A 15x optical zoom and 3in tilting LCD screen debut in Sony's flagship Cyber-shot model
The idea of having the shooting control of a DSLR, combined with a 15x optical zoom and 3in tilting LCD in a smaller and lighter body is an appealing one.
The H9 contains a lot of features that could easily be mistaken for attempts to provide attention-seeking headlines for press releases. In reality though, they are effective and genuinely useful. The 15x optical zoom, for example, provides a 31-465mm equivalent range and is accompanied by Sony’s Super SteadyShot technology and a maximum ISO of 3200. Then there’s the 3in tilting LCD screen that pulls away from the body, making it viewable through a 180° horizontal range – perfect for framing low-angle or high-angle shots with minimum effort. The camera also contains many other core features that are present in most of its competitors, such as a high-quality 8MP 1/2.5in Super HAD CCD sensor, as well as Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes, affirming the fact that the appeal of the H9 extends beyond marketing gimmicks.
But it’s not all roses with the H9’s feature set. It is lacking the ability to shoot in a Raw mode – something which some other cameras in its price bracket possess – and the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is small and sluggish, though the ample LCD does render a viewfinder almost redundant.
While you might not be able to fit it into your pocket, the camera’s 407g bulk will be barely noticeable in your bag in comparison to an equivalent DSLR and lens combination. Its chassis is very pleasing both to the eye and in use and, whereas with a compact camera you might be wary of waving it around owing to an unstable grip, the Sony H9 allows you to frame images with complete confidence thanks to its substantial handgrip and ergonomic finger indent.
This handgrip is particularly useful when making the most of the fantastic tilting LCD screen, the size and design of which open up a whole new range of easily captured angles, which were previously only achievable by laying down on your stomach or standing on a step ladder!
It would have been nice if the LCD also had the ability to pivot vertically, so you could capture portrait images at difficult angles (as is the case with the Sony R1 for example), but you can’t have it all.
The top-mounted mode dial is simple to use, as are the rest of the operation buttons, but the real eye-catcher is the wheel-dial at the rear of the camera, which is operated much in the manner of an iPod, allowing you to quickly scroll through images and settings.
At just over two seconds, the start-up time for the H9 does leave a little to be desired and this can prove to be a bit annoying if you want to conserve battery life by switching the camera off between shots. The time between shots, though, is fantastic with hardly any delay at all. The Burst mode cuts the delay even further, with a capacity to shoot up to 100 shots at the rate of two frames per second – should you want or need to.
Sony has also incorporated the feature appearing in many of their portable digital gadgets – namely the ‘Home’ button – as a means of reaching all the major settings. This means that the menu system can take a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve become accustomed to this and the wheel-dial, the camera is definitely a pleasure to operate, with the top-mounted Mode dial and continuous shooting button merely adding to the experience.
On the whole, if you are viewing the images primarily on your computer, or printing them up to 7x5in, any flaws will not affect the overall impressive images. However, as print sizes creep up, so does the visibility of an array of flaws. Fringing is regular, and obvious at the edges of the frame. Areas of high contrast develop green and red fringing and highlights are regularly accompanied by a pale white ‘bleeding’ effect. Sharpness falls off noticeably toward the edge of the frame too, with finer details merging into a blob of colour. None of this is helped by an automatic white-balance system that produces varied results. Noise is not an issue at lower ISOs, but at ISO 400 and above, detail falls off and by ISO 1600 noise and noise reduction result in a far from pleasing watercolour-painting effect.
Value For Money
At its recommended price of £379 the Sony Cyber-shot H9 is rather pricey, but no more so than its current competitors. If you were to compare the features it crams in – such as the tilting LCD monitor – with those of an entry-level DSLR and also bundle in an equivalent lens, you would realise just how much you’re getting for your money with the H9.
With the prices of DSLRs dropping lower and lower, it was hard to see the gap where a camera like the H9 would fit in. However, with its excellent tilting 3in LCD screen, 31-465mm equivalent zoom range and compact size, we can see the benefits of taking photography down this route. It is a bit of a case of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ though, in so far as the task of fitting a lens of this size into a small body is often ill-founded and beset by trouble with image quality. But the H9 serves a purpose and will no doubt satisfy the needs of its target market.