Sony DSC-H1 Cyber-shot Digital Camera: Excellent entry level SLR-style Digital camera
Excellent quality photos, great battery life, 32MB onboard memory
Learning takes time, be prepared to read the manual... a lot.
-The Bottom Line-
The bottom line has a Polaroid "Instamatic" from 1973.
Before I begin, I would like to say that until last summer my experience with digital cameras was limited to two previous cameras that were neither high quality nor high priced. I had always though that trying to learn how to effectively operate and use the more complex SLR style digital cameras would be frustrating and take some time. I was right about taking time but there was hardly any frustration with this camera. I was able to take it straight out of the box, load the batteries and immediately shoot one of the best looking photos I have ever taken in my life without even having any memory cards.
I was completely thrilled with the results of the camera's performance right out of the box but it did take me quite a while to learn how to use the more complex features of the camera. The owners manual was written reasonably well for amateurs, such as myself, to easily follow and learn the operation of the camera. I still do not use some of the special features very often but I have come to appreciate them when I do. Anything I have trouble with is usually remedied by re-reading that section of the owners manual.
The owners manual itself is rather long and written in small text, so if you have trouble reading the small type, you may want to try to find a copy online or call Sony for a copy in PDF format.
Sony DSC-H1 Cyber-shot
The camera is silver, grey and black and is very slick looking. It is a little bulky to carry but the photo quality makes it worth the task. The DSC-H1 takes two AA batteries and uses Memory Stick media as well as having 32MB of onboard memory available. The camera can be plugged into any computer using the USB cable that comes with it and transfers data pretty fast. I personally used the memory card reader on my computer since buying a High Speed Memory Stick Pro and it is quite a bit faster especially when you have over 100 photos on the Memory Stick.
Features and Specs (condensed list taken from the owners manual)
* Camera format: SLR-style (not a true SLR camera)
* Compatible USB drivers: Windows and Mac OS (others are compatible with card reader)
* Weight: 460g (16.1 oz) with batteries
* Size: 108 x 81 x 82 mm (4.2 x 3.2 x 3.2 in )
* CCD Sensor: 5.10 Megapixels
* CCD Size: 1/2.5 inches
* CCD Filter Type: RGB
* Image Resolutions: 2592x1944, 2048x1536, 1280x960 and 640x480
* Movie Resolutions: 640x480 and 160x112
* Aspect Ratio: 4:3
* Focal Length (35mm equivalent): 36 - 432 mm
* Up to 4x optical and 12x digital Zoom
* Auto Focus (3-area multi-point / center / flexible spot)
* Auto Focus Assist Light
* Auto Focus Min Illum: 0.2500
* Manual Focus Steps: 100
* Macro Focus Range: 2 0 cm (0.8 - 0.0 inches)
* Min Macro Area: 43 x 32 mm (1.7 x 1.3 in)
* Max Aperture: f/2.8
* Aperture Range Description: f/2.8 (wide) / f/3.7 (tele) - 8.0
* 0.3 inch (115.2K pixel) color LCD Optical Viewfinder with 99% accuracy
* 2.5 inch (115K pixel) color LCD Viewfinder with 99% accuracy
* ISO Settings: 64, 100, 200, 400
* ISO Rating Max: 400
* Number of White Balance Settings: 7
* White Balance Settings: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash,
* 5 internal flash modes (Auto / Forced On / Forced Off / Slow Synchro / Redeye Reduction)
* Supported Memory Types: Memory Stick and Memory Stick PRO only
* Onboard memory 32MB
* Compressed image format: JPEG
* Movie file format: MPEG VX
* Video Out
* Connectivity: USB 1.1 and 2.0
* Power: 2 AA batteries (can use alkaline or NiMN / NiMH rechargeable) or DC in
* Startup Time: 2.2 seconds
* Shutdown Time: 2.4 seconds
* Windows software: Picture Package for Sony v1.6
* Mac software: Pixela ImageMixer VCD2
In the box
* Sony DSC-H1 digital SLR camera
* Camera strap
* 2 rechargeable AA batteries
* Battery charger
* Plastic protective lens cover
* USB data cable
* Software CDs
* Owners manual
* Limited written warranty
Taking a picture
The camera is easy enough to use (for simply snapping a shot of Johnny on his bicycle on a bright sunny day) that a four year old could do it with minimal adult instruction. However, getting a good shot of a deer on the side of the road at dusk is a whole other basket of worms. The camera takes wonderful high resolution photos with vibrant color when there is plenty of light but it takes some practice to get a good image in low light.
The flash can sometimes be too bright. If you take a photo in a small dimly lit room without changing any settings, the photo will come out extremely bright. A simple editing session with Photoshop can correct this most of the time but sometimes it is just too much light for even Photoshop to correct acceptably. Learning how to use the white balance settings will go a long way to correcting the problem before you take the shot.
Remember, I am not a pro but I have had almost a year to play with this camera and I have a pretty good idea of where to place the settings according to circumstances to make the shots come out really nice. I dont usually miss a shot I am trying to get but occasionally I have to try more than once.
Unfortunately, there have been a few times where the shot was not available to be taken over and the chance is lost forever. On my sons fifth birthday, he got a bike. He had wanted one and we had already planned to get him one but we told him we couldnt afford it that year but maybe he would get one for Christmas. We surprised him at his party with his new bicycle and he was absolutely ecstatic. The face came and went while daddy fiddled with the camera. I got the shot, but it came out looking severely over exposed. Again, this was my fault for not setting the camera properly for the environment but never-the-less I had my first disappointment with my new camera.
Settings and Menu navigation
The camera has a 2.5 inch LCD display that makes taking a picture as easy as pointing at the subject and clicking the button. It also has a .03 inch optical viewfinder that I prefer sometimes to save my batteries. Both are very sharp and have great color with the same resolutions. Of course the optical viewfinder is magnified but they both have 115,000 pixels.
Around the edges of the display there are numerous icons, each with their own meaning. There is one for the battery, one for the memory, one for the flash and one for the white balance setting. The basic settings (time/date, format memory, AF mode, zoom settings and such) can be changed by clicking the menu button and choosing the option you are looking for. It is fairly simple and self explanatory; however, knowing what these settings do is just as important as knowing how to change them. I can not tell you what they do, but I have learned the effect they have on my photos so I know basically where to set it for the circumstances I am shooting in. If you are like me, you will have to play with these settings and figure it out for yourself.
If you change the settings and get undesirable results, simply change it back and try something else. Reading the manual a few times will help a lot. If you change too many settings and get confused, you can always use the reset to factory settings option in the menu. This will reset the camera to the default factory settings without loosing any photos in the internal memory or on the memory card. Learning the menu and the settings took me along time to figure out and I am still learning.
Zooming and auto focus
The optical zoom is fantastic, giving you very nice close ups from up to 20 feet away. The digital zoom is equally amazing, much better than the zoom on my camcorder. The digital zoom can span up to 12 times and doesnt give that pixilated image like a camcorder does. The images can get out of focus but you can use the auto focus to correct the focus before you snap the shot. Using the auto focus, you press the snap button lightly once and the camera will focus in on the subject (how it does this I havent a clue, but it works wonderfully), press it again and the camera takes the shot.
I have taken photos of my Boston terrier from 30 yards away but the photo looks like I was right next to her and as sharp and clear as if I had been.
The end result of my time and patience is absolutely beautiful pictures. I have taken over 3,000 photos with this camera and most of them have come out just amazingly beautiful. Even pictures I have taken of objects in motion have come out very well. Most of the pictures that didnt come out so well were ones I took at night outdoors or in a small room with the flash. I have almost mastered the small room thing but I still have trouble in really dark situations some times. I know the camera can take a decent photo in a dark place because I have done it many times, but I dont always get the same result with the same settings. There is still a lot I have to learn but even so, this camera takes better dark photos than any previous digital camera I have owned.
Even at the lowest resolution (640x480) the photos are crisp and clear (plenty good enough for email or web posting). The high resolution photos (2592x1944) make excellent 8.5 x 11 inch full page portraits. I have a printer capable of borderless printing and the portraits that come out are excellent even though the prints are a lower resolution than the photos on the computer.
The battery life is very good. Using the 2.5 inch LCD I usually get between about 175-225 photos before the rechargeable batteries die, depending on the situation. Using the .03 inch optical viewfinder I can get over 300 photos out of my batteries. I always turn off the camera after a shot, unless I plan to take several more immediately. I never leave the camera on for more than a few seconds at a time and the batteries just keep on working. I did manage to drain them completely at my nephews birthday party (all the family from both sides were there), but not before shooting 209 photos with the 2.5 inch LCD on. I also had to leave the camera on for an extended period of time to catch those special little 1-year-old bright eyes opening his presents (and mauling the packages too).
For what an amateurs opinion is worth, I love this camera. It does everything I need a camera to do and does it extremely well. The only reason I didnt give it five stars is because of the learning curve, but it is worth it. For the price I paid, I dont believe I could have got a better camera than this one, or at least not so much better that I would notice any difference.
Thanks for reading,