Conclusion - Pros
- Good resolution, good edge-to-edge detail
- Great color, good exposure
- Accurate and fast focus
- Low shutter lag
- Superb handling, comprehensive photographic controls
- Jog dial makes manual / semi-automatic exposure very easy and fast
- 12x zoom offers excellent 36-432mm range
- Packed with features
- Powerful flash
- Image stabilization
- Program shift
- 'Punchy' results straight out of the camera
- Clean images up to ISO 200
- Impressively little distortion for such a large lens
- Enjoyable and easy to use
- Superb screen, can be used in very bright light
- Very bright AF illuminator
- Good battery life
- Optional wide and tele adapters
Conclusion - Cons
- Slight overall softness when viewed at 100%
- Some focus hunting at long end of the zoom (especially in movie mode)
- Image stabilization doesn't seem quite as effective as competition
- Small (though bright and clear) viewfinder
- High default contrast and sharpening
- Mild chromatic aberration and purple fringing
- Movies can look a little over-compressed
- Cannot zoom in movie mode
- Some problems with blown highlights in bright, contrasty scenes
- No RAW or TIFF mode
- Could do with a higher top shutter speed
- Limited burst mode
Considering this is Sony's first foray into the increasingly crowded - and competitive - 5MP 'super zoom', whereas other manufacturers are already into their second or third generation models, the DSC-H1 is a very impressive, very mature product indeed. Handling is excellent, it's very fast and responsive and the results - even shooting in full auto mode with default settings - excellent. There are few cameras I can wholeheartedly recommend to both novice 'snappers' and experienced photographers, but the H1 is that rarest of beasts; a 'compact' camera with handling and control close to a DSLR, yet one that - even in inexperienced hands - can be left in 'idiot-proof' mode and trusted to produce the goods time and time again. And, like the S2 IS, it's capable of high resolution movies. Above all, the H1 is fun and easy to use, which means you will find yourself taking a lot more pictures, which has to be a good thing.
When compared with its competitors the H1 has to sit near the top of the tree; especially if you are someone who likes to actually use the many photographic controls offered by this type of camera. The Canon S2 IS (which is the most obvious direct competitor) has a smaller screen, but one that offers swing 'n' tilt versatility, has a better movie mode (in quality terms), but one that needs a lot of card space and restricts clips to around 7 minutes. The S2 IS is also slightly better at shooting moving subjects at the long end of the zoom (despite the H1 having faster focusing overall). On the other hand I prefer the output of the H1 - even at the default settings, and handling / control are much better on the Sony. As our comparison tests show, there is very little to choose between the two in terms of resolution, and both cameras produce results that, viewed at 100%, look a little 'soft' (with too much sharpening - especially the Sony).
The Panasonic FZ5 has very slightly better fine detail capture, less 'processed' looking results, suffers less from fringing (of any type), is a lot, lot smaller and has a the biggest, brightest electronic viewfinder of the three. It is also the fastest focusing of the trio (in 'High Speed' AF mode). But the FZ5 has an unimpressive movie mode, slightly fiddly manual exposure control and very destructive noise reduction at ISO 400.
In our admittedly rather unscientific image stabilization tests we found the H1 to be slightly less effective than the Canon or Panasonic, but there's not a lot in it.
Ultimately the choice when looking at this class of camera is a difficult one, and one that more often than not comes down to handling, personal preference (in terms of the actual output) and how important movie capture is to you. Having shot almost exclusively over the last few months with the three cameras compared here, plus the Konica Minolta Z5 and the Panasonic FZ20, there is no clear, overall winner, but - for photographers who like to take control, the H1 has to be the first port of call - and that big screen is a real bonus. If Sony sorted out the focus at the long end of the zoom (which, though fast, always overshoots before it finds its mark) and looked more closely at lens sharpness than software sharpening they'd have the perfect super zoom.