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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 Review
by AKAJohnDoe -  9/23/2007

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 digital camera is Sony’s flagship model in the "super-zoom" arena and does so with quite a list of features. Included are the 15x optical zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, a new night shot (IR) mode, a 3-inch LCD, and the now ubiquitous face recognition feature, with image stabilization and 8 megapixels to boot.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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CONTROL LAYOUT

The controls are logically laid out and well-placed for usability. It has a very SLR-like feel about it. The DSC-H9 achieves a good balance between the hardware controls and the software menus; providing complete functionality without overly complicating or cluttering up either.

The control dial on the top is used to select the program modes from the 4 standard and 9 preset modes, as well as the ISO. The ability to easily change the ISO without having to go into menu systems is very welcome on a digital camera.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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The other controls across the top of the camera are the shutter release, metering selector, a button to select continuous shooting and bracketing options, and the power switch.

The selection wheel on the back is the companion to the control dial, easily permitting rapid changes to settings. Within the selection wheel is a joystick style control to manipulate the flash, macro, self-timer, and LCD. In the very center is the joystick nub button.

Above and below the selection wheel are the buttons to access the menu system.

Across the top of the back there are buttons to engage the viewfinder or LCD screen, image review (playback), and the zoom lens control.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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HANDLING/PERFORMANCE

Observations

When I unpacked the Sony DSC-H9 and looked it over I noticed a number of features not found on every digital camera I see. There are some nice touches that help make a camera more effective in more situations for more people, little things like a diopter adjustment on the viewfinder, grid lines that could be turned on for the LCD, and bigger things such as multiple metering modes, flash compensation, and a histogram display - well thought out and well laid out.

The majority of the camera’s functions were readily discernable without resorting to the manual, which, by the way, is only available in full form on the included CD; there is only a short instruction manual included as hard copy form.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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Real-World Use

After charging the battery, which took awhile, it was off to take pictures and get a feel for how it performed and felt to use.

I took it along on a short walk in the neighborhood at dusk, on an easy hike to a waterfall, and on a walk through my favorite lakefront park.

I found that the viewfinder and LCD could not both be active simultaneously, and that neither performed well in bright sunlight. However, the accuracy of what is seen through either and what the camera actually captures is quite good and consistent.

The lens specification is a variable aperture, 2.7-4.5; however, the other end of that specification tops out at f8, which was a bit disappointing. I would have preferred having at least f11, or better, f16, at my disposal.

In normal use, I found that in holding the camera I would inadvertently move the control dial setting. I feel that that dial moves too easily, but it may have just been the specimen I had.

I also found that the lens cap pops off when the camera is turned on. I recommend using the cap keeper or that lens cap will get lost!

During my neighborhood walk, I managed to get a quick grab shot of a rabbit before it ran off. Although you can see the reflection of the trees and sky in its eye, the detail in the shadows is not good.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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The waterfall was taken at mid-day under harsh light, yet the DSC-H9 was able to capture the spray without washing out all the highlights.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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As another test of the DSC-H9’s ability to work with high and low contrast situations, I took a handheld shot of Mt. Rainier, partially clouded over, in late afternoon, but still 4 hours before sunset. There is still detail distinguishing the sky from the clouds from the mountain in the image, and that mountain is about 70 miles away, which is a lot of air to shoot through.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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At the wetlands park along the lake shore, opportunities for wildlife, macro, and image stabilized zoom presented themselves. This park is one of my favorite locations. Not only can I be assured of having subject matter, but the subjects are familiar enough to me to permit comparisons with prior visits.

The blackberries here might have benefitted from a bit more depth of field if going for composition, but I was particularly interested in obtaining shallow depth of field. Notice how the background is completely blurred out, and how the red berry, and even the darker berry behind the red berry, begin to lose detail as distance from the green ones increases. This can be a particularly nice capability for portraits or pictures of children, too.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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A close-up of a cattail also shows this effect. Notice how the seeds are the focus and subject rather than the setting.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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The three herons that were bold enough to allow themselves to be photographed that day demonstrate well the capabilities of the Sony DSC-H9. Again, all these images are handheld. I did not use a tripod intentionally.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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Having the multiple metering patterns available made accurate exposure much simpler. For this shot of a dragonfly, spot metering was used to help in capturing the delicacy of the wings.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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The macro, or close-up, capabilities of the DSC-H9 are impressive. I took pictures of the remote included with the camera and discarded several of them because they showed the dust that had collected on the remote! I cleaned it off for this image, but perhaps I should have kept one of the dusty captures to show?
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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As always, I take a set of technical images to show color rendition, lens distortion, and noise.

The Sony DSC-H9 demonstrates fairly significant distortion at both extremes: Pincushion distortion at the telephoto extreme and barrel distortion at the wide end. Barrel distortion at the wide angles is not unusual, and can even be used for effect; however, it is quite apparent as can be seen in this image.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 sample image
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The Sony DSC-H9 performs quite well up to ISO 400, becoming noisy at that point with the ISO 3200 images being obviously noisy even as thumbnails. Notice also the color shifts as the ISO is increased.


ISO 80 (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 100 (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 200 (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 400 (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 800 (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 1600 (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 3200 (view medium image) (view large image)

The night shot (IR) mode is fun, but creates extremely noisy images. I did not include an image of this feature in this review.

IN THE BOX

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
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SPECIFICATIONS

CONCLUSION

The Sony DSC-H9 is a full-featured camera which focuses faster than many competing models. The Carl Zeiss lens, at 15X optical, is among the broadest range available. However, images are noisy at and above ISO 400. Also, the shadow detail loss and lens distortion characteristics tend to detract from an otherwise impressive feature set. Bottom line is that it seems a bit expensive for the performance demonstrated, but if kept between ISO 80 and ISO 400, it can capture quality images, particularly those that require the quick focus and shutter release.

Pros:

Cons: