A compact - and competent - long-zoom digicam with 8-megapixel resolution and Full HD 1080 widescreen still picture recording.Sony has packed an optically-stabilised Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 10x optical zoom lens and 8-megapixel imager into a compact body in its new DSC-H3 Cyber-shot camera. Small and light for a long-zoom camera, the H3 is well designed. Neither optical nor electronic viewfinder is provided and the 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel LCD takes up most of the rear panel, leaving little space for control buttons, although most are large enough and adequately spaced. . . [more]
Sony has packed an optically-stabilised Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 10x optical zoom lens and 8-megapixel imager into a compact body in its new DSC-H3 Cyber-shot camera. Small and light for a long-zoom camera, the H3 is well designed. Neither optical nor electronic viewfinder is provided and the 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel LCD takes up most of the rear panel, leaving little space for control buttons, although most are large enough and adequately spaced.
The grip, though small, is comfortable and positions the index finger right on the shutter button. The zoom rocker near the top of the rear panel lies under your thumb. The only awkwardly-placed control is the mode dial, which is tricky to adjust with either thumb or forefinger when the camera is held in the shooting position.
Front view without lens hood and adaptor.
The zoom lens retracts into the camera body but the surrounding housing protrudes about a centimeter outwards. A separate lens cap and hood are supplied, the latter fitting via a screw-on adaptor, which roughly doubles the depth of the camera body. This adapter is also used for fitting the optional conversion lenses and has a 58mm thread for screw-on filters.
Top view without lens hood and adaptor.
Unfortunately, the lens hood is so large and bulky it obscures much of the flash so we suspect many photographers will leave it in the box. This would be a pity as it visibly improves available-light tele shots by eliminating stray light. The adaptor alone also provides good protection against flare when the lens is set to its widest position.
Sony has adapted the menu system it uses for its point-and-shoot cameras to suit the H3 but the general menu design and layout remains the same throughout the Cyber-shot range. Pressing the Menu button accesses settings for image size, drive mode, colour setting, ISO, exposure compensation, metering and focus patterns and white balance, flash output, red-eye reduction, contrast, sharpness and Steady Shot settings.
The Home button opens sub-menus covering shooting, playback, printing, memory management and camera settings. Selecting the shooting sub-menu via the Home button displays the current shooting mode with an instruction to "Switch On Menu" instead of taking you directly to the Menu controls, which would have been smarter.
We can't slot the H3 into the 'Advanced' category because aperture- and shutter-priority settings are missing from the mode dial, although a manual mode is provided. Furthermore, there are only two apertures to choose from and they vary with the focal length setting. Forty-nine shutter speed settings are provided, with noise reduction kicking in at ¼ second. Shutter speeds are selected with the vertical buttons on the arrow pad, while apertures are set with the horizontal buttons.
The mode dial carries scene settings for High ISO, Soft Snap (portrait), Sports, Night Portrait and Landscape modes plus a SCN setting that accesses Twilight, Beach, Snow and Fireworks settings. Face Detection is only supported in the full-auto and Soft Snap modes. The camera can detect up to eight faces in full-auto mode but only two in Soft Snap mode. Focus, flash exposure, white balance and red-eye reduction are adjusted automatically in this mode. You can switch Face Detection off in the shooting menu.
Some significant adjustments have been omitted. For example, although there are three fluorescent light settings in the white balance menu, there's but no manual measurement facility. Three autofocus patterns are provided but you can't select an AF point and the pre-set manual focus points are limited to 0.5, 1.0, 3.0, 7.0 metres and infinity.
However, three-step adjustments are provided for contrast and sharpness in the P and M shooting modes. SteadyShot stabilisation can be used with all shooting modes (and is the default setting for full-auto). Two stabilisation modes are supported: Shooting, which activates stabilisation when the shutter button is pressed halfway down, and Continuous, which is always on (and drains battery power).
Image files are saved as JPEGs with six size options but, surprisingly, only one compression setting, which is quite modest. Typical file sizes are shown in the table below.
3264 x 2448
3264 x 2176
2592 x 1944
2048 x 1536
640 x 480
1920 x 1080
Video capture facilities are also the same as the T70 and T200 and include neither widescreen nor time-lapse recording. Two video sizes are provided: VGA and QVGA, with three frame rates: 30, 16.6 and 8.3 frames/second. Recording options and times are shown in the table below.
Image size & frame rate
(1GB memory card)
640 x 480 pixels at 30 fps
12 min. 30 sec.
640 x 480 pixels at 16.6 fps
45 min. 00 sec.
320 x 240 pixels at 8.3 fps
3 hours and 20 sec.
Image playback is accessed through the Home menu and essentially the same as in the T-series digicams. Tapping the Playback tab lets you view recorded shots as single images, index thumbnails or as a slideshow. You can mark shots for automatic printing via the sub-menu within the Print tab, which also contains a Music tool that lets you download MP3 files and add them as background music to a slideshow.
Pictures taken with the test camera were bright and sharp, with natural-looking colours and a slightly better-than-average dynamic range. The Super SteadyShot stabilisation system worked extremely well with the lens at full tele extension and also in low-light conditions. The AF system worked best when the centre-weighted and spot modes were used but even the multi-zone mode was fast and accurate in bright, contrasty lighting.
The LCD screen was difficult to use in bright outdoor lighting and we found it angle-critical indoors. If you were more than about 15 degrees off-square, colours and brightness appeared quite different from the way the camera reproduced them. The on-screen histogram, though small, provided the best way to judge exposure levels – although not colour accuracy (which could only be assessed reliably on a computer screen).
Imatest confirmed colour accuracy was above average and showed saturation to be well controlled. The only minor variations from correct colour reproduction were minor shifts in orange and purple and slightly elevated red saturation. Interestingly, dynamic range was slightly wider than average for a digicam (as shown below) - but not on a par with a DSLR camera.
Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for an 8-megapixel digicam and revealed a moderate level of lateral chromatic aberration. This was confirmed in test shots, which showed some coloured fringing with 100% enlargement. Resolution declined sharply at ISO settings above 800 and shots taken at ISO 3200 were soft and slightly blotchy.
Coloured fringes at 100% magnification.
We found no evidence that either problem affected the quality of the shots we captured with the camera in real-life situations. We also found the 1920 x 1080 pixel HD widescreen mode extremely useful. It produced excellent pictures which looked bright and sharp on a widescreen TV set. However, it's a pity the H3 didn't offer a wider angle of view at the short end of its zoom range as we often found it difficult to fit subjects into shots in cramped conditions. (No panorama setting is included in the Scene selections.)
Close-up performance was good, despite focusing limits. Digital zoom shots were slightly soft and artefact-affected. Image noise was low up to ISO 800 and increased slowly at higher settings, although at ISO 3200 it remained less intrusive than we've seen with some other digicams we've evaluated. Backlighting was handled with aplomb and flare was only evident when the camera was pointed directly towards the sun and the sun was in (or close to) the frame.
The auto white balance failed to remove the orange cast of incandescent lighting but produced good result with fluorescent lights. The tungsten pre-set came close to correcting the incandescent light cast but produced shots with a purplish tinge. We were able to obtain neutral colours with the third fluorescent light setting ('day white').
We measured an average capture lag of 0.55 seconds, which reduced to instantaneous capture with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged three seconds without flash and five seconds with. It took just under three seconds to process each shot. The continuous shooting mode recorded 8M shots at 0.48 second intervals and appeared to process them as each frame was captured. Frame rates remained constant through a burst of 20 shots.
If you can manage with limited wide-angle coverage and do without a viewfinder, a full range of exposure adjustments and widescreen video recording, the DSC-H3 is a nice little camera that delivers good quality pictures for the money. Although it's not quite as small as Panasonic's popular DMC-TZ3 model, which also boasts a 10x optical zoom lens, it's still not too big for travellers if you don't fit the lens hood and adaptor.
It's also $100 cheaper and offers higher resolution than the Panasonic model – and its image stabilisation is just as good – if not slightly better. We found image noise to be well controlled, making higher ISO settings usable – an unusual feature in a small-sensor digicam – although we recommend staying below ISO 1600 wherever possible. However, Canon's PowerShot SX100 IS, which is much the same size, is roughly $150 cheaper and, though not as nicely built, performed better in our Imatest evaluations. It also offered the full P, A, S and M shooting modes plus a much wider range of exposure and colour controls.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Flash cut-off (visible in the dark area in the lower third of the frame) caused by the lens hood and adaptor.
Wide angle view.
Telephoto view from the same position as above.
1080 HD widescreen format images.
Image sensor: 5.76 x 4.29mm interlace scan CCD with 8.286 million photosites (8.1-megapixels effective
Lens: Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 6.3-63.0mm f/3.5-4.4 zoom (38-380mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 10x optical, up to 20x digital
Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.21); Movies – MPEG1
Image Sizes: Stills - 3264 x 2448, 3264 x 2176 (3:2), 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1920 x 1080 (16:9), 640 x 480: Movies – VGA at 30/16.6 fps; QVGA at 8.3 fps; QQVGA at 8.3 fps
Shutter speed range: 1-1/2000 sec in Program AE mode; 30-1/2000 sec in Manual mode
Image Stabilisation: Optical (Super SteadyShot)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2.0EV in 1/3EV steps
Focus system/range: Single, Monitoring AF; range 50 cm to infinity; macro to 2cm
Exposure metering/control: Multi Pattern, Centre Weighted, Spot metering; Auto, P and M shooting modes plus 9 scene pre-sets
ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent (x 3), Incandescent, Flash
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Forced-Flash, Slow Synchro, No Flash; range 0.2-7.0 metres
Sequence shooting: 2 fps (all resolutions) for up to 100 shots
Storage Media: 31MB internal memory plus Memory Stick Duo expansion slot
LCD monitor: 2.5-inch
Power supply: NP-BG1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery (C.I.P.A rated for 330 shots/charge)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 106 x 68.5 x 47.5 mm
Weight: 264 grams (without battery and card)
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