DSC-H1, DSC-H5: scrap shopping

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Dak on cam Regular Member • Posts: 305
DSC-H1, DSC-H5: scrap shopping

I am not imbued with significant amounts of cash, so I tend to work with stuff till it lasts. Now recently the shutter button on my trusty old DSC-P52 went dead and I got a replacement at €1 from Ebay (and actually realized that focus control via half-pressed shutter had left my old cam years ago, as did the microphone). But I realized that this Euro, once one included postage, might not have been the best bang for the buck. This is 2018, and newer and shinier cameras than that old DSC-P52 have went on bargain pricing as well.

So I got a DSC-H1 shortly afterwards after all. And now I got a DSC-H5 for comparison.

One is 5MP, the other 7MP. Don't let yourself be fooled: the optics, even though the latter is branded Carl Zeiss and the former Sony, are very much the same, and so are the problems (purple fringes, chromatic aberration) at the extreme zoom ranges. So the higher sensor resolution is mainly interesting if you are planning to use your computer for correcting the lens problems (distortion and chromatic aberration), and a photographic image matching JPEGs picture assumptions will only be available after correction, so that kind of post-processing works well mostly on raw images which neither of those cameras deliver.

Now those are compact superzooms with the same size (1/2.5") sensor: they don't fare well in limited-light situations. Nominally the DSC-H5 offers higher ISO settings. In practice, however... To get to the point: those are no wedding photograph cameras. They are limited in quality (once you are able to look back with the perspective of a dozen years) but they are compact and still surprisingly good for their impressive zoom range.

Again, it is the perspective of 12 years that makes it obvious just how similar those two cameras actually are. So how to decide between them? Image quality makes rather little difference unless you count pixels that don't tell much of a story that digital magnification could equally well.

The weight of the DSC-H5 is less, its advertised size larger. How did that happen? It has a larger screen, a really great and bright 3" screen compared to the 2.5" screen of the DSC-H1. It makes it more feasible to review photos and ditch bad ones before rushing to the laptop to check. The additional depth is due to the viewfinder being in a large protrusion. This likely makes it easier to use it with your left eye but it's really awkward for storage and perceived robustness.

As opposed to the more metallic DSC-H1, the DSC-H5 has a plastic feel all over it, like using metallic paint instead of metal surfaces (anodized plastic or whatever, it's not like the DSC-H1 has been milled from a steel block either). There have been a few changes to the controls, like a separate viewing mode button (doubling as a switch-on button straight into viewing mode) not requiring you to mess with the mode dial. That's good, and the reorganization of menus and visual feedback while navigation also is good. One other thing I like is the option to fire the flash at either the start or end of a long exposure (slow flash).

But the main thing is how bad the controls feel. The mode dial on the DSC-H1 feels like solid metal, the dial on the DSC-H5 is plastic, larger, and wobblier. This theme continues over other elements: the DSC-H1 tended to have single, convex metal surface buttons which you could feel your way around without looking. The DSC-H5 has wobbly plastic or even tiny rubber button things (menu and display mode) without useful tactile feedback. The model I received probably was used quite a bit and it did not age well. The zoom rocker is on its way out with considerable wobble room though still functional. The shutter button half-down functionality (pre-focus) is dead.

So my feeling is that out of the box the DSC-H5 has a few things that are nice, but its overall feel and durability is a step backwards. It doesn't age all that well.

So chances are if you are buying a well-used DSC-H1 and a well-used DSC-H5, that the former will have more life left in it than the latter.

So now let's go to extensions. Extensions are the way to pay more money than you intended. Converter lenses are one thing. Did your original purchase come with the 56mm-58mm extension tube with detachable lens hood? If not, I've seen some camera store carrying a lot of unidentified stuff including this one, probably salvaged from scrap or garage sales, for a modest price, yet hardly commensurate with scrapyard purchases. Factor this kind of cost in if you are likely to need it, to avoid creating a money sink negating the initial bargain.

So why bother? It's a valid question. Without the tube, this is a reasonably compact point-and-shoot with considerable tele when necessary. What the tubes enables are converter lenses. There are wide angle converters, and tele converters, and close-up converters. There are also lots of filters, but once you start investing into minute stuff like this, remember that for fine art purposes this would not be the camera to use in the first place. At least 58mm is a common size, so you might salvage some purchases for other uses.

A converter will very likely be worse than "the real thing", so there is not much point in springing for a wide angle converter or a tele converter rather than skip four years and get a 25x superzoom or such at less total weight and price than your cam and converter would have cost. I know, I am no fun.

But a macro converter lens is a totally different game. Because even if there were cameras (and there are prime lenses) intended for close-up photography, their cost would be prohibitive. What is called "macro" or "supermacro" on zoom cameras means the ability to focus very closely in wide angle mode. That's sort of a byproduct of zoom lenses and of rather limited utility since you have to get very close, and then you get perspective warp and also lens shadow unless you use a ring flash (but we have no hotshoe on cheaper cams like those two) or a macro ring light.

Which is where a close-up converter comes in. I use a Sony VCL-M3358. Its description very much avoids stating what it actually is, but it's clearly a +3 dioptre lens system (comprised of two lenses in order to compensate for chromatic aberration) and, apart from its high imaging quality, equivalent to +3 single lens close-up filters you can get for cheap. It's mounted rather close to the prime lens, so it does not actually create a lot of magnification. What it does is remapping the focus distance. What the camera considers ∞ becomes 0.33m, so at that distance you can use the full zoom range without stopping the camera's ability to focus (which otherwise ends at something like 1m for the tele range).

So this kind of close-up lens really makes the large zoom range of those small-sensor cameras shine: you cannot do the same with, say, a high-quality (large) sensor since the zoom range on those is quite more limited (unless you use gargantuan lenses) and depth of field becomes a real nuisance, too. And it's the zoom that does the actual magnification, not the close-up lens. Of course light is a bit of a problem, but at a distance of 20cm or more, as opposed to the camera's "native" macro mode you can actually use the flash.

Here is a picture taken using the flash.

So let's come to the next item: movies. VGA resolution at 30fps, light-challenged, MPEG-1. Case closed: a separate scrapyard camcorder will for now do a better job. In 10 years, the scrapyard may be good enough for still cams with HD movie mode.

There have been further members of this series, the DSC-H2 (described as feeling cheaper) with a smaller screen than even the DSC-H1. The followup models with different optics, DSC-H7 and DSC-H9 have Lithium batteries (bad news for scrapyard resurrections), a 15x zoom and take extension lenses in some weird format (74mm?) that nobody produces for.

An achilles heel for revivals from the scrapyard are frequent shutter button problems (for half-pressed buttons or just broken off altogether) and the extension lens tube that often does not travel along with multiple purchases. As with many used items, buying from a first buyer who paid real money for the thing can be advantageous.

What are your scrapyard favorites and gotchas? And your more-than-decade-old equipment that you still use for real?

 Dak on cam's gear list:Dak on cam's gear list
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P52 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
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