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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  5/23/2006

Introduction

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 is one of the successors to the popular H1.  The H line of ultra-zoom cameras from Sony have proved themselves with their 12x stabilized optical zooms.  The H2 provides good image quality, easy operation, and a nice flash.

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2
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What's New

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 is one of the successors to the previous Cyber-shot DSC-H1 that we reviewed earlier this year. The H2 adds another megapixel of resolution, a Carl Zeiss branded lens, and a capability to shoot at ISO 1000. It does lose some LCD size (the H2 has a 2 inch screen, while the H1 has a 2.5 inch screen). If you want a larger LCD, the Cyber-shot DSC-H5 sports a 3 inch screen.

NUTS & BOLTS

Image Sensor

The Sony H2 shoots at an effective resolution of 6 megapixels (2816x2112) with a 1/2.5 inch Super HAD CCD. You can also capture images at 3:2, 3M, 2M, VGA, and 16:9. Two quality settings (Fine and Standard) vary the JPEG compression rates.

Viewfinder/LCD

The H2 is equipped with an electronic view finder (EVF) and a 2 inch LCD. The EVF is a 0.2" LCD with 201K pixels. A diopter adjustment through the magnifier lens lets you adjust screen so it's sharp for your eyes. While it's not an optical viewfinder, the EVF displays all the information that you would see on the larger LCD. In my opinion, the image on the EVF does not work well to do any manual focusing.

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2
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A button along the top of the camera lets you toggle between the EVF and the 2" LCD. The LCD has 85K pixels of resolution, which leaves things a bit grainy, but colors are good and the display is fluid. The LCD does work well in sunlight, but you can always use the EVF if you want to.

Lens/Zoom

The Carl Zeiss lens on the H2 features a focal length of 6-72mm (35mm equivalent of 36-432mm) for an optical zoom of 12x. The lens also features an aperture range of f2.8-f8.0 at wide angle and f3.7-f8.0 at telephoto.

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2
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With the 12x optical zoom, image stabilization pretty much becomes a necessity. Sony's Super SteadyShot provides effective optical image stabilization.

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2 sample images
Wide angle (view medium image) (view large image)

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2 sample images
Full telephoto (view medium image) (view large image)

Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

For focusing, the H2 features a 3 area multi-point auto focus, center auto focus, flexible Spot AF, and manual focus. You can focus on subjects as close as 19.7 inches in Normal mode and 0.72 inches in Macro mode. Macro mode was pretty impressive. It almost seems impossible to get a lens that big that close to your subject.

While shooting, you can enable or disable macro mode with a single button push (on the directional pad). If you want more options for focusing, you can change the focus type (between Multi, Center, Flexible Spot and Manual). These options don't show up in full automatic mode, but in Program Auto and other modes, you'll see all of the above options when using the dedicated Focus button near the shutter release. You can't change the focus type with the menu system.

A focus assist light helps out during low light conditions to illuminate your subject.

sony cyber-shot DSC-h2 sample image
Macro shot (view medium image) (view large image)

Flash

The pop-up flash above the lens opens up automatically when needed. Sony claims that the H2 has an effective flash range from 1-29 feet, at wide angle with Auto ISO. At ISO 1000, the flash range is from about 3 feet to 52 feet. For flash modes, you get Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, and Slow Synch.

I was impressed with the flash performance. The image below was taken in a completely dark room, about 12 feet from the subject (no lights and dark outside).

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2 sample image
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Memory Media

The H2 has 32MB of internal memory and an additional slot that accepts Memory Stick Duo or Memory Stick Pro Duo memory. There is no starter card included in the box.

Image File Format(s)

JPEG still images and MPEG1 compliant movies (with sound)

Connectivity

USB jack (USB 2.0 transfer speed) and A/V out jack

Power

The H2 is powered by 2 AA-sized batteries. Sony claims that you can get up to 400 shots with their included high-capacity 2500mAh NiMH batteries. I didn't get a chance to do a full test of the battery, but 400 shots is pretty optimistic -- you'd have to be really miserly with the battery juice. I did easily get about 200 shots under what I would consider heavy battery use.

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2
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EXPOSURE

As a more advanced camera, the H2 gets a full complement of shooting modes. The Auto mode does everything for you. If you want more control over white balance, ISO, etc., you can use the P (or Program Auto mode). Continue turning the mode dial, and you get S (shutter priority), A (aperture priority), and M (manual mode). Next is a high sensitivity mode that boosts the sensitivity to allow for faster shutter speeds.

Sony has done a good job of not inundating this camera with scene modes, but has provided a nice Program Auto mode that lets the photographer tweak a lot of aspects of the shot. Here's the full list of modes: Auto, Program Auto, High Sensitivity (boosted ISO and disabled flash), Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Snow, Beach, Landscape, Soft Snap, and Movie mode. There are no manual modes where you can set the shutter speed or aperture.

Movie Mode

The MPEG VX Fine mode (640x480 at 30 frames per second) requires Memory Stick Pro Duo media. If you don't have the Pro media, you can capture movies with the MPEG VX Standard mode (640x480 at 16.6 frames per second) or Video Mail mode (160x112 at 8 frames per second).   The zoom mechanism does work during movie capture.

Metering

You can choose a multi-pattern metering, center weighted, or spot metering.

White Balance

You can let the Auto white balance do its job -- which it does very well. Or, you can choose from Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Flash white balance modes. A Manual mode, lets you set the custom white balance.

Sensitivity

The Sony H2 lets you set the ISO (sensitivity) to Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1000.  Noise performance was good up to ISO 200, starts to creep in at ISO 400, and is pretty severed at ISO 800 and ISO 1000.



In-Camera Image Adjustment

While in Program Auto mode (and some scene modes), you can adjust the contrast, sharpness and color. The Color options are Black & White, Sepia, Natural, Vivid, and Normal.

During image playback, you can resize and rotate images.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The controls of the H2 are set up in such a way that the camera is between a more compact point and shoot and a digital SLR. There are some buttons whose use is dedicated, while you have to dig into the menus to access other functions. For example, the focus modes are accessible via a button by the shutter release. The button lets you toggle through the modes until you find the one you want. The best way to see the setup is to take a look at the below pictures.

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2
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Comfort-wise, the camera is pretty easy to hold. A battery compartment/hand grip provides a nice stable handhold, with the zoom rocker easily accessible with your thumb. Some raised dots on the back of the camera give your thumb something to rest on when you don't need to change the zoom setting. The 5 way directional pad is a little small and not raised very far above the body of the camera, so it's hard to tell when you've pushed it hard enough.

The build quality of the camera is good. It feels solid in your hand, the dials and buttons work well (with the exception of the comfort of the directional pad). There are nice attachment points for the included shoulder strap.

Technical Specifications

Included

Along with the camera, you'll find 2 AA NiMH batteries, battery charger, lens hood with adapter ring, lens cap with strap, shoulder strap, A/V cable, USB cable, software CD-ROM, and user's guide/quick start materials.

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

Overall, I was impressed with the image quality of the H2. Colors were accurate and a bit "punched up". Images showed good detail at varying focal lengths with good sharpness out to the edges. The auto white balance did a good job in mixed lighting and skin tones looked natural and not too reddish.

In tricky lighting conditions (shady areas with bright sunlit areas), the camera had a tendency for overexposure. If you notice this, just bump down the exposure compensation until the image suits you.

Sample Images

sony cyber-shot DSC-h2 sample image
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sony cyber-shot dsc-h2 sample image
Normal color mode (view medium image) (view large image)

sony cyber-shot dsc-h2 sample image
Natural color mode - more accurate than Normal color (view medium image) (view large image)

Timing/Shutter Lag

Given the large lens that needs to get in place before shooting, the start-up time is no winner, but about what you would expect with an ultra zoom lens. Shutter lag was minimal -- I was able to catch my son splashing in puddles without a problem. My only gripe with the speed of camera operation was the charge time for the flash. There were times when I waited 8-10 seconds for the flash to recharge. If you're not shooting with flash, then cycle times are good.

A Few Concerns

Some of the controls were not very comfortable to use. I found myself concentrating much harder to operate the directional pad, which is too flush with the camera body to be easy to operate. Also, the menu button is not really accessible if you're in the middle of shooting. It's kind of tucked back toward the base of your thumb, which makes it hard to operate when your hands are in shooting position.

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 is a solid offering in the ultra-zoom digital camera field.  It takes good images at 6 megapixels and has a nice lens with good image stabilization.  The flash is one of the most powerful that I've seen on a point and shoot camera - able to completely illuminate a completely dark room.  Even with the nice flash, Sony's Super SteadyShot image stabilization system allows you to shoot without a flash.

Some of the camera controls were not completely comfortable for me, but it also had plenty of dedicated buttons to easily access the most common functions (like focus modes and exposure compensation).  Also, as one of the followups to the older Sony H1, you would expect more of an upgrade.  Even though it captures one more megapixel and has a higher stop of sensitivity, the H2 has a smaller screen than the H1.  I can only surmise that Sony wanted to keep the price down and save the upgrades for the 7.2 megapixel, 3 inch LCD of the H5.

Pros:

Cons: