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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 Gordon Laing, May 2007
 
 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 certainly has a great deal going for it, but equally a number of aspects which really let it down. On the upside the 15x lens offers a great range bettered only by the Olympus SP-550UZ and the stabilisation really works. The H9 is additionally one of the quickest focusers in its class, so at last we have a non-DSLR which can genuinely take a stab at action or wildlife shots.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 flip out screen

The big 3in screen is also gorgeous to work with and it’s a real treat to be able to flip it out for high or low angle photography, not to mention luxuriate over images in playback. And finally while the NightShot and musical slideshows are novelties, they’re fun ones none-the-less.

 
 

Heading the worryingly long list of downsides though is image quality. Set the H9 at 80 or 100 ISO and you can take some great-looking photos, but at 200 ISO and above, smearing from noise reduction really begins to take its toll. We’ve seen watercolour effects on all Super-zooms, and the H9 is sadly no exception.

What’s really upsetting though – and quite inexplicable – is the lack of options Sony gives you to do anything about it. There’s no noise reduction settings nor any option to record in RAW, and to make matters worse, the fixed JPEG compression ratio is arguably too high. Why they don’t let you adjust it on what’s surely an enthusiast’s camera is beyond us.

The lens also suffers from coloured fringing throughout its optical range even when the aperture’s closed. The battery lifespan ain’t great either, but we’re willing to forgive Sony on that one considering the stabilisation, big screen and small, light body.

So as always there’s pros and cons but before wrapping-up, it’s time to compare the H9 against its closest rivals.



Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8

 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8
 

The Panasonic Lumix FZ8 is an interesting camera to compare against the Sony H9 because despite costing almost half the price, its feature-set is remarkably close – and in some respects actually superior. You get a 12x optically-stabilised zoom, 7.2 Megapixel resolution, widescreen movies and the ability to adjust both the compression – and amazingly for the money – capture RAW images.

On the downside, the FZ8 doesn’t zoom quite as wide or close as the H9, it doesn’t focus as fast, and its screen, while very sharp, is a fixed 2.5in model. But while it too has noise reduction issues, we keep coming back to the feature set and the price. The FZ8 simply represents superb value and should be seriously considered by anyone in the market for a super-zoom. For more details, see our Panasonic Lumix FZ8 review.


Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50

 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
 

Price-wise, the Panasonic model closest to the Sony H9 is Lumix DMC-FZ50. This is Panasonic’s flagship super-zoom and has several key benefits over the Sony. Most notably the 12x stabilised lens never extends and the zoom control is a tactile manual ring like a DSLR. The build quality is also superior, it’s the only camera on this page to feature a proper flash hotshoe, and it additionally boasts 10 Megapixel resolution using a physically larger sensor, along with RAW and widescreen video recording capabilities.

In Sony’s favour though, the FZ50 doesn’t zoom quite as wide or close, focus as quickly, and while its screen does flip out and twist, it measures only 2in – it’s literally dwarfed by the H9’s display. The FZ50 also suffers from noise reduction smearing at 200 ISO and above, but we’d still recommend it over the H9 for enthusiasts who want to tweak image processing options, use external flash guns and ultimately record slightly higher resolution images. For more details, see our Panasonic Lumix FZ50 review.



Compared to Olympus SP-550UZ

 
 
 

Also costing roughly the same as the Sony H9 is the Olympus SP-550UZ. The Olympus boasts the world’s biggest optical zoom range – a whopping 18x covering everything from 28mm wide angle to massive 504mm telephoto. In practice it may only be slightly wider and longer than the Sony, but it makes a difference, especially at the wide end. We personally preferred the look and feel of the SP-550UZ and like the Panasonic models, it also lets you adjust the compression and record RAW images.

On the downside images from the SP-550UZ can be soft particularly when zoomed-in and there’s visible coloured fringing, again especially at the maximum focal length. The screen, while good quality, is also smaller than the H9’s and fixed in its position. And like all the cameras here, image quality seriously deteriorates above 200 ISO. For more details, see our Olympus SP-550UZ review.


Final verdict

There’s no doubt the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 is a very impressive camera, but like the other super-zooms we’ve compared it against, you’ll need to carefully weigh-up the pros and cons. If you’re after a super-zoom with the biggest, most flexible screen and fastest focusing, then the Sony’s for you. Flipping the screen out to shoot at unusual angles, grabbing fast action, then enjoying it on the big screen afterwards is certainly very seductive. It's also nice that Sony's included an infra red remote control and lens hood - albeit a hefty one - as standard accessories.

Like other super-zooms though, smearing through noise reduction is a serious problem with the H9, but probably its biggest failing is not giving you a chance to do anything about it. Maybe Sony’s engineers realised there actually isn’t anything you can do about it, but it’s fair to say many of us would have liked a fighting chance. RAW recording would have been ideal, but to not have either noise reduction or compression settings on a camera of its class are serious omissions.

Click here for the Sony H9 video tour

However much we enjoyed using the H9 and were delighted by its screen and focusing speed, its often compromised image quality and inability to do anything about it prevent us from awarding our highest recommendation. There are however enough great things about the H9 though for us to confidently award it our Recommended rating. It ain’t perfect, but if the plus points are high on your shopping list, you’ll easily forgive the rest.

For an overview of the headline features, see our video tour demonstrating the H9's coverage, image stabilisation, nightshot capability, flip-out screen and menus.






Good points

15x optical zoom with stabilisation.
Large and adjustable 3in screen.
Very quick focusing for a non DSLR.
Closest focusing distance of just 1cm.

Bad points
Noise becomes a problem above 200 ISO.
Coloured fringing visible throughout range.
Relatively poor battery life.
No RAW, compression or NR options.






Scores

(relative to 2007 superzooms)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
15 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20

85%
 
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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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