Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, good detail with only a very slight fall-off in the corners
  • Great color, good exposure, clean sharp results
  • Accurate and generally fast focus
  • Low shutter lag
  • Superb handling, comprehensive photographic controls
  • Jog dial makes manual / semi-automatic exposure very easy and fast
  • 12x zoom offers excellent 36-432mm range
  • Packed with features
  • Powerful flash
  • Image stabilization
  • Program shift
  • 'Punchy' results straight out of the camera
  • Clean images up to ISO 200
  • Impressively little distortion for such a large lens
  • Enjoyable and easy to use
  • Large, bright, clear, contrasty screen, can be used in very bright light
  • High resolution viewfinder (though see cons, below)
  • Very bright AF illuminator
  • Can zoom during movie mode
  • Decent battery life from two AA's
  • Optional wide and tele adapters

Conclusion - Cons

  • Some focus hunting at long end of the zoom (especially in low light)
  • Easy to hit buttons on rear with your thumb, especially when shooting 'single handed'
  • Default settings produce images that need a little sharpening
  • Noticeably stronger noise reduction at ISO 400+ than H2
  • Image stabilization doesn't seem quite as effective as competition
  • Small viewfinder
  • Some chromatic aberration
  • Strong purple fringing at high contrast edges
  • Movies are a little over-compressed
  • No RAW or TIFF mode
  • Could do with a higher top shutter speed
  • Limited burst mode

Overall conclusion

By far the most difficult part of this review was identifying real, meaningful differences between the output of this camera and the H2, reviewed last week, and attempting to discover if it is worth the extra $100 or so.

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The good news is that everything we liked about the H1 and the H2 is still here; handling is excellent, it's very fast and responsive and the results - even shooting in full auto mode with default settings - excellent. There are few cameras I can wholeheartedly recommend to both novice 'snappers' and experienced photographers, but the H5, like the H2, is that rarest of beasts; a 'compact' camera with handling and control close to a DSLR, yet one that - even in inexperienced hands - can be left in 'idiot-proof' mode and trusted to produce the goods time and time again. Above all, the H5 is fun and easy to use, which means you will find yourself taking a lot more pictures, which has to be a good thing.

Like the H2, the H5 improves on its predecessor (the highly-praised DSC-H1) in several small but significant ways, both in terms of features and in the all-important matter of image quality. What it doesn't offer is a significant step up from the H2 in any respect (bigger, sharper screen aside). Of course there are differences in the output; the H5 has even worse purple fringing than the H2 and has slightly less impressive high ISO performance, but it seems a lot less prone to highlight clipping, so what you win on the one side, you lose on the other. At standard print sizes you'll see burnt out highlights a lot more than you'll see purple fringing, but it's still something Sony needs to address. The screen is lovely, but does come at a cost; slightly lower battery life, and the black finish is nice, but only you will know if it's worth paying extra for.

If you're attempting to decide between the H2 and H5 then it won't come down to image quality or performance; there really isn't going to be a visible difference in the printed output. It's a bit like the choice you make when buying a car; do you go for the base model or splash out on the 'Sport' with its leather seats, aircon and fancy body styling kit? The H5 appeals to those of us who feel we'd regret not paying the little bit extra every time we settled back into cloth seats...

Compared to the most obvious competitors - the Canon S3 IS and Panasonic DMC-FZ7 - the Sony H5 scores highly in handling, features, overall image quality and ease of use, and only really falls short in a couple of areas; burst mode, focus speed in low light (specifically at the long end of the zoom), and the purple fringing. The Canon S3IS wins hands-down when it coes to movies, the FZ7's lens and superior image stabilization means that at lower ISO settings it still, just, rules the roost when it comes to edge-to-edge sharpness, but the H5 offers a very attractive overall package that handles better than either, and - if that's what you like in a camera - has that nice big screen to boot.

The choice when looking at this class of camera is a difficult one, and one that more often than not comes down to handling, personal preference (in terms of the actual output) and how important certain specific features (in this case the screen, basically) are to you. The H2 represents far better value for money than the H5, which is why I still consider it to be the pick of the bunch, but the H5 still offers an awful lot of 'bang for your buck'. Whilst it would be unfair to penalise the H5 simply because it doesn't offer a lot more than the H2 in terms of real benefits, I would point out that whereas the $399 H2 was an easy choice for a Highly Recommended, the H5, like the Canon S3 IS, was a much closer call.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 9.0
Image quality 8.0
Optics 7.5
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 8.0

Highly recommended

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