White Balance

The H2 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 mixed light sources, but struggled to correct the color cast caused by shooting under artificial (indoor) lighting. If you want neutral tones in such situations you need to use manual white balance.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 8.3%, Blue -10.4%
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 5.7%, Blue -5.7%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 5.5%, Blue -16.9%
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 7.6%, Blue -6.6%

Flash Performance

The built-in pop-up flash has a range (using auto ISO, which goes to 200) of up to around 9.0 m (29 feet) at the wide end of the zoom, dropping to 6.8 m (22 feet) at the long end - better than the H1 and better than many competitor models too. 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 being 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 over three 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 - Slight warm tone,
good exposure
Color chart -Slight warm tone,
good exposure

Macro Focus

The H2's macro mode lets you get as close as 2cm at the wide end of the zoom, capturing an area 40mm (1.5 inches) across - roughly the same as the Panasonic FZ7. Interestingly, this is roughly the smallest area the Canon S3 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 - 40 mm x 30 mm coverage
70 px/mm (1778 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Low to average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Telephoto macro - 91 mm x 68 mm coverage
31 px/mm (783 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Very low
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

The H2 exhibits fairly low distortion given the huge focal length range - 1.2% barrel distortion at the wide end, and no 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 - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Specific image quality issues

We were impressed by the bright, vivid and detailed results produced by the H1, and the H2 is even better (albeit by small margin). 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 saturation is a little high for my liking, as is the default contrast, which can cause highlight clipping in bright conditions (see below), but you can reduce the both in-camera.

The results don't look as processed as those produced by the H1 (certainly not as heavily sharpened), and even at the default settings they can bear a little unsharp masking. Of course there's only so much you can expect from such a small sensor and such a huge zoom range, but we were impressed by the H2's ability to pull detail from a scene at all zoom settings, and by the very high 'hit rate' even in the fully automatic 'point and shoot mode'. In common with its competitors there is smearing of low contrast fine detail (such as hair) at higher ISO settings, but if you stay below ISO 200 you can't fail to be impressed with what the H2 is capable of.

Again we found sharpness drops fairly dramatically at apertures of F6.3 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 at F5.0 or wider. We also saw a slight drop in contrast and sharpness at the very long end of the zoom, but again this is normal for a camera of this type.

Aside from the mild fringing and clipping issues mentioned below the H2 is producing about as good a result you can expect for a sub $400 12x zoom 6MP camera.

Chromatic Aberration & Purple Fringing

In common with its predecessor and most competitors (with the notable exception of the Panasonic FZ7) the H2 does show some chromatic aberration and some purple fringing throughout the zoom range, though you only really see it at high contrast edges, particularly where there are clipped / blown highlights, as here. You won't see it in lower contrast images and it's worse when you're at, or near, the widest aperture.

100% crop 432mm equiv., F4. -1.0 EV
100% crop 36mm equiv., F2.8

Clipped highlights

The H2 shows the all-too-common clipping ('blowing') of highlights, but to he fair it's a lot less of a problem than we saw with the H1, and is not as bad as some of its competitors. The clipping is partly due to the inherent lack of dynamic range (common to all cameras in this class), partly due to the rather 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 H2 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 304mm equiv., F4

Image stabilization

The optical image stabilization ('Super Steady Shot') system used on the H2 works, though I would say it is perhaps marginally less effective than those found in the Canon S3 IS and Panasonic FZ series. The H2 has two modes: Continuous (IS on all the time) and 'Shooting' (stabilization is only activated when the button is half-pressed to lock exposure). The first option makes framing easier - the Steady Shot system steadies the preview image - but obviously uses more battery power (it's on all the time).

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 when shooting at long focal lengths at speeds as low as 1/15 sec.

Although we've no definitive test for IS systems in real-world use, I was impressed with the H2's system, though as mentioned above, at very slow speeds I don't think it's as effective as the Canon or Panasonic system, especially Panasonic's 'mode 2' option (which only activates when the shutter is actually pressed, minimizing the amount of travel needed to correct the movement). To be fair we're not talking a huge difference here. These tests are rather extreme - around 4 or 5 stops slower than you could safely use without IS - and in 'real life' shots - where you are maybe using a shutter speed 2 or 3 stops slower than normal - the system is pretty much 100% effective, as always this will depend on how steady you are in the first place!

IS off IS on
1/15 sec, 432mm equiv. 100% crops
IS off IS on
1/20 sec, 432mm equiv. . 100% crops