After almost a decade of rampant growth and cut-throat competition the digital camera market has grown-up. Five years ago a 3 megapixel digicam (from a major manufacturer) with a 1.5 inch LCD screen and a 3X zoom (like the very popular Olympus C3000) sold for about five hundred dollars. Consumers demanded that shutter lag be shortened, battery life be extended, resolution increased, features multiplied exponentially, and that prices drop with each new generation of digicams. Camera makers complied and today's shoppers get a lot more for their digicam dollars than they did five years ago.
The Sony Cybershot DSC-H1 is a perfect example of that consumer driven product evolution. The H1's 5.1 megapixel resolution, 2.5 inch LCD screen, and Super Steady Shot (image stabilized) 12X optical zoom provide photographers with an incredible increase in performance, flexibility, and creative potential when compared to the Olympus C3000 -- and the H1 costs about a hundred bucks less than consumers shelled out for the C3000 in 2001! Is the H1 the best choice for you? Competitors (the Canon S2-IS, the Konica Minolta Z5, the Kodak P850, and the Panasonic FZ5) in the very popular 5 megapixel monster zoom prosumer digicam class are remarkably well matched, so the final choice may come down to how important video capture is, whether you prefer a tilt swivel LCD screen over a fixed LCD screen, or simply subjective camera "feel".
The H1 is a bit slower than its competitors, the menu system is neither intuitive nor logical, the user's manual is remarkably poor, and the 12X zoom consistently overshoots the subject (at the telephoto end of the range) before it manages to lock focus. At the camera's default settings contrast is a bit high and images seem a little over-sharpened. The H1 is more than fast enough to capture sports (see skateboarder image) and image noise is very well controlled, even at ISO 400 although chroma noise (blotching) is a bit higher than average. Colors are hue accurate and vivid but not over-saturated and chromatic aberration is present, but very well controlled.
Check back here in a week or so for the complete review of the Sony Cybershot DSC H1.
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