Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H9
- 15x zoom, Sharp pictures, Good noise response, Image stabilisation
- Very poor haloing and purple fringing issues, Chunky and somewhat flimsy design
A strong choice if you're after an ultra zoom camera, the Cyber-Shot DSC-H9 sports a 15x optical zoom and captures some good shots, however it does have issues with haloing and purple fringing, which will be irritating for many users.
Price$ 799.00 (AUD)
With digital cameras, there are limited areas in which companies can look to make improvements. You can increase the megapixels, throw in some extra features such as wireless connectivity, or do what Sony has done with the Cyber-Shot DSC-H9 and pack in a massive 15x optical zoom. While this isn't the biggest zoom lens we've seen (that honour goes to the Olympus SP-550UZ), it is certainly up there. The unit also performed relatively well in our imaging tests, and has a host of manual features which make it a good choice for those after an ultra-zoom unit.
In addition to the gigantic lens, the H9 also carries an impressive 8.1 megapixel sensor. We used Imatest, as well as some subjective test shots, to gauge the quality of the camera's pictures, and were quite impressed.
Imatest gave the H9 a score of 1610 for sharpness, which is an excellent result for an 8.1 megapixel unit. Our test shots were clean and sharp, with minimal blurring and good resolution. We did notice a little fringing in several of our test shots, but it wasn't noticeable at less than 100% magnification. Imatest also picked up a fair amount of over-sharpening, giving the unit a score of 19.4% in this regard, which is worse than the usual average. However it wasn't too evident in our test shots, and we didn't consider it noticeable enough to be problematic.
Unfortunately, in our chromatic aberration test the H9 was much less impressive. From the second we opened our test shots it was evident that haloing is this unit's weak point. There was plenty of very prominent purple fringing towards the edges of our outdoors shots, and our contrast chart exhibited strong blue haloing in areas of high contrast. Imatest gave the camera a score of 0.287% for chromatic aberration, which is an extremely poor score and corroborates our other findings. We tried taking the pictures at a variety of aperture and shutter speed combinations, but the haloing was still noticeable.
In our colour test the H9 returned to form, scoring 6.8, which is an excellent result. Anything below 7 is impressive and our shots came out with vibrant, well balanced colours. Imatest detected minor over-saturation in warm colours (particularly reds), but this is standard with consumer oriented units and isn't going to be an issue for most.
Our final test is for image noise and again this model performed excellently. It scored 0.42% at ISO 100, which is a brilliant result. At this level, no noise was visible at all. As we increased the sensitivity, the noise took a jump, but pictures were still usable up to ISO 400 and ISO 800 if the magnification wasn't too large.
We also ran a few speed tests and were impressed with the H9's performance. Ultra zoom models tend to perform quite poorly in many of these tests as the larger lenses take longer to focus, but this unit seemed unhindered in this regard. It has a very quick shutter speed of 0.04 of a second, a shot-to-shot time of 1.3 seconds and took two seconds from power up to first picture.
All the standard controls are present, including white balance presets with two custom options, aperture and shutter priority modes, a number of scene modes for novice users and ISO sensitivities up to ISO 3200. A Face Detect focus mode is also present, which is an increasingly popular feature these days and is great for users who regularly take pictures of family and friends. The three frame per second burst mode rounds out the feature set.
Sony has been smart and included an optical image stabilisation function, which is practically a necessity when dealing with zoom magnifications much above 3x. The more you zoom in, the more magnified the impact of hand shake is, so without some kind of stabilisation, your pictures will inevitably turn out blurry. At the top end of this model's zoom lens, you're still going to need a tripod to take crisp shots, but the stabilisation helps for the magnifications in the middle.
Aesthetically the H9 is pretty similar to the previous Sony ultra zoom units. It is constructed of black plastic that feels a little flimsy when compared to other advanced cameras on the market. It has a rubber grip on the right next to the large, jutting lens. We'd be hard pressed to say it looks good, but with advanced, ultra zoom units that generally isn't a primary concern. The one design difference that is worth noting is the screen, which is now mounted on a hinge, allowing you to angle it upwards and downwards. This is nifty for taking shots with the camera held high above your head or low to the ground.
The controls are all fairly standard, with a function wheel and five-way directional pad doing most of the work. Sony has implemented its new interface on this model, which we have complained about in the past. It resembles the Playstation interface in many ways, but is much simpler. We have found most cameras tend not to have the power to run it properly, as everything operates slower than we'd like, with noticeable pauses when trying to navigate quickly. Some options are also in out of the way places, such as exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity. Both are missing from the main menu and must instead be accessed using the settings wheel (which also changes aperture and shutter speed). This isn't a big complaint, as once you have it down pat you'll be fine, but it isn't nearly as intuitive as the interfaces on units by other companies, such as Canon.
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