With 720p HD video recording, is the Sony Cyber-shot H20 a step ahead of the superzoom pack? The What Digital Camera Sony H20 review tests it out...
Performance, Image Quality & Value
Sony Cyber-shot H20 – Performance
As with any superzoom camera, keeping shots steady at 10x optical zoom – here 380mm – is no mean feat. That’s more an issue with the ability to handhold, so nothing against the camera itself. The Cyber-shot H20 does, on the plus size, offer Sony’s effective Super SteadyShot to provide some alleviation to camera shake. However, with unsteady hands the camera may find it difficult to focus on the correct point when the lens is fully extended – a common issue with superzooms. What may appear fine on screen will tend to reveal softness or mis-focus, but given the limitations for focus control with a compact camera, it’s relatively unavoidable.
It’s also worth noting that Sony continues to promote its own Memory Stick format – which, unlike the more universal SD card type, can only be read in Sony products from cameras to TVs and so forth. Not a problem if you’re starting out with the Sony H20 as a first purchase, but if you already have an SD card then the additional expense of a Memory Stick adds to the bank.
The H20’s battery life depletes somewhat rapidly too. The alledged 290 shots per charge seems overwhelmingly optimistic, as day to day use drained the battery to juiceless much faster. Once the battery is recharged and replaced the camera’s settings return to default also – meaning that annoying shutter sound will turn itself back on, even if your initial preference was for it to be silent.
Additionally, and particularly in poor light, the Sony H20 has a rather noisy screen pre-shot; once the image is taken it will look considerably better, but the irritation of poor screen quality prior to firing the shutter is considerable. Video and stills playback, even a slideshow function, is decently crisp on all counts however, so successful playback is always a joy.
The Sony H20 also includes a manual mode, though the limitations to apertures mean you’ll only get two available to select whatever the zoom range. This isn’t surprising given the compact format, but as with most compacts with an option such as this does create a barrier of limitation.
In general use the H20 is a solid performer. The lens barrel slides in and out with grace at a sustained speed, the flash provides some oomph, and the macro mode works very closely to subject indeed. A little practice with what’s where in the menus and the Sony H20 will soon become your friend, despite its apparent shortcomings.
Sony Cyber-shot H20 – Image Quality
In terms of ISO, the Sony Cyber-shot H20 offers from ISO 80 all the way through to ISO 3200. At the upper end of the scale the results are fairly poor: ISO 3200 dilutes detail significantly and image noise is considerable. At the other extreme, and positively, ISO 80-200 provides very smooth and clean, rich-coloured visuals. The mid-range sensitivities of ISO 400-800 are reasonable, though not strikingly so – image noise becomes gradually more prominent, but signs of image deterioration do begin to creep in from ISO 400. Exposures tend to be good, with the metering working to produce well-balanced images.
Sony Cyber-shot H20 – Value For Money
Most superzooms set you back a lot of money. Add that to the notoriously ‘premium-priced’ Sony brand and the Cybershot H20 ought to come at cost. But actually, it’s really well priced to provide a competitive edge. At around the £220 price point, a bit of internet browsing ought to see prices just shy of the £200 mark. Considering the original asking price is a penny less than £260, that’s not bad going at all. Consider, if you will, the expense of some other superzooms on the market and this puts the Sony in a strong position.
However, there’s a bit of a catch. Many other superzooms have two points to plump them above and beyond the Sony’s spec. Firstly they have wider angle lenses. The H20 provides 38mm at the widest, which is no match for some of its 25mm competitors. Secondly many other superzooms have a longer zoom range, perhaps 12x, 14x or more optical zoom. Admittedly, the latter coupled with a wider lens will likely only reach the same full focal length of the Sony H20’s 380mm offering.