for those who like their colors very punchy. Exposure was accurate and consistent.
The Sony H9 has several white-balance options including automatic and custom. The automatic white-balance performs very well in daylight. At night, the automatic white balance is very inconsistent. During our second night shoot, the H9 produced several spot-on images and just as many with a drastically incorrect white-balance. Indoors, the Sony H9's automatic white-balance system performed fairly well but regularly left a yellowish color-cast. Under artificial light, preset white-balance drastically reduced the color cast, giving more neutral looking results. Custom white-balance is very accurate under all sorts of light. Overall, automatic white-balance results are better than average in bright light but highly problematic at night.
Given the compact size of its 31-465mm stabilized lens, some compromises are expected. This is a relatively bright lens with an F2.7 maximum aperture at wide-angle. The maximum aperture drops to F3.2 at 59mm (1.9X zoom), to F3.5 at 111mm, to F4 at 232mm and only drops down to F4.5 beyond 341mm.
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 around the edges of images. Edge softness is very pronounced in the second half of the room range (8X-15X) and was even noticeable in prints starting at 6"x8" in size. In the center, details are good except near wide-angle which shows softness throughout the frame. Noticeable barrel distortion is present near wide-angle but quickly disappears past 46mm (about 1.5X zoom). Beyond that, the lens shows very little distortion, if any.
Besides above average edge softness, the H9 shows a significant amount of chromatic aberrations. Next to nearly over-exposed areas, purple fringing was quite wide and very noticeable. Purple fringing was also occasionally present in other areas, but much less pronounced there.
It is common to see purple fringing near high-contrast areas like this one, but the H9 produces very wide fringes.
For those comparing the H9 to the H5, it seems that the increased in zoom range camera at the price of much more edge softness and chromatic aberrations. The only area where the lens actually improved is distortion. The distortion near wide-angle becomes minimal faster while zooming in than on the H5.
In terms of noise, the Sony H9 keeps it well under control, definitely better than most other ultra-zoom digital cameras. While fine noise can be found even at ISO 80, it increases slowly. Up to ISO 400, the H9 generally produces images usable for prints up to 9"x12". ISO 400 is only troublesome for photographs consisting of mostly dark areas. At ISO 800, noise is much more apparent but images can still be usable for small prints. Note that the Auto-ISO setting ranges from ISO 80 to 800. This means that one must be prepared to have some images not suitable for medium prints when using Auto ISO.
The Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 also has ISO 1600 and 3200 options. For bright images, ISO 1600 can produce recognizable prints in small sizes. ISO 3200 is basically useless. It produces extremely noisy images with very little details.
Speed is probably the H9's strongest point. We already mentioned the fast zoom mechanism, but the most impressive is focusing speed. In low-light, focus speeds are good as long as there is enough contrast. In brighter light, focusing speed went from very fast near telephoto to extremely fast near wide-angle. The shutter-lag is quick and shot-to-shot speed is good. Continuous drive is excellent, running around 2 FPS for up to 100 frames. The user interface is very responsive too. The only slow aspect of the H9 is the pan-and-zom feature for reviewing images.
One special feature of the H9 is its night-shot mode. It allows to take monochrome pictures and video in complete darkness. In this mode, ISO settings, metering modes and burst modes are not available. Image quality in night-shoot mode varies enormously. The darker the scene, the more noisy images become. In complete darkness, images are extremely noisy and void from details, even much worst than the ISO 3200 setting. Since the H9 must add its own infrared light, the effective range for night-shots is very limited. Also, the infrared beam does not cover the lens' angle of view near wide-angle. This results in images that are much brighter at their center.
To compare the Sony Cybershot DSC-H9, we used two 8 megapixels digital cameras. The closest camera on-hand, in terms of features, was the Konica-Minolta Dimage A2. This is ironic because the A2 is over 3 years old 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 H9 would be better in most respects. In terms of spec, the A2 is also a large camera with a mechanically-linked 7X wide-angle optical zoom, built-in CCD-shift stabilization and a sophisticated feature set. See the indoor crops for a detailed comparison. The other 8 megapixels camera was the Fuji Finepix F40fd. It is a point-and-shoot ultra-compact camera with 3X optical zoom. While it could not be more different from the H9, it has a modern 8 megapixels sensor, thus making it an interesting comparison candidate. See the outdoor day crops for the detailed comparison.
With so many features packed into a light camera body, the Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 has tremendous consumer appeal. Its 8 megapixels sensor, stabilized 15X optical zoom, 3" LCD and nicely saturated colors are designed to impress people looking for a more-is-better type of camera. The H9 has enough resolution for common print sizes and even midsize ones (12"x16"). Its set of manual controls and long zoom ensure versatility too.
Image quality is far from perfect but usable for common print sizes. The most problematic areas are excessive edge softness and high chromatic aberrations. Colors are generally pretty good in bright light. However, the white-balance system is problematic in low-light, particularly during night photography. Noise levels are below average up to ISO 400. Exposure and focus are also very accurate. An area where the H9 excels is speed. In good light, the H9 focused faster than all non-DSLR cameras that we tested. The Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 also has a tiny EVF which unfortunately has poor color accuracy.
Although the H9 has gained capabilities compared to the H5, image quality has not improved much. There is less noise and color is generally more accurate but there is more softness and chromatic aberrations. Between the two, the choice is tough, so the H9 is not an obvious upgrade path for H5 owners. The Olympus SP-550 UZ, which is the only camera to offer a wider and longer zoom range, is a good alternative to the H9. In good light, the SP-550 produces nicer images but in low-light the H9's below-average noise makes it better. Ultra-zoom cameras that offer truly better image quality are the Fuji Finepix S6000fd, Fuji Finepix S9000 and Fuji Finepix S9100. What these cameras lack in stabilization, they gain in terms of high-ISO performance, particularly the 6 megapixels S6000fd. These cameras also all share a 28-300 mechanically linked 10.7X optical zoom lens that is more efficient in use. They also all use convenient AA batteries.
Sony DSC-H9 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 6 x 4mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|8 Megapixels Ultra Zoom||ISO 80-3200|
|15X Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/4000-30s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls|
|0.20" Built-in EVF 200K Pixels||Custom white-balance|
|2 FPS Drive, 100 Images||Spot-Metering|
|640x480 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3" LCD 230K Pixels||Memory Stick Duo|
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