DPInterface Sony Cyber-shot H5 Review
Brad Soo - May 27th, 2006

The Cyber-shot H5 is Sony's more professional ultra-zoom compared to the H2 and is the real replacement for the H1. The Sony Cyber-shot H5 features 7 megapixels, a big 12x zoom lens, full manual controls, a giant 3 inch LCD and high ISO sensitivity up to 1000. Best of all, the H5 currently retails at under $400. Could the Sony Cyber-shot H5 be an alternative to cheap digital SLRs with a bag full of heavy clumsy lenses? Find out now!

Sony H-series comparison

This review also includes a comparison chart for all the Sony H-series:

 

Sony H1

Sony H2

Sony H5

Original retail/ current price*

$499/$299

$399/$360

$499/$380

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 May 27th, 2006

Size and Weight

Look at how compact the H5 is:

(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
(350.0)  128.0 x 93.0 x 129.0 mm (755 g) - Fujifilm FinePix S9000
(189.7)  111.0 x 55.5 x 23.2 mm (160 g) - Kodak EasyShare V610
(247.0)  104.0 x 74.0 x 69.0 mm (300 g) - Kodak EasyShare Z612
(217.0)  111.5 x 68.5 x 37.0 mm (205 g) - Nikon Coolpix S4
(251.0)  105.5 x 74.5 x 71.0 mm (285 g) - Olympus SP500 UZ
(364.4)  140.8 x 85.5 x 138.1 mm (674 g) - Panasonic Lumix FZ30
(263.7)  112.5 x 72.2 x 79.0 mm (310 g) - Panasonic Lumix FZ7
(210.3)  112.0 x 58.1 x 40.2 mm (264 g) - Panasonic Lumix TZ1
(301.1)  135.5 x 87.0 x 78.6 mm (871 g) - Samsung Pro815
(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 H5 is a fairly large camera which feels just right in your hands. The H5 is certainly not pocketable and so are the other ultra-zoom cameras with manual controls.

Open up the Box

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 features the same stuff as the H1 and H2:

  • 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 H5 uses the physically smaller Memory Stick PRO Duo format of cards. This is an issue for upgrading H1 owners. The Sony H5 has a tiny 32 MB of internal memory. So, do get a 512 MB or more Memory Stick PRO Duo. The price Memory Stick PRO Duos are about the same as Secure Digital cards nowadays.

550 shots - Canon PowerShot S3 IS
300 shots - Fujifilm FinePix S5600
340 shots - Fujifilm FinePix S9000
135 shots - Kodak EasyShare V610
260 shots - Kodak EasyShare Z612
290 shots - Nikon Coolpix S4
N/A - Olympus SP500 UZ
280 shots - Panasonic Lumix FZ30
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FZ7
250 shots - Panasonic Lumix TZ1
450 shots - Samsung Pro815
400 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H2
340 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H5

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 has an average battery life of 340 shots (CIPA Standard). Some cameras do much better but they either use more/lithium-ion batteries and/or don't have a huge 3 inch LCD like the one over here. Sony bundles a set of rechargeable AA NiMH batteries and a charger but you'd probably want to get a spare set and a 15 minute fast charger.

 

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 H5 is available in silver or black. Black looks better though.

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 looks and feels like a professional camera - and of course, it is. The H5's lens is the same 36 - 432 mm, f2.8 - f3.7 Carl Zeiss lens found on the H2.

The powerful automatic popup flash above the lens has a maximum range of 9 m at wide-angle and 7 m at telephoto, both at ISO auto. At ISO 1000, you can almost double that range to a whooping 16 m!

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.

On the left, there's a nice large grip for holding the camera steady. There's a jog dial there as well to change certain settings.

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 has a large 3 inch LCD which has 230,000 pixels. Indoor and outdoor visibility were both fairly good, but not excellent. The EVF above the LCD has equally good visibility though it packs just 201,000 pixels. The reason you'd be using the EVF is when you can't see the LCD outdoors or you want to steady your hold on the camera.

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 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 H5 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 toggle 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 H5 has only a few scene modes as you'd probably be using the manual controls anyway. Something I dislike about the manual exposure is the fastest shutter speed (1/2000 sec) is not selectable in shutter priority and manual mode. And that speed isn't nearly as fast as competition (Maybe 1/4000 sec will cut it). Next up is the smallest aperture available is only f8.0 - I'd surely appreciate f11 or f16.

Nearby the mode dial is the power button followed by an image stabilization selection button. Beside the zoom controller are buttons to enter playback and swap between the LCD/EVF.

I don't quite like the manual focus enlargement as it will fill up the entire LCD, not a tiny portion in the center. Anyway, you can manually focus from 2 cm till infinity.

On one side of the H5, there's just the A/V out and USB 2.0 High-speed ports. At the bottom of the Sony Cyber-shot H5, 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. The tripod mount is not inline with the lens - something landscape photographers will not quite appreciate.

Shooting

 

You can select one of the Sony Cyber-shot H5's many image sizes which include 7 megapixels (with a 3:2 option), 5 megapixels, 3 megapixels, 2 megapixels (with a 16:9 widescreen option) 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 H5 as well:

  • Color mode (Normal, vivid, natural, sepia, monochrome)
  • Metering method (Multi, center, spot)
  • 5 white balance presets (with custom option); auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent, flash, manual
  • ISO (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1000)
  • Bracketing ( exposure 0.3, 0.7 or 1.0)
  • Flash intensity (2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Auto focus (Multi, center, flexible, manual focus)
  • Contrast, saturation and sharpness
  • Optical image stabilization (Shooting, continuous)

The Sony H5 can go as close as 2 cm in macro mode. There's a live histogram when shooting. 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). The Smart Zoom option lets you zoom up to 57x with no loss of quality, but only at VGA resolution.

Recording

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 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. You can optically zoom in and out slowly as well.

Although the H5 doesn't have a movie mode as advanced as the Canon S3 IS, the video and audio quality are still quite good.

Performance

The Sony Cyber-shot H5 starts up and extends its lens in a below average 2 seconds. Focusing takes around 1 second and shot-to-shot speed was 1 shot every 1.6 seconds. Flash recharge time using fully charged batteries was 6 seconds.

In continuous shooting, the H5 took 6 photos at 1.2 FPS which is both slow and limited. The camera is useable during this time though. The lens takes 2 seconds to reach telephoto and powers down in 3 seconds.

Image Quality

Using my test chart, here's how the Sony Cyber-shot H5 fares in image quality:


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


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/10 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/20 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/40 sec)


ISO 800 (f2.8, 1/60 sec)


ISO 1000 (f4.0, 1/60 sec)

The ISO 80 and ISO 100 shots have almost no noise. At ISO 200 and ISO 400, noise levels are slightly higher but are not irritating or unusable. At ISO 800 and ISO 1000, you might want to turn saturation up (or maybe Sony should have programmed the camera to do that) because the low noise comes at the cost of less vivid colors.

Barrel distortion is slightly noticeable while pincushion distortion is not. Colors look as they should except the two purples and blues. There was no red-eye in my test photos. Chromatic aberration (color fringing) was visible. So the Sony Cyber-shot H5 produces some very decent photos at ISOs below 800.

Photo gallery

Lots more photos in the Sony Cyber-shot H5 photo gallery.

Playback

In playback, the Sony Cyber-shot H5 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

Sony's high-end ultra-zoom, the H5 does a pretty good job as an ultra-zoom with 7 megapixels, full manual controls and a 3 inch LCD. The camera is nicely built and looks professional - heck, some people even asked me if it was Sony's new digital SLR!

The Sony H5 features a big 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. And you can see what you're framing using the nice and large 3 inch LCD! Unfortunately, the LCD visibility is not as good as competition.

While it has full manual controls, compatible with many accessories and a useful jog dial, this is probably not a camera for sports or action shooting. There's always ISO 1000 but startup is below average (for an ultra-zoom), continuous shooting is slow and limited plus the shutter speed is selectable only up to 1/1000 sec. For real action, or even no flash shooting, Sony should've boosted the maximum ISO to 1600 and fastest shutter speed (which is selectable) to 1/4000 sec.

In terms of performance, the H5 did better than the Canon S3 IS and Kodak Z612 but lagged slightly behind Panasonic's cameras. As for recording, the movie mode is good with optical zoom being usable but is not recorded in MPEG4 (Kodak Z612) or recorded with stereo sound (Canon and Kodak). Feature comparisons aside, the Sony H5 is still affordable - coming in at $100 below things like the Canon S3.

Overall image quality was good and impressed me much and I'd be more than happy to recommend this camera to anyone who wants a big zoom camera with manual controls. Despite that, the Sony H5 does not have the ultimate control or super speed which may put off sports photographers or speed fanatics (like me). Oh yes, one more thing - is the H5 a better deal than the H2? It definitely is.

What's hot:

  • Carl Zeiss 12x zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • Excellent exterior: Professional look, solid build, fits comfortably in hand
  • Good battery life
  • Large high-resolution 3 inch LCD
  • Full manual controls with many accessories
  • Useful jog dial (some competition still don't have this)
  • Excellent flash range
  • Great high ISO performance (Even ISO 1000 shots are acceptable)
  • Unlimited VGA 30 FPS movie mode with optical zoom
  • Very good image quality

What's not:

  • LCD visibility not as good as competition
  • Slow and limited continuous shooting
  • Manual shutter speed limited to 1/1000 sec, aperture limited to f8
  • Overall performance could be faster and better
  • ISO 800 and 1000 need saturation to be turned up
  • Contrasty scenes might need f5.6 or higher to reduce color fringing

Recommended Accessories

  • 512 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card
  • A set of 4 rechargeable AA NiMH batteries with a fast 15 minute charger

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

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