Sony Cyber-shot H1 Review
Sony has long been at the vanguard of high resolution movie modes in digital stills cameras, and the H1 continues the tradition with a 640 x 480-pixel, 30 fps MPEG movie mode limited in duration only by the capacity of the card in use. You need to use a Memory Stick PRO or Memory Stick PRO Duo (with adaptor) if you want to shoot movies at the maximum size.
The movies are recorded in MPEG-1 format, which means they are small (certainly smaller than standard M-JPEG movies), but not as small as they would be if Sony adopted the newer MPEG-4 standard. MPEG-1 movies use a much less efficient compression system, which results in visible compression artefacts - take a look at the samples below and you'll see it's much worse in scenes shot at the wide end of the zoom with a lot of fine detail.
Overall quality is pretty good (though the compression artefacts can sometimes be quite obvious), and you can keep shooting until the card runs out (this will give you about 12.5 minutes on a 1GB card at the 640 x 480-pixel / 30fps setting) but there are a couple of important limitations. Firstly the focus system tends to hunt too much when shooting videos at the long end of the zoom, something you can only stop by switching to manual focus, which is a pain. Secondly not only can you not use the optical zoom during filming, but you can't even digitally zoom. Despite the H1's more efficient compression one is left with the overall impression that the Canon S2 IS is still the camera that sets the standard when it comes to movie performance.
|As with stills recording you can choose the amount of information overlaid on the live preview image (though there's no histogram!). There is an EV compensation (lighter or darker) control in the bottom right of the screen, activated by pressing and turning the jog dial.|
|In movie mode you get a slightly more basic set of menus offering options for metering pattern, white balance and picture effects (sepia, black and white). You can also choose from one of three movie settings; 640 x 480 pixels/15 or 30 fps and 180 x 120 pixels at 15 fps.|
|In playback mode you get some basic controls for playing movies, allowing you to play, pause, rewind and 'Divide' (cut clips into smaller chunks). Nothing fancy.|
|Dividing is a simple case of choosing the dividing point (annoyingly you can only move forwards and backwards in one second leaps) and clicking on OK. You are left with two movie clips.|
As noted on the previous page, the default settings used by the H1 produce results which are a little high in contrast, and to some eyes a little over-sharpened. This does produce very attractive prints without the need for post-processing, but if you like your out-of-camera results a little less 'processed' the H1 offers the option to decrease (or increase if you want) the contrast, sharpening and saturation applied.
Turning the sharpness down shows much more clearly the slight inherent softness of the results, with very little low contrast detail (such as foliage) being captured - which is no doubt why Sony chose to use a fairly high default sharpening setting. If you plan to use post-processing I'd certainly suggest switching to the custom mode and turning the contrast and sharpness down.
Reducing contrast does seem to get rid of some of the more extreme highlight clipping, but at the end of the day this is a problem of dynamic range as much as contrast curve, so there's a limit to how much highlight information you can expect to preserve in bright, contrasty scenes such as the one used in the examples below. That said, we saw a lot less highlight clipping when using the H1 than the Canon S2 IS.
|Standard (default) settings||100% crop|
|Contrast +1||100% crop|
|Contrast -1||100% crop|
|Saturation +1||100% crop|
|Saturation -1||100% crop|
|Sharpness +1||100% crop|
|Sharpness -1||100% crop|
|Contrast -1, Saturation -1, Sharpness -1||100% crop|
Contrast +1, Saturation +1
The optical image stabilization ('Super Steady Shot') system used on the H1 works, though I would say it is perhaps marginally less effective than those found in the Canon S2 IS and Panasonic FZ series. The H1 has two modes (just like the Panasonic Lumix range and the Canon S2 IS): Continuous (IS on all the time) and 'Shooting' (stabilization is activated at the moment the exposure is made). The first option makes framing easier - the Steady Shot system steadies the preview image, but is less than 100% effective when it comes to actually taking the pictures. The Shooting option, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter, is considerably more effective in most circumstances.
I certainly found it made handheld shots at 2, 3, or even 4 shutter speeds slower than normal perfectly possible. Impressive stuff. The 100% crops below show the effectiveness of the IS system - especially in 'Shooting' mode - when shooting at long focal lengths at speeds as low as 1/20 sec. We did find occasions where the continuous mode worked better, but overall the 'Shooting' setting is the one to go for if you can bear the juddering preview image.
Although we've no definitive test for IS systems in real-world use, I was impressed with the H1's system, though as mentioned above, at very slow speeds I don't think it's as effective as the Canon or Panasonic system (to be fair we're not talking a huge difference here). These tests are rather extreme - around 3 or 4 stops slower than you could safely use without IS - and in 'real life' shots - where you are maybe using a shutter speed two stops slower than normal - the system is pretty much 100% effective.
|IS off||IS Continuous||IS 'Shooting'|
|1/20 sec, 432mm equiv. 100% crops|
|IS off||IS Continuous||IS 'Shoot only'|
|1/20 sec, 317mm equiv.|