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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 Review
by AKAJohnDoe -  7/6/2008

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 is extremely similar to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 and shares most of the features, specifications, and attributes with the latter model. It is a little over an ounce heavier, likely due to the 3-inch LCD instead of the 2.5-inch screen of the prior model. By itself that is a nice upgrade.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10


The H10 still has a Carl Zeiss 10x zoom (38-380mm in 35mm terms). These high-quality optics distinguish the H10 from other models in this crowded field of 8-plus megapixel compact cameras.

FEATURES OVERVIEW
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
PERFORMANCE
IMAGE QUALITY
CONCLUSIONS
SPECIFICATIONS

FEATURES OVERVIEW

The Sony H10 is an 8.1 megapixel camera that uses a rechargeable battery and accepts only the Memory Stick Pro and Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards. In addition, it has approximately 31 MB of internal memory, so limited shooting may be done without a memory card. The camera comes in a black or silver finish. On the silver model the hand grip and the extended lens are black.

The lens is a 10x optical zoom with Carl Zeiss glass. It has a variable aperture ranging from f/3.5 at the wide angle end to f/4.4 at the telephoto end. Digital zoom is also available via the menus. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 30 seconds, depending on the exposure mode selected.

The Sony H10 provides the versatile shooting modes we have all come to expect:

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Styling and Build Quality

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 H10 comes in either silver or black.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

The case is plastic with a slightly slippery texture. When turned off the lens retracts into a raised surface on the face of the camera. The LCD is almost flush with the back and is fixed; it does not rotate nor pivot.

Ergonomics and Interface

The control layout is simple and mostly intuitive. There are two buttons on the back, one labeled MENU and the other HOME. The HOME button seems unnecessary; it would be better if it were a submenu of the MENU.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

The menu system is slow and cumbersome. Additionally, when the end of a set of selections is reached, one must go back, rather than wrapping around back to the beginning.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

The handling of the camera is not as assertive as it could be due to the smoothness of the finish. Also, I often carry a small camera such as this in my left hand, with my thumb over the top of the lens, my index finger under the lens, my middle finger on the bottom of the camera, and my little and ring fingers on the back. (Try it: it makes sense, and is fairly secure and comfortable.) This camera, however, tries to get away when the power shuts down and the lens retracts. It is secure when the lens is retracted, just not while it is retracting.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

There is a strap lug that is well-placed, exactly where your right thumb is when using the camera. Without this lug, I would have dropped the camera on more than one occasion.

Adding the adapter and lens hood certainly enhances the "holdability" of this camera, at the expense of size and style.

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

Like the hood for the H3, the hood for the H10 looks to be better suited as a vacuum cleaner attachment than a lens hood: it certainly will not fit in your pocket with the hood attached. It would likely reduce glare in certain shooting conditions, though, so don't simply discard or never use it.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

Display/Viewfinder

The LCD is 3.0 inches. This appears to be the major difference between this camera and the older H3 model.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

There is no optical viewfinder, so composition is done via the LCD only, which can be difficult or downright impossible in certain lighting conditions.

It is possible to zoom in and out on images and move about the images when in playback mode.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag

As would be expected there is some delay between the AF acquisition and the shutter release; however, it is as good as many, and better than most compact digital cameras. The delay is approximately 0.04 seconds with pre-focus and between 0.7 and 0.8 seconds without pre-focus.

There is a continuous setting, for taking pictures of moving subjects. Images are taken sequentially at approximately 2.1 frames per second, or about 10 full-res frames in 4.74 seconds.

There also are bracketing settings, where three images are taken at roughly the same interval as with the continuous setting, but with the exposure being shifted by an EV, or exposure value. The images are recording in the sequence minus/zero/plus and the values for minus/plus can be selected at +/- 0.3EV, +/- 0.7EV, or +/- 1.0EV. This can be useful when you are unsure about the correct exposure, or when you are shooting in light that is rapidly changing. The three exposures are taken without much fanfare. I had to check the playback images to see that it had in fact taken three images.

The H10 is pretty slow at start-up: the time between power-on and the first shot was 3.6 seconds.

Lens and Zoom

The lens is a quite respectable 10x optical zoom range of 38-380mm (in 35mm-equivalent terms).

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

The lens traverses the range from wide to telephoto (and vice-versa) evenly, albeit fairly slowly. This permits fine adjustments without much effort.

Auto Focus

The auto focus in this camera was quite good, except in macro mode, where the subject was difficult to keep in focus. When it was, the results were quite good. There are preset focus ranges that could be used in this situation, but a tripod would help more.

As with most cameras, AF (and exposure) can be locked by holding the shutter button part way down, then, without letting it up, recomposing and pressing the shutter release.

There are a number of selectable AF modes: multi-area, center, spot, three approximate distance modes, and infinity.

Flash

The flash seems a bit slower than most, as a maximum power discharge takes 8.15 seconds; however, average performance was closer to three seconds.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

There is a setting for flash compensation. The flash may be adjusted +/- 2.0EV in 0.3EV increments. This is a nice feature for tweaking fill flash that is not present on every camera in this class.

Image Stabilization

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 has image stabilization to compensate for shake to minimize blur. The literature speaks about a built-in gyro sensor that sends correcting signals to a stabilization lens. It seems to work, too.

Battery Life

I am of the opinion that spare batteries simply make good sense. I did have to charge the battery several times.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

Once the charge started dropping down, it went down quickly. Without a spare, I had to wait for the recharge cycle to complete.


IMAGE QUALITY

I was generally pleased with the overall quality of the images produced by the H10. The colors were accurate and detailed, the images sharp, and the exposure usually correct.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

I carried the camera to some familiar places to get images I could compare with the results from other cameras and also to some new places to see what it could do. I took inside and outside pictures. I was lucky enough to get a few days of sunlight without rain and clouds here in the Seattle area to be able to try out the different white balance settings as well.

I took to my yard for shots of rhododendrons and close-ups. These were taken in normal mode. These images were taken hand-held in normal mode; no contrast, sharpness, or vivid settings were used. Notice that you can zoom in on these and actually see the pollen.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

With this camera, as with other cameras with such settings, and particularly with a subject such as flowers, I would be mighty tempted to use the High Contrast and Vivid Modes. Perhaps even the High Sharpness setting, although I prefer adjusting sharpness on the computer in post processing myself. See for yourself the difference these settings can make.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
Normal
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
High Contrast
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
High Sharpness
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
Vivid

I particularly like the Vivid effect, being a slide film user when not shooting digitally. Used properly, it has great "wow factor" potential.

The manual exposure mode is a disappointment. While shutter speed is selectable throughout the range, aperture may only be toggled between two values. At the wide end these values are f/3.5 and f/8; mid-range, f/4 and f/9; and at telephoto, f/4.4 and f/10. This mode might have well been left out as it is of marginal use as implemented.

White Balance

White balance is user-selectable via the menus. The possible selections are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent-1 (White), Fluorescent-2 (Natural White), Fluorescent-3 (Day White), Incandescent, and Flash.

I found the Sunlight and Shade settings to be the fairly accurate on this camera. However, the LCD is utterly useless in bright sunlight and any composition attempted in bright sunlight is purely guesswork.

For comparative purposes with other reviews we include an auto white balance image.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

Lens Faults

At the wide angle end there is significant barrel distortion. At the telephoto end of the spectrum the pincushion distortion is less apparent than usual in a camera of this class. While I generally expect some barrel distortion in a camera of this class, 38mm is not all that wide and the distortion is quite pronounced. Nevertheless, the 10x range of this zoom is quite nice. Look at these two images, taken from the top of Tiger Mountain. The first image is looking to the east towards the west face of Mt. Si; the second is a zoom-in of the same face.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

Sensitivity and Noise

It is a given that noise increases with a corresponding increase in ISO speed. It happens with film; it happens with digital. Commonly, there are also color shifts apparent when comparing similar pictures taken at different ISO settings. It is for these reasons that a set of pictures is taken at each ISO setting with each camera tested.

The Sony H10 permits sensitivity settings of ISO 100 to 3200 (in full stops), and of course, Auto. I find the results quite satisfactory at each of the settings given the purpose of each setting, although I would be hard pressed to have a need to use ISO 3200.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 100, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 200, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 400
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 400, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 800
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 800, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 1600
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 3200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
ISO 3200, 100% crop

There is a slightly noticeable shift in color and noise at ISO 800, which expectedly progresses as ISO is increased to 1600 and again to 3200.

All in all, the performance is adequate up through ISO 400. At ISO 100 the detail is of course the best. Shifting up to ISO 200 still shows good detail, although I perceive it as slightly warmer overall. Personally, I would use ISO 200 and ISO 400 interchangeably depending on available light, not on image quality as the trade-offs between them are not all that significant. At ISO 800 the color seems to cool down a bit to me, and of course noise, or loss of detail, increases. Still, quite usable for most applications. By ISO 1600 most fine detail is gone, but in low light without flash it may still be the only viable option. Then we come to ISO 3200. You should use this only if you are desperate to get the shot and cannot in any other way.

Additional Sample Images

Sometimes we simply cannot get physically closer to our subject. This is when the H10's 10x zoom comes in handy. I prefer not to use digital zoom, as I do not like the noise it introduces, but that is another option when the situation warrants. This image was taken at the extreme telephoto range (380mm) without digital zoom, yet could still be enlarged and cropped in the computer as desired.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 handled both light filtered indoors and backlighting without flash well. The close-up was taken at ISO 100 and the backlit image at ISO 200. I like that there is still detail in the whiskers at ISO 200.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

Spot metering was used for this image of the turtles as there was so much reflectivity in the surrounding water. Because the ducks were paddling about I chose pattern metering to try to balance the exposure throughout the frame. Both of these images, particularly spot metered images, would have benefited greatly from an optical viewfinder. I find that using an optical viewfinder not only enhances composition, but also the stability of the shot, reducing blur.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

I snapped off this picture of a wild rose to see how much background blur could be achieved at f/4.4. I would have liked a bit more blur; hence, a faster lens. With the Carl Zeiss lens being the cherry of this camera, it would be nice to have a bit juicer cherry. A lens that is a little wider, a little faster, would be nice. Perhaps going down to 24mm and f/3.5 at least.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

These shots of a gray jay show both the detail this camera is capable of and the shortcomings of the lens speed. You can zoom in and still not quite see the vanes in the feathers, but almost. Likewise, the background is blurred, but still detracts. Even with those criticisms, the fact of the matter is that this camera and lens can take an almost full-frame image of a small bird that is flittering between several trees.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

CONCLUSIONS

The images produced by the Sony Cyber-shot H10 can be stunning. This is largely a testament to the fine lens used.


However, the overall package detracts from the ability to seamlessly use this camera as an extension of my eye. This is a factor of both form and function. It is not a camera that feels sure in the hand; the finish smoothness certainly contributes to this as does the lack of an optical finder. The menus are tedious. A simple, frequent operation such as changing the ISO or setting exposure compensation is a multi-step process.

Overall, with such a great lens, other concerns and shortcomings with the H10 make themselves that much more apparent.

Pros:

Cons:


SPECIFICATIONS: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10

Sensor 8.1 megapixel, 1/2.5" CCD
Lens/Zoom 10x (38-380mm) Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar, f/3.5-4.4
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0", 230K-pixel Hybrid TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 100-3200
Shutter Speed 60-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Program, Manual, Movie, Scene, High Sensitivity
Scene Presets Soft Snap, Advanced Sports Shooting, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Twilight, Beach, Snow, Fireworks
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash
Metering Modes Multi, Center, Spot
Focus Modes Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, five approximate distance AF modes, Macro
Drive Modes Normal, Burst
Flash Modes Auto, Forced On, Slow Synchro, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Pro Duo
Internal Memory
31 MB
File Formats JPEG, MPEG
Max. Image Size 3264x2448
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video No
Battery Rechargeable 960 mAh lithium-ion
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Face Detection, Super SteadyShot mechanical image stabilization, Red-Eye Reduction, HD shooting modes