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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution, great color, excellent exposure, accurate focus
  • Bright, punchy results that produce pleasing prints without the need for post-processing
  • DR-optimization works, though the effect is pretty subtle
  • Generally very responsive, focus very fast (except at the long end of the zoom in less-than-perfect light)
  • Packed with features; comprehensive photographic controls
  • Versatile, genuinely useful 31-465mm equivalent 15x zoom range
  • Powerful flash
  • Image stabilization
  • Program shift and bracketing
  • Fast automatic face detection in auto and portrait modes
  • HDTV output (via optional cable)
  • In-camera effects
  • High resolution viewfinder (though see cons, below)
  • Very bright AF illuminator
  • Can zoom during movie mode (though this does cause focus hunting)
  • Improved continuous mode
  • Good macro performance
  • Lens hood, filter adapter and remote control in the box

Conclusion - Cons

  • New user interface not conducive to quick operation, convoluted and often confusing
  • Rear control wheel huge step backwards from the H5's 'turn and click' dial on the grip
  • Images quite soft and not that clean
  • Excessive noise reduction robs images of fine texture at anything over ISO 100
  • Occasional strong NR ('watercolor effect') artefacts at ISO 80 and ISO 100
  • No JPEG quality options (and default setting too highly compressed)
  • Some focus hunting and errors at long end of the zoom (especially in low light and at short subject distances)
  • Easy to accidentally change settings with your thumb, especially when shooting 'single handed'
  • 74mm filter size restricts you to Sony's own limited range of filters
  • New lens a lot slower (F4.5) at the long end than its predecessor (F3.7)
  • Image stabilization doesn't seem quite as effective as competition (and camera doesn't choose a fast enough shutter speed)
  • Poor artificial light Auto White Balance
  • Small viewfinder - and no eyecup so glare a problem in bright light
  • Screen difficult to see in bright daylight, and very low resolution
  • Fairly prevalent chromatic aberration
  • Strong purple fringing, particularly at wide end of zoom
  • HIgher than average distortion
  • Corner softness at wide end of zoom
  • Movies are a little over-compressed
  • No RAW mode
  • Sports mode chooses small aperture over high shutter speed, and is therefore pointless unless used in really, really bright light
  • 'Full' HDTV output only 1080i, not digital output (HDMI)
  • Too many options (predictive focus, face detection, ISO) not available in all modes
  • Battery life not fantastic when using the LCD and continuous mode IS
  • Lacks the robust build quality of some of its competitors

Overall conclusion

The last generation of big zoom Cyber-shots (the H2 and H5) offered purchasers an interesting choice; two almost identical cameras with a $100 price difference that bought you a bigger, higher resolution screen and an extra million pixels. That the H2 produced better high ISO output and showed marginally less fringing made the choice even more difficult. Our final conclusion was that the H2 offered far better value, but that the H5's screen alone might be enough to push some buyers to reach a little deeper into their pockets.

This time Sony has narrowed the gap between its big zoom flagship and its budget sibling even further - and the price gap is smaller too (around $75 in most cases). Using the same sensor in each camera means choosing between the two is a lot simpler, and in reality comes down to the screen, which in one case (the H9) is excellent; big and bright and articulated, in the other case pretty mediocre. The H9's extra features (NightShot, external buttons for metering and burst mode) may not be essential, but they certainly help sweeten the deal.

So, whilst the H7 does come in at a surprisingly low price for a camera with this level of specification, it's hard to see why anyone wouldn't pay the extra for the H9 unless they were on a seriously tight budget.

Putting aside the 'is it worth saving $75' issue the H7 has all the faults - and most of the good stuff - that we covered in length in the H9 review. The extra wideangle capability is still welcome, and the sheer versatility and creative potential of the 31-465mm range cannot be overstated. It offers an incredibly powerful feature set at a bargain price, and is, for the most part, capable of producing decent results for the average user (producing small prints) with point and shoot simplicity.

To put it another way, if you want a genuinely affordable big zoom camera for snapping the family that you can leave on 'full auto' all the time - and you rarely print your pictures bigger than 6x4 inches - the H7 is (at as little as $350 online) certainly worth a closer look.

But if you've got more exacting image quality standards, want to enlarge more or want to actually use all those advanced features I suspect that, like us, you're going to find the H7 disappointing. At least the H9 has a great screen to take your mind off the fiddly controls and less-than-stellar results; the H7 is what it is - a budget model that, unfortunately, performs like one.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 7.5
Ergonomics & handling 7.0
Features 8.0
Image quality 7.0
Optics 7.0
Performance (speed) 8.5
Value 8.5

Above Average

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