Operation and controls

Although it takes some getting used to - this is after all a very sophisticated photographic tool - with the H1 Sony has managed to reach almost SLR-like levels of usability, meaning more time is spent concentrating on taking pictures and less finding controls hidden in deep menus. 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 (though if you want to change image quality, ISO or white balance you need to use the menu system), and having spent months using all the current crop of 5MP big zoom cameras I can tell you now that the H1 is the only one that gets near to offering fast, intuitive photographic control.

Rear of camera

Obviously the rear of the H1 is dominated by that large 2.5" LCD screen, with the majority of controls within thumb's reach on the right side of the body. At the top, next to the electronic viewfinder, are (from left) the finder/LCD button, image stabilization on/off button (to change IS mode you need to go to the setup menu) and well-position zoom rocker. Below the zoom controls are the ubiquitous 4-way controller, menu button, display button (for changing the amount of information displayed on-screen) 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 quick review (for checking the last picture taken).

Top of camera

The H1 - 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, main mode dial and main power (on/off) switch.

Display and menus

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 activated and 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 H1 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) and manual focus (shown above).
Image size - as is normal with Sony cameras - gets its own menu, with a dedicated button on the rear of the camera. 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 AE compensation to metering and drive mode, 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 in eighteen steps. 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. You can press the key again to switch to a 4x4 thumbnails view. The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus slideshows and print ordering (DPOF).