Five years ago consumers often grumbled about slow point-and-shoot operation and using the H55 is like an exercise in virtual time travel. Manufacturers listened to consumer complaints about camera speed and gradually developed faster cameras. Consumers rarely complain about slow cameras these days. Competition is especially fierce in the compact ultrazoom class so why did Sony drop the ball with the H55? The H55 is quick enough to handle most general action photography, but the super slow shot-to-shot cycle won't allow capturing multiple shots as the action unfolds. Serious photographers are looking to capture the decisive moment and the H55 just isn't adequately responsive because of its slow image processing cycle.
Overall, the H55 does a pretty good job - providing an impressive level of usability and consistently first rate images plus manual exposure capability in a digicam marketing niche that's not known for allowing much personal input into the photographic process. But, for many shooters, especially photo enthusiasts (whom this camera seems to have been broadly targeted toward) those advantages may be outweighed by the H55's slow operational speed. In short, the H55 is slower in some important areas than most of its competition. The H55's boot-up cycle is on the long side of average at about 2 seconds and the 25-250mm (equivalent) zoom moves from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.5 seconds, which isn't blazingly fast either.
The H55's image capture/processing cycle (shot-to-shot timing) really leaves something to be desired. Compose your picture, then trip the shutter button and the H55 locks up (for 2.5 to 3.5 seconds) while its Bionz Processor saves the image. Hit the playback button and you'll have to wait (up to 2 seconds) before you can review your saved images. The H55 is much more competitive in terms of shutter lag, AF Acquisition, and continuous shooting.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Canon PowerShot SX210 IS||0.01|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55||0.01|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S6000||0.03|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix S6000||0.27|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55||0.28|
|Canon PowerShot SX210 IS||0.36|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||0.39|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55||4||1.9 fps
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||3||1.8 fps
|Nikon Coolpix S6000||3||1.8 fps
|Canon PowerShot SX210 IS||∞||0.8 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" denote the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The H55 features Sony's Steady Shot optical image stabilization system which works by quickly and precisely shifting a lens elements in the H55's 10x zoom to compensate for camera movement during exposure. Image stabilization allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to 3 EV slower than would have been possible without IS and still get sharply focused blur free images. The H55's optical image stabilization system is always on, but it occasionally produces a blurry image that should have been sharp.
The H55 draws its juice from a proprietary Sony NP-BG1 Lithium G rechargeable battery. According to Sony, the H55 can capture up to 310 images with a fully charged battery, but that seems a bit optimistic to me based on my experiences with the camera - I used the H55 pretty heavily for two weeks and had to charge the battery three times during the course of my test. It's difficult for me to keep track of exposures because I shoot, review, delete and re-shoot often, but I don't believe I shot anything close to 900 images.
The H55's built-in multi-mode flash seems like an afterthought. The H55's flash provides a minimal selection of external lighting options including Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Slow Syncro, and Flash Off.. Maximum flash range (according to Sony) is 13.5 feet, which seems pretty optimistic to me since the flash is small and weak, but flash images do come out natural-looking.
The H55 saves images to SD, SDHC (but not SDXC) and Sony's Memory Stick PRO Duo memory media or to 45MB of on-board memory. SD memory media is essentially ubiquitous in the point-and-shoot marketplace - everyone has switched to SD memory media including Sony.
The H55's true wide-angle to moderate telephoto f/3.5-5.5, 4.25-42.5mm (25mm to 250mm equivalent) 10x zoom carries the same "G" designator as many of Sony's Digital SLR lenses. When the H55 is powered up, the zoom extends automatically from the camera body and when the camera is powered down, the zoom is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element.
Zooming is smooth and fairly quiet. The H55's optical performance is better than average. The f/3.5 maximum aperture is a bit slow for shooting indoors, but should be more than adequate for shooting outdoors in decent light. The camera's pint-sized form factor and extra lens reach make it almost ideal for candid/street shooters. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn't notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel distortion (straight lines bowing out from the center) and pincushion distortion (straight lines bowing in toward the center) seem well corrected.
Contrast is balanced and colors are hue accurate. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well-controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 0.16 inches. Zooming is smooth, silent, and fairly quick. The H55's lens also includes a built-in neutral density filter.
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