The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 is compact super-zoom with a 14 megapixel sensor, 10x optical range and 3 inch LCD screen. Released in February 2010, it shares the same body, lens and screen as the higher-specified HX5, but lacks many of that model’s advanced features. The H55 has a different sensor, so lacks the HX5’s fast continuous shooting and low-light modes. Other ommisions are the HX5’s 1080i HD video mode and its GPS capability.
But the H55 is a very capable compact in it’s own right, with Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, 720p HD video and the consumer-friendly friendly features we expect to see on Sony compacts like scene recognition, advanced face detection and smile shutter. It also offers ful manual control and a very straighforward Sweep panorama mode that produces stunning results. Let’s see how it compares against rival models.
Compared to Nikon COOLPIX S8000
Physically, the Nikon COOLPIX S8000 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 have a lot in common, a 10x zoom with optical image stabilization, 14 Megapixel CCD sensor, and a 3 inch LCD screen. The COOLPIX is slimmer and lighter, but the difference isn’t all that noticeable either in your hand or pocket.
Although both cameras have a 10x optical zoom, the Sony Cyber-shot H55 has, in our view, a more useable range starting at a 25mm super-wide angle extending to 250mm at the tele end. The COOLPIX S8000’s 30mm starting point is a respectable wide angle, but it won’t give you quite the same scope in cramped interiors or the great outdoors. It may be more important to you to get close-in to distant action, in which case the COOLPIX has a 50mm advantage at the tele end.
The S8000 also features a built-in standard HDMI port (as oppose to Sony’s proprietary and optional cabling), along with a screen with a much higher resolution of 920k pixels compared to the Sony’s bog-standard 230k. You can also recharge the S8000 over a USB connection with your computer.
In use though, we found the Cyber-shot H55 easier to handle. It fits more comfortably in your hands and the mode dial and menu system combination makes for quicker, less fussy access to shooting modes and other settings than the S8000’s mode button and menus. That said, this is largely a matter of personal preference and, as always, we’d recommend you first get your hands on models you’re considering buying.
The H55 outperformed the S8000 in both our outdoor real-life resolution and indoor high ISO noise tests. If all your images end up no bigger than 800 pixels wide on your Facebook or Flickr pages, this isn’t going to be an issue for you. But if you like to view your photos on screen at close to full resolution, or make big prints, the H55 will look better. For photographers who like full manual control of exposure the H55 also wins out. And if you’re as keen on video as still photography, the H55’s ability to optically zoom while shooting movies will also count in it’s favour. The H55 also boasts Sony’s Sweep Panorama mode.
But in some regions the S8000 may be available cheaper, and its higher resolution screen and HDMI port are certainly nice benefits. See our Nikon COOLPIX S8000 review for more details.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 / ZS5
The Lumix TZ8 / ZS5’s maximum image size is 12 Megapixels compared with the Cyber-shot H55’s’s 14 Megapixels. But unless making big prints is imperative, the difference in pixel resolution is largely irrelevant, as image quality is much more important.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ8 / ZS5 has a broader 12x optical zoom, matching the Cyber-shot H55 for wide-angle performance but out-distancing it at the telephoto end by 50mm. In this sense, the TZ8 / ZS5 provides the best of both world’s – the H55’s wide angle perfomance with the COOLPIX S8000’s telephoto reach.
In handling terms it’s very difficult to choose between these two models. They are almost identical in size and have very similar styling, both provide a good range of automatic exposure and AF modes combined with fully manual exposure control. Both have accessible menu choices – though we think the Lumix wins out with its Q Menu system – and both are similarly priced.
Both have 720p HD video with the option to use the optical zoom during shooting. One thing that might decide you is the difference in approach to mode selection – the Lumix TZ8 / ZS5 switch-based system preventing easy switching to shooting modes, not to mention giving the camera a slightly dated look. In terms of quality it’s also a close -run contest. Here we’d give it to the Cyber-shot H55 by a whisker, but the broader zoom range of the Panasonic could still swing it for many.
For more details, see our upcoming Panasonic Lumix TZ8 / ZS5 review.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 verdict
The Cyber-shot DSC-H55 packs a 10x optical zoom into a very compact frame. It may not be the slimmest, or lightest travel zoom on the market, but it is beautifully designed and handles like a dream. Though it lacks many of the headline features of its more advanced, more expensive sibling, the HX5, it’s nonetheless a feature-rich compact with a 14 Megapixel sensor, Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation, 720p HD video and the ability to zoom during video recording. It has a wealth of consumer friendly features including several auto exposure modes, scene recognition, face detection and smile shutter as well as full manual exposure control and other features like selectable AF and metering modes to appeal to the more advanced photographer.
The lens and sensor combination in the H55 deliver good quality results, but at anything other than the lowest ISO settings the H55 didn’t perform especially well. so if you like to do a lot of low light photography the HX5, with its Twilight and anti-motion blur modes, would undoubtedly be a better bet. But for use in all other conditions and particularly if you’re in the market for an affordable compact super zoom with an exceptionally versatile range the Cyber-shot H55 won’t disappoint you.
Note: if the faster shooting, 1080i video, image stacking and GPS features of its more sophisticated sibling appeal, then check out our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 review.
(relative to 2010 compacts)
18 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20