Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1
At a Glance
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 Bridge Camera
This bulky model features a 12X optical zoom with optical image stabilization, but overall image quality was mediocre.
Sony's $500 Cyber-shot DSC-H1 packs a powerful 12X optical zoom lens and an impressive 2.5-inch LCD into a chunky but intelligently designed package. Its built-in image stabilization helps produce sharp pictures, especially in low-light conditions or when you're taking telephoto shots. In bright light or when you're shooting action, you can switch to the DSC-H1's eye-level viewfinder. Because it's electronic, it delivers more-accurate framing then you'd get though an optical viewfinder, but it seems smaller than similar viewfinders we've seen on other cameras, which makes it somewhat unpleasant to use.
The large, comfortably formed, rubberized right-hand grip makes the DSC-H1 easy to use single-handed. A long, two-piece lens hood screws onto the lens, but you have to be careful when using it with the built-in flash--the hood casts a shadow in your photo on wide-angle shots. Sony positioned the H1's numerous controls so that you can reach them easily with your right hand. Unfortunately, I found the small rocker switch for zooming difficult to operate precisely.
A large, smoothly operating dial on top of the grip lets you select the shooting mode; choices include seven scene modes optimized for portraits, sports, candlelit dinners, or other subjects. You can also specify shutter-priority, aperture-priority, or full-manual mode. A small dial in front of the shutter release lets you adjust the shutter speed and aperture size while using these manual modes. The camera's menus don't offer any help text or illustrations, but they're intuitive enough to navigate.
The DSC-H1's showing in our PC World Test Center lab tests was mediocre, as reflected in an overall rating of just Fair for image quality. Our flash portrait shot showed bright colors but was a bit overexposed. The still-life test shot (taken under daylight-balanced flood lights) was underexposed and had a slight greenish tint. Sharpness was about average for a 5.1-megapixel camera. In my informal testing, I was pleased with the shots I took at a major league baseball game. At maximum zoom, I was able to get incredible detail from way up in the grandstand. The players' bright white uniforms were correctly exposed and the colors of the grass and dirt looked natural. However, I did notice some colored fringes along the most contrasting edges.
There's no Memory Stick bundled in the box with the DSC-H1, but you can store up to 12 shots at the camera's highest resolution in its 32MB of built-in memory. In our battery tests, we took 306 shots between charges--an impressive total for a camera that relies on two AA batteries. The unit comes with AA nickel metal hydride cells and a separate battery charger that (surprisingly) can charge AAA batteries, too. Typically, AA batteries don't last as long on a charge as rechargeable lithium ion cells, but they're much easier to find in an emergency. If the 12X optical zoom isn't enough for you, you can buy a $150 telephoto converter from Sony that will pump up the magnification to beyond 20X.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 is worth considering for sports or nature photography, where its long image-stabilized zoom lens can come into its own.