Pros: Good optics, image quality, features, battery life, build quality, large LCD
Cons: Price, speed, size
I used both the 5- Megapixel Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H1 and the new 6-Megapixel Sony DSC-H2. Both of them worked pretty well, but its competition was better in focusing time and size. Now I got my hands on the new 7.2-Megapixel Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H5.
Just as the H1 and H2, the H5 competes with optically-stabilized mega-zoom cameras from Panasonic, Canon, Kodak and Konica-Minolta and has the same kind of major features (12x optical zoom and optical image stabilization, full manual control).
The H5 is rather similar to the H2, but has higher resolution and larger LCD. Other competitors include Panasonic FZ7 and Canon S3 IS, both of which are quite impressive. But both has slightly smaller resolution (6MP), which matters little to anybody who does not crop images.
In the past, I advised that the customers save their money when they could get the same performance from the camera with slightly smaller megapixel count. An example would be buying Canon S2 IS instead of the S3 IS (5MP vs. 6MP). But the H5 has other advantages over its younger brother, the Sony H2.
What Is Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H5?
The Sony CyberShot DSC-H5 is a 7.2-Megapixel digital camera with a 12x optical zoom (36-432 mm equivalent f/2.8-8.0 wide, f/3.7-8.0 telephoto), optical image stabilization, a large 3-inch LCD screen, powered by 2 AA batteries. Two rechargeable NiMH AA batteries and charger are included.
The camera stores pictures on its built-in 32MB of memory or a proprietary Sony Memory Stick Duo or Memory Stick Duo Pro and features fast USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to PC and Mac computers.
The H5 has advanced manual control options, including manual focus, manual exposure, exposure bracketing and macro mode. It comes with a lens hood and a filter adaptor. You can use 58mm filters with it.
The major differences with the H2 are slightly higher resolution (7.2MP vs. 6MP) and larger LCD screen (3 inches vs. 2). The older Sony H1 has 5MP and 2.5-inch LCD (larger than the newer H2s).
The H5 comes with two AA mAh NiMH batteries, charger, lens cap, lens filter adaptor, lens hood, strap, cables, software and manuals. I know from experience that the batteries charge pretty slowly in Sony camera chargers plus I already have a charger. I used my own NiMH batteries.
Once I inserted the batteries and set the clock, I was ready to shoot.
The camera is rather large comparing to the Canon S3 IS and even more so in comparison to the Panasonic FZ7. Even without batteries it is subjectively much heavier (and much larger) than the FZ7, my favorite mega-zoom travel camera. Same applies to the H1 and H2 as they both are about the same size.
Sony claims that the cameras of its H-line are SLR-Style. The H5 does look like an SLR with a pronounced handgrip, an adjustment wheel in front part of the handgrip and a sturdy mode selector wheel on the top deck. But it is obviously not an SLR camera.
The H5 feels sturdy and generally well-made. The camera is available in silver or black. The camera accepts Memory Stick or Memory Stick Pro cards. The bottom also has a tripod mount.
The back is dominated by a large 3-inch LCD screen, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) with diopter adjustment, buttons for menu control and other functions, zoom buttons that provide 2-speed zooming. The top deck has a mode selection wheel, shutter release button, buttons for focus mode selection and burst/bracketing button. The shutter release button is large and shiny.
The controls have generally good tactile feel with only slightly too much effort required.
The front of the handgrip has a slit, which houses a wheel that serves to adjust shooting parameters (e.g. aperture or shutter speed). The wheel can be clicked as well as rotated. I am not a big fan of this arrangement. The side of the camera has a rubber-like lid that covers the USB and A/V ports.
The camera has an on/off button on the top deck, which powers the camera on/off when depressed and held. Once powered, the camera extends its lens forward relatively fast and you are ready to shoot in about a two seconds after you turn the camera on. The shutdown takes about 2-2.5 seconds.
Make sure you removed the lens cap before turning the camera on in any of the shooting modes. But if you forget, the camera will sense it and the LCD show you an error message that suggests that you should Remove Lens Cap. The lens cap is very sturdy and is attached to the camera well, unlike the flimsy lens cap of the Canon S3 IS and semi-sturdy lens cap of the FZ7.
The lens itself proudly proclaims that it is Carl Zeiss and Vario-Tessar. Works for me.
Ease of Use
The camera is very easy to use. I have not opened the manual, but was able to use the camera and all its features in no time. The camera can be used by any member of the family and by photographers of all levels of expertise from novices to advanced ones. And it will be especially easy if you have used a Sony camera before since the mnus are arranged in the same way.
The camera comes pre-set to Auto mode (green camera pictogram on the mode wheel). You do not have to do anything other than point and shoot - the camera takes care of the rest. The camera uses 5-area smart autofocus (in non-manual modes, you can also select spot autofocus, continuous autofocus, preset manual focus to 0.5m, 1m, 3m, 7m or infinity and even manual focus with fine control).
You press the shutter release button halfway to make camera focus (the camera shows you that it focused and beeps to confirm focus) and then you take the picture by pressing the shutter release button all the way.
You can zoom in and out by using the zoom buttons on the rear of the camera. The camera has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a 3-inch LCD screen that is bright, accurate, fluid (slightly less fluid in the dark) and works well in the sun.
If you want more control, you can select one of the scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Show, etc.). For even more control, you can select Program mode, in which you can select ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, flash output adjustment, metering mode, sharpness adjustment, contrast adjustment, saturation adjustment, color and picture effects, etc.
And if you want even more control, you can switch to the Aperture or Shutter Priority or full Manual mode, where you get to control aperture and shutter speed directly. The parameters (shutter speed and aperture) are adjusted by clicking (pushing in) the adjustment wheel in the front part of the handgrip to select the item you want to adjust and then rotating it.
I find this method of setting adjustment less precise and slower than the use of buttons in the Panasonic FZ7. The wheel clicks when rotated (has detents), but it doesn't mean that every click changes the setting selected one step.
The flash mode can be selected by pushing the arrow up button on the rear panel, the macro mode can be selected by using the arrow right, the timer by arrow down and the exposure compensation can be engaged by arrow left. There is a separate button for review.
The flash pops up automatically if the selected flash mode requires it to. It pops up rather high and generally works well.
The camera has a 12x optical zoom, which is smooth and has two speeds of zooming, depending on how much pressure you apply to the zoom buttons. The camera can zoom fully in about 2-3 seconds at full speed, which is not quite as fast as the Canon S3 but faster than the FZ7.
The H5 features an optical image stabilization system called Super Steady Shot. You can select (using the setup menu) to have it engaged when the camera takes a picture only (default) or have it work continuously to eliminate shake when composing the shot as well. The second approach is more energy-consuming and I do not use it.
The image stabilization works well, letting me shoot handheld a couple of stops slower than I would normally dare using the 1/focal length rule. For example, at wide angle (36 mm equivalent focal length), I normally would have to shoot at a shutter speed faster than 1/36 s. And at full telephoto, it would have to be faster than 1/432 s. But I was able to use much slower speeds with no blur, including 1/100 s at telephoto and 1/10 at wide angle.
The problem however is the fact that the camera is so heavy, I am not sure if the good results were caused by the efficient image stabilization or by the weight of the camera. But in any case, the bottom line is you can shoot handheld at higher zoom levels and in darker conditions than you would ever dare with a non-stabilized camera (e.g. Kodak EasyShare Z740).
There is a major but. The camera is slower than competition in dark conditions and in burst mode. It has no problem focusing in under a second in bright daylight at both wide angle and telephoto. But indoors, even using its bright focus assist light, the camera struggled to focus. It occasionally took 2 seconds for it to obtain focus at wide angle and up to 4 seconds at full telephoto (12x optical zoom). This is slightly better than the older H1, but not much improvement and is significantly slower than either the FZ7 or the S3.
Additionally, the camera has a burst and bracketing modes that are definitely not burst. Unless your dictionary lists burst next to slow. It is a joke comparing to Canon S2 IS or Panasonic FZ5, which do about 4 fps. This Sony does about 1.5 fps at best, which is 3 times slower than the FZ7. Although an improvement on the H1 (anything would be an improvement over the 0.7 fps) still, calling this a burst mode makes no sense.
You can take pictures in normal mode at about one every 1.5 seconds or so. But the flash takes up to 12 seconds to recycle! I am sure it is due to the camera having only 2 AA batteries.
Fully charged batteries should last about for 300-400 photos, which is very good. But the tradeoff is slow performance in many areas. For me, it is a tradeoff in too many areas to tolerate.
The camera has a Carl Zeiss 12x optical zoom (36-432 mm equivalent focal length) with f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide angle, f/3.7 at telephoto, which is rather good. It lets you select the resolution for your images up to 7.2M. You also get a choice between Standard and Fine quality.
The built-in 32 MB memory is not enough for anything other than taking a small number of pictures (in single digits). You will definitely need to get a memory card.
The camera produces very good, well-exposed, sharp, contrasty and richly-colored photos. The H5 has good auto white balance, aside from incandescent lighting. The photos are sharp throughout the frame. But there is some chromatic aberration noticeable, especially at telephoto.
The camera lets you select automatic ISO or select ISO up to 1000. The image noise is slight up to ISO 100, gets more pronounced at ISO 200 gets worse at ISO 400 (and some fine detail get softer to diminish noise). Still, if you are printing 6x4 or 5x7 pictures, the noise should not be visible at all up to ISO 400 and will only be slightly visible at ISO 200 with larger prints. With 7.2-megapixel shots it produces, you can print your photos at up to 13x19 inches with good detail (ISO 100 and perhaps 200). The ISO 800 and 1000 are not really unusable, even for 6x4 prints. Unless you intend to hold your prints far away from your eyes.
And more megapixels or better optics cannot change one thing. Truth be told, I have yet to get a 6x4 print from any digital camera that rivals prints that I make in my local Sams Club from my 35-mm Nikon N55 SLR camera using its 28-80mm kit lens and Fuji Superia Reala ISO 100 film. This includes trying to print from several digital SLRs with resolutions higher than 6MP at the several online printing services and even the same Sams Club. There is always some last degree of sharpness missing, even if I try to sharpen the images in Photoshop. So for any photos I want to look their best I use my film cameras: Nikon N55 or an old Chinon rangefinder.
But this is a bit off topic however. As the digital cameras go, the H5 produces very good picture quality.
Lens Hood and Adaptor
The camera comes with a lens filter adaptor and lens hood. They are rather sturdy and easy to attach. The lens hood is small an is not round. It seems to be less effective than the one that comes with the Panasonic FZ7. But Canon S2 IS comes with neither filter adaptor nor lens hood and you would have to get them separately.
More on Features and Controls
The camera has a low-light focus assist illuminator that helps it focus in low light. It is very bright, but the camera still sometimes takes 2-4 seconds to focus in low light, even if the light reaches the area.
You can use the exposure compensation in the Program mode and it comes in handy in some situations. There are a bunch of scene modes as well, which help the camera tweak the focusing and exposure settings according to the type of scene.
The aperture is adjustable from f/2.8 to f/8 at wide angle and f/3.7 to f/8 at telephoto.
I have not read the manual, yet was able to use the camera in all modes. I like Sony's menus less than recent Canon menus or Panasonic ones. But they are certainly usable, it just takes more time to do the same thing with Sony menus than it does with Canon or Panasonic.
The camera has a 3-inch non-articulated (fixed) LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder. Both the LCD and EVF coverage as about 100% - you can see exactly what will be recorded. The LCD is bright, fluid, has good visibility in sunlight or darkness and good resolution, which helps you confirm the focus. Both the LCD and EVF can be set to Normal or High brightness.
The camera uses USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to transfer pictures to a computer. You can also remove the Memory Stick memory card (if you use it) and use a memory card reader (if you have one).
I used the camera with the USB cable. I did not need to install any USB drivers on my Windows 2000 SP4 computer. The file transfer is very fast at about 2,500 KB/s. I have not used the software that was provided with the camera since I have Adobe Photoshop CS2.
Just as I was unhappy with several aspects of the Sony H2, I am unhappy with them in the H5. If I never experienced Panasonic FZ7 or Canon S3 IS, I would be very happy. The Sony H5 is still a very good camera. And it seems to be a good value if you look at its price, specifications and what included accessories. And, of course, its resolution of 7.2MP is higher than either the S3 IS or the FZ7. But the extra 1.2 MP of resolution above 6MP is of questionable value.
The H5 uses only 2 AA batteries, unlike the S3 that needs 4 of them. The H2 includes charger and batteries, whereas Canon S3 IS does not. But Panasonic FZ7 includes a faster-charging compact battery. The H5 also includes the lens filter adaptor and lens hood, which Canon does not include, but Panasonic does.
But the fact that the camera uses only 2 AA batteries is not free. The major problem with the H5 is its speed. It is slow to focus in the dark, slow in burst and bracketing mode, slow to recharge its flash. And it is large and heavy, unlike the FZ7.
I also dislike the fact that the camera uses expensive (and Sony-exclusive) Memory Stick media. SD cards would be a much better choice for us, consumers. But Memory Stick is much better choice for Sony. That way they can make more money. If I was a Sony shareholder, I would appreciate this kind of thinking. But I am not.
I have to admit that the camera is sturdy, has good image quality overall and is frugal with its batteries. But its slow operation and size are annoying after experiencing the Panasoinc FZ7.
You can also save $70 by getting 6-Megapixel Sony H2 with 2-inch LCD.
I recommend Sony DSC-H5 if you want a 7.2MP camera with good optics, 12x optical zoom and image stabilization that has a 3-inch screen and uses 2 AA batteries and can deal with its size, weight and slow low-light focusing and flash recycling. But if you want a compact and fast alternative, check out Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 - my favorite mega-zoom camera.