Sony was quite late to the megazoom parade with its Cyber-shot DSC-H1, but this follow-up model is more in step with the rest of the marchers. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2's 12X zoom lens now carries the Carl Zeiss moniker, resolution has been bumped up to 6 megapixels, and sensitivity has been stretched all the way out to ISO 1,000. Casual photographers -- who might not want the hassle of an interchangeable lens -- should find the H2 appealing for its massive zoom range, its pleasing image quality, and its broad array of both automatic and manual exposure controls. But advanced amateurs who need low noise at higher ISOs might want to look elsewhere.
A gently curved, rubber-coated grip dominates the right side, topped by the shutter release; below that sits a jog dial that's used to change settings, such as aperture and shutter speed. Just behind the shutter are two buttons: one to choose between various automatic or manual focus modes and another to toggle through drive modes and exposure bracketing.
The H2 builds on the strengths of its predecessor with a 12X 36mm-to-432mm (35mm equivalent) image-stabilised Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, a 6-megapixel Super HAD CCD sensor, and a 2-inch LCD in a body that's small enough to fit in a fanny pack, should you be so fashion unconscious as to wear one. Slightly smaller than the littlest dSLRs, such as Pentax's *ist DL, the H2's 408 gram body is logically designed.
For those keeping score, that makes this screen a half inch smaller than the H1's. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 is mostly comfortable to use, but I accidentally hit the menu button a number of times during field tests, and the raised dots that add grip for your thumb irritated mine after prolonged use.
With enough scene and auto modes for beginners and enough manual controls for advanced shooters, the H2 should appeal to a wide audience. In addition to automatic, exposure controls include program and full manual, as well as aperture and shutter priority. Shutter speeds range from 1/4 second up to 1/2,000 second in auto mode, one second to 1/2,000 second in program, and 30 seconds to 1/1,000 second in all other modes. Metering choices include multipattern, centre weighted, and spot. Sensitivity covers ISO 80 to ISO 1,000.
An adaptor ring that screws into the lens housing lets you use the included lens hood, as well as accessories, including 0.7X wide-angle, 1.7X telephoto, or close-up lens adaptors; a ring light for macro photography; or any 58mm screw-type filter -- Sony offers both polarising and neutral-density filter kits.
Also atop the camera are the mode dial, the Super Steady Shot image stabilisation button and the power button. Sony recessed these last two, so they're a little difficult to find by touch, though still responsive. In addition, there's a button that switches between the 0.2-inch, 210,000-pixel electronic viewfinder and the two-inch, 85,000-pixel LCD screen and playback mode.
A pair of 2,500mAh rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AA batteries and a charger ships with the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H2, and they last a lot longer than any disposable option except lithium. If you want to plug the camera into the wall, Sony offers an optional AC adapter. There's an accessory flash for the H1 but not the H2, so you'll have to rely on this camera's built-in flash, which reaches out to 29 feet with the lens at its widest angle and ISO set to auto.
Performance is very similar to the H1. It takes 2.6 seconds to power up the H2 and take the first picture. Time between shots is about average for its class at 1.5 seconds, though it remarkably remains about the same when using flash. Burst mode captures up to seven fine-quality JPEGs at about 1.5fps. At VGA resolution, the maximum number of shots jumps to 100, but the speed remains the same.
Image stabilisation works well, providing between one and two stops of leeway when shooting handheld at slower than normal shutter speeds. For example, we got sharp images of a stationary subject at 1/125 second, with the lens zoomed to a 35mm equivalent of 432mm.
The camera back is home to the zoom rocker, a four-way rocker that surrounds an enter button, as well as buttons for menu, display, and resolution/trash.
The H2 focuses quickly in bright or even moderately dim light when assisted by its red AF illuminator. It slows down a bit in very low light, but that's to be expected in a camera of this class. Framing in dark conditions is difficult due to the fact that you can't increase the gain on the LCD. The same is true of the EVF, but on the plus side, it has a diopter to compensate for shooters with less-than-perfect vision.
We like the DSC-H2's photos and movie capture quality. It renders natural, accurate colours, with just the right saturation. Manual white balance yields the most neutral results, though the tungsten setting was a very close second under our test lights. Exposures were generally accurate. Moderate purple fringing turned up where you'd expect in high-contrast areas. Noise is minimal at ISO 80 and ISO 100 and becomes noticeable at ISO 200. By ISO 400, noise is very obvious, and at ISO 800 and ISO 1,000, the images become unacceptable for print. The 640x480, 30fps movies look smooth and detailed, even through pans and zoom; however, the autofocus tends to lag during camera motion.
Sony's Cyber Shot DSC-H2 is a competent megazoom and, given its attractive price, would make a nice step up for snapshooters or advanced amateurs who don't want the inconvenience -- or need the power -- of a dSLR.
Note: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.
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