There is one thing upon which photographers can inevitably depend - digital camera choices will continue to proliferate relentlessly. One of the most exciting new developments in the ongoing digital imaging revolution is the compact ultrazoom digicam. Mini-megazooms are very compact and easy to use digital cameras with at least 10x zooms. These little cameras are great for travelers, extreme sports fans, hikers/campers, and savvy casual photographers who need a small easily pocketable, simple to use, high-resolution camera with a longer than average lens.
The industrial-chic Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 could be the poster child for this exciting new class of digital imaging devices. The H55 is a thin compact and rather plain looking, but an eminently pocket-sized 14 megapixel digicam.
Its high quality, true wide-angle to moderate telephoto (25mm to 250mm equivalent) 10x zoom carries the same "G" designator as some of Sony's digital SLR lenses. The H55 also features Sony's Steady Shot image stabilization, and an impressive collection of useful automatic image enhancement options including Self portrait timer, Smile Shutter mode (which ensures that every subject in the frame is smiling before the shutter fires), Sony's super simple Sweep Panorama mode (the H55 captures up to 100 shots by panning the camera horizontally across a scene and then automatically stitches those captured images together to create a single super-wide picture with up to a 244 degree field of view), and the face recognition technology that consumers now demand.
Like most of its competition, the H55 doesn't provide either an optical or electronic viewfinder - so shooters must use the 3.0-inch (230k) Clear Photo LCD screen for all framing and composition, saved imaged review, and menu navigation chores. The H55 can capture either HD 720p (1280x720) or VGA (640x480) video clips at 30fps with monaural audio. The versatile little Sony H55 saves images to SD, SDHC (but not SDXC) and Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo memory media or to 45MB of on-board memory. The H55 draws its power from a Sony InfoLithium NP-BG1 rechargeable battery that is good for (according to Sony) about 310 exposures. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 is available in either black or silver and sells for about $250.
The H55 is the third compact ultrazoom I've tested recently - the others were a Nikon S8000 and a Fujifilm JZ500. I haven't used Canon's SX210 IS, but I've heard lots of great things about this exciting mini-megazoom. All four cameras provide similar features, despite the one hundred dollar price difference between the SX210 IS and the JZ500. Casio's new Exilim EX-H15 mini-ultrazoom, in addition to providing features similar to the other four cameras mentioned, offers a battery that is (according to Casio) good for up to 1000 exposures. I've really come to appreciate both the convenience and the expanded capabilities of this diminutive, but optically well endowed class of imaging devices.
The H55 seems targeted more toward photography enthusiasts than casual shooters because unlike much of its competition, it features a manual exposure mode, although it doesn't offer either aperture priority or shutter-priority exposure modes. The H55 also provides Easy Auto, Intelligent Auto, and Programmed Auto modes plus eleven scene modes. Ergonomically, the oblong shaped H55 has rounded corners and there is a groovy finger grip on the front of the camera. On the rear deck, there's a matching but truncated thumb groove. The H55's minimal controls are logically placed and easily accessed, although the on/off button is a bit too small. The H55 weighs in at about 7.0 ounces with battery and memory card and measures 1.13x2.27x 4.0-inches.
I've only had the H55 for about 36 hours, but I've already arrived at a couple of conclusions. First, on a negative note, the H55's image capture/processing cycle really leaves something to be desired - compose your picture and then trip the shutter button and the H55 locks up (for 2 or 3 seconds ) while its Bionz Processor saves the image.
On a more positive note, even though there is no dedicated macro icon on the compass switch, capturing striking close-ups is ridiculously simple - just set the H55's zoom to its wide-angle position and move in until your subject fills up the LCD screen (minimum focusing distance is 0.16 in/0.5cm) to easily capture impressive macro shots.
Review in Progress
Watch for our upcoming full review of the Sony Cybershot H55.