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Operation and controls

Although it took some getting used to - we are talking about a sophisticated photographic tool - with the H1 Sony managed to reach almost SLR-like levels of usability, meaning more time spent concentrating on taking pictures and less finding controls hidden in deep menus. The H2 retains exactly the same qualities. A lot of the credit for this goes to the inclusion of a 'jog dial' on the front of the substantial grip, directly below the shutter release. The jog dial (which can be pressed to make selections and turned to change settings) controls aperture and/or shutter speed (depending on the mode you're in), program shift and AE compensation - all without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder (if you're using it), so you're always ready to shoot in an instant.

Elsewhere image stabilization, flash, macro, focus and burst modes get their own buttons, as does image size. My only complaint is that ISO and white balance really, really need to be easier to access, and I'd love to see an external ISO control on the next generation Cyber-shot H models, as the menu system is nowhere near as fast or intuitive as some competitors.

Rear of camera

The back of the camera is where we find the most important external difference to the H1; the screen has shrunk from 2.5 to 2.0 inches, and some of the controls have been moved around. At the top, next to the electronic viewfinder, are (from left) the finder/LCD button, a new play mode button (which has moved from the mode dial) and zoom rocker. Below the zoom controls, to the right of the textured thumb grip, are the menu button and display button (for changing the amount of information displayed on-screen). Moving down the body we find the ubiquitous 4-way controller and an image size button that is also used for deleting images in playback mode. Each of the four directional keys has a secondary function when used in record mode; flash mode, macro mode, self-timer and AE compensation (a welcome addition, missing from the H1). Our only (minor) complaint about the rear panel layout is that it is easy to accidentally press buttons with your thumb when attempting to use the H2 with one hand.

Top of camera

The H2 - like most of its direct competitors - has an 'SLR-like' design with a fairly deep body and deep grip. On top of the grip are the shutter release, focus and burst mode buttons. The design of the body and grip have changed slightly, giving slightly more room for the fingers of the right hand, and the body is marginally shallower - all of which means slightly better handling than the H1.

Display and menus

The on-screen display and control system is excellent, though to be honest I don't really like Sony's menu system, which isn't a patch on that used by Canon or Panasonic on their 'prosumer' models. Getting to things like ISO or White Balance could be a lot easier and a lot faster, and some fairly basic options (focus and image stabilization modes, for example) are hidden away in the setup menu, which takes a fair few button pushes to get to. Overall though, in normal use I found the H2, like the H1 before it, to 'get in the way' of taking pictures a lot less than most of its competitors (helped by the fact that it remembers where you were in the menus each time you go back, so switching ISO regularly - if you don't change anything else - isn't too painful). New for the H2 (and H5) is a 'function guide' that offers short descriptions for scene modes and basic functions.

Pressing the display button cycles through three display modes; basic (showing only the focus brackets, flash mode, macro mode), advanced and advanced with histogram (as shown here). You get exactly the same display if you use the electronic viewfinder. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the aperture and shutter speed chosen. The focus frame turns green and a camera shake warning is displayed if the shutter speed falls below a certain level.
AE compensation, available in most modes, is easily changed using the jog dial. In program mode you can also use the jog dial to highlight and change the aperture/shutter speed chosen without altering the exposure value ('program shift') - very useful.
The jog dial is also used to change the aperture and or shutter speed in Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority exposure modes. The H2 offers the choice of four focus modes; 3-area multi point AF, Center AF, Flexible Spot AF (manual positioning of focus point virtually anywhere in middle 80% of frame), shown above.
The H2 has a newly refined manual focus system that features an optional, customizable visual feedback system for indicating in-focus areas ('peaking'). The blue areas show peaks of contrast (as used by the autofocus system), giving clear, obvious feedback about which areas will be captured sharply.
Image size - as is normal with Sony cameras - gets its own menu, with a dedicated button on the rear of the camera. New for the H2 is an indication of the recommended maximum print size for each setting The record menu (not available in full auto mode). The left and right arrows scroll through the various menus, the up and down arrows select the menu options. Here you'll find options for everything from metering and drive mode, to ISO setting, white balance and image parameters.
Choose setup from the menu (in either record or playback mode) and you're presented with five pages of options covering basic camera settings. The first two - shown here - cover shooting settings, including Autofocus mode (single, monitor and continuous) and image stabilization mode (more of which later). Next up is the Memory stick menu - for formatting the card and creating/editing folders. The final two tabs cover global settings such as language, audio, file numbering, video output and date/time.
As with record mode you have three choices when it comes to the amount of information overlaid on images viewed in playback mode; none, advanced (including full exposure information) and advanced with histogram (shown here). Pressing the right (tele) zoom key allows you to magnify images up to 5x. You can also scroll around magnified images using the four-way controller.
Pressing the left (wide) zoom key brings up a display of 3x3 thumbnails of saved images. The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus slide shows and print ordering (DPOF).
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