Sony's 2008 addition to their mega-zoom line is the CyberShot H50. The camera features a 9.1-megapixel imaging sensor, 15x optical Carl Zeiss Optically Image Stabilized zoom lens, 3.0" "tilt-up" screen and advanced sports shooting modes are the main features of this camera. It also has full automatic shooting modes through fully manual shooting modes, a 30fps VGA movie mode (VX Fine) and Night Shot shooting mode that allows the user to shoot "night vision" type shots with almost no light present.
As with the H7 and H9 of last year, the 15x Carl Zeiss Optical Image stabilized zoom is main selling point for this camera. Boasting an outstanding 31-465mm (35mm equivalent) wide angle to zoom range, a whole new photography experience opens up compared to compact digicams with a 3x to 5x optical zoom. This lens will put you right in the middle of the action, enabling you to capture images you never thought possible. In order for such a large zoom to work, Sony has included its Super Steady Shot optical image stabilization system to help steady the camera. This along with ISO settings of 800, 1600 and 3200, allow you to take photographs at great distances with less than perfect light without a flash. It also allows the user to set higher shutter speeds that will stop the images from blurring as a result of camera shake or fast motion photography.
The big new features added to the H50 are the 9.1-megapixel SuperHAD CCD. Sony claims that this sensor allows more light to reach each pixel, increasing sensitivity and reducing noise. In other words, you will be able to shoot at faster shutter speeds in the same conditions than with previous imaging sensors. The next big addition is the new Advanced Sports shooting mode. This mode allows the camera to analize and anticipate what your subject is doing as the shutter release is half pressed. To make sure that your images are sharp, the camera will use a shutter speed of up to 1/4000 of a second as long as there is available light. Finally Sony has added an Intelligent Scene Recognition Mode. This allows the camera to select from one of five different scene modes automatically based on the scene. This is a great feature for those who just want to point and shoot without having to change the camera settings for every shooting condition.
You have a choice between the 3-inch "tilt-up" LCD screen or the .2-inch EVF to use for framing your images. Both display the same amount of information and both are very high quality. The LCD makes the camera much easier to point and shoot, however, someone that is used to a standard SLR or dSLR may prefer the EVF. The EVF is also a great way to conserve battery power over the using the LCD. The camera itself has not changed much from the H9. The Night Shot and the LCD/EVF buttons have moved to the top left of the camera and they have added a Multimedia Slide show button next to the play button. Other than that Everything else is in the same position.
Performance from the H50 is excellent. Because of the large zoom lens, the camera is a little slow on startup taking 3 seconds before it can capture its first image. When the camera is pre-focused, there is virtually no shutter lag, and just 4/10 of a second when allowing the auto focus to run. In single shot mode, the camera was able to capture 5 images in 6.9 seconds without the flash. With the flash the camera was able to capture 5 shots in 11.8 seconds. The camera also features a burst mode that captured 10 images in 5.5 seconds, but then slowed shortly after. When it slowed it did not keep up with the 1.6 fps that Sony claims it can take for up to 100 images. Our tests were completed using a Sony 1GB Memory Stick PRO DUO memory card, program auto, flash off, ISO auto, and all other settings at the factory defaults. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The image quality from our outdoor images are good. The exposures and colors are excellent. The images were crisp with hardly any edge softness, but the one thing that stands out is the chromatic aberrations in almost all of our outdoor shots. The 15x optical zoom with Optical Image Stabilization (O.I.S.) has a 35mm equivalent of 31-465mm. This gives you versatility that is almost impossible to find on any other camera. The wide end of the zoom is great for shooting landscape and portrait photography, while the telephoto end is excellent for bringing distant objects extremely close. Also at the wide end you will see some barrel distortion and some very slight vignetting (darkness in the corners).
Our indoor samples were even better than the outdoor shots. With and without the flash the exposures are excellent and the auto white balance is outstanding as the colors are identical with and without it. At ISO 80, the images are so clear you can see all the details and textures within the image. Noise doesn't even start to show until ISO 200 and isn't a problem until ISO 800. The built in flash is very powerful with a range of just under 2 ft. (.2m) to 30 ft. (9.1m) at ISO auto and up to 59.4 ft. (18m) at ISO 3200. It also does a very good job when shooting in macro mode, as it does not blow out the image when shooting from very close as shown in our Macro sample. Finally our indoor Portrait shot shows the cameras ability to focus and adjust for the subject in "Portrait" mode. The skin tones are excellent and there was no trace of red eye even without the red eye flash. Even though the ISO is 160, there does seem to be a little more noise apparent than expected based on the M&M man shots.
Movie quality is good for a digicam. It offers you the ability to record in VGA (640x480) and QVGA (320x240) modes with sound. The camera did a good job of exposing the subject, but you do see some spots that are blown out. The 15x zoom can be used while recording, which allows for more creative shooting. Even with the O.I.S., it can be hard to hold the camera steady when you approach the telephoto end. Another thing to remember is that the built in microphone picks up the sounds closest to the camera and will not pick up the sound that by your subject when using the zoom. In order to record in 640 Fine mode, you need to use a Memory stick PRO DUO memory card.
Powering the H50 is a 3.6V, 960 mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery. This battery allowed me to capture almost 100 images, several videos and complete all of our tests on a single charge with power to spare on the battery. Sony claims that it can capture up to 300 images using the LCD and 330 images using the EVF. Also included in the box is a portable external charger, making it easy to keep a spare battery charged and on hand at all times.
Bottom Line - The Sony Cybershot H50 is loaded with features and abilities that really make it stand out from other cameras. Its main selling point, the 15x optical zoom lens with O.I.S. makes the camera extremely versatile. It is accompanied by a very powerful built in flash, 3" tilt up LCD screen, a full selection on shooting modes including manual and full automatic and even an easy mode that would allow anyone to take pictures. It also has a night shot mode and numerous options that allow for you to use your creative side. The performance from the camera is very good and the new Advanced Sports shooting mode with a shutter speed of up to 1/4000 of a second, guarantees that the camera is fast enough for almost any situation. With a MSRP of US$399, it is an excellent camera that is veritable enough for the whole family to use.