9.1MP | 31-465mm (15X) ZOOM | $350/£230
The Cyber-Shot DSC-H50 is the current flagship in Sony’s ‘H’ series of ultra zoom cameras and as such replaces the DSC-H9. As well as the inevitable rise in pixel count the H50 has several improvements over its predecessor, including an ED lens element, user-selectable noise reduction (thank you Sony), white balance and color mode bracketing, and an upgraded DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) function. It also has an improved sports mode, Sony's unique 'Night Shot' (infrared shooting mode for capturing images in complete darkness) and, last but by no means least, Sony's killer features: 'smile shutter' and face detection with selectable adult- or child-priority. The specification highlights are:
- 10.1 effective Megapixels
- 31-465mm equiv lens with 15x optical zoom, up to 30x 'Smart Zoom' at reduced resolution
- 3.0-inch tilting LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
- Electronic Viewfinder with 201,000 dots
- Sony SteadyShot Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 3200
- Face Detection, adult- or child-priority face detection, D-Range optimizer and smile shutter
- 15 shooting modes including 10 Scene modes
- Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
- 640 x 480p VGA video recording
- HDTV video output (with optional composite cable)
- Battery life: 300 shots
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As you would expect from a flagship superzoom the H50 is one of the best equipped models in Sony’s digital camera line-up. The H50 is built around 15x zoom lens which at 31-465mm (35mm equivalent) offers an enormous zoom range, but unlike most of its direct competitors no true wide angle and, compared to the latest models, is looking distinctly underpowered. To reduce blur from camera shake the H50 is equipped with Sony’s Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization technology. Images can be composed and reviewed on a 3” tilting LCD screen, and user-definable noise reduction is a welcome addition to the usual manual controls. For the gimmick-loving users there is also a smile shutter, face detection with child- or adult-priority recognition, intelligent scene recognition and Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimizer. However, while many of the H50's competitors offer HD video, the Sony still sticks with moving images in VGA size.
While most cameras in this test use AA batteries, the H50 gets its power from a (rather small) Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. It's not as heavy as four AAs but can't compete in terms of battery life, so make sure you recharge before you go out shooting.
The H50 sports a pretty nicely made plastic body with an ergonomically shaped rubberized grip and a metal lens barrel and while there is a good number of external controls and buttons (none for ISO though) we occasionally found Sony's multi-tier menu structure a little confusing, something we've criticized often in the past.
Image quality and performance
The Sony DSC-H50 is not the fastest camera in this test but nevertheless performs pretty solidly in all areas. It takes approximately 2.7 sec from powering on to taking the first picture, and shot-to-shot time is good at 2.2 sec. Due to flash recycling this figure increases to 3.6 sec when using the flash and to 4.3 sec when you activate the anti-red-eye mode as well. The shutter lag is very good and in the same ballpark as the rest of the competition.
Image browsing in review mode is not the quickest (but fast enough), and the LCD shows a slightly pixilated preview for a split second before the proper image appears. However image magnification is pretty swift. The H50's AF is reasonably quick, taking approximately 0.4 sec to focus at wide angle and 0.8 sec at the tele end of the zoom. It reliably locks onto the subject even in dim light conditions, although this can take just over a second when it gets too dark.
The Sony does a good job of metering, with nicely exposed photographs being the norm. Focus is a little less dependable, with the camera sometimes taking slightly longer to lock-on than most of its peers but tending to get the right answer in the end. Like all its peers here, fine detail is not the Sony's strong point, so don't expect to produce high quality prints at the same size as you could with a 10MP DSLR. Large prints from the H50 might also be a problem if you tend to notice chromatic aberration - strong magenta/green CA is visible across much of the lens's range. On a more positive note the H50 seems far better at hanging on to highlight detail in challenging contrasty conditions, thanks to its effective DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) function.
In good light at base ISO the H50 produces some of the best results, and at ISO 1600 the balance of noise reduction and detail is better than many of the cameras in this group. The H50's flash shots, like those from most Sony cameras, have a flattering warm tone and excellent exposure.
Video probably isn't something you buy the H50 for; it's perfectly reasonable, without excessive artifacts or glitches, but it doesn't jump out as being particularly special. The camera can record VGA footage in Motion JPEG format at two different quality levels - the Fine setting records at 30fps and clocks in at a fairly high 1.3MB/sec. The H50 will zoom at reduced speed while in movie mode, taking around five seconds to get from one end of the range to the other, but it can sometimes take that long again to refocus if you point at a new object. It'll handle most changes in under three seconds, though.
In this highly competitive sector of the digital camera market the Sony H50 struggles to stand out from the crowd. On paper it doesn't stack up that well (the zoom range is the least impressive, the screen is a bit bigger but has no more resolution, the viewfinder is tiny and grainy, the price is at the top of the range), but on the plus side the image quality is better than most in the group at low ISO settings, with less highlight clipping, reliable focus and metering and appealing color.
The tilting screen is a nice feature and the H50 is bristling with novel features, but we missed the extra wide angle and found the user interface fiddly when attempting to use the manual controls for serious photography. Ultimately the impression we got from using the H50 is that it is the perfect camera for the gadget lover who doesn't really want to take control of the camera when actually taking pictures, which is fine as it works very well left to its own devices. But to be honest it's not really for us, as we prefer a camera that acts and feels a little bit more like a camera, and there are others in this group that do so a lot more convincingly than this one.
- We like: Big articulated screen, lots of features, good results at base ISO, appealing color and tonality, accurate focus and metering, great flash results.
- We don't like: Less wideangle than competitors, smeary results at higher ISO settings, small, low res viewfinder, fiddly controls