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Sony Cybershot DSC-H7 User Review
by zo5o -  6/30/2007

The recently released Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 fills the place of the H2 and is the slightly cheaper version of Sony’s flagship superzoom model, the Sony Cybershot DSC-H9. Both sport a 15x zoom, which translates into a massive 31-465mm. As with most superzooms both of these cameras offer great versatility by giving you both wide and telescopic options in a small and incredibly lightweight package.

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Superzooms have been growing rapidly in popularity and can be looked at as a bridge from traditional point and shoot cameras to DSLRs. Many, such as the Panasonic DMC-FZ50, offer many of the customizable manual features found on an DSLR. Furthermore this class of camera boasts the additional feature of video recording which DSLRs lack. However, as this review will show, there are still many reasons to consider getting an entry level DSLR, such as Nikon D40, over a superzoom if you are considering taking photography more seriously. This camera and others in its class do offer many advantages and it comes down to user preference and needs when considering what to purchase.

In considering these two new releases by Sony the only major difference between the two is their screen. The H7 sports a beautifully clear 2.5” screen that is built into the back of the camera. The H9 however has a massive 3” screen that is attached to a swivel arm that allows for over head shots and greater versatility when taking pictures or reviewing them.

The H9 also sports the Sony “Nightshot” feature previously found on many of its video cameras. This could be an advantage for some, but the green, combat-style infrared shots produced might be undesirable. The addition of 2 buttons controlling metering and shooting mode is also a bonus. However in most respects the H7 and H9 are identical.

NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder / LCD

The LCD is very crisp although it can be hard to use in bright light and I was squinting much of the time I was using it. Its 230,000 pixels do produce a very clear image and the 2.5” makes framing shots easier in some respects.

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The viewfinder is electronic (EVF) which in some respects is nice. It allows you to see the pictures you take through play mode and even access and manipulate the menu, although at the small resolution adjusting setting on the viewfinder is tedious. The lack of an eye cup is also frustrating as you end up squinting even when using the viewfinder, which in some ways defeats one of the primary purposes of a viewfinder.

Lens

The lens is spectacular in terms of being able to cover such a massive range (31-465mm). The downside is that as a result it’s not as fast (low f-stop values) as it could be with f2.7 at the widest angle and f4.5 at full telephoto. This is, however, not that bad considering my Nikon D80’s kit lens has a minimum aperture of f5.6 at full 135mm. The ability of this lens to pull off f4.5 at 465mm is fairly respectable. The focus however is not that great when zooming in at close distances, but this would be the same situation in lenses of the same telephoto range. The lens’ macro however is quite good, able to focus from 1cm but with some distortion.

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Wide angle with marked "zoom target"
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Full telephoto
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Focus

The H7 sports 9 AF points that have been quite efficient at finding the correct subject and have been almost the speed of an SLR in rapidly focusing on a target (depending on the focus conditions, of course). There are also options for center AF or flexible spot AF. Overall I’ve been impressed with the focusing of the camera, it’s quite fast for P&S cameras and almost at the level of an SLR.  The image stabilization system helps a great deal as can be seen further on in the review. The face-detection feature doesn’t really seem to have a huge impact for me, but it is there nonetheless.  

Flash

The flash is definitely powerful enough and is able to light up subjects even at far distances. The flash power throttles down or up in most modes, however, you can manually adjust the flash’s power in the manual modes as well (P, S, A, M).

Memory Card

The DSC-H7 takes Memory Stick Duo or Pro Duo media. There is also 31MB of internal memory which is nice as a start but in all honestly, quite pointless. At least it's better than an included 32MB card that would more likely be lost or at least never used.

Image File Formats

The H7 only takes pictures in JPEG format offered at various resolutions, including an interesting 16:9 aspect ratio option, which might be advantageous for those connecting to HD. Video is recorded with MPEG VX (Mpeg-1) at an option of either 640x480 at either 30/16fps or 320x240 at 8.3fps.

Connectivity

There is a USB 2.0 connection, an HD and AV multi-jack, as well as a DC in. A wireless remote is also included which is nice to control a slideshow presentation or take self-portraits. Music can also be downloaded to the camera and used in a slide show, a definitely nice, albeit gimmicky, feature. There is also a Pictbridge and DPOF option which might be helpful to some.

Power

Included is the compact and light lithium-ion NP-BG1 “G Type” battery (960mAh) which is fairly decent for general day to day shooting. However on whole day excursions where you may be doing a lot of shooting you might need to bring an extra battery, especially if you plan on using the flash extensively. The power adaptor is a wall type, which I personally prefer.

Getting Down to Business: Taking Photos

The H7 has quite a diverse range of auto shooting options along with the standard (P, A, S, M) which is nice as a P&S. In addition to auto mode, there are also some preset scene modes: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, High Sensitivity, and Advanced Sports Shooting.

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Initially I tried to use manual to compose some shots but the interface proved far too bulky to allow this at any real speed, leaving subjects and myself frustrated. I then resorted to either P (programmed auto) or one of the scene modes. I was quite impressed with the sports shooting mode as it has some nice features to track subjects and accurately adjust settings to achieve quite solid results. A rapid continuous shutter mode along with rapid focusing produced some good sport shots that can be seen in the sample photos.

Metering

The default mode is multi-mode metering with the options of either center-weighted or spot metering. There is also a bracketing function that allows you to take 3 pictures with varying exposure levels, definitely a useful function if you are not sure what exposure level to use at the time but don’t have time to play around with different options. Overall exposure was set accurately and any problems could easily be fixed by adjusting exposure manually. 

White Balance

I generally tend to use auto white balance which has functioned perfectly so far. There are however, several other set modes to choose from: incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, and flash. There is also the option to manually set white balance based on a reference point.

Sensitivity (ISO)

The H7 offers a range of ISO levels (80-3200) although this can only be accessed from the manual modes (M,A,S,P). There is also a high ISO mode that automatically adjusts to use a higher ISO rather than compensating for low light by decreasing shutter speed. The ISO performance of the H7 is fairly satisfactory for a camera of its class as the sample pictures show. The steady-shot inclusion is nice as it allows you to use a lower ISO in conjunction with a lower shutter speed to get the needed level of exposure without flash.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

The H7 offers some minimal in-camera adjustment, offering red-eye adjustment, trimming as well as the ability to add fish-eye, soft-focus, partial coloring or other such effects. I have yet to seriously use any of these features as it is far more efficient to do this kind of editing on a computer where you can actually see what you are doing.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING & ERGONOMICS 

The first thing I noticed when I started using the H7 was its light weight for a camera of its size. Its portability is astonishing considering the level of zoom it packs. The grip felt sturdy and I easily shot many pictures with just one hand. The camera feels sturdy although definitely plasticy.

The controls to me were quite disappointing. I was initially excited to try out the scroll wheel as I thought you might be able to use this to effectively adjust settings rapidly such as manual focus or aperture / shutter speed. The controls however were unwieldy to say the least. P mode was the only real mode I could say the scroll wheel was effective. In M mode it was extremely tedious to change settings at any level of speed, making it most definitely a point-and-shoot camera. Not only was the scroll wheel not used effectively while shooting, it couldn’t even be used when navigating the bulky, confusing multi-tiered menu system.

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I was distraught at the lack of external buttons to adjust things like ISO, shutter speed, exposure, or really anything other than macro, flash, timer mode, or display. To me that was truly the H7’s downfall. When compared to an SLR, in terms of ability to manipulate the picture you are taking, the H7 is nowhere close. However, as a point and shoot camera it performed admirably. I think this is what Sony had in mind when they designed the H7, simply put a P&S camera with massive zoom. However, I feel they could have done so much more with it and potentially captured more of the enthusiast market as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 has. The zoom control however functioned well and the shutter release, although quite plasticy, functioned well.

The top of the camera sports the shutter release, mode dial, along with the power button. The back contains the crisp 2.5” LCD along with the bulk of the controls. The right side holds the DC-In port. The left is home to the multi connector port providing USB, HD out, TV out. The bottom is where the battery and memory card slots are located along with a tripod mount.

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DC input jack (view large image)

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HD output jack (view large image)

Highlighted Features

Technical Details

Kit Contents

DSC-H7, remote control, lens lanyard, shoulder strap, G battery, software CD, manuals, lens hood, USB cable, and HD/Video out cable. 

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

I have been pleased at the quality of photos produced from this camera so far. The sports mode performed well, the zoom was a joy to use but I never really used manual mode as it was so tedious to set up a shot. I usually ended up using one of the shooting modes along with the occasional P or A mode. At times it was frustrating not being able to fine tune my pictures, however even on auto modes the pictures turned out well. The image stabilizer was definitely a necessity to get crisp pictures with the massive 15x zoom. 

The ISO performance can be seen below along with the effect of image stabilization and zoom. Noise is definitely acceptable up to around ISO 800 at 1600 it’s definitely visible but not hugely so. 


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The camera’s zoom capabilities are phenomenal as the images show, but image stabilization (IS) is essential as can also be seen. The IS pictures were taken at ISO 100 with a 1/15 sec shutter speed.


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Timing / Shutter Lag

The H7 has done fairly well in terms of shutter lag and start up time. There is about 0.4 second lag with a full depression of the shutter release (due to focus and exposure) and 0.07 seconds if the shutter release is already partially pressed. The speed for its class is quite acceptable and enjoyable to use, though it definitely pays to do the partial press before taking a shot as the timings are hugely improved.

Sample Pictures 

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Showing some depth of field
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Conclusion

The H7 achieves what I believe its designers set out to achieve, that is namely, create a point and shoot camera with a massive zoom.  The H7 is not a camera to get if you plan on delving into photography or plan on adjusting settings with any ease. However, if you want something you can just pick up, take great photos with (some of the time) and you appreciate the versatility that a 31-465mm lens gives you, then the H7 is the camera for you. Its video features are also outstanding, especially the ability to zoom during recording and the 640x480 @ 30fps. I was impressed with the H7’s shooting modes and the quality of pictures they turned out with surprisingly little effort.

I enjoyed using this camera, especially the power the 15x zoom gave me but as I mentioned earlier its bloated menu, lack of dedicated buttons (perhaps a benefit to some), and inability to change settings rapidly left me craving my DSLR. If you are considering using the camera primarily for photography (not video) and want to develop your photography skills, I would recommend looking at some entry level DSLRs, the Nikon D40x, Canon Rebel XT or XTi, or the Pentax K10D are all great cameras at price levels comparable to that of the H7. So in summary it basically comes down to what you as a user want out of the camera and the H7 fulfills the needs of a specific segment incredibly well.

Pros

Cons