The new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 is the next generation of Sony’s foray into the compact image-stabilized camera market. The new H5 replaces the previous model (H2) and the differences between the models are few in number but large in scope. For those of you who own the H2 model, here’s a quick summary of the changes found in the DSC-H5. The most important technical change is that the size of the sensor was bumped up from 6 to 7 megapixels. The most apparent change is the LCD screen, which jumped from 2″ to a whopping 3″. And not only is the screen larger, but its resolution has increased from 85,000 pixels to 230,000 pixels. The last notable change is that the body color is now available in black as well as the original silver. Other than those changes, the Cyber-shot DSC-H5 is almost a clone of the H2. It’s as if Sony needed to update the camera every year but they’re running out of ideas of what to put into the next model.
That’s not to say it isn’t a great camera. If you’ve never used one of these Cyber-shot cameras, they fall into the compact, image-stabilized category of digital camera that has a very large (12x) optical zoom capability (36-432mm equivalent). When you combine the great optical zoom with a 7.2-megapixel sensor (3072×2304 pixels), you have a serious camera that can do just about anything you ask of it.
The first time I tested the camera, it had a nice SLR feel to it and that’s because Sony put most of the often-accessed controls where they can be reached easily rather than buried deep in a menu. Unlike a TTL viewfinder in an SLR, the H5 uses a 200,000-pixel electronic viewfinder (EVF) that produces a sharp image-although it would be nice if it were larger. The new 3″ LCD screen on the back can also be used to compose a shot even on a bright day.
The overall operation of the camera is excellent. The focus mechanism is generally fast for this class of camera except that it seemed a tad slow at the extreme zoom lens settings. The Cyber-shot DSC-H5 has five White Balance presets but during testing, the Auto White Balance worked so well, I didn’t need to use the presets at all. The flash is one of the best in its class with a reach of between 22-30′, while the colors of the flash images are perfectly corrected and consistent. One problem faced by all compact cameras with extreme zoom factors is chromatic aberration (also called purple fringing). The H5 exhibits more than its fair share of this problem but I saw it only on high-contrast, backlit images. The image stabilization of the camera is impressive and allows you to achieve sharp images at several stops lower than you could achieve without it. The Movie mode of the camera works as well as can be expected-great for short flicks but it won’t replace your camcorder.
For a non-SLR camera the Cyber-shot DSC-H5 has everything you need to take professional quality photos,almost. The only format that the camera supports is JPEG. With the increasing popularity of the RAW format it’s surprising that the H5 doesn’t offer RAW or another non-lossy format, such as DNG or TIFF.