I purchased this camera to replace my Panasonic Lumix TZ4 as I needed better video footage, while having the capability to get great photos from a pocketable digital camera. Natural instinct was to go for the Lumix TZ7/ZS3 which now had 720p video recording in addition to wide angle quality photo capability.
However most of the reviews though raving about the Lumix also indicated it still had its old weakness in grainy indoor/low light photos, poor auto focusing in telephoto and videos. After going through several point and shoot cameras over the last 10 years, I also wanted some level of manual controls to experience proper photography at a basic level. I was tempted to get the equally well rated Canon SX200 but the fact that the canon does not support optical zoom in video mode eliminated it.
I came across the Sony DSC-H20 when searching for superzooms, but it strangely unlike most other models it seems to have very little reviews. A major reason being that it was considered only a minor upgrade of the older H10 (Cameralabs just published their review, and i am happy to see that it catches a lot I noted as a owner of the model. However would be great if you can do your normal blow ups of the samples and comment a bit which strangely is missing on the H20 and SX120 reviews).
However if you compare feature to feature the H20 matches the market leading ZS3, and out does the ZS3 in that it has a more powerful flash and manual controls! The main weakness being its rather limited wide angle (After using the TZ4 that had a good 28mm wide angle, surprising after months of use I am finding that the lack of the wide angel is not that great a limitations as harped by most reviewers, maybe it’s just me compensating by stepping back).
The camera comes with all the goodies on the software side to give you a better chance of capturing the moment, Smile detection for one, and yes it does work remarkably well!! The blink detection feature is also useful as it warns you that you might have missed the shot you wanted. However the dual shot feature is very questionable as the second photo taken seems to be with a very high ISO which is very noisy that it makes it useless. The iAuto mode works well, and in most cases picked up the right conditions for the photograph. Strangely the camera lacks a panorama mode which would have been a useful feature to supplement its lack of a wide angle.
Been using the camera for a few months, and I have found that the picture quality is very good both indoors and outdoors. My wife who constantly complained that the indoor photos from the Lumix was a tad dark had a smirky smile when she saw the photos from the Sony, as it clearly showed that pictures from the Lumix though great was definitely not as good as what the Sony H20 produced. However in iAuto mode the photos can be over-exposed due to the flash intensity (strangely Sony does not allow the flash intensity to be reduced in this mode, but has the setting for Program mode!).
However the biggest change was in the video over the TZ4. The reviews I read indicated that the video recordings from this camera were among the best and matched the ZS3 in quality, but remarkably it also did not suffer the auto focus issues the Lumix had. Video footage can be recorded in HIGH or STD 720p HD video (1280x720, 30fps) with a 16:9 factor, or you can have 4:3 factor VGA (640x480, 30fps). The next improvement was the very good audio recording with video, a major paint point with the TZ4 (Though the recording is mono, it picks up noises very well, and for some weird reason VLC player says the audio is stereo). The camera also has the options to allow you change the white balance and exposure, though improvements to videos in low light conditions by these settings are not very evident.
One very good feature of this camera is the macro photos, which are excellent. The spec says its 1cm, and it works very well for most macro shots.
Summary of experience
The good points
• Indoor photos are good thanks aided by a very powerful flash
• Auto focusing is relatively quick, and though it slows down in low light it still a lot quicker than the TZ4
• Telephoto focusing is very good, and works well even in handheld mode
• The image stabilization feature (Steady shot) is well implemented and works superbly for pictures and video. It allows you to take handheld photos even at shutter speeds of 1/15.
• Precision zoom helps to boost optical zoom to 57X (VGA), 19X (2MP), 17X (3MP). This feature is similar to the Panasonic EZ zoom in implementation. Avoid the smart zoom feature which seems to purely a digital zoom. However the very good autofocus implementation means that even handheld you can take decent photos using this mode.
• Macro photos taken in auto mode is very good, and manual mode is superb (blurs the background nicely). The fact that the camera can go close as 1cm to the subject means you can get some great macro shots of insects, etc.
• Manual Controls help get some creativity into your photos and take good shots in tough conditions. You have full control of the shutter speed, ISO, and though you can change the aperture this is limited to two settings (f/3.5 and f/8.0-9.0)
• HD video is great outdoors with super auto-focusing. Video in low light conditions are definitely quite viewable, though lack of a bulb for illumination means videos tend to be a bit dark. The audio quality of the recording is very good, and picks even low sounds. The optical drive mechanism though noticeable in very quiet conditions, is not intrusive in most normal home video cases.
• The size of the camera makes it very portable, though it’s not as slim as the normal point and shoots. However it fits a jeans pocket or a ladies small handbag with no trouble.
• Though the external is not metal, the quality of the plastics are very good and sturdy does justice for the made in Japan statement.
• Battery life is pretty good, and you can easily get over 200-250 shots with a single charge.
• While it lacks the wide angle, it definitely has one of the longest reaches for the 10X optical zoom lenses in the market (360mm equivalent telephoto)
• Removable lens cover a bit of a nuisance compared to the automated cover in the TZ4. But for many the cover gives the camera a professional feel it seems.
• Lag when pressing the shutter to taking the photo limits its ability to take rapid moving objects. However setting this burst mode reduces this problem somewhat.
• 38mm wide angle can be a worry if you have to take photos in constrained areas or you want to take photos of large group photographs.
• Recharge time for the flash is unusually long for camera with a proprietary battery.
• Lack of a panorama mode in the pre-programmed scene modes
You can find some sample photos that i have started to upload at "http://rayazsden.blogspot.com/". Very much an amateur in the photography field, so comments are most welcome to help me improve.