The comprehensive specification list makes this a superzoom worth looking at
Superzoom cameras are an attractive choice for those looking for a smaller, cheaper option than a DSLR, and in many cases they offer a decent alternative.
There’s been a flood of them recently with most of the major manufacturers releasing new models. With so much competition, though, each new superzoom needs to offer something unique, and while they all share many commonalities, they also boast their own unique special features to satisfy a particular niche.
Sony’s contribution to this test offers high-speed shooting, combining a fast 1/4000sec shutter speed and a continuous burst of up to 100 shots. With a 9MP sensor, the camera includes a Carl Zeiss 31-465mm f/2.7-4.5 Vario-Tessar lens (35mm equivalent) and, like the other models, has a set of complementary and unique features. The most obvious is the 3in tilting LCD screen which allows the camera to be used overhead or at waist level.
The nine-point autofocus system boasts single and continuous focus modes and also includes Face and Smile Detection. There’s a full set of shooting modes, including Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority AE and Program AE, as well as an ‘Easy’ mode and a set of Scene modes. Like some other Sony bridge cameras, there’s a Night Shot mode that takes black and white pictures in pitch black conditions, while for colour work the camera’s top ISO of 3200 lets you shoot in low light or with fast shutter speeds in brighter light. This is supplemented with Super Steady Shot optical image stabilisation to counteract the effects of camera shake.
Metering is conducted through a 49-zone multi-area system along with centreweighted and spot options. As with the Nikon P80 and Olympus SP-570, the H50 has a way of saving shadows using the Dynamic Range Optimise (D-RO) function, which is also found in Sony’s Alpha DSLR range. This version has two settings: Standard for shadow retention and D-RO Plus for both highlight and shadow retention.
The H50 records in JPEG only and uses Sony’s Memory Stick Duo media, but comes with a remote control that allows remote shooting and playback options via the AV socket.
The large screen dominates the back of the H50 and sits away from the back thanks to the tilting hinge. This results in little space for other controls and can also lead to accidental thumb presses on the zoom control. The H50’s deep grip is comfortable, however, and when held normally the camera sits nicely and securely in the left hand.
When it comes to using the manual and AE modes, we had to resort to using the camera’s manual to work out how to change shutter, aperture and ISO. You have to press the central OK button in the middle of the control pad and use the surrounding scroll wheel to move a yellow arrow on the screen to the desired setting (i.e. the ISO, shutter, aperture, EV compensation or AF point) before pressing the OK button again to adjust that setting, again using the scroll wheel. Put simply, the H50 has four steps just to change the aperture, which seems unnecessarily long-winded.
It’s not all bad, though, and the camera redeems itself slightly in other ways. There’s a quick button to operate the drive mode and another for changing the metering mode, plus a switch for quickly changing to Night Shooting.
The Sony H50 produces decent results after you’ve set it up. Colours and exposures are generally pretty good and the Dynamic Range Optimiser makes a very good job of evening out the contrast in more extreme conditions. The sharpening can sometimes be a little over the top, however, with some halo effects occasionally appearing. There’s also some slight but noticeable fringing when images are viewed at 100%, especially at the edges of the image. Central sharpness, however, is good and images look crisp and respectable at normal viewing size.
Noise is okay at the lower ISO settings, but by ISO 200, images look a little gritty, while by ISO 800 noise is more noticeable but still acceptable. ISO 1600 and 3200 have more noticeable image noise. Overall, images look a little over- processed and have a more ‘digital’ look when compared to some other superzooms.
Images are a bit hit-and-miss, and the camera's operation can be fiddly, but the comprehensive spec list and augmentable LCD screen make the H50 worth looking at.