Image stabilization

The optical image stabilization ('Super Steady Shot') system used on the H9 works, though I would say it is perhaps marginally less effective than those found in the Canon S3 IS and Panasonic FZ series. The H9 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 even 3 shutter speeds slower than normal perfectly possible, though beyond 1 stop it's nowhere near 100% reliable. The 100% crops below show the effectiveness of the IS system when shooting at full tele at speeds as low as 1/50 sec.

Real world example: 144mm (equiv), 1/50th Second, hand-held
Stabilization off Stabilization on

The stabilization test

In this simplified version of our SLR IS test, four hand-held shots were taken of a static scene with the stabilization off and on. The shutter speed was decreased and repeated (from 1/1000 sec to 1/20 sec). The zoom was set to its maximum position (465mm equiv.), the test target was 6 m away from the camera. The test was repeated three times and an average taken.

The resulting images were then inspected and given a blur score - 'Sharp' (no visible blurring at 100%), 'Mild Blur' (the kind of camera shake that is tolerable at small print sizes) and 'Heavy Blur' (virtually unusable due to camera shake) and 'Very Heavy Blur' (little discernible detail).

As the charts below show the IS system does give you a couple of stops' advantage, though it isn't quite as reliable as some we've tried. Even at only one stop below the recommended minimum shutter speed (using the focal length reciprocal rule of thumb) you may only get one really sharp shot in three, so you need to take a few safety shots if the shutter speed drops too far.

Hand-held, no stabilization (465mm equiv.)

As you can see from the chart below only at 1/500th sec or above can we be confident of getting sharp results from the majority of shots, and once you get to 1/125th sec and below the majority of shots are heavily blurred, and none are sharp.

Hand-held, stabilization on (465mm equiv.)

With stabilization on the results are better - we got no blurred shots at all above 1/250th sec, and the majority of shots down to 1/125 sec have little or no blur. If you're shooting at one to three stops below the recommended minimum shutter speed you have a one in three chance of getting a completely sharp image.

Dynamic Range Optimization

Although the H9 offers a fairly standard range of image parameters (color presets, sharpening, contrast) it also offers a version of Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization (first seen on the Alpha digital SLR) - this is the default setting. DRO works in a similar way to Nikon's D-Lighting and HP's Adaptive Lighting technologies, using a form of contrast masking to reduce the clipping of highlights and shadows in scenes with a very wide dynamic range. The difference is that the processing is done on the raw data at the point of capture by the Bionz processor, rather than applied later (HP and Nikon offer this type of adjustment as an option in playback mode), which should mean there is more information to work with.

The effect is subtle, but it does work - mainly by lifting the shadows a little (it's helped by an excellent metering system that does a good job of preserving highlights). Compared to HP's and NiIkon's systems the results show less noise and also look more natural (though any attempt to compress dynamic range in this way tends to produce output that looks a little 'processed').

Apologies for the slightly different framing; these were taken handheld (I intended to go back and re-shoot using a tripod but it's rained continually since).

Standard contrast 100% crop
DR Optimizer (default) 100% crop
Low contrast 100% crop
High contrast 100% crop