White Balance

The H5 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 9.7%, Blue -11.9%
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 7.1%, Blue -8.4%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 5.6%, Blue -16.2
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 7.5%, Blue -5.5%

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 - Warm tone, good exposure Color chart -Slight warm tone,
good exposure

Macro Focus

The H5'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
76 px/mm (1934 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Low to average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Telephoto macro - 91 mm x 68 mm coverage
33 px/mm (849 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Very low
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

The H5 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 - 1.3% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Specific image quality issues

We were impressed by the bright, vivid and detailed results produced by the H2 (and predecessor the H1), and the H5 offers more of the same. 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). At ISO 80 there is a very slight resolution advantage over the H2, but to be honest in real world photography you won't see it - and more importantly it's lost at anything over ISO 200 because the H5 has to use slightly stronger noise reduction.

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Like the H2, 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 the H5 can be relied on to pull detail from a scene at all zoom settings (especially at lower ISO settings), and I was impressed 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 the results are excellent.

Compared to the H2, if you're really going to nit-pick, the noise reduction blurs away any extra detail captured at ISO 200 or higher (at ISO 200 you simply cannot see any extra detail), and the saturation is very, very slightly lower at the red end of the spectrum. The bad news is that the purple fringing is if anything worse than we saw on the H2, though on a positive (and possibly more important note) the H5 is less prone to highlight clipping in contrasty scenes.

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.

Chromatic Aberration & Purple Fringing

All super zoom cameras suffer from some fringing (though Panasonic's processing removes it before you ever see it), but on occasion the H5 takes it to a whole new - and at times totally unacceptable - level. The chromatic aberration fringes (red one side, blue the other) are mild enough that you have to look for them - if you can find them at all - in everyday shots, but the purple fringing is at times bad enough to be painfully visible in larger prints. You only really see it at very high contrast edges, particularly where there are clipped / blown highlights, but it is more prevalent then we saw on the H2 or Canon's PowerShot S3 IS. You won't see it in lower contrast images and it's worse when you're at, or near, the widest aperture. The examples below are the worst we could find, but they do show how bad things can get!

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

Image stabilization

The optical image stabilization ('Super Steady Shot') system used on the H5 works, though I would say it is perhaps marginally less effective than those found in the Canon S3 IS and Panasonic FZ series. The H5 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 H5'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, 421mm equiv. . 100% crops
IS off IS on
1/6 sec, 432mm equiv. . 100% crops