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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 25, 2006
Last Updated: January 9, 2008
The Cyber-shot DSC-H5 ($500) is Sony's top-end ultra zoom camera. The H5's features include a 7.2 Megapixel CCD, 12X optical zoom lens with image stabilization, full manual controls, a VGA movie mode, and a huge 3-inch LCD. The H5 shares the spotlight with the DSC-H2 ($400), a 6 Megapixel camera with a smaller (not to mention low resolution) 2-inch LCD.
To say that the ultra zoom field is crowded is an understatement. Sony's first effort, the DSC-H1, fared well last year. Will the H5 do the same in 2006? Find out in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-H5 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
As is the case with more and more cameras these days, Sony has built memory right into the DSC-H5 instead of including a memory card. On the H5 you'll get 32MB of memory (though only 30MB is actually useable), which holds eight photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a memory card right away, and factor that into the initial price of the camera. The H5 uses Memory Stick Duo cards, which currently come as large as 2GB. I'd suggest a 1GB card as a good place to start with the H5.
The DSC-H2 and H5 both use two AA batteries for power, and Sony includes powerful 2500 mAh NiMH rechargeables in the box. Here's how that translates into battery life:
As you can see, the H5 turns in battery life numbers that are a bit below average. Still, it does use only two batteries, so carrying two extras when you're doing some important shooting isn't too big of a deal.
In case you haven't heard, I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. They cost a fraction of what their proprietary counterparts sell for, and you can pop in off-the-shelf alkalines in emergencies. Do note that alkalines don't last nearly as long as NiMH batteries.
Sony includes a compact charger along with those 2500 mAh batteries. Unfortunately this isn't the fastest charger, taking up to six hours to fully charge the two batteries. The charger doesn't plug right into the wall, either -- you must use a power cord.
Sony gives you a big 'ol plastic lens cap (with retaining strap) to protect that monstrous lens.
They also give you both a lens hood and the adapter needed to use conversion lenses. The lens cap can be used on the hood, as well.
Okay, let's talk about accessories now, including those conversion lenses that I just mentioned. Here's what you can add on to your DSC-H5:
Not too shabby, eh? About the only thing missing there is an external flash.
Sony includes their new Cyber-shot Viewer software with the DSC-H5. This software replaces the not-so-great PicturePackage software, and it's about time. Unfortunately, Cyber-shot Viewer isn't as powerful as things like Olympus Master or (Nikon) PictureProject, and there's still no Mac version available (though iPhoto works fine with the camera).
The software can import your photos right from the camera, and they are all organized by date. You can view photos in the traditional thumbnail view, as you can see above.
A screen with more details is also available.
Photos can also be viewed by the date on which they were taken. You can choose from year, month, or day views.
Double-clicking on any image brings up the edit window. Here you can rotate and crop photos, remove redeye, and adjust brightness, saturation, and sharpness. Yes, pretty basic... but it works.
The DSC-H5's documentation is split into two parts. For the basics there's a fold-out "Read This First" guide, which covers things like charging the battery and simple camera operation. For more details you'll want to crack open the User's Guide, which covers just about everything. While the "Read This First" guide is fairly straightforward, the user's guide could be a little more user friendly.
Look and Feel
The DSC-H5 is a fairly large ultra zoom camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. The camera is well built, and feels solid in your hands. Speaking of hands, the large right hand grip makes it easy to hold, and the important controls are well placed. The H5 does suffer a bit from "button clutter", which makes the camera a little intimidating to new users.
|Images courtesy of Sony Electronics|
Like many cameras these days the DSC-H5 comes in both silver
and black. Rumor has it that the black one is faster.
(That was a joke, for those without sarcasm detectors.)
Now here's a look at how the H5 compares to other ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:
I have two things to say about that chart. One, the H5 is larger, but not heavier than its predecessor. Second, the camera is a little bigger than average in the ultra zoom category. This isn't a pocket camera by any means -- it's made to hang on your shoulder or in a bag.
Okay, enough numbers -- let's start our tour of the H5 now, beginning with the front.
One of the big differences between the DSC-H2 / DSC-H5 and the original DSC-H1 is the lens. While the specs are exactly the same, the H1's lens said "Sony Lens" on it, while the H2 and H5 carry the Carl Zeiss label. The F2.8-3.7, 12X zoom has a focal range of 6 - 72 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 432 mm. While the lens itself isn't threaded, the metal ring around it is. Just screw on the included conversion lens adapter and you can then attach a conversion lens or any 58 mm filter.
Deep inside that 12X lens is Sony's Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization system. If you've spent any time with an ultra zoom camera then you know that it can be difficult to get a sharp photo at the telephoto end of the lens, since tiny movements of your hand can blur the photo. The SteadyShot system detects that motion and moves a lens element to counteract it. The end result is that you get sharper photos at shutter speeds that would be blurry on an unstabilized camera. Image stabilization isn't just for telephoto shots though: it's just as effective in lower light conditions as well. The system won't work miracles, though; it can't stop a moving subject, and it doesn't work at really slow shutter speeds.
Want to see how well it works?
Super SteadyShot Off
Super SteadyShot On
Both of the photos above were taken with a shutter speed of 1/6 sec. You can probably tell which shot used Super SteadyShot and which didn't. If you need more evidence about what this IS system can do then take a look at this sample movie.
Above the lens is the H5's powerful built-in flash. The flash, which pops up automatically, has a very impressive working range of 0.3 - 9.0 m at wide-angle and 0.9 - 6.8 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the DSC-H5.
To the lower-left of the flash is the AF-assist lamp, with the microphone next door. The AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp, is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
At the far left of the photo is the jog dial, which you'll use to adjust manual exposure settings on the H5.
On the back of the H5 you'll find an absolutely enormous 3-inch LCD display. The only ultra zoom with a bigger screen is the Samsung Digimax Pro815, which is nearly twice the size of the H5. Sony didn't skimp on the screen resolution here, giving the LCD an impressive 230,400 pixels. As you'd expect, photos are nice and sharp when displayed on the LCD. Outdoor visibility was about average. In low light situations the screen brightens automatically (though not as much as I'd like) so you can still see what you're trying to take a picture of.
To the upper-left of the LCD is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. This is like a tiny LCD (0.2" in size) that you view as if it was a optical viewfinder. You can see exactly what's on the LCD (including menus) and there's no parallax error to worry about. The bad news is that EVF's don't come close to the sharpness and brightness of a real optical viewfinder -- but you won't find an ultra zoom that has one of those. The EVF here is pretty good, with 200,000 pixels. Low light visibility was just as good as on the LCD. A hard-to-reach diopter correction wheel under the EVF will focus what you're looking at.
I'm going to save those buttons to the right of the EVF for later. Let's move on to the zoom controller at the top-right of the photo. This moves the lens very quickly (perhaps too quickly), taking just 1.7 seconds to go from wide-angle to telephoto. I counted more than forty steps in the 12X zoom range.
Below the zoom controller are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles what is shown on the LCD and EVF, while the Menu button does exactly what it sounds like.
Next up we have the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and also:
The final button on the back of the camera is used to change the image size while in record mode, while it deletes photos when you're in playback mode.
There's plenty more to see on top of the DSC-H5. I'm going to start with the buttons on the bottom and work my way up. The Finder/LCD button switches between the LCD and EVF. Next to that is the button for entering playback mode.
Above those you'll find the SteadyShot and power buttons. Why would you want to turn off a useful feature like image stabilization? One example is when you have the camera on a tripod, when the IS system can do more harm than good.
Next up we have the mode dial, which has plenty of options. They include:
As you can see, the DSC-H5 has both automatic and manual shooting modes. In addition there's a high sensitivity mode, which will boost the ISO as high as needed in order to insure a sharp photo. The problem with this feature is that noise levels increase as the ISO goes up, which reduces the quality of your photos. My advice is to only use the high sensitivity mode if you know you're not going to make prints larger than 4 x 6. Otherwise I'd adjust the ISO manually and try to keep it at 400 or below.
Above the mode dial are the Focus and Drive buttons plus the shutter release.
The focus button lets you choose from multi-point, center, and flexible spot autofocus, or you can forget those and set the focus distance manually. The flexible spot feature lets you select a spot in the frame on which to focus, save for a margin around the edges. The manual focus feature lets you use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide showing the current distance is shown on the LCD/EVF, and you can turn on a "peaking" feature which outlines your subject in blue so you can more easily verify focus. The center of the frame is enlarged as well.
That drive button lets you choose between normal, multi-burst, exposure bracketing, and burst modes. The normal burst mode took eight photos in a row at 1.1 frames/second. The LCD/EVF black out for a bit between photos, which made it a bit hard to track a moving subject. The H5 is definitely outclassed by the competition in the continuous shooting department: the Canon PowerShot S3 and Panasonic FZ7/FZ30 can shoot infinitely (with a high speed SD card) at over 2 frames/second.
Multi-burst mode takes sixteen photos in a row and puts them into a single collage-style image. Exposure bracketing takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. You can set the interval for both of those modes in the shooting menu.
On this side of the camera you'll find the H5's I/O ports, which include USB and A/V. These ports are protected by a rubber cover.
The DSC-H5 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol.
Nothing to see here, unless you count that little rubber door through which you feed the DC coupler cord (for the AC adapter).
The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, the battery and memory card compartment, and the speaker.
The door over the battery / memory card compartment is somewhat unique. You can open the whole thing to get at everything, or use a smaller door to remove the memory card only. I did find it hard to fish out the MS Duo card when using the smaller door, though.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5
It takes about 2.2 seconds for the DSC-H5 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's about average.
A live histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode
Focusing performance was very good on the H5. Typically it took between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, and longer at the telephoto end of the lens. While it won't win any awards for speed, the DSC-H5 focused reliably every time in low light.
I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at slower shutter speeds where it often occurs.
Shot-to-shot speed was very good, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another picture.
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must enter playback mode.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the DSC-H5:
See why buying a larger memory card is a good idea?
The DSC-H5 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.
The file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple. Files are named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap Memory Sticks.
The DSC-H5 uses the standard overlay-style Sony menu system. Here's the complete record menu (some of these options may not be available in all modes):
The only thing I want to mention here is the one push white balance option. This lets you use a white or gray card to get perfect color in any lighting.
Now let's take a look at the items in the setup menu:
Time for a little explanation before we continue to the photo tests.
The Single AF mode only focuses when you halfway press the shutter release, while the monitor AF mode is always trying to focus. The continuous AF mode takes things a step further by continuing to focus when the shutter release is held down. Do note that the monitor and continuous modes put extra strain on your battery.
There are two digital zoom options on the camera. The "precision" mode just digitally enlarges the center of the frame, which reduces the quality of the photo. The smart zoom feature (similar to the expanded optical zoom on Panasonic cameras) blows things up by as much as 4.8 times without lowering the image quality, but the catch is that it only works at the lower resolutions. The lower the resolution goes, the more smart zoom you can use.
What's the difference between those two SteadyShot modes? In shooting mode the image stabilizer is only activated when you take the picture. In continuous mode it's activated as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which makes composing your photo a bit easier. The IS system is most effective when you use the shooting mode.
Enough menus, let's talk about photo quality now!
The DSC-H5 did a fine job with our standard macro test subject. The colors are accurate and everything has a "smooth" look to it. The H5's one touch white balance feature had no trouble with my studio lamps.
You can get as close to your subject as 2 cm at wide-angle and 90 cm at telephoto on the H5. If you want to get closer at the more telephoto ends of the lens then you'll want to pick up the close-up accessory that I mentioned in the first section of the review.
The night shot turned out nicely as well. Since it has manual control over shutter speed, getting the H5 to bring in enough light was easy. Noise levels are low here, and the buildings are nice and sharp. There is some purple fringing to be found here, and you could most likely reduce it further by using a smaller aperture.
I have two ISO tests in this review -- one in low light and the other in normal light. First is the low light test, which uses the night scene above:
The ISO 80 and 100 photos (not surprisingly) look about the same. Noise picks up noticeably at ISO 200, and details start to get a little fuzzy. Things really start to go downhill at ISO 400 and it only gets worse. Notice also how the colors shift a bit at the higher sensitivities. Bottom line here is to keep it at ISO 200 or under in low light conditions (for best results).
Barrel distortion was fairly mild at the wide-angle end of the DSC-H5's lens. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem, and corner blurriness was minimal.
There's a bit of redeye in the flash test shot I took with the H5. It's not horrible, but it's there. Remember that your results may vary!
And now it's time for the second ISO test in this section. The scene you see above is taken in my studio and is comparable to others I have taken in the last year. While the crops below give you a quick idea of how the H5 performs at various ISO settings, be sure to blow up the full size images to see all the details.
The first three shots look almost identical unless you get out the magnifying glass. Noise levels pick up a bit at ISO 400 but you should still be able to get an 8 x 10 print out of that shot without any problem. The DSC-H5 is definitely cleaner than the PowerShot S3 at ISO 400.
Two things happen at the ISO 800 and 1000 settings. Number one, noise levels get noticeably worse. What I find more annoying is that color saturation takes a nose dive, leaving the images looking flat and dull. I've noticed this issue on several other Sony cameras this year. My advice is to avoid those two settings, which is why recommended avoiding the high sensitivity mode earlier in the review.
Overall the DSC-H5 produced very good quality photos. The photos were well-exposed with pleasing colors and low noise levels considering the resolution of the camera. Sharpness levels were right where I like them -- not too sharp, not too soft. My only complaint is that purple fringing levels are higher than I'd expect these days. The Canon PowerShot S3 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 have much less of this annoyance. That said, the only time you'll notice the purple fringing is when making very large prints or when viewing the photos at 100% on your computer screen.
As always, don't believe my words alone. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing the pictures if you can, and then decide if the H5's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Cyber-shot DSC-H5 uses Sony's venerable MPEGMovie VX feature for recording videos. The VX Fine mode takes VGA-sized video (that's 640 x 480) at 30 frames/sec until the memory card is full, with sound. The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, and you cannot use the internal memory at that setting either. A 1GB Pro Duo card can hold about 12 minutes of video at the highest quality setting.
If you don't have a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, don't fret. You can quadruple the recording time by using the VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 17 frames/second. An even lower resolution mode is also available: 160 x 120, 8 frames/second, which boosts recording time by a factor of fifty seven (though the video will be very choppy).
Believe it or not, the H5 can actually use the zoom lens while you're filming. It moves at a much slower rate than in still recording mode, which prevents most of the zoom motor noise from being picked up by the microphone.
As you'd expect, the image stabilizer is active while recording movies.
I really like this sample movie... check it out:
Click to play movie (10.1 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-H5 has the standard Sony playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (though not the fancy one with music found on some of their cameras), DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view (9 or 16 images per screen), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo up to five times and then move around in the zoomed-in area. This is great for checking to make sure that your subject is properly focused.
Images can also be rotated, resized, and cropped. A "divide" function can removed unwanted parts of your movie clips.
By backing out to the thumbnail view you can also delete a group of photos, instead of just all or one.
By default, the camera doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the Display button and you'll see a lot more, including a histogram (shown above).
The H5 moves through photos very quickly. If you flip through photos really quickly there may be a low resolution placeholder shown for a second or so before the high res version appears.
How Does it Compare
Even with a few flaws, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 is still one of the best ultra zoom cameras on the market. It offers a high resolution sensor (with low noise levels through ISO 400), a 12X zoom lens, optical image stabilization, and an enormous 3-inch LCD display. Downsides are few, and they include above average purple fringing and a so-so continuous shooting mode.
The DSC-H5 is a fairly large ultra zoom camera that comes in silver or black. The camera is well put together, and the "double door" over the memory card / battery compartment is handy. The H5 has a 12X optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens that reaches from 36 to 432 mm. If that's not enough, you can purchase wide-angle, telephoto, and close-up conversion lenses -- and Sony includes the needed adapter with the camera. The only expandability related features that are missing are a hot shoe and support for an underwater case. The DSC-H5 has the same Super SteadyShot image stabilization system that proved itself on the original DSC-H1, and it works well here too. Keeping with the "big" theme, Sony managed to cram a 3-inch LCD on the back of the H5 -- larger than anything in its class, save for the Samsung Pro815. The screen is big, bright, and sharp -- and it's viewable in low light (as is the electronic viewfinder).
The H5 has features for both beginners and more advanced users. For those just starting out you'll get a fully automatic mode plus six scene modes. There's also a high sensitivity mode, though I'd recommend skipping that and just raising the ISO as needed yourself (for reasons discussed earlier). Those of you wanting manual controls will find plenty of them on the H5, including those for white balance, focus, and exposure. Everyone will like the H5's movie mode, which lets you record VGA quality video at 30 frames/second with sound -- and you can use the optical zoom during filming!
Camera performance was above average in most areas. The H5 starts up in an average 2.2 seconds, but once you're up and running everything is snappy. Focus times are quick, shutter lag was not an issue, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal. Low light focusing wasn't terribly fast, but it was accurate. In terms of battery life the DSC-H5 is a little bit below average for the ultra zoom class. The only real disappointment in the performance department is the H5's burst mode: it shoots at just 1.1 frames/second, while the competition can do twice that (until the memory card fills up, too).
Photo quality was very good for the most part. The H5 took well-exposed photos with nice color, pleasing sharpness, and low noise levels through ISO 400. At the ISO 800 and 1000 settings noise levels go up and color saturation goes down, so I'd avoid those two settings altogether. The H5 does have a bit of a problem with purple fringing, though: it's noticeably worse than the Canon PowerShot S3 and the various Panasonic FZ-series models. Redeye was noticeable as well, though not horrible.
All-in-all, the Cyber-shot DSC-H5 is a very good ultra zoom camera, and one that I can recommend. The competition is fierce in this category, and I strongly recommend looking at the competition (listed below) as well. Try them all out and see which one you like using the most!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S3, Fuji FinePix S5200 and S9000, Kodak EasyShare P850 and Z612, Nikon Coolpix S4, Olympus SP-500UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7, DMC-FZ30, and DMC-TZ1, Samsung Digimax Pro815, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 (the H5's little brother, as described at the beginning of the review).
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-H5 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Then have a look at our gallery!
Want another opinion?
You'll find another review at CNET Asia.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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