Sony Cyber-shot H400 review


The Sony Cyber-shot H400 is a budget super-zoom with a massive 63.3x zoom lens boasting a range of 24.4 to 1550mm. It’s the longest zoom range on any Sony super-zoom and it’s on one of their least expensive models. What’s that all about then?

Could it be that Sony marketing are swapping one numbers game for another? It used to be sensor resolution, now improvers and upgraders are being tempted with eye-wateringly long telephotos.

While ever increasing sensor resolution quickly came to be seen as of dubious value, there’s no denying the utility of a super telephoto for distant subjects. The problem is that when all the budget goes on the lens, there’s little left to spend elsewhere. And even if there is, when your budget model outreaches the higher end model, differentiation has to be enforced elsewhere.

And that’s exactly the H400’s problem. Yes, the 63.3x zoom lens is absolutely awesome. But the same can’t be said for the sensor, the viewfinder, handling, continuous shooting performance, effects, ease of use, or movie modes. The H400 isn’t a terrible camera, it’s just under-specified in most aspects compared with the competition – apart from the massive zoom range of course.

Compared to Canon SX520 HS

The Sony Cyber-shot H400 is, like the SX520 HS, a bridge super-zoom, but it goes all out for zoom range with little regard for the size implications. Consequently, it’s bigger and bulkier than the SX520 HS and closer in size and weight to a DSLR. That’s the cost, the benefit is a whacking 63.3x zoom which starts at 24.5mm and takes you all the way to an equivalent focal length of 1550mm compared with 1008mm on the SX520 HS.

The other payback for that extra bulk is a built in electronic viewfinder. The H400’s viewfinder isn’t what you’d call state of the art, but it’s good enough and it’s an invaluable composition aid when you’re shooting at longer focal lengths. But while the SX520 HS lacks a viewfinder it does offer the Framing Assist button to help locate subjects when zoomed in.

The other major physical difference is the sensor resolution with the Sony H400 boasting a 20 Megapixel sensor compared with 16 Megapixels on the SX520 HS. In practical terms this will make little difference to most people; the image quality is similar (though the H400 is noisier at higher ISO sensitivities), the additional pixels on the H400 would allow you to make a larger print or crop to further extend the advantage of the longer zoom.

Both models have 3 inch LCD screens with a resolution of 461k dots. The SX520 HS screen is, in my view, superior to the H400’s with a brighter, more contrasty image and a wider viewing angle. It needs to be, given that, as I’ve already mentioned, the SX520 HS lacks a viewfinder, so it’s the only way to compose shots.

Both models of course support PASM exposure modes and both have excellent auto exposure modes with scene detection. The second dial on the SX520 HS provides it with a handling advantage in manual modes over the four-way controller on the H400. The SX520 also offers Live View control for accessible picture adjustment as well as a wider range of effects filters plus Creative shot mode. Against all of that the H400 has the excellent Sweep panorama mode which might not seem to add up to as much but if, like me you’re a panorama fan it’s worth all the SX520 HS’s filters and more. Like so many features, it often boils down to a personal preference.

Both models offer similarly mediocre continuous shooting performance but the H400 wins the wooden spoon with a truly awful 0.7fps. The SX520 HS does a little better at 1.6fps and also has a reduced resolution 4 Megapixel 10fps mode. It also shoots better quality video with a 1080p30 mode compared to 720p30 on the H400. One other important thing to consider is the H400’s CCD sensor, which isn’t well suited to shooting scenes with bright highlights which can result in streaking.

The Sony H400 is currently around 25 percent less expensive than the more recent SX520 HS, but the prices will probably converge over time. As always, you need to think about what you really want from a budget bridge super-zoom in order to decide. Fundamentally, the H400 offers a bigger zoom, a viewfinder and a higher resolution sensor at a price that, for now at least, undercuts the SX520 HS. But you may prefer the handling experience of the Canon.

See my Canon PowerShot SX520 HS review for more details.

Compared to Nikon P530

Like the Canon SX520 HS, the Nikon P530 is lighter and more compact that the H400, but can’t match it for zoom range. The P530’s lens extends to an equivalent 1000mm at the telephoto end compared to 1550m on the H400. If you want to know how much of a difference that is in practice, take a look at the comparison on the first page. One thing the P530 has on its side is a slightly brighter maximum aperture – f3-5.9 compared with f3.4-6.5 on the H400. It’s a small difference, though and the final figure is at the H400’s 1550mm focal length.

I mentioned sensor differences in my SX520 HS comparison above and the same applies to the COOLPIX P530. The Sony H400 has a 20 Megapixel sensor compared with 16 Megapixels on the P530. Despite that, the image quality is similar, though the H400 is noisier at higher ISO sensitivities.

Both models have built-in electronic viewfinders and the specifications, 0.2 inch 201k panels, are more or less identical, but the COOLPIX P530’s EVF is significantly larger and a little brighter. It’s also not prone to the colour cast and streaking that affects the H400’s EVF. The P530’s 921k dot LCD screen is higher resolution than the 461k dot panel on the H400 and provides a clearer, more detailed view.

Like the H400, the COOLPIX P530 supports the full range of PASM modes and also has a fully auto mode with scene detection provided in Scene Auto select mode. The P530 has a second control dial, so for changing exposure settings in PASM modes it provides superior handling to the H400. If you like to customise controls, the COOLPIX P530 offers a programmable function button as well as a user settings position on the mode dial versus nothing on the H400. Both models have a panorama mode and both produce great results easily, the H400 at slightly higher resolution. Both models have identical 3-frame auto exposure bracketing, but the COOLPIX P530 goes one better with a Backlighting scene mode to produce composite HDR images. The P530 has a more extensive set of effects filters which, as on the H400, can be used when recording movies.

The COOLPIX P530 is a more capable video camera than the H400 with a 1080p full HD mode compared with only 720p on the H400. It also offers 1080i60/50, 720p30/25, iFrame modes and three high speed (slomo) shooting modes and you get to choose between PAL and NTSC frame rates. Aside from the 720p option in two quality settings, the only other mode available on the H400 is VGA. One advantage the H400 does have over the P530 is a movie position on the mode dial which allows you to accurately frame up your shot on the screen or in the viewfinder prior to recording.

The COOLPIX P530 also provides fast continuous shooting at up to 7fps, a raft of faster reduced resolution modes as well as a built-in interval timer. By comparison the H400 offers only one continuous mode at paltry 0.7fps – yes, ten times slower.

The COOLPIX P530 is a litle more expensive than the H400, but aside from the zoom range, it’s a better camera in almost every respect. The H400’s sensor may be higher resolution, but the two are equally matched for image quality and the P530 performs better at higher ISO sensitivity settings. It has a better screen and viewfinder, superior movie recording, faster and more versatile continuous shooting, better customisation and overall its handling is superior. So maybe it’s worth that little extra.

See my Nikon COOLPIX P530 review for more details.

Sony H400 final verdict

Anyone looking for an inexpensive camera with an extraordinarily long zoom range might be very pleased with the H400. Few other cameras even come close to its 63.3x reach and those that do cost a lot more. But they also offer many other things besides a super telephoto focal length and that’s the H400’s downfall. In auto modes it’s a great camera, but if you want to experiment you’ll find it wanting in too many respects.

An alternative within the Sony range is the 50x HX400, but a much better bet while it’s still available is the earlier HX300. It has the same 50x zoom as the HX400, but is similarly priced to the H400, where the HX400 will set you back almost double. See my HX300 review and HX400 review for more details, or of course consider the newer Canon SX520 HS or Nikon P530 compared above.

Good points
Massive 63.3x zoom lens.

Bad points
Poor electronic viewfinder quality.
CCD streaking artifacts on movies.
No Photo Creativity modes.
No customisation options.
No 1080p full HD video.
Limited Picture Effects.
No Wifi.

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