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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 26, 2007
Last Updated: January 9, 2008
The Cyber-shot DSC-H9 ($479) is Sony's top-of-the-line ultra zoom camera. It features a whopping 15X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, tilting 3-inch LCD display, full manual controls, infrared "NightShot" shooting, and much more. It also uses the same Bionz image processor as Sony's Alpha digital SLR, which promises improved performance and photo quality over previous models.
If you want to save some money, then you may be interested in the H9's little brother, the DSC-H7 ($399). This camera is almost identical to the H9, with the differences being LCD size (2.5" on the H7), battery life (better on the H7), and NightShot (the H7 doesn't have it).
Being a top-end ultra zoom, the H9 finds itself amongst some pretty tough competition. How does it perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-H9 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Like all of Sony's 2007 cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-H9 has built-in memory instead of having a memory card included in the box -- 31MB worth to be exact. That holds just ten photos at the highest quality setting, so you'll want to buy a memory card right away. The DSC-H9 uses Sony's Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, which currently top out at 8GB, and I'd recommend picking up a 1GB card along with the camera. An adapter is included with all MS Duo cards so they work in standard Memory Stick slots.
The DSC-H9 uses the same NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery as several of Sony's other cameras. This is the only Sony digital camera battery that I know of that isn't an "InfoLithium", which means that it won't tell you how many minutes you have left before the battery dies. The NP-BG1 has 3.6 Wh of energy, which isn't much compared to what you'll find in other ultra zooms. Here's how the H9's battery life compares to other ultra zooms:
What can we conclude from this chart? For one, the H9's battery life is about 20% worse than its predecessor, the DSC-H5. You can probably thank the huge LCD and anemic battery for that. In the ultra zoom group as a whole, the camera's numbers are a good 40% below average.
I must mention my usual complaints about proprietary batteries before we go on. They're more expensive than rechargeable AAs (the BG1's prices start at $40), and you can't use "regular batteries" to get you through the day in an emergency. It's a shame that Sony abandoned the AA battery support that was on all previous H-series models.
When you're ready to charge the H9's battery, just pop it into the included charger. And then be prepared to wait. It takes a whopping 4.5 hours to charge the battery, which seems ridiculous to me. Naturally, Sony sells a faster charger (which takes just 1.5 hours), but that'll set you back nearly $60.
As you can see, the H9 comes with a big lens cap to protect that big lens. There's also a retaining strap in the box, which prevents you from dropping the lens cap off a cliff (which I've done).
You'll also find an absolutely enormous lens hood in the box with the camera. The lens hood is almost bigger than the camera itself! It's actually two parts: an adapter that screws onto the lens barrel, and the hood itself. You'll want to use the lens hood when shooting outdoors. I should also mention that the lens adapter is required for using the optional conversion lenses and filters.
Another thing you'll find in the box is a wireless remote control, and you can see what it can control in the above photo. The receiver for the remote is on the front of the camera, so keep that in mind when you're using it. I did find that I could bounce the IR signal off of walls to use the remote from behind the camera.
There are several accessories available for the DSC-H9, and I've compiled them into this handy list for you:
That's a pretty good selection of accessories, eh?
One of the H9's unique features is to output HD quality video to your HDTV. To do so you'll need to buy the component video cable, which plugs into the side of the camera. Once you've got that cable, you'll be able to output video at resolutions as high as 1080i. If you're just viewing one photo at a time, they will not fill the screen, unless you took them in the 16:9 mode. The only way to see them full screen is to use the slideshow feature, and then everything looks really nice. For some bizarre reason, movies cannot be played back at all when using the HD cables.
Picture Motion Browser for Windows
Sony includes version 2.0 of their Picture Motion Browser software with the DSC-H9. This software is Windows only, so Mac users will want to use iPhoto or Image Capture to get photos off of the camera.
The software offers the usual thumbnail view of your photos (shown earlier), plus the calendar view you can see above. From either screen you can select photos for printing, e-mailing, and slideshows. You can also burn them to a CD or DVD.
Double-clicking on any thumbnail brings you to the edit screen. This adds some basic photo editing tools such as redeye reduction, brightness/contrast/saturation adjustment, and trimming. You can also put the date on your photo -- something which the camera itself does not do.
Music Transfer in Mac OS X
Also included is Music Transfer for Mac OS and Windows, which is used to customize the slideshow background music on the camera. The camera can hold four separate audio tracks, limited to 3 minutes in length.
Selecting tracks on an audio CD
In theory, you select unprotected MP3s or tracks on an audio CD, and the software will convert it into whatever format the camera uses. In reality, I was unable to get the software to see any of my MP3 files, but it worked fine with CD audio.
As with their other 2007 cameras, Sony has put the majority of the H9's documentation into a PDF file found on the software CD-ROM. There's a printed basic manual in the box with the camera, but fore more details you'll have to load up that PDF file -- something which buyers of a nearly $500 camera should not have to do. Once you do get to the manual, you'll find that it's contents are fairly easy to understand.
Look and Feel
The Cyber-shot DSC-H9 looks like an evolved version of the DSC-H5 that came before it. When I reviewed the H5, I praised its build quality. Unfortunately, that's changed on the H9, which feels a lot cheaper and more "plasticky" than its predecessor. Even the $230 Fuji FinePix S700 I just reviewed feels more solid. The material used for the right hand grip is slippery plastic, instead of rubber. The grip isn't terribly large, either, so you'll want to brace the camera with your left hand.
While most of the buttons are in the right places, I don't like the new location of the command dial (around the four-way controller), which is too easy to bump accidentally (and explain why that can be a problem later).
|Images courtesy of Sony Electronics|
Originally the DSC-H9 was going to come in black only. Sony changed their minds, and now offers it in silver as well. As someone who has used both colors, I'd say get the black one, as the silver one looks really cheap.
Now, here's a look at how the DSC-H9 compares to other cameras in terms of size and weight: