Best Buy
  • Price: 340

  • Company: Sony

  • Pros: Boasts solid build quality, 12x zoom, Steady Shot image stabilization, and an impressive feature set.

  • Cons: Limit of 1/1,000 shutter speed.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

Sony’s Cybershot H1 is clearly going after the same buyers targeted by Panasonic’s FZ5 (reviewed here), another camera released at around the same time. Both are styled like an SLR, and both feature two-piece clip-on lens hoods, image stabilization, 12x optical zoom lenses and 5mp sensors. Both tout a full set of photographic controls in addition to basic point-&-shoot and scene modes to appeal to photographers looking for more control. Finally, both hit roughly the same price point.

 border=0 />But the moment you pick up the H1 you notice some key differences. The H1 feels like a serious camera, whereas the FZ5 feels more like a toy. Not only is Sony’s camera a weightier unit, but the quality and finish of the plastic outer shell feels far superior. Sony’s offering is a serious, solid camera. Panasonic’s FZ5 feels flimsy in comparison. 
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The feature sets are similar, and the way a camera feels is a vague, imprecise variable on which to judge, but photographers need to feel confident about their equipment. Maybe Panasonic has faith in consumers to make judgments based on a product’s full merits, but Sony has the more convincing approach.
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Of course, construction alone doesn’t make a camera. In terms of feature set, the Sony and Panasonic are more closely matched. The H1’s 12x zoom (36-432mm 35mm equivalent), like that on the FZ5, is fairly fast, with a maximum aperture of 2.8 at wide angle and f3.7 at maximum zoom. Unusually for Sony, the lens is not Carl Zeiss glass but a Sony one.
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Sony uses its Super Steady Shot image-stabilization technology to help you reduce camera shake, which can occur with such a powerful zoom, and like the FZ5’s OIS it does a fine job. Image quality is good – the camera delivered natural colours with low noise at ISO 64 and 100. Noise at ISO 400 was visible, but not too bad.
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<b>Noisy neighbour</b>
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The Sony has some obvious advantages over the FZ5. It features a large, 2.5-inch colour LCD that takes up 60 per cent of the back face of the camera. The button layout is a tad better, with a jog dial at the front of the handgrip for changing shutter and aperture values when in A, S, or M modes, whereas with the FZ5 you have to first press the Exposure button and then use the four-way switch next to the LCD to change values. Shutter speed maxes out at a modest 1/1,000, however, compared to 1/2,000 on the Panasonic. 
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The H1 has auto, program auto, shutter and aperture priority, and manual modes, as well as seven scene modes. It has a better range of movie modes than the FZ5, including 30fps 640-x-480 movies when you use a MemoryStick Pro card. No memory card is included with the camera, but you do get 32MB of memory built-in to the camera body. 
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There’s a slot for a MemoryStick card, but unlike the higher-end Sony F828 and Sony V3, you don’t get the option of using CompactFlash media. The H1 comes with two AA-sized nickel-metal hydride batteries and can be used with standard AA-sized batteries, giving you flexibility in power options. 
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This is Sony’s first mega-zoom camera. It manages to combine a decent lens, a reasonable price, a big LCD screen, and impressive build quality. All this makes the H1 a strong contender in the big-zoom market.
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