White Balance

The H1 has five white balance presets (daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent and flash) in addition to the default auto white balance and a custom (manual) option. In our tests the auto WB system worked perfectly in all outdoor situations, coped very well with fluorescents and mixed light sources, but struggled to correct the orange cast caused by shooting under incandescent (tungsten) lighting. If you want neutral tones in such situations you need to switch to the incandescent preset or use manual white balance.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.3%, Blue 1.2%

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.3%, Blue 1.2%
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 15.2%, Blue -20.3%

Flash Performance

The built-in pop-up flash has a range of up to around 6.8 m (22 feet) at the wide end of the zoom, dropping to 5.2 m (17.1 feet) at the long end. We found exposure and color to be very reliable, with the flash quenching well at distances down to about 10cm. There is the tiniest measurable warm tone to flash photos, but in most cases this is better than too cool, and produces nice skin tones. One minor complaint is the flash shot-to-shot time (partly due to the pre-flash metering used), which stretches to just shy of four seconds when red-eye reduction is turned on. If the batteries are low or your subject is a few feet away flash recycle times can rise to as much as 6 or 8 seconds.

Skin tone - Very slight warm tone,
excellent exposure
Color chart -Just measurable warm tone,
excellent exposure

Macro Focus

The H1's macro mode lets you get as close as 2cm at the wide end of the zoom, capturing an area of just under 40mm (1.5 inches) across - roughly the same as the Panasonic FZ5. Interestingly, this is roughly the smallest area the Canon S2 IS can capture using it's much-trumpeted Super Macro mode before the lens gets so near to the subject that it blocks out all light. At the wide end of the zoom there is inevitably some corner softness and distortion (and some visible chromatic aberration), but it's better than most of its direct competitors, and there is little or no vignetting. Obviously at a shooting distance of 2cm there is a real danger of the lens casting a shadow on the subject, but it's not a serious issue.

Wide macro - 38 mm x 29 mm coverage
67 px/mm (1696 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Low to average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Telephoto macro - 91 mm x 68 mm coverage
28 px/mm (719 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Very low
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Noise Comparison

Here for visual comparison are three identical shots taken at 64, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. ISO 64 and 100 are very smooth, and even ISO 200 has very little visible noise or noise reduction at ISO 200. At ISO 400 the image is slightly less noisy than most cameras in this class, though there is some visible color blotchiness (chroma noise) in the shadows and evidence of fairly aggressive noise reduction.

ISO 64 100% crop ISO 100 100% crop
ISO 200 100% crop ISO 400 100% crop

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

The H1 exhibits fairly low distortion given the huge focal length range - 1.2% barrel distortion at the wide end, and only the tiniest amount of measurable distortion at all at the full 432mm telephoto end. There is also only barely measurable - and hardly noticeable - vignetting.

Barrel distortion - 1.2% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Specific image quality issues

It's hard not to be impressed by the bright, vivid and detailed results produced by the H1; exposure is very reliable, color excellent and focus generally very accurate (save for the occasional missed focus at the extreme telephoto end of the zoom). The default contrast is a little high for my liking, and can cause highlight clipping in bright conditions (see below), but you can reduce the contrast setting (see next page). Likewise I found the images a touch over-sharpened, which is fine for printing without post-processing, but will look way too harsh for those who like to do some tinkering in Photoshop. Turning the sharpening down in-camera produces a very soft result, but there's still plenty of detail there and the results sharpen up well in post-processing.

We also found sharpness drops fairly dramatically at apertures of F7.1 and higher (due to diffraction effects), though this is by no means unique to this camera - it's just useful to know you get the sharpest results in the F4.0 to F6.3 range.

Aside from the mild fringing issue mentioned below (and the high default contrast/sharpness) our only complaint is the usual lack of dynamic range seen with all 5.0 MP cameras (not helped by the high default contrast) - though the H1 is by no means the worse offender.

Chromatic Aberration

Although by no means as bad as, say, the Canon S2 IS, the H1 does show some chromatic aberration at the edges of wide shots, especially, as here, on high contrast edges. The fringing (red on one side, blue on the other) is worse at wider apertures, and gradually reduces as you move up the zoom range. It is hardly visible in lower contrast images, and is not significant enough to mar more than a handful of the 1000 or so test shots taken for this test.

100% crop 36mm equiv., F4

Purple fringing... and clipped highlights

This image perfectly illustrates the other two problems found when using the H1 in bright, contrasty situations; purple fringing and clipped highlights. The former (fringing) is nowhere near as bad as earlier 'big zoom' Sony cameras (step forward the F828), and only really shows its face in situations such as this, at the edge of an overexposed area of the frame. The clipping ('blowing') of highlights is partly due to the inherent lack of dynamic range (common to all cameras in this class), partly due to the high default contrast (which you can turn down) and partly due to a slight tendency to expose for the shadows, resulting in occasional mild overexposure. As you learn to use the H1 you learn to (i) turn down the contrast on bright days and (ii) watch the histogram, adding -0.3 or -0.6 EV exposure compensation when needed.

100% crop 81mm equiv., F4