Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9

      Photo Review 8

      In summary

      A compact,15x optical zoom digicam with high resolution and advanced image processing functions.Sony’s top-of-the-range ‘super zoom’ digicam, the Cyber-shot DSC-H9 combines a compact Carl Zeiss 15x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 31-465mm in 35mm format) with an 8.1-megapixel (effective) CCD imager. Like the DSC-T100 model reviewed in late April, the H9 comes with Sony’s BIONZ image processor which was first featured on the DSLR-A100 model but has been adapted to support new functions like Face Detection and Double Anti-Blur stabilisation. . . [more]

      Full review


      Sony’s top-of-the-range ‘super zoom’ digicam, the Cyber-shot DSC-H9 combines a compact Carl Zeiss 15x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 31-465mm in 35mm format) with an 8.1-megapixel (effective) CCD imager. Like the DSC-T100 model reviewed in late April, the H9 comes with Sony’s BIONZ image processor which was first featured on the DSLR-A100 model but has been adapted to support new functions like Face Detection and Double Anti-Blur stabilisation.


      The latter combines Super SteadyShot lens-shift stabilisation with ISO 3200 high sensitivity and is a useful partner to the ultra-long zoom lens. The H9’s body has the same, chunky grip as its predecessors and a similar feel. A few changes have been made to the control layout, although most functions are unchanged. The zoom rocker is the same as the H5’s, which is a pity as it’s small and rather uncomfortable to operate. The menu button has been shifted and a new ‘Home’ button (see below) replaces the resolution/delete button below the arrow pad.


      Otherwise the H9 has many of the same features as its predecessor, the 7.1-megapixel DSC-H5, including the same shutter speed range, metering options and LCD, although the H5’s screen was fixed, while the H9’s screen is hinged and pulls out to allow it to be tilted up or down. This monitor is one of the big plusses of the H9. It’s bright, easy to read and has an unusually wide viewing angle plus high (230,000 pixels) resolution and excellent colour reproduction. It makes a great platform for viewing shots and using Sony’s new menu system (see below).


      The mode dial on the top right panel carries 12 settings: the expected auto, P, A, S and M plus high sensitivity, movie mode and click-stops for portrait, sports, night portrait and landscape modes. A Scene Selection mode, which accesses the twilight, beach, snow and fireworks settings, takes the place of the Beach mode on the H5. The control dial just in front of the shutter button on the H5 is exchanged for a wheel dial around the arrow pad. It’s used with the central Set button to adjust manual controls like ISO, aperture, shutter speed and AF settings or scroll through shots in playback mode but has an inherent processing lag that increases the faster the wheel is turned. A metering mode button replaces the Focus button on the top panel.

      The electronic viewfinder (EVF) sits a little higher on the H9’s body, thanks to the LCD’s hinge. It doesn’t protrude as far as the H5’s, which means you get nose grease on the LCD and its eyepoint is not particularly high. The diopter adjustment isn’t easy to use as it has no click stops and you must press it fairly hard before it can be turned. Resolution is fairly low and, although overlaid information can be read quite easily. The EVF also suffers from the common problem of bright lines in strong backlighting and its refresh rate is a little choppy.

      Controls and Functions
      Most camera controls are accessed via two buttons: Menu and Home. The Shooting sub-menu can be opened through both Menu and Home buttons. It contains settings for image size, colour mode, white balance, flash level adjustment, red-eye reduction (auto, on, off), contrast, sharpness, SteadyShot stabilisation (shooting, continuous, off) and a portal to the set-up menu. The Home button calls up a menu page with five categories: Shooting, View Images, Printing, Manage Memory, and Settings.


      Image size settings are limited and no control is provided over compression levels.

      For a camera with the potential capabilities of the H9, the shooting menu is disappointing. Its very simplicity places constraints on the camera’s usability and there are many things you should be able to do with this camera but can’t. Raw file capture is not supported and JPEG compression levels cannot be adjusted. Compression levels are moderately high, as shown in the table below.


      Approx. file size

      8M (3264 x 2448)


      3:2 (3264 x 2176)


      5M (2592 x 1944)


      3M (2048 x 1536)


      16:9 (1920 x 1080)


      VGA (640 x 480)


      Colour saturation is only adjustable through the Color Mode sub-menu, which offers a choice of Normal, Vivid, Natural, Sepia and B&W settings. No provision is made for fine-tuning white balance settings and there’s no way to turn off the noise reduction processing, which kicks in at 1/3 second exposures.


      The white balance menu provides basic information but no fine adjustments.

      However, there are a few distinct positive features, including the ability to adjust flash output levels through +/-2 steps, as well as +/-1 steps of contrast and sharpness adjustments. A DR setting in the contrast sub-menu adjusts contrast automatically to maximise the dynamic range in shots. Although the adjustment steps are not large, they’re enough to be noticeable in subjects where contrast is critical, such as buildings with light-coloured walls in bright sunlight. The DR setting was quite effective. (Sample images are shown below.)


      Contrast adjustments include dynamic range optimisation based on the system used in Sony’s A100 DSLR camera.

      You can also move the focus point in Spot AF mode with the buttons on the arrow pad. Each jump is very tiny so you are required to do a lot of toggling to make significant changes but the system is effective nonetheless. Manual focusing can also be accomplished by setting points on a bar, although it’s not very precise.


      The View Images sub-menu.

      The View Images sub-menu lets you choose between single image, index and slideshow playback, The Printing menu accesses the direct printing settings as well as the Music Tool, which allows you to download MP3 files for use as background music to your slideshows. The Manage Memory sub-menu is for choosing where images will be recorded and formatting internal memory and memory cards. The Settings sub-menu has four sections: Main Settings, Shooting Settings, Clock Settings, and Language Settings, all largely self-explanatory.

      A new Night Shot mode has been added to the shooting options, selected via a switch on the left side of the camera. This setting uses infrared light from an emitter above the AF illuminator to light up the scene. It allows you to shoot in almost total darkness without using flash and uses IR light. The lens hood should be removed before using this mode as it may block the IR rays.

      At the wide position, the lens can focus to 1 cm in macro mode, which is engaged by pressing the left arrow on the arrow pad. The ‘magnifying glass’ super close-up mode found on many Sony digicams is absent ““ and unnecessary. The flash is ineffective at such close distances and should be switched off.

      Like the H5, the H9 is supplied with a lens hood, which is fitted via a screw-in adaptor ring. On the test camera, the hood was tricky to fit and its ‘petals’ were incorrectly positioned when it was locked into place. It also vignetted wide-angle shots, although the adaptor on its own did not.

      Movie capture capabilities are pretty standard with VGA and QVGA resolution, the latter at 8 fps. However, you must use a Memory Stick Duo Pro card to record video at the ‘fine’ 30 fps frame rate. With standard Memory Stick Duo cards, the frame rate is fixed at the ‘standard’ 16.6 fps, which is the default setting. Functions that can be used in movie mode include the optical zoom (which doesn’t suppress the sound recording), the sepia and B&W colour settings and all the white balance modes. The SteadyShot stabilisation can also be switched on and off.

      Unlike some other recently-announced Sony digicams, the H9 cannot record widescreen video, despite the ‘Full HD 1080’ tag on the viewfinder housing. (The small print on the label says ‘Still Image’, indicating the 16:9 setting is for stills only.) Nevertheless, VGA clips recorded at the ‘fine’ setting were excellent and the image stabilisation was effective. Audio quality was also very good for subjects within about two metres of the camera.

      The ‘Full HD 1080’ setting is useful for shooting pictures that will be played back on a high definition TV set, although the camera is not supplied with the necessary VMCMHC1 cable! Other playback options include slideshows with background music, which can be chosen from four pre-loaded tracks or uploaded through the Print sub-menu of the Home menu. The H9 also provides several in-camera retouching controls, including Trimming and Red-eye Correction, along with Soft Focus, Partial Colour, Fish-eye Lens and Cross Filter effects.

      Pictures taken with the test camera were bright and colour-rich, with little difference between the Normal and Natural colour settings but high saturation with the Vivid setting. (This mode should be kept for simple subjects where over-saturated colours are required.) Exposures were consistently well-pitched to provide a good balance between highlights and shadows, although highlights blocked up in bright subjects taken with the Normal contrast setting. The Super SteadyShot stabilisation system was effective, but not quite good enough to allow the camera to be hand-held when the digital zoom was used.

      Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations and revealed colour shifts and boosted saturation in red hues. Otherwise colour accuracy was good. Lateral chromatic aberration was generally low. Little image noise was seen in long exposures up to ISO 800 but it quickly became obvious thereafter. By ISO 3200 shots were seriously noise-affected. We would caution potential users against shooting with this setting unless it was absolutely necessary.

      The Night Shot mode produced monochrome pictures that were greenish, monochrome and very grainy looking. Contrast was slightly flat, revealing areas that were invisible in shots taken with the normal camera settings. However, actual subject detail was difficult to discern from the overall image noise.


      The Night Shot mode produced grainy monochrome images.

      The flash produced consistent accurately recorded exposures across the camera’s ISO range and yielded an excellent balance between flash and ambient lighting. This feature is well ahead of competing digicams. Close-ups were also competently handled and digital zoom shots were some of the best we’ve seen from any digital camera. White balance performance was similar to most compact digicams. The auto setting failed to remove colour casts from either fluorescent or incandescent lighting, although it came closer to natural colours with the former. The pre-sets produced good compensation for fluorescent lighting but only the manual measurement delivered accurate colours with both lighting types. Serious purple fringing was observed in shots taken at the wide-angle setting but it was less obvious when the lens was zoomed in.


      Purple fringing.

      Noticeable barrel distortion was also observed at the widest angles of the zoom lens but this had been corrected by the middle of the zoom range. A tendency towards pincushioning began to become apparent from around the 40mm focal length. Edge sharpness was, however, reasonably good at all focal length settings.

      The test camera took roughly 2.5 seconds to power-up and shut down. We measured an average capture lag of 0.3 seconds, which changed to instantaneous capture with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged two seconds without flash and five seconds with flash. It took less than a second to process each shot. The continuous shooting mode recorded shots at 0.5 second intervals. It took roughly five seconds to process a burst of 10 shots.

      Overall, we feel the DSC-H9 is fairly priced for its feature set but far from being a perfect long-zoom camera. With its large LCD, long zoom lens and moderately high resolution, Sony’s DSC-H9 has plenty of things in its favour and, for some potential users, the defects we’ve pointed out in our review may be minor deterrents. It’s difficult to identify a typical purchaser for this camera. Point-and-shoot photographers could feel intimidated by the user interface, despite the simplified menu system.

      Intermediate users will probably be the main buyers, attracted by the manual modes and settings. However they may find accessing some controls less straightforward than they would wish. Travellers could also be potential buyers. The long zoom lens and comparatively small body size will suit photographers who want an all-in-one digicam. However the comparatively narrow angle of view at the wide lens setting could be a disappointment (although extension lenses are available). Serious enthusiasts will probably prefer to pay the additional dollars for a DSLR camera.







      Digital zoom.


      ISO 100.


      ISO 1600


      Normal Contrast setting


      Low Contrast setting


      High Contrast setting


      Dynamic range optimisation setting.


      A 30-second exposure at ISO 100.


      A 4-second exposure at ISO 3200.




      Image sensor: 5.76 x 4.29 mm Super HAD CCD with 8.3 million photosites (8.1 megapixels effective)
      Lens: 5.2-78 mm f/2.7-8.0 Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens (31-465mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 15x optical, 2x Precision digital; up to 30x Smart Zoom
      Image formats: Stills ““ JPEG (Exif 2.21); Movies ““ MPEG1/MPEG VX
      Image Sizes: Stills – 3264×2448, 3264×2176, 2592×1944, 2048×1536, 1920×1080; Movies – 640×480, 320×240 at 30 or 16.6 fps
      Shutter speed range: 1/4-1/4000 sec. (Auto), 1-1/4000 sec. (Program Auto), 8-1/2000 sec. (Aperture Priority), 30-1/4000 sec. (Manual/Shutter Priority)
      Image Stabilisation: SteadyShot lens-shift system
      Exposure Compensation: +/-2EV in 1/3EV increments
      Focus system/range: 9 Area Multi-Point AF, Monitoring AF, Flexible Spot AF; range 50 cm to infinity; macro 1 cm to infinity
      Exposure metering/control: TTL Multi-pattern, Center-weighted, Spot metering; Auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes plus 9 scene pre-sets
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
      White balance: Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent (x3), Incandescent, Flash, One-Push (manual)
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, On, Off, Slow Synch, Red-eye reduction, Front/Rear synch, Auto.Daylight synch for fill-in; range 0.2-9.8 m
      Sequence shooting: 2.2 fps for up to 100 shots (all resolutions)
      Storage Media: 31MB internal memory plus expansion slot for Memory Stick Pro Duo cards
      Viewfinder: 0.2-inch EVF with 201,000 pixels
      LCD monitor: 3.0-inch flip-up Clear Photo LCD (230,000 pixels)
      Power supply: NP-BG1 rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery; C.I.P.A. rated for 250 shots/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 109.5 x 83.4 x 85.7 mm
      Weight: 407 grams





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