DPInterface Sony Cyber-shot H2 Review
Brad Soo - April 27th, 2006

Priced at $399, the Sony Cyber-shot H2 appears to be Sony's budget ultra-zoom camera. It features 6 megapixels, 12x optical zoom, a 2 inch LCD (smaller than on the H1) and full manual controls. While it's certainly cheaper than the H5, it also has less features - but will image quality be good... or not? Find out now.

Sony H-series comparison

Following DPInterface's latest trend, this review also includes a comparison chart for all the Sony H-series:

 

Sony H1

Sony H2

Sony H5

Original retail/ current price*

$499/$310

$399/$380

$499/$499

Resolution

5.0 megapixels

6.0 megapixels

7.1 megapixels

CCD sensor size

1/2.5 inch

1/2.5 inch

1/2.5 inch

Lens make

Sony Lens

Carl Zeiss; Vario Tessar

Lens focal length

12X optical (36-432 mm)

Lens aperture

f2.8 - f3.7 (selectable till f8.0)

LCD size

2.5 inch
(115k pixels)

2.0 inch
(85k pixels)

3.0 inch
(230k pixels)

Internal memory

32 MB

Color modes

No

Yes (H2 & H5)

Function guide

No

Yes (H2 & H5)

Macro mode

2 cm (All H1, H2 & H5)

ISO range

64 - 400

80 - 1000

80 - 1000

Add-on lenses

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery life

290 shots

400 shots

340 shots

Smart Zoom

48X

52X

57X

Body color

Silver

Silver

Black, silver

*As of April 27th, 2006

Size and Weight

How much has the H2 "grown" since the H1? Take a look:

(266.9)  113.4 x 78.0 x 75.5 mm (410 g) - Canon PowerShot S3 IS
(310.5)  113.5 x 85.0 x 112.0 mm (370 g) - Fujifilm FinePix S5600
(247.0)  104.0 x 74.0 x 69.0 mm (300 g) - Kodak EasyShare Z612
(251.0)  105.5 x 74.5 x 71.0 mm (285 g) - Olympus SP500 UZ
(263.7)  112.5 x 72.2 x 79.0 mm (310 g) - Panasonic Lumix FZ7
(280.4)  107.8 x 81.4 x 91.2 mm (438 g) - Sony Cyber-shot H1
(290.2)  113.2 x 83.0 x 94.0 mm (389 g) - Sony Cyber-shot H2/H5

As usual, I've included the "DPI measurement unit" (As opposed to volume) on the left for a more accurate impression of a camera's size.

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 is the largest camera with image stabilization. It's lighter than than the H1 though not too light. When fully loaded, the H2 feels good in your hands. The grip is well molded and, unlike plastic toys such as the Canon EOS 350D, the H2 doesn't feel small and "stupid" in your hand.

Open up the Box

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 features the same bundle as the H1 before it:

  • 2 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens cap with strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • Lens hood
  • Conversion lens adapter
  • User's manual
  • CD-ROM

Storage and Power

Unlike the H1 before it, the Cyber-shot H2 uses the physically smaller Memory Stick PRO Duo format of cards. I doubt that H1 owners will go for the H2, but it's still an issue changing memory format if they upgrade to the H5.

The Sony H2 has a tiny 32 MB of internal memory. So, get yourself at least a 256 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo - or maybe more. The price of this proprietary memory format by Sony has gone down in price and is now as affordable as things like Secure Digital cards.

550 shots - Canon PowerShot S3 IS
300 shots - Fujifilm FinePix S5600
260 shots - Kodak EasyShare Z612
N/A - Olympus SP500 UZ
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FZ7
290 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H1
400 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H2
340 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H5

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 does much better than the H1 in terms of battery life. The Sony H2 has probably the best battery life in its class - considering it uses just 2 AA batteries (The Canon S3 IS uses four, so that's not counted). Sony bundles a set of rechargeable AA NiMH batteries and a charger so you need not get one.

 

Extras

Quite expected for an ultra-zoom camera are quite a bit of accessories:

  • Conversion lens adapter
  • Wide-angle conversion lens (0.7x, 25 - 302 mm)
  • Telephoto conversion lens (1.7x, 61 - 734 mm)
  • Close-up conversion lens
  • Filters
  • Macro ring light
  • External slave flash
  • AC adapter

Camera Tour

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 is only available in silver. The H5 is available in black though.

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 looks a lot better than the H1. The H5 (available in black) looks even better and more professional.

The big 12x lens extends outwards when the camera is turned on. Equivalent to 36 - 432 mm, an aperture range of f2.8 - f3.7 and having an optical image stabilizer, this lens is quite familiar. The Sony H2 has a Carl Zeiss lens while the H1 had a Sony lens. Yet, these two lenses are exactly the same in specifications.

The powerful automatic popup flash above the lens has a maximum range of 9 m at ISO auto. At ISO 1000, you can almost double that range to a whooping 16 m. Good job, Sony!

A little window near the flash is the AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp which lights up red in low-light or when counting down. And beside that is a microphone.

And the very comfortable grip I talked about earlier on stands out in gray. The grip is large and textured for steady shooting. There's a jog dial there as well to change certain settings.

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 has a 2 inch LCD which has only 85,000 pixels. In contrast, the Canon S3 IS has a 2 inch rotating LCD with 115,000 pixels while the Sony H5 has a giant 3 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels. The LCD brightens just enough in low-light to make things visible, but didn't brighten outdoors where visibility was on the borderline. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) above the LCD has more than double the resolution - it has 201,000 pixels. Surprisingly, Sony didn't even include any function which brightens the LCD as more and more manufacturers nowadays are doing this.

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 features the same Function Guide (turned on by default) as on other Sony cameras, which displays a description of the mode selected which can be helpful, and two new Color modes which are "Vivid" and "Natural".

On the top right of the H2 is the zoom controller. I'll talk about those two buttons beside it later on in the review. Below the zoom controller is the display button (to view info when shooting/playback) and menu button.

The 5-way controller has these functions:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, on, off, slow-sync - redeye reduction is turned on/off in the menu)
  • Down - Self-timer (On/off)
  • Left - Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Right - Macro (On/off)

Pressing the center button is to confirm a setting. The other button at the very bottom allows you to change image size while shooting or delete a photo in playback.

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 has quite a few buttons up here. On the grip, there's the shutter button followed by two buttons; focus (left) and continuous/bracketing (right). Then there's a mode dial with a ton of modes (starting from the green camera going clockwise):

  • Automatic - Control image size and quality
  • Programmed auto - Control everything except shutter speed and aperture value
  • Shutter priority - Select a shutter speed from 30 - 1/1000 sec
  • Aperture priority - Select an aperture value from f2.8/f3.7 to f8.0
  • Manual - Select both shutter speed and aperture value simultaneously (same limits as above)
  • High sensitivity - The camera boosts ISO up to 1000 if needed
  • Twilight
  • Twilight portrait
  • Beach
  • High-speed shutter
  • Landscape
  • Soft snap
  • Movie - Record VGA 30 FPS movies up to the capacity of the Memory Stick

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 has lost a few scene modes but with manual controls, who needs them, right? Nearby the mode dial is the power button followed by an image stabilization selection button. Beside the zoom controller is are buttons to enter playback and swap between the LCD/EVF.

Here is the side of the Sony Cyber-shot H2. The electronic viewfinder protrudes a lot, as you can see here. The flash has been popped up. There's a few port hidden behind that cover near the words "Cyber-shot" so let's open it up:

Nothing to see here: just A/V out and USB 2.0 High-speed ports. At the bottom of the Sony Cyber-shot H2, you'll find a speaker, tripod mount and battery/card compartment with a "smart door" - though this is not as well implement as on the H1. This smart door has two tiers. Choose to open the first and smaller door to swap Memory Stick Duos or open the second door (Which opens the first one as well) for batteries, as well as the Memory Stick Duo. The door (Doors more like it) is extremely sturdy and has a tough feeling to it.

Shooting

 

You can select one of the Sony Cyber-shot H2's many image sizes which include 6 megapixels (with a 3:2 option), 3 megapixels, 2 megapixels, 1 megapixel and VGA plus two compression options - Fine and Standard. A new Function Guide displays a short description of each mode when you turn the mode dial.

There are other manual controls on the H2 as well:

  • 5 white balance presets (with custom option)
  • ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1000)
  • Color mode (Normal, vivid, natural, sepia, monochrome)
  • Auto focus (Multi, center, flexible, manual focus)
  • Bracketing ( exposure 0.3, 0.7 or 1.0)
  • Metering method (Multi, center, spot)
  • Flash intensity (High, normal, low)
  • Contrast, saturation and sharpness
  • Optical image stabilization (Shooting, continuous)

There's been no improvement in the H2's macro mode: it can go as close as 2 cm. As for optical image stabilization, there's shooting (OIS is active when the picture is taken) and continuous (OIS is always on, even when framing)

Recording

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 does the same thing as other Sony cameras: it can take VGA movies with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up. This requires a Memory Stick PRO Duo card (but nowadays, who doesn't have one?). Just in case you have a normal Memory Stick Duo or want to record longer movies, you can record VGA movies at 16 FPS or 160 x 112 movies at 8 FPS!

Exposure is automatically adjusted and image stabilization can be turned on while recording, but unlike other cameras, the Sony H2 cannot constantly focus while recording a movie. You can zoom slowly though. In comparison, the Canon S3 IS records movies with stereo sound (the H2 records mono) and can adjust exposure, turn image stabilization on, wind filters as well as focus and zoom.

The video and audio quality are good - as expected.

Performance

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 starts up and extends its lens in 1.4 seconds. Focusing takes a standard 1.5 seconds and shot-to-shot speed was about 1 shot every 2.1 seconds. Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery was 7 seconds. One thing I liked about the flash was it throttled down enough to not overexpose close macro subjects.

In continuous shooting, the H2 took 8 photos at 1.5 FPS which is both slow and limited. Buffer clearing, though, was fairly fast. The lens takes 3 seconds to reach telephoto and powers down in 2 seconds.

Image Quality

Using my test chart, here's how the Sony Cyber-shot H2 fares in image quality:


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/13 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/15 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/30 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/60 sec)


ISO 800 (f4.0, 1/80 sec)


ISO 1000 (f4.0, 1/100 sec)

Over here, I think noise is acceptable even up to ISO 400. The early two (ISO 80 and ISO 100) don't have much noise. Later on (ISO 200 and ISO 400), some effects of noise processing can be seen but image quality and sharpness are still retained. At ISO 800, the colors look less natural and vivid but image quality is still acceptable. At ISO 1000, noise is evident but the photo is still crisp and preserved some details. There's no color fringing here as well!

Here's some results from my interesting color chart: Barrel and pincushion distortion are not noticeable (Excuse the improper orientation of the chart). Colors seem to look as they should except the two purples and dark blue. The dark blue looks quite purplish. Strange enough, the H2 managed to surpress any red-eye. Overall, image quality of the H2 is good and meet my standard.

Photo gallery

There's lots more photos in the Sony Cyber-shot H2 photo gallery.

Playback

 

In playback, the Sony Cyber-shot H2 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as do all this: Protect image, print marking, slideshow, resize, trim, rotate and edit movies. You can also magnify still photos by 5x and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons. Choose to see no info, basic info or lots of info about your photos. A histogram is shown both while shooting and in playback.

 

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot H2 is a relative bargain for the price. It features lots of stuff which make it great: The 12x zoom lens (now by Carl Zeiss) with optical image stabilization, 6 megapixels and great battery life (400 shots).

The camera itself looks and feels expensive - looking modern and better than most entry-level digital SLRs (at least from the front, in my opinion), feels solid and it's big enough to feel comfortable. The LCD is not that big though - just two inches with very low resolution and visibility. It even has a jog dial which allows easy tweaking of aperture/shutter speed. As expected from an ultra-zoom camera, the Sony H2 has full manual controls and is compatible with conversion lenses + filters.

The H2 has a big powerful flash which does 16 meters at ISO 1000! Even with that, the control for close ups is still very good. Speaking of ISO 1000, image quality is still acceptable at that level. The Sony H2 is not very fast though (Time for Real Imaging Processor II??): Continuous shooting is slow and limited, shot-to-shot and autofocus could be much faster.

Finally, the H2 has nothing unique about its movie mode. It can record unlimited VGA sized movies at 30 FPS, recorded in MPEG1 format. The Panasonic FZ7 can do widescreen recording, the Canon S3 IS has an array of advanced movie features and you get the idea.

The Sony H2 is a nice deal and it's much cheaper than the Canon S3 IS. But if you can afford it, why not upgrade to the H5 for 7 megapixels and a nice big LCD.

What's hot:

  • Carl Zeiss 12x zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • Excellent exterior: Modern & stylish look, solid build, fits comfortably in hand
  • Above average battery life
  • Full manual controls with many accessories
  • Useful jog dial (some competition still don't have this)
  • Excellent flash range with good flash control (especially with closeups)
  • Great high ISO performance (Even ISO 1000 shots are acceptable)
  • Unlimited VGA 30 FPS movie mode
  • Good image quality

What's not:

  • LCD is small; visibility and resolution not excellent
  • No wide-angle conversion lens?
  • Slow and limited continuous shooting
  • Overall performance could be faster and better
  • Movie mode is basic and too bare: no zoom, focus when recording

Recommended Accessories

~512 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card

Other Cameras

Here are some other cameras you might want to consider:

Canon PowerShot S3 IS - Comes with 6 megapixels, 12x optical zoom, image stabilization, a rotating 2 inch LCD, advanced movie mode, faster performance and more or less the same features but is $100 more expensive.

Kodak EasyShare Z612 - Is this standard or what? - 6 megapixels, 12x optical zoom, image stabilization and a 2.5 inch LCD. Slow performance and no high ISOs will make you think twice though.

Olympus SP500 UZ - 6 megapixels, 10x optical zoom and a 2.5 inch LCD but no image stabilization and slow performance.

Panasonic Lumix FZ7 - Once again - 6 megapixels, 12x optical zoom, image stabilization and a 2.5 inch LCD. The FZ7 is probably the fastest of this group but does not have the advanced movie mode and high ISO performance of the Canon S3 IS

Sony Cyber-shot H5 - The Sony H2's big brother comes in at $499 with 7 megapixels, a huge 3 inch LCD with terribly high resolution and a professional-looking black body.

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