Timing Test Results
|Sony's Cyber-Shot DSC-H70 is a powerful, yet portable 16-megapixel camera. With impressive features, and ease of use, the H70 is sure to please. It did have some downfalls in the image quality department, so be sure to look at several models before making your final purchase. |
Pick This Up If...
|You want a pocket-sized camera that still offers a sweet 10x optical zoom lens to get close tot he action. |
While the H70 remains as a point-and-shoot digicam, the larger than average frame considers ergonomics and spacious control layout. The frame itself is available in black/silver/red/blue and is almost exactly the size and shape of a deck of cards in both height and width; bar the handy right thumb indentation and the natural finger groove on the face. These two frame construction ideas make for a very naturalistic feel; allowing for comfortable one-handed shooting. Like the camera's satisfactorily simplistic face, the back contains only four well-spaced, low-drag, straightforward buttons. One of which is the 4-way directional pad that includes display, flash, smile detection, self-timer, and a center 'select' button. Below the directional pad, are the menu access and in-camera guide/delete buttons. All of these controls are smooth, will not snag on clothing, and still retain trouble-free manipulation. In Program mode, the 'select' button gives you the ability to track the focus on your subject, and also select a specific face to focus on.
Additionally in Manual mode, the combination of the 'select' button and the directional pad bequeaths the proficiency to traverse through and adjust the shutter speed and aperture - all in live feed. This, united with a histogram and exposure value display on the live feed, makes it extremely easy to obtain a well-balanced exposure; even with little to no photography background. Switching to either of these modes is attained quick and effortless by way of the mode dial. The dial on the H70 is located on the top, to the right of the shutter release, and includes Scene, iAuto, Program, Manual, Panorama, and Movie modes. Though I like the luxury of a mode dial, I prefer it to be located on the back as opposed to be situated at the top of the camera. Whereas a mode dial on the back permits a quick glance to confirm which mode you are in, a dial on the top requires you to tilt to camera for confirmation; thus necessitating another sight picture, lens focus, and more time. Just to the left of the mode dial is the shutter release/zoom combo. Because the shutter release/zoom is pushed to the left a bit, it does allow your shooting finger to lie more naturally. Our only complaint about the shutter release was with feel. With most cameras, you can "feel" a stop when you half-press to achieve focus before actually snapping a shot. With the H70, we felt no such "1st stage", and found that the shutter release was more mushy and extremely sensitive. This lead to us actually snapping a picture when we were actually trying to pre-focus the shot. Finally, to the left of this is the power button, which does outwardly protrude from the frame, yet is nonetheless both easily found by touch and trouble-free to activate.
Zooming with the H70's Sony G 10x optical zoom was a pleasure. The lens has an equivalent focal range of 27 - 270mm when shooting in 16:9 aspect, or 25 - 250mm in 4:3; which is the normal setting for the highest resolution images. Zooming is also available while in movie mode, which covers 30-300mm in 16:9, and 37-370mm in 4:3 (these specs are for the 35mm equivalent filed of view). Controlling the dial style zoom surrounding the shutter release is terrific for a couple of reasons. First, because of its location, operating the zoom requires no unnecessary movement of your fingers or the camera. And secondly, precise framing with the H70 is legendary compared to other point-and-shoot cameras. Unlike the other two Sony digicams we had in for testing with the H70 (DSC-W570 and DSC-WX10), acquiring the perfect composition necessitated only the optical zoom. Having grown tired of constantly resorting to the "zooming with your feet" method, I opted for the H70 for most situations. The only circumstances in which I opted for the other Sonys formally mentioned is if I need something a little more compact to carry. The 10x zoom surpassed my expectations. It enabled me to capture both far off and macro quite well. Whether it was the mullet I tried to subtlety capture across a 16-lane bowling alley, or a frog that wouldn't let me get close enough for a detailed macro shot, the H70's optical zoom gave me the power to get the job done.
An advantage of not being super compact is the room for a large 3.0-inch LCD display without the button layout being overly cramped. A 230,000 dot display makes for easy menu reading, live feed observation, and playback viewing. Having the ability to be viewed at 80°, the LCD is also very visible in the sunlight, but so are the fingerprints and scratches. Whereas the fingerprints can be wiped clean, the scratches obviously cannot. Unfortunately, the LCD's protective clear cover was easily scratched by the other two cameras that shared the pouch in my bag. I would suggest some sort of protection to extend the life of a clear display. The display brightness and HUD (Heads Up Display) data can be quickly adjusted via the 4-way directional pad. The HUD will display which mode you are in, battery life, image size, memory card space, flash, and the previously mentioned histogram. Additionally, when shooting in Manual mode there are icons on the screen for ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and exposure values listed along the bottom. The ease of access of these settings in the live feed is much appreciated.
One of the main reasons the H70 empowers anyone to capture great shots with ease is the iAuto mode. Rapidly accessed on the mode dial, iAuto is the simplest and fastest way to seize quality pictures. If you are not acquainted with iAuto, it is a smart shooting mode that intelligently chooses the appropriate settings for you. The iAuto thinks for you by recognizing scenes, lighting, and faces and then automatically adjusts exposure settings. iAuto also incorporates iSCN technology that determines what type of image you are trying to capture, and automatically places the camera in that scene mode like Macro or Sunset for instance. I will note that you cannot manually set the camera to macro mode; it must be done by iAuto. I found this to be a definite setback while I was trying to get macro shots of a frog. Having to wait for the camera to focus, and then intelligently go into macro mode was extremely displeasing, because meanwhile the frog swam away. Normally, when using either the Program or Manual offerings of a camera, you can simply select Macro Focus mode; that's not the case with the H70.
Another significant fact this digicam permits quality image capture is the simplified Manual mode. Because the live feed will not only show you your current shutter speed and aperture, it also lets you adjust them in via the 4-way directional pad and 'Select' button. This aptitude combined with current ISO, exposure value, and histogram data, made it real simple to customize my shots. One night, in between storms, the sky was a brilliant red color, and the way it reflected off the water was fabulous. I used the H70 to snatch this scene forever, but because I used iAuto, the brightness and colors were automatically adjusted, thus creating an image not true to what I was actually seeing. Then, after putting the camera in Manual and fine-tuning the live feed adjustments, I successfully replicated the incredible scene standing before me. If it weren't for the real time changes directly seen in the live feed, I might've missed this short-lasting skyline.
Sony has had the best panoramic mode I have seen in most digicams, and the H70 is no exception. By utilizing Sweep technology, the camera gives the operator the gift to take smooth panoramic shots with no prior directions necessary. Once properly accessed via the mode dial, the Panorama mode provides live, on-screen instructions that direct you and follow your progress as you sweep the camera left, right, up, or down. Additionally, you have the option to capture in standard or wide mode. In standard Panorama you capture approx. 120°, and approx. 180° in wide Panorama.
If you are familiar with Sony's Cyber Shot interface, the menu layout of the H70 should make you feel right at home. The menu settings thoughtfully arrange basic to more customizable options, depending on which mode you are currently in. In all modes, the menus are logically ordered, consistent, and easy to see and understand with picturesque icons (along with short descriptions of each option). If you have the camera in iAuto, you have access to basic custom setting such as image size, burst shooting, exposure compensation, iSCN+ (automatically takes one more shot in dark scenes), smile detection sensitivity, face detection options, in-camera guide, and camera settings. Program and Manual modes permit further customization modifications like bracketing, ISO, white balance, focus, metering, and DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer, recover image details lost in the shadows of high contrast images). Menus for Playback mode are also clear-cut and offer options to view as a slideshow (with or without music), photo editing (crop, red eye, sharpness, and rotation), and lock images. I personally entertain the idea of locking your pictures as I have regrettably accidentally erased pictures in the past. This option makes it possible to prevent this mishap from occurring in the future. The H70 also includes an In-Camera guide to help you if you lose, forget, or just hate reading the instructions.
Looking over our sample photos, we can see the H70 is able to capture some pleasing 16-megapixel photos outdoors. Colors are quite vivid when using the iAuto setting, and more natural looking when using Program or Manual. Images are relativley sharp, however we can see high levels of noise throughout photos, which causes fine details to be lost. Even at the lowest ISO 80 setting you can see a great deal of noise when pixel peeping at 100%. Luckily, at fullscreen viewing sizes (approx. 20-25%, depending on the size of your monitor), images still look pleasing to the eyes. Another area the H70 struggled with at times was exposure. We found that it would tend to blow out highlights quite often. These downfalls were not what we expected to see from the H70, especially considering this unit offers Sony's high-quality G-series lens. That said, you can still produce nice 4x6-inch or larger photos, however enlargements or tight crops are bound to show noise in your prints.
Indoors we saw similar results. The camera's flash is quite weak (typical for point-n-shoots), and we saw very high levels of noise. Even when our subject(s) were well illuminated by overhead lights, we still saw higher than wanted noise levels; and using the telephoto end of the zoom indoors exacerbated these findings. The Noise Reduction process does help remove some of the noise, however you loose fine detail, and at times images almost look painted when viewing at 100%.
Filming movies with the H70 is a cinch. With the ability to record in 720p (16:9) .MP4/MPEG-4 video, your movies will be easy to upload to your favorite video sharing site. There are additional menu options for video modifications such as image size, exposure value, white balance, metering, and steady shot active. A wonderfully included feature for the Movie mode is the ability to use the 10x optical zoom. I was able to use the camera's excellent zoom when filming at a local baseball camera, and a bowling alley- capturing both the bowler at wide angle, then zooming in to view the ball striking the pins. This will come in handy when you expect to be filming, but can't, or refuse to, carry a larger camera. I was also pleased with the audio portion of our videos. Normally the microphones are so sensitive that you get all kinds of unwanted background noise. While the H70 still picked up some background noise, it was not near as noticeable as with other cameras we've tested; which we noticed right away when playing back video form the bowling alley.
Battery life is slightly above average for a sub $300 point-n-shoot. Sony claims the included 3.7V 910mAh NP-BG1 battery pack can power the H70 for up to 290 frames. While we captured over 280 still images and various short video clips, we did have to charge the battery in-between these. This is due to extensive use of the menu and playback systems during our tests. Therefore, we feel that Sony's claims is pretty accurate. Thankfully, the pack is charged out of camera in the included AC charger. This allows you to charge one pack while using another, so adding a second battery to your purchase is recommended if you need to capture more than 290 photos in one outing; like at a graduation party, etc.
Bottom line - while the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H70 has an impressive specs sheet, it does have some downfalls. These come in the form of high noise at all ISO settings, consistent over exposure, and fine detail loss; which is troubling for those who want to take full advantage of the 16-megapixels of resolution offered. That said, we were able to capture some nice shots with the H70, and it did record some descent HD video. With a street price of about $210 - $230, the camera is quite affordable for the features you are receiving. However, for those looking for a versatile, compact Super-zoom, you'll want to take a good look at the competition before making your final purchase. Some models to consider would be Panasonic's Lumix DMC-ZS5, Canon's PowerShot SX103 IS or the PowerShot SX210 IS, etc.
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