Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 Digital Camera Review
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Testing / Performance
*Just about every digital camera promises perfectly accurate colors, so we put them all to the test by photographing a GretagMacbeth color chart and analyzing the colors with Imatest imaging software. The H7’s predecessor, the Sony H5, was not impressive in this area.
After selecting the most accurately colored image, Imatest output a modified version of it so readers can compare the original colors of the chart (depicted as the central vertical rectangle of each tile) to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7’s colors (the outer frame of each tile). The inner square is the ideal corrected for luminance.
The 24 tiles on the above chart are represented in a graph below. The original colors of the GretagMacbeth chart are shown as squares and the Sony H7’s colors are shown as circles. The line connecting the two shapes shows the degree of error and is only visible sometimes: in fact, it is better if it isn’t seen at all. Circles that are closer to the center of the image are undersaturated and circles closer to the edge than the squares are oversaturated. The Sony H7 has some going both ways but they balance each other out with an overall saturation of 100.2 percent.
Few of the H7's colors are truly erroneous - the blue end of the spectrum is the most inaccurate. The H7’s mean color error of 5.47 reflects color accuracy far better than its predecessors. The Sony H5 had a mean color error of 6.45 and an overall score of 7.14, while the newer Cyber-shot H7 boasts a great 10.97 score.
*The automatic white balance performed well in almost every kind of lighting except for tungsten when it made images look way too blue. The auto white balance setting is safe to use except for in a studio lit with tungsten lights.
*The H7 has a healthy list of white balance presets including Cloudy, Daylight, Incandescent, Flash, and 3 different Fluorescent settings. The H7 was most accurate in the flash and fluorescent presets and performed poorest with the cloudy setting, where neither the auto or preset modes worked well.
**Still Life Sequences
***Click to see high-resolution images.*
*As with all digital camera lineups, newer cameras come with more megapixels; the older H5 has 7.2 megapixels and the newer H7 has 8.1 megapixels. We tested how well the H7’s sensor captures detail by photographing a busy-looking black-and-white industry standard resolution test chart. We varied the focal lengths and apertures to eliminate any bias from the lens and Imatest software waded through the stack of photos and selected the sharpest one.
The sharpest shot, shown above, was snapped with a focal length of 16mm and an aperture of f/3.5. To keep noise out of the picture, we manually set the ISO to 80. Imatest churns out resolution results in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which represents how many black and white alternating lines of equal thickness could fit across the frame without blurring. This sharp shot resolved 1878 lw/ph horizontally with 6.8 percent oversharpening and 1957 lw/ph vertically with 23.3 percent oversharpening.
The Sony H7 employs heavy in-camera sharpening that could make processing photos in software an ordeal, but its 7.52 overall resolution score is very respectable.
Noise - Auto ISO*(5.35)*
We photographed the color chart while letting the camera automatically set the ISO. The lighting is kept very bright: 3000 lux. As with most digital cameras, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7, chose a low setting. It selected an ISO 100 setting, which isn’t its lowest (ISO 80 is) but is close. The H7 performed well but the H-series has a good history of even better performers in this area. The Sony H1 had a 6.8 overall auto ISO noise score, followed by the H5’s 5.82 score, and finally the H7’s still-healthy-but-overshadowed 5.35 score.
Noise - Manual ISO*(8.78)*
The old Sony H1 had an ISO range that topped out at 400. The Sony H5’s ISO range stopped at 1000. The new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has a manual ISO range that extends from 80 to 3200. We tested the noise levels in optimal light at each ISO setting. The percentage of the image degraded to noise is shown on the vertical axis of the graph below with the horizontal axis showing each ISO setting.
The earlier H5 performed decently in this test and even has lower noise at the ISO 800 setting than the newer H7, but the newer model’s extensive range is very impressive and its lower ISO settings performed just as well as the H5’s. The noise level increases each time the ISO is bumped up, but the slope isn’t as steep at the higher range when compared to similar cameras with very high ISO sensitivity offerings. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 outscored the H5’s 8.21 with an 8.78.
Older digital cameras didn’t cater to low light photography, but now it’s all the rage. Most new models offer a high ISO sensitivity, vast flash options, and long exposures. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has the works. We put it to the test by photographing the color chart at decreasing light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. 60 lux is a common light level found in averagely lit rooms after dusk. 30 lux is about the light found at a pub where it takes a second for your eyes to adjust. 15 and 5 lux are very dark and certainly not common settings for photography, but these tests push the image sensor to the limit.
Colors remain accurate throughout testing: at the darkest 5 lux, the mean color error is still less than 8 which is unheard of. This is great, along with the constant illumination of the images. Noise is constantly an issue in low light and we tested that too. Below is a chart showing the exposure time on the horizontal axis and the percentage of the image transformed to noise on the vertical axis.
Most cameras show an increase in noise but the Sony H7’s noise eventually decreases after about 10 seconds because of heavy in-camera noise reduction. The noise reduction system smoothes noise over but the images are very splotchy. The H7 performed well with very low noise in all of its long exposures, so it received a fabulous 8.82 overall low light score.
Most photographs have some variation in light and dark subject matter: it makes them more interesting to look at. However, most digital cameras have trouble capturing all the details in black suits and white shirts in one image, for instance. To test the Sony H7’s dynamic range, we photographed a Stouffer step chart that shows a row of rectangles ranging from very light to very dark, which represent about 13 exposure values. We photographed this chart at various ISO settings because this parameter dramatically impacts the dynamic range. Below is a chart showing the H7’s performance with the manual ISO settings on the horizontal axis and the number of exposure values captured in one shot on the vertical axis.
The Sony Cyber-shot H7 captured a good amount of detail until ISO 800; there is a huge drop of about 2.5 exposure values from 400 to 800. It gets steadily worse from there, which is expected. In general, users should keep the ISO set at or under 400 and should avoid anything beyond that in order to keep details in light and dark portions of the pictures.
***Startup to First Shot (7.3)
*This ultra-zoom digital camera has to wake up and extend its lens before it takes its first picture. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t take long to fire its first shot. It only takes 2.7 seconds, which isn’t as quick as some compacts but is better than most ultra-zoom models.
The burst mode on the H7 snaps pictures at a lively 2-frame-per-second rate and it can do so up to 100 shots straight. This is very impressive. The 3 bracketing modes snap strings of 3 shots each at a rate of a shot every 0.3 seconds. This is also very quick.
*The 9-area auto focus system works very quickly; it took 0.2 seconds from the push of the finger to the click of the shutter. When the shutter release button was pushed and the exposure and focus were previously locked, the shutter lag was hardly measurable.
The Sony H7 took approximately 1.3 seconds to process one shot, and the same amount of time to process a burst, even one as long as 100 shots. This suggests that the burst mode processes its images at the same time that more are being captured.
Bright Indoor Light - 3000 lux (6.44)*
The noise remains fairly low, which is expected in this bright light. But other than that, there aren’t many positive things to say about the Sony H7’s movie mode. The camera’s accurate colors while shooting still images are completely gone when shooting video. The mean color error jumped to 26.5 and the saturation went overboard to 137.6 percent. This performance is horrific.
*Low Light - 30 lux
*The video test chart we recorded looks very drab under 30 lux of light. Surprisingly, the mean color error returned to 13. That still isn’t impressive but isn’t as bad as the 26.5 at 3000 lux. Colors are undersaturated at only 86.48 percent and the average noise level increased to 2.2 percent of the image.
The video test chart we recorded looks very drab under 30 lux of light. Surprisingly, the mean color error returned to 13. That still isn’t impressive but isn’t as bad as the 26.5 at 3000 lux. Colors are undersaturated at only 86.48 percent and the average noise level increased to 2.2 percent of the image.
The Sony H7’s movie mode records at a top resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. Imatest analyzed the video of the test chart and had trouble with it because a significant percentage of the clip was too dark. This is from the movie mode’s inability to properly expose the video. Thus, results could be better than this. At best in the studio, though, the Sony H7 can resolve 239 lw/ph horizontally with 23.2 percent undersharpening and 400 lw/ph vertically with 10.3 percent undersharpening. Despite all the trouble, this is actually better than most compacts’ movie modes with the same 640 x 480 resolution.
We took the H7 for a spin outdoors. After recording movies of bikes and passersby, we looked at the footage and noticed strong contrast and no obvious moiré. When subjects exited the frame, there was some unnatural jerkiness that is common on most compact cameras so this isn’t a big worry. The camera tended to underexpose the video as it did with still shots but users shouldn’t be afraid to take their H7s outdoors.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has an electronic viewfinder on the back that is encased by a hard plastic eyecup. It’s far enough away from the back that noses won’t rub against the LCD screen. The view jumps from the LCD to the viewfinder when the LCD/Finder button to the right of the viewfinder is pushed.
This component is small – the window measures only 0.2 inches diagonally – but is useful when shooting outdoors when the LCD is difficult to see. The small viewfinder has much better resolution than the LCD screen too. With 201,000 pixels, it isn’t the best electronic viewfinder on the market but it’s not bad either. It shows a 100 percent accurate view, like the LCD, and has good color and contrast. It refreshes rapidly too, so even moving subjects will look like a video rather than a choppy film strip.
Users can choose what information is displayed on the viewfinder and LCD by pushing the top of the multi-selector labeled "Disp." The view can be blank or full shooting info can appear. Pushing "Disp" again will brighten the screen, and pushing yet again will display a histogram with the shooting information. Overall, the viewfinder is small but has decent resolution and is most useful when bright light makes viewing the LCD impossible.
**LCD Screen ***(6.0)*
The H7’s LCD screen isn’t that great. Perhaps this is a strategic move on Sony’s part though. The Cyber-shot H9’s banner feature is its 3-inch LCD monitor that has a wide viewing angle and folds out from the camera so it can tilt up and down. Perhaps to make the pricier H9 more enticing, Sony put a sub-par LCD on the H7. It measures 2.5 inches, which is a decent size. But the resolution isn’t very good at only 115,000 pixels. At this resolution, the individual blue, green, and red pixels can be seen. It is difficult to judge whether subjects are focused on this LCD screen, although composition can be determined. The H7’s LCD doesn’t have a very wide viewing angle either, so holding it anywhere but directly in front of the eye will make the screen look like a film negative. Viewing the H7’s LCD outside in bright light is nearly impossible. The glassy surface catches glare and is quite hard to see. When reviewing images outdoors the electronic viewfinder is the way to go.
Sony opted to give the H7 a solid built-in flash unit rather than a hot shoe to attach external flash. The flash pops up automatically when needed; if users want to force it up, they will have to activate it through the flash menu. This is accessed by the right side of the multi-selector. Auto, On, Off, and Slow Sync options are available from here; red-eye reduction can be turned on and off in the recording menu and works in all the flash modes.
The flash is very effective for faraway subjects but useless for macro shooting. It is effective from 0.66-32.41 feet when zoomed out and 3.94-19.69 feet when zoomed in. Don’t even try using the flash for macro shooting: half the picture will be glaring white and the other half will have a dark shadow from the lens.
For portraits, the flash performed well. It provided even coverage on subjects’ faces and didn’t overexpose foreheads. Just a note: the corners of the frame are much darker than the center. This won’t show up unless shooting images of blank walls – which hopefully you don’t do often. But for those art photographers out there, this slight vignetting could be a problem. The Cyber-shot H7’s flash level can be adjusted on a +/- 2 scale in third increments from within the recording menu.
In the playback mode, there is a red-eye correction filter. I never had to use it because I never got a picture with red eyes. The Sony H7’s flash performs well in most situations and will especially provide excellent coverage for portraits.
The Sony H7 is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 15x optical zoom lens, the same lens as the fancier H9. The lens is made up from 13 elements in 8 groups with 4 aspheric elements and 1 ED lens. Sony’s Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization system keeps these elements afloat so that any jostles from hands, toddlers, or earthquakes don’t ruin a picture.
The optical image stabilization is the most useful in the movie mode, when every little jostle is magnified and recorded. The optical zoom lens is fully functional in the movie mode, although its motor can be heard in the video. The lens isn’t loud, but it’s definitely audible. The Super SteadyShot stabilization is also useful in reducing blur in still images, but is more noticeable in movies. It can be turned on and off in the recording menu. When snapping still images, there is also an option to activate it only when the exposure is locked – rather than run it continuously – to save power.
The 15x optical zoom lens measures 5.2-78mm, which is equivalent to 31-465mm in the traditional 35mm format. The zoom is controlled by a rocker-type button on the upper right of the H7’s back. This rocker isn’t very sensitive; it only stops at about 21 focal lengths throughout the 15x range. When zooming around, a horizontal bar appears on the LCD or viewfinder. The bar shows the user’s approximate location in the 15x range and gives a numerical value as to its position: for example, "2.4x."
The camera comes with a lens adapter and hood. The hood comes in useful in sunny shooting situation, but should be used with caution as the lens hood shows up in the photo when shooting at the widest angle. Users have to zoom in to about 1.5x to not have the black petals peek into the sides of pictures. The camera also comes with a lens cap and strap that attaches to the neck strap so it won’t get lost.
The Sony Cyber-shot H7 has 2x "precision" digital zoom, which degrades image quality and should basically never be used. It also comes with something called "smart zoom" that works well when used correctly. When the image size is reduced, the camera uses the entire image sensor to digitally zoom. There is no degradation of image quality in this mode. When the image size is set to 5 megapixels, the camera can zoom to 18x. When set to 3 megapixels, it is set to 23x. In the 2-megapixel widescreen mode, the H7 can zoom to 25x. At the smallest 640 x 480-pixel size, users can zoom up to 76x.
The lengthy Carl Zeiss lens has a fat barrel with a wide base that is great for handling and gives the camera a good solid feel. The lens has a wide f/2.7 max aperture that lets in lots of light. The 15x lens with image stabilization is a solid component as it should be; after all, it is the highlighted feature on this ultra-zoom digital camera.
Design / Layout
**Model Design / Appearance ***(7.5)*
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7’s SLR shape is great for handling and gives it a serious look. It has an enormous lens barrel on one side and a substantial hand grip on the other. The ultra-zoom digital camera comes in silver and black housings - our review model came in black. There aren’t too many chrome highlights on the housing, but there are several textures and colors that mesh together. The hand grip has a leather-like black texture, the lens barrel has a dark silver-colored rim, the strap lugs are chrome, there is a glossy black stripe down the top and front, and the controls are colored the same as the body except for the chrome multi-selector/rotary control and the power and shutter release buttons. The H7’s design isn’t sexy; it doesn’t want to be a bombshell that looks hot but doesn’t have brains. Instead, it aims for a smart and modest design.
Size / Portability*(5.0)*
The Sony H7 is a chunky SLR-shaped camera similar to other ultra-zoom models on the market. It won’t fit in a pocket, but will fit in a large purse or diaper bag. That said, this camera will require a special bag of some sort to properly protect it. It would be nice to have a bag to tote around the extra lens hood and adapter too. The protruding lens needs the most protection; it is big and durable, but is still vulnerable to bumps and nicks. The H7 comes with a lens cap and strap that attaches to the main neck strap. The body measures 4.31 x 3.28 x 3.37 inches (109.5 x 83.4 x 85.7mm) and its weight fits it just right at 13.2 ounces (375g).
The Sony H7 has an SLR-type shape that aids in handling. The chunky camera has a large hand grip that is wrapped in a rubber surface and textured to look and feel like rubber. Opposite the hand grip is the large lens barrel that provides a wide base at the bottom of the camera for the left hand to hold. The Sony H7 isn’t designed for one-handed shooting; it is a bit too heavy and off-balance for that. The best way to hold the camera is with the left hand supporting beneath the fat lens, the right hand cradling the grip with the index finger on the shutter release and the last three fingers curled around front. The thumb supports the camera from the back and usually sits on the rocker-like zoom control.
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(7.0)*
Despite its chunky shape, the Cyber-shot H7 doesn’t have a slew of designated buttons like DSLRs do. Instead, there is a Home button that is new on Sony digital cameras this year. This Home button accesses all kinds of setup and function menus and has a similar layout to a Windows-based Start menu.
On the front of the camera is the shutter release button that is plated in chrome and prominently positioned for comfortable activation. Also atop the camera is a mode dial that is cluttered but useful. It keeps lots of exposure modes within easy reach, but there are so many icons on the dial that it’s hard to pick out the desired mode with just a quick glance.
On the back of the camera is a playback button; having this as a button rather than as a position on the mode dial makes it easier to enter and then return to shooting. The zoom rocker on the back isn’t as comfortable as the other buttons; it feels cheap and isn’t as sensitive as it should be. Also on the back is the multi-selector with a rotary dial surrounding it. The rotary is perhaps the most interesting control on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7. It provides for quick and easy navigation through pictures in the playback mode. When recording, it scrolls through exposure settings like shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and the auto focus modes. This movement is much easier on the thumb; it sure beats mashing the side of the multi-selector 90 times to look through many pictures.
Overall, the buttons are nicely placed and labeled. There aren’t many of them so users shouldn’t be overwhelmed by their presence. The controls improve the user’s experience by making functions easier to access and use.
Most of Sony’s recently released digital cameras have a revamped menu system that resembles computer menus. This is something that only Sony has done up to this point; other manufacturers tend to have more traditional camera menus.
There is a Home button on the back of the camera that is similar to a Windows Start menu. When this button is pushed, several icons appear across the top of the screen. Below the icons are options for users to choose from. In the chart below, the items on the left represent the icons and the items on the right are the options.
The shooting menu is also accessible from the Menu button when recording. It appears in detail below.
The menus don’t wrap. For example, users can’t scroll from the widescreen image size to the 8-megapixel size with one push. They have to scroll backwards instead. This isn’t a problem in most of the menus, but there are many choices in the recording menu so it’s a slight pain. The setup menu is accessible from the bottom of the recording or Home menus.
The menus have a light gray background and very readable, simple text. The recording menu has live views of most of the options, but other menus have the opaque background. Once in the menus, they are fairly intuitive, but determining whether to use the Menu or Home button to get to them is a bit confusing at first.
Ease of Use*(6.5)*
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7’s Home and Menu buttons can be easily confused because some of the menus are found in both places. Once past that initial quirk, the camera is fairly intuitive. The buttons are nicely labeled and the rotary dial makes navigation simple. The help guide is a great asset for beginners - it explains everything from exposure modes to metering and flash settings. Options are clearly explained and help users make better decisions. Overall, the Sony H7 isn’t a beginner’s digital camera but it doesn’t take much time to learn.
The only green icon on the otherwise cluttered mode dial belongs to the auto mode. The simple green camera icon is an oasis for beginners who want to avoid the camera’s many options and just shoot. In the auto mode, there are a few options that and be customized. Image size, face detection, burst, and red-eye reduction can be accessed in the recording menu. On the multi-selector the macro, self-timer and flash can be found. The exposure compensation can also be changed via the rotary dial to easily brighten or darken the image. This mode seems to work well in most situations.
**Movie Mode ***(7.5)*
The movie mode is accessed through the mode dial via a film strip-like icon. The H7’s movie mode is a lot like other Sony digital cameras’ movie modes. It can record MPEG1 video at 640 x 480-pixel resolution at a frame rate of 16 fps. This looks very choppy, so users will want to make an extra purchase to get a better frame rate. With the Sony Memory Stick Duo Pro card, the frame rate bumps up to a television-quality 30 fps. Having to make the extra purchase is a little annoying, but it’s necessary to get a larger capacity card anyway because the included 31MB of internal memory certainly won’t be enough.
There is also a 320 x 240-pixel resolution that snaps slowly by at 8.3 fps: some cameras’ burst modes shoot faster than this at much higher resolution. Still, the small file size is designed to be easier to email. When scrolling through the resolution options in the recording menu, the approximate remaining shooting time appears at the bottom of the screen: this is helpful in choosing an appropriate size.
There are plenty of other options in the movie mode. The color mode can be set to black-and-white or sepia. The metering can be set to multi or center. The white balance is as fully functional as it is when shooting still images. Having all these settings makes the H7 more versatile. It ensures that backlit subjects won’t be completely darkened and that Cousin Sue’s beautiful white wedding dress will look white instead of ivory in the movie.
Backing up the solid list of settings is even more functionality. The 15x optical zoom lens is fully functional in the movie mode even while the audio works. This is a change from the Olympus SP-550UZ, which has an 18x lens that only works in the movie mode if the audio is turned off. The Sony Cyber-shot H7’s lens makes an audible noise when it zooms in and out, but it isn’t incredibly loud. It will only be annoying if recording a quiet ballet performance or something of that nature. The bigger problem with the lens is the lagging auto focus that doesn’t seem to catch up with the zoom until a few seconds later.
Adding to the functionality of the H7’s movie mode is Sony’s Super SteadyShot image stabilization system. This can be turned on and off, but should be turned on at all times. It is very effective in keeping bumps and hand shake from ruining video.
Movies can be played back on the camera, but not edited. The playback mode has VHS-like controls, but no option to divide or edit the file in any way.
Overall, the Sony H7’s audio is clear and the video looks great. It operates on a list of automatic default settings, but can be easily changed in the recording menu so videos look even better in some situations.
Drive / Burst Mode*(6.25)*
One of the most marketed aspects of the H7 is its Advanced Sports Mode that combines the burst mode with a predictive auto focus mode. This mode is located directly on the mode dial and activates the 2.2 fps burst that can snap away for 100 shots at any resolution. This is a huge improvement over the Sony H5 that had a 1.1 fps burst mode that stopped after only five shots. The burst can be activated in the recording menu alongside the normal and exposure bracketing shooting modes. Of note is the self-timer that can delay 2 or 10 seconds and is activated with the bottom of the multi-selector. Overall, the Sony H7’s burst mode is quick and very impressive.
The playback mode has its pros and cons. The most disappointing aspect of playback is the poor screen resolution. The 2.5-inch LCD has only 115,000 pixels, making each red, green, and blue dot visible to the discerning eye. The poor screen resolution is a calculated move on Sony’s part though: it’ll drive consumers with a little more cash to the H9 with its bigger screen and additional resolution. With the exception of the screen resolution, the two cameras have the same playback mode.
There is a button on the back of the Cyber-shot H7 that easily enters and exits the playback mode. I’m glad the playback mode isn’t accessible from the cluttered mode dial; that would take too long to find, enter, and then return to shooting.
The following outlines many of the playback menu’s available features.
The retouching features are interesting and only somewhat useful. They are certainly not professional and are sub-par when compared to results from computer editing software, but they are also far better than what is often offered on digital cameras. The soft focus, partial color and fisheye lens features allow users to select the point of focus/color/etc. using the multi-selector and then adjust the picture from there. Soft focus blurs the background around the selected subject, partial color dulls everything around the subject to black-and-white, fisheye lens distorts the entire image, and the cross filter adds tacky crosses to lights and highlights around the frame. When pictures are retouched with these filters, they are saved as separate files so users can keep the original – always a good idea.
Users can navigate through images using either the multi-selector or the rotary dial, although the latter is much more comfortable and will save your thumb from overuse. The only drawback to the quick navigation is the lagging processing time. When pictures first appear, they look blurry. It takes about a half-second for them to sharpen up.
Pictures can be viewed individually or in groups of nine. Images can be magnified up to 5x, which isn’t much compared to other cameras that can zoom in to 8x or 16x. The 5x magnification was also on the Sony H5.
Videos can be played back and the volume adjusted. There are VHS-like controls to rewind, fast forward, pause, stop, and play. There aren’t any movie editing features though. Many digital cameras allow users to at least divide a movie file into two, but the Sony H7 doesn’t allow even that.
One of the coolest features in the playback mode is the slide show. Users can choose from interesting effects that are more exciting than a fade or wipe transition. Music can be added too. The camera comes with four preloaded soundtracks and Sony claims more music can be added, although we didn’t receive the software with our review unit. The included soundtracks last about 30 seconds and then repeat; this is an improvement over Olympus digital cameras that have a four-second tune that plays over and over again.
Overall, the Sony H7’s playback mode has lots of great features and would be pretty incredible if it had a better LCD screen.
Custom Image Presets*(6.0)*
An abundance of scene modes clutter the H7's mode dial. The High Sensitivity, Portrait, Advanced Sports Shooting, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape modes are located directly on the dial. There is also a "SCN" position that accesses the Twilight, Beach, Snow, and Fireworks modes via a menu.
The High Sensitivity mode uses the ISO 3200 setting and keeps subjects nicely illuminated but noise takes away from the sharpness of the image. Pictures taken in this mode are shot at full resolution, but they wouldn’t look good enlarged and hung on the wall because of the noise, undersaturated color palate, and limited dynamic range.
The Portrait mode took decent pictures even when the flash was used. The Advanced Sports Shooting mode was impressive as it kept subjects sharp even while they moved because the camera predicted the movement and locked its auto focus on it. The 2.2 fps burst mode that snaps up to 100 shots at a time is very impressive too. Entering the sports mode doesn’t automatically activate the burst mode though; users still have to enter the recording menu to turn it on. This is a little disappointing as preset scene modes are supposed to be just that: preset and ready to go.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has nine scene modes, which isn’t an incredibly lengthy list but it still covers all the basics. Consumers who are looking for vast amounts of preset modes should look at Casio digital cameras that stock more than 30 on most models.
**Manual Control Options
**The Sony H7 has a full palette of modes and settings ranging from completely automated to fully manual. Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program, Automatic, and preset modes cater to any level of expertise. There are plenty to satisfy those who prefer manual controls: white balance, ISO, focus, and more. Most of the manual controls can either be found in the recording menu or changed with the rotary dial and selection button. They are detailed below.
The Sony H7 has a 9-point auto focus system that is superior to most comparable cameras’ systems. It acts quickly and reliably much of the time, although its dependability decreases as the zoom increases. The auto focus mode defaults to multi but can be set to center and flexible spot auto focus. It can be activated continuously (monitoring AF) or singly.
The camera’s viewfinder or LCD screen shows green brackets around the focus area when the exposure and focus are locked just before pictures are taken. In low light, the camera shoots out an orange auto focus assist lamp. This adds some time to the focus system, but it is still effective. The camera has trouble focusing in low contrast situations and when there is no clear subject, like a field of grass or a close-up of flower petals. In these cases, there is a manual focus mode that is a better option. Manual focus is outlined below.
The Sony H7 has a face recognition mode that can be turned on and off in the auto and portrait modes. Some other cameras have face detection technology but flaunt it prominently with its own position on the mode dial or a designated button. The H7 buries its technology and is a hidden gem. The Sony H7’s face recognition technology superimposes white boxes around faces within view and tracks whether the photographer or the subjects move. The H7 tracked eight faces at most when I tested it with groups of people. It recognized and tracked faces very quickly and is competitive with other systems by Fujifilm, Samsung and Canon. This technology automatically finds faces and adjusts the focus and exposure accordingly.
As stated in the previous paragraph, the manual focus function is useful in low-contrast shooting situations. Using the manual focus isn’t entirely simple though. The LCD screen’s resolution is so poor that it’s hard to tell if the subject is in focus, and it’s hard to look through the viewfinder and adjust the focus without glancing at the buttons. The H7 does have an expanded focus feature in the setup menu that activates to blow up the center of the image – but the resolution still isn’t good enough to tell if subjects are sharp. The manual focus is grouped with the auto focus modes directly on the screen and accessed by the rotary dial and selection button. Selecting a point of focus is then done by pushing right and left on the multi-selector and moving across the bar that appears with "1 cm" on the left and "∞" on the right. It is best to avoid the manual focus feature, but is sometimes unavoidable when snapping pictures of rose petals, walls, and low contrast subjects.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has a vast selection of ISO settings that can be used at any resolution. Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200 settings are available on the viewfinder or LCD screen. They are accessed by scrolling with the rotary dial and selecting with the central button. There is a live view so users can see how the ISO 80 setting differs from 3200. Even when eyeballing pictures snapped at high ISO sensitivity, such as those in the High Sensitivity scene mode, the prevalence of speckled noise can be seen and edges that should be clean and straight look tattered and fuzzy. There is a distinct difference in illumination and noise; for more complete analysis, see the Testing/Performance section of this review.
**White Balance ***(8.5)*
The Sony H7 has a plethora of white balance modes: Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash, and One Push. The last mode listed is Sony’s manual white balance setting and there is a One Push Set option next to it in the recording menu. When users select this setting, the camera automatically takes a reading of whatever is in front of the camera, so users have to be ready and have the camera framing white before selecting it. The custom white balance works well; check out the testing section for a more detailed analysis on the accuracy of colors and such. In the recording menu, there is a live view of the white balance options. There is also a help menu that explains when to use the different white balance settings, making it even easier to choose a good setting for the situation.
Users have complete control over the exposure if they desire it. In the manual mode, the shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted. In the priority modes, one or the other can be changed along with a more basic exposure compensation mode that can be changed in almost all of the shooting modes. The +/- 2 scale shows in steps of 1/3 and is accessible on-screen with the rotary dial and selection button complete with a live view. The live view is nice because it allows users to select an exposure value without looking at numbers or charts, although there is a histogram available. Exposure bracketing is available and is grouped with the burst mode: it snaps three pictures in increments of +/- 0.3, +/- 0.7, or +/- 1. If users have no desire to manually adjust the exposure, there are plenty of modes that use auto exposure.
The Sony H7 has three metering modes typical of compact digital cameras: multi, center, and spot. There is a live view in the recording menu that they are located in.
**Shutter Speed ***(8.75)*
The Sony H7 has a nice wide shutter speed range that goes as slow as 30 seconds and as fast as 1/4000th of a second. The full range is available in the shutter priority mode only. The manual mode truncates the shutter speeds to 30-1/2000th of a second. The aperture priority mode uses shutter speeds from 8-1/2000th of a second. The program mode uses 1-1/4000 and the auto mode uses 1/4-1/4000th of a second. The H7 employs a noise reduction system when shutter speeds slow down past 1/3 of a second. Users can scroll through shutter speeds with the rotary dial and selection button on the screen and view the effect on the exposure in real time. Overall, the H7’s shutter speeds are impressive and the ability to access the entire range in the shutter speed priority mode is a big plus.
The massive 15x optical zoom lens lets in plenty of light with the max f/2.7 aperture. When fully zoomed in, the aperture can still open to f/4.5. Throughout the range, the aperture can shrink as small as f/8 and can be controlled automatically or manually. These numbers are very similar to the Olympus SP-550, which has an 18x lens that opens to f/2.8 in wide and f/4.5 in telephoto.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(8.0)*
At the top of the recording menu is a list of image sizes: 8M, 3:2, 5M, 3M, VGA, and 16:9. The JPEG images are recorded at fine compression only; there is no option to record standard or basic compressed files like on most other digital cameras. That’s probably just fine though because increasing compression decreases the quality. This way, users are guaranteed high quality pictures. A help box appears that specifies how large each resolution can be printed. The top 8-megapixel image size can print up to 11 x 17 inches.
Picture Effects Mode*(7.5)*
There are plenty of picture effects available on the Sony H7, although they are scattered throughout the recording and playback modes. Before shooting, the color mode can be changed to black-and-white, natural, sepia, and vivid. There is a live view when scrolling through these, and they aren’t accessible in the auto or scene modes. Also in the recording menu are options to adjust the contrast and sharpness to +, Normal, or -. The contrast menu also has a DRO (dynamic range optimizer) option that automatically adjusts the exposure to get the absolute widest range of highlights and shadows and everything in between. In the playback mode, there are several effects that can be applied through the "retouch" option: soft focus, partial color, fisheye lens, cross filter, and red eye correction. These don’t produce professional results all the time but are better than the majority of in-camera effects offered on other digital cameras. Users can manually select where the subject is and then adjust the picture around it. For example, users can choose the point of focus in the soft focus mode and then everything around that point is blurred.
Connectivity / Extras
*The production model we received did not come with software, but the Sony H7 is slated to include editing and organizational software called Picture Motion Browser version 2.0. Unfortunately, this program only runs on Windows operating platforms so Macintosh users are sans editing software.
*Jacks, ports, plugs (6.5)
*The camera comes with an octopus-like cable that connects to USB and AV outlets. The multi-port for these is located beneath a black door on the left side of the camera that is hardly noticeable. In the setup menu, users can choose between PictBridge, Mass Storage, or Auto USB connections and NTSC or PAL standard video output. The component can be set to high definition (1080i) or SD. High definition output is only possible when an optional high-def cable is purchased from Sony; it will cost about $40. A power adaptor is optional and fits into a tiny door on the right side.
Direct Print Options*(5.0)*
The H7 is PictBridge compatible and can create print orders through the playback menu. Single or multiple images can be selected at once and added to the DPOF order. Orders don’t have to be created although they do streamline transfer of large batches of prints. The camera’s playback mode also has options to directly print without adding to an order. Direct printing can be done from the playback and home menus, but the DPOF orders can come only from the playback mode. Movies taken with the H7 cannot be made into prints like on some digital cameras.
The Sony H7 comes with a lithium-ion battery that fits into the bottom of the camera. The door that holds it in slides outward and springs open and seems a bit flimsy. It takes special care to fold the door back and slide it in again. The battery doesn’t last long, which is unfortunate. This NP-BG1 battery is a change from previous H-series cameras: the H5 ran on two AA batteries. While those batteries are more convenient, they didn’t last long and added too much weight to the camera. The Sony H7 comes with a compact wall-mount charger and a small plastic case to protect the battery leads when transporting. The 3.6 v, 960 mAh lithium-ion battery lasts about 300 shots per charge, which is about average for a battery for this type of camera.
This Cyber-shot comes with 31 MB of internal memory. This is nice to have when memory unexpectedly runs out, but users will want to purchase more to really take advantage of the Sony H7 because the internal memory holds less than a dozen pictures. Users should also keep in mind that videos can’t record at the full 30 fps frame rate without a Memory Stick Duo Pro card; the internal memory can only record 16 fps. The Sony H7 accepts Memory Stick Duo and Duo Pro media up to 8 GB, but does not support the Access Control security function on some cards.
**Other features ***(3.75)*
Remote Control – Using the included remote control, users can connect their cameras to a television with the included AV cable and then sit on the couch and scroll through images with the remote control. The control has navigational arrow buttons and a designated slide show button. Users can also snap pictures with the control by pressing the red shutter button. Zoom can be controlled and the menu and home buttons accessed using the remote. This makes the H7 a lucrative choice for wildlife photographers who put out their cameras and hide behind bushes for hours with their thumbs hovering over the remote control’s shutter release button in anticipation of capturing some awesome wildlife.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 is positioned to be the camera that consumers can buy if they can’t afford the swankier H9. The Sony H9 has the same resolution but a bigger LCD monitor that folds and tilts; that feature will cost an extra hundred bucks. The Sony Cyber-shot H7 retails for $399, which is a fair price to ask for the 8.1 megapixels, 15x optical zoom, image stabilization, and full manual control. The H7 isn’t exactly a budget camera, but is certainly fairly priced and more affordable than its H9 counterpart. However, interested consumers should tack on the additional cost of a Memory stick Duo card if considering shooting video.
***Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9* – Announced as the hotter twin sibling, the Sony H9 comes with a cooler LCD screen and NightShot technology. The H9’s 3-inch LCD has fabulous resolution and folds out of the body so it can tilt up and down, making it easier to view from a tripod above or below eye-level. The viewfinder, flash, and 15x zoom lens are exactly the same down to the dimensions and even image stabilization. The two ultra-zoom digital cameras have the same exposure modes and settings and look awfully similar. Both have the ability to output images and video in high definition and face recognition technology. The H9 also has NightShot infrared technology that snaps pictures in complete darkness, an application that can be used for wildlife and security photography. The H9 costs a lot more at $479 and the only real differences are the fancier LCD screen and infrared technology.
Canon PowerShot S5 IS – This newly announced digital camera follows up the successful S3 IS with features that are more similar to the Sony H7. The new Canon S5 has 8 megapixels and a 2.5-inch LCD screen. The LCD flips out and rotates like some other PowerShot models. The S5 has a similarly chunky body that measures 4.6 x 3.2 x 3.1 inches and weighs less than a pound. It has an optical viewfinder rather than an electronic one and adds a hot shoe, something the Sony camera doesn’t have. The Canon S5’s 12x optical zoom lens has an image stabilization system and is fully functional in the movie mode. The camera has four movie modes and a full range of manual to automatic exposure modes and even includes a button that snaps full-resolution still images while recording videos. The Canon S5 takes 4 AA batteries and accepts cheaper SD media. It comes at a price though: $499.
Olympus SP-550UZ – This digital camera’s 18x zoom lens is the longest on the market. It has an optical image stabilization system that helps keep blur out of images and video. In the movie mode, however, users have to choose between functional optical zoom and audio recording – both cannot be had at the same time. The SP-550UZ has 7.1 megapixels and a similar range of manual and automatic exposure modes to suit just about any level of expertise. The SP-550 has an electronic viewfinder with better resolution and a 2.5-inch LCD with twice the resolution of the Sony H7. The built-in flash unit pops up and is effective to about 15 feet, far shorter than the Sony can reach. The Olympus sells for $499 and markets a lot of gimmicks like a pre-capture mode that snaps low-resolution pictures before the shutter release button is pushed and a "15 fps burst mode" that gets that rate only when the resolution is so small it can hardly print wallet-sized pictures.
Who It’s For
Point-and-Shooters – These consumers will appreciate the scene modes but will likely want more simplicity than what is offered on the H7.
Budget Consumers – The Sony H7 is cheaper than its fancier counterpart, but may still be out of range for some.
Gadget Freaks – These consumers will probably flock to the H9, but the H7 is still satisfactory with its image stabilization, huge zoom lens, and features like the advanced sports mode.
Manual Control Freaks – Full manual control is available on the H7 but these consumers may not like how it is accessed. DSLR-lovers will miss the convenience of a control dial.
Pros/ Serious Hobbyists – This camera doesn’t have a hot shoe but does accept Sony conversion lenses. Serious hobbyists may appreciate its long zoom and clear pictures, but true pros will still prefer their DSLRs.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 is yet another addition to the ultra-zoom market. This SLR-shaped digital camera comes with a solid set of exposure modes and an interface more reminiscent of compact models than SLRs. Many of the exposure modes and features are the same as the Sony H9, which costs almost a hundred dollars more. The H9 throws in a much better LCD screen and infrared technology for photographing wildlife at night, but if consumers can do without those things then they will be perfectly happy with the H7. The 8.1-megapixel Cyber-shot H7 has a lot of great features: a 15x optical zoom lens with image stabilization, an impressive 2.2 fps burst mode that snaps up to 100 shots, high definition output for musical slide shows and videos, and even trendy face recognition technology that works quickly and effectively. The H7 is also a strong performer, displaying excellent color accuracy, low noise levels, and a lot of detail in captured images. As with all digital cameras, there are a few downers on the H7 – the poor resolution on the LCD and the intrusive lens hood being the most notable – but they aren’t enough to cancel out the other great features and impressive image quality at the retail price of $399.
*Click on the thumbnails below to view the full resolution images.
Specs / Ratings