The DSC-H3 is Sony's first attempt at an affordable compact big zoom camera and (at least at close inspection) the H3 has 'budget' written all over it. Design-wise it bears a striking resemblance to the plastic 'cameras' that you can buy at souvenir stands all over the world, the kind that let you view a different postcard scene in the viewfinder each time you press the shutter button (or as someone here rather unkindly commented, it looks like one of those water squirting joke cameras). Unfortunately the build quality matches that design: the plastic looks and feels cheap, and the pop-up flash leaves an especially fragile impression. It's worth mentioning that the black version has, to our eyes, slightly more appeal.
While Robert Capa almost certainly would not have chosen the H3 to photograph the Korean War, 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 H3 is one of only a handful of alternatives, and all are 'built to a price'.
For a camera with the H3'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 H3 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 White Balance don't get their dedicated button and can only be accessed via the slightly longwinded menu.
Control and menus
Despite a relatively large number of settings (no 'A' or 'S' modes though) the H3 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 is somewhat less intuitive than the competition's and you can fairly easily get lost in the menu netherworld. The Image Quality and ISO settings are right there when you press the Menu button but you have to scroll down quite a bit to change your White Balance which is an essential parameter for many photographers.
|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. Also shown here is the optional 'grid' overlay.||Half-press the shutter release and the camera will lock focus and exposure. The H3 has 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 here).||Pressing the wide button on the zoom rocker lets you display 3x3 or 4x4 thumbnails. You can also zoom into the image up to 5x.|
|The playback menu has a couple of pages of scrolling menus including the usual delete, protect, slide show and print order options.||The retouch menu allows you to apply a variety of fairly unusual special effects to saved images, plus trim or remove red-eye.|
|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.|