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Design

When we reviewed the Sony H3 earlier this year someone in the office rather unkindly commented, it looked like one of those water squirting joke cameras. Apart from the bigger screen the H10's shapes and dimensions are exactly identical to the H3's but this time around we've got the black version (our copy of the H3 was silver) which makes the H10 look much more like a 'real' camera. Admittedly this is more of a psychological effect, the H10 is still an all plastic camera with a build quality that is not particularly impressive. The black version definitely has slightly more appeal though.

It might be made of plastic but the design actually works quite well in your hands. The camera is amazingly compact (and fairly lightweight) for its zoom range, but never feels unstable. And of course if you want a long zoom range in a pocketable package the H10 is one of only a handful of alternatives, and all are 'built to a price'.

For a camera with the H10's feature-set the external controls are pretty basic. The ubiquitous four-way controller, the menu and Sony's unique 'Home' buttons and the zoom controller are located to the right of the screen. The top plate of the camera accommodates the power-button, mode dial and shutter button.

The H10 is essentially a long zoom 'point and shoot' camera, and that is reflected in its user interface. A number of important photographic settings such as ISO or exposure compensation don't get their dedicated button and can only be accessed via the slightly longwinded menu.

The H10 is very compact and lightweight for its zoom range and the edgy design works well in your hand. One-handed operation is not a problem, although at the long end of the zoom it is definitely beneficial to hold it with both hands despite of the support you get from the optical image stabilization.
The H10 comes with the same (slightly oversized) adapter tube and lens hood as the H3.

Body elements

The H10 uses an NP-BG1 Lithium Ion battery pack. The battery compartment sits under a hinged plastic door on the right side of the body (viewed from the back). This is also where you'll find the 'click in, click out' Memory Stick DUO slot. The H10 also has 31MB of internal memory.

The H10's basic controls are located to the right of the 3.0" screen. The four-way controller is used for navigating menus and also gives direct access to flash, macro and self-timer and display modes. On the left are the MENU and HOME buttons.

 

The H10's screen is a major improvement over the predecessor. It now measures 3.0 inches and the resolution has been doubled to 230,000 pixels. This is still not a particularly high resolution for this size of screen but the image is clear and allows effective control of exposure and focus (when zooming in). The anti-reflective coating is pretty efficient but also prone to smearing caused by fingerprints.
The controls on the camera top have been kept simple. On the far right you find the mode dial, to the left the power and in between the shutter button.
Like most recent Cyber-shots the H10 has a multi-function port for video and USB connectivity (so unfortunately you can't just grab just any old USB cable to connect to a PC). The supplied cable only provides standard video output - you'll need to buy the optional component video cable if you want to view your pictures in high definition quality (the H10 supports 1080i). There is also a connector for the (optional) AC adapter.
The H10's 10x zoom lens covers a range equivalent to 38-380 mm on a 35mm camera. While this is more than enough reach for most purposes on the long end the 'wide' end isn't really that wide at all. You will run into problems using the H10 for group portraits in cramped indoor locations. The maximum aperture at 38mm is F3.5, this drops to a F4.4 at the tele end. This is a stop slower than the Canon SX100 IS, but then the lens is a lot smaller.
The built-in flash pops up automatically when its services are required. It's one of the more powerful flashes we have seen on a compact camera - the range is about 7m (23 ft) at the wide end of the zoom, dropping to 5.6m (18.4 ft) at the tele end (using auto ISO). As long as you don't mind sensitivity being pushed up to 400 you can easily illuminate an entire room.

Control and menus

Despite a relatively large number of settings (no 'A' or 'S' modes though) the H10 is essentially a 'point and shoot' camera and that is reflected in the menus. As long as you don't use them too much, i.e. let the camera work in its 'Auto' mode, you're ok. Once you start trying to adapt settings yourself things can get a little longwinded. The interface structure can sometimes appear a little counter-intuitive and you might have to click and scroll through the menus before you find what you are looking for.

As usual you can choose the amount of information displayed on-screen. Shown here is the most detailed view, with lots of shooting information ranged around the screen, plus a live histogram. There is also an optional 'grid' overlay. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will lock focus and exposure. The H10has three main AF area options (center, spot and - as shown here - multi). Alternatively you can set the focus to a number of pre-defined distances.
A 'virtual mode dial' appears when you turn the real mode dial. This is useful if you don't want to take your eye off the screen. Pressing the menu button in record mode brings up a scrolling menu covering a large number of photographic settings including image size, AE-compensation, ISO, white balance etc. The menu has quite a few extra options in 'P' mode (including AE bracketing).
In playback mode you can choose the level of information displayed, from none to full shooting information and histogram (as shown here). You can zoom into the image up to 5x magnification using the zoom rocker.
Pressing the wide button on the zoom rocker lets you display 4x3 or 5x4 thumbnails. The playback menu has a couple of pages of scrolling menus including the usual delete, protect, slide show and print order options.
Pressing the 'Home' button - no matter where you are in the menus or what you are doing with the camera - brings up the camera's 'home' page. This is supposed to be a simple way to access the most common functions - and change some less common settings. Unfortunately Sony still has not made this customizable. The camera's various settings and options are spread over six pages of menus split into four sections. The 'Main Settings' pages cover basic camera settings including video output (and HDTV format).
There are then two pages of 'Shooting Settings' - covering things such as display and AF options, and so on. The last two menus are used to set the date and time and to change the language.
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