Sony DSC H7 Recommended Settings
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A Brief Review And Quick List: The DSC-H7 and H9A Brief Review: A Better Camera Than You Might Think These much-maligned cameras have, in my opinion, suffered a bit of a bum rap. Many reviewers (and a number of people in a number of online forums) have complained about everything from the ergonomics of these cameras to their image quality. Yet I have managed to take several thousand pictures that I'm very proud of with my trusty H9 (see galleries for a small sample), pictures with excellent detail, vibrant color, no blurred regions and no watercolor effects. And rarely, in more than 40 years' photography, have I had more fun taking pictures with any camera. Consider that this statement is coming from someone who also owns an expensive DSLR with thousands of dollars invested in professional-quality glass. Like all digital cameras, the H7 and H9 make compromises, most of which are due to the size of their sensors. In order to get the humongous 15X zoom featured in these cameras, a very small sensor has to be employed to gather the light. If the sensor were larger, say the APS-C size sensor of many DSLRs (and Sony's own R1), you'd need to have an assistant to hold the lens and a mortgage to pay for it. Smaller sensors with smaller pixels ( 8.1 million pixels in approximately 1/4" for the H7 and H9) simply don't have the real-estate to capture a lot of light. As a result, the signal-to-noise ratio is relatively low, necessitating some serious noise reduction circuitry and software in the camera. If the noise reduction is too aggressive, image quality suffers, particularly in loss of fine detail (what some people call "watercolor effect"). This is to be expected. It's the tradeoff for the other remarkable features of ultra-zoom cameras. And it is not unique to the Sony ultra-zooms. Almost every high-megapixel ultra-zoom reviewed by DPReview.com contains a statement like one of these: "Noise and noise reduction effects visible at anything over ISO 100" - Canon S5IS "Images lack biting crispness, some loss of fine detail to noise reduction even at ISO 100... Default noise reduction too high at all ISO settings " - Panasonic DMC-FZ18 "Images lack biting crispness, some loss of fine detail to noise reduction" - Olympus SP550UZ "Good detail and color at lower ISO settings" - Fuji S8000fd It's time to get real about all of this. If you're looking for optimal image quality under all shooting conditions, buy an R1 or a pro DSLR with a bagful of pro lenses. If you want a huge zoom range in an inexpensive, lightweight package, you pay the piper with image quality that's not perfect in all circumstances and at all ISOs, but is good enough for reasonable prints. And that's the H7 and the H9.
Note: Even the reviewers are split on I/Q and other issues. Their evaluations probably vary based on their expectations. Within DPReview itself, the Fuji has the same image quality rating as the Sony cameras, yet gets a "Recommended" rating vs. the Sony's lowly "Above Average". Popular Photography gave the H9 its top rating, calling its image quality "excellent" and selecting it as the winner of its 2007 "Pop Award' as one of the best cameras of 2007. "This compact EVF (electronic viewfinder) camera ($440, street) is the best in its class, thanks to the power and reach of its built-in 15X (31-465mm equivalent) Carl Zeiss zoom lens with Super SteadyShot IS. Combined with stunning image quality from its 8.1MP CCD, a fast AF system, and tilting 3-inch LCD, it's a viable alternative to a DSLR." Consumer Reports claims: "Excellent picture quality and next-shot delay. Very good shutter lag.". Even C-Net, with its long-standing antipathy to Sony cameras gives the H9 some credit: "Under the right circumstances, the photos look very good. Those include shooting at sensitivity settings of ISO 200 or lower, in bright sunlight. Thanks to the fast continuous shooting, solid stabilization and reliable centerpoint focus, the H9 delivered the best results I've had so far shooting dogs in the park." Like all cameras, you need to learn where the potholes are. You need to learn to avoid the situations that produce problems and work with the settings and features that produce high quality shots - of which the H7 and H9 are perfectly capable. Before I get into a discussion of the best settings to get the best pictures, let me take a moment to detail what, in my opinion, Sony did right and wrong with this camera.
What Sony Did Right With The H7 and H9
Performance These are the fastest digicams Sony has ever produced. With a burst mode of up to 2.2 frames per second, these cameras are inching up on low-end DSLR territory and blowing the competition away. Big Buffer The H7 and H9 allow burst shooting up to 100 frames before it slows down and waits to write to the memory card. This is a huge buffer, and a welcome improvement. LCD The huge tilt LCD on the H9 is a wonder. For anyone who shoots macros, overhead shots or waist-level shots, this bright and detailed 3" LCD is a godsend. Mine is almost constantly pulled out and tilted one way or another.
Fig. A2-1 Tilt LCD The LCD rotates through 180 degrees, fully-extended facing up or fully-extended facing down. Guides Both the LCD and the viewfinder now sport guides - lines that allow you to frame, compose and (finally) get the horizons straight! I have these guide lines on my DSLR and I've missed them dearly in previous versions of the H-Series cameras. They're optional, you can turn them on or off at will.
Fig A2-2 Guide Lines Predictive Autofocus This is a killer feature normally found only in better DSLRs. When shooting bursts, you focus on the subject for the first shot, the camera focuses for the rest of the shots, automatically calculating how far and how fast the subject moves toward the camera or away from it. It also works when you half-press the shutter and the subject moves before you complete the shot. It works really well without any effort on your part. This one's a big plus for sports and animal shooters. 9 Autofocus Points Prior to the H7 and H9, I never recommended the Mufti-Point autofocus option on an H-Series camera. With its nine highly-responsive focus points, the H7 and H9 are incredibly good at tracking subjects and finding focus without fail. I never liked using Multi-Point AF on any of my Sony cameras, going back to the F505, because they never seemed to select the subject I intended. The AF on the H7 and H9 almost always picks the right subject. It's much smarter.
Tip: The nine points can be used by a conscientious photographer as a depth of field preview. Everything that's in focus will show up in a green lit-up "box" (one of the focus points), not just the closest subject. Check the lit-up boxes carefully and you'll be able to ascertain how much of the scene is in focus. Focal Range In my experience, this is a mixed blessing. The H7 and H9 increase the zoom from the 12X of the previous cameras to 15X. It's barely tighter at the telephoto end (465 mm vs. 432 mm equivalent) but dramatically improved at the wide end (31 mm vs. 36 mm). While the numbers on the wide end have not grown as much as they have on the telephoto end, the impact of even small numbers on the wide end is much more dramatic than increases in larger numbers on the telephoto end. Personally, I wish they'd left the telephoto end alone, and just improved the wide end (see the following section on "mistakes"). Macro Macro distance is improved over the already-impressive 2 cm of the previous H-Series cameras - down to only 1 cm. You can get very, very close with this camera, and the macro quality is excellent. This is a great macro camera. Colors, Contrast And Sharpness If possible, the colors, contrast and sharpness, at default settings, are even better than the earlier H-Series cameras. The H7 and H9 shoot very "punchy", but realistic photos. These cameras have an excellent tone curve, maintaining Sony's commitment to a nicely boosted midrange for excellent transitions and improvements in dynamic range. Battery There's been a fair amount of grumbling about the new, proprietary LiOn battery in the H7 and H9, as opposed to the pair of AAs in the H1, H2 and H5. You won't hear any grumbling from me. On at least one occasion, I got more than 900 images (about half in burst-mode) from a single charge. Due to the power of the new battery, the flash recycles dramatically faster than any of the previous H-Series cameras without sacrificing either power or "throw". Tip: I use the Sony quick charger, model TC-BRG. As usual, the charger that ships with the camera is good enough, but unbearably slow - often 5 - 6 hours.
Fig. A2-3 Battery In SC-TRG Charger
This charger, while pricey (around $60 US), is blazingly fast - 15 to 20 minutes to fully charge a totally discharged battery. Remote Control Finally! A great infrared remote-control. You'll love it for those longexposure tripod shots. It's indispensable for fireworks photos. Very well-implemented with lots of useful controls. It's one of the best native remotes I've seen for any camera.
Fig. A2-4 Remote Control For H7/H9 Shutter Speed The H7/H9 shutter speed now goes all the way up to 1/4000th second, meaning you won't need neutral-density filters to shoot waterfalls and there's no action you can't stop with these cameras. Face Detection Need to shoot three friends standing right in front of the setting sun? Not a problem. The H7 and H9 now offer face-detection. The camera finds the faces in real-time (in automatic mode) and ensures exposure and focus are right for the faces, even when the background is too bright or too dim. D-R The Bionz processor includes a D-R option that applies a different tone curve to the image you're shooting to protect highlights from blowing and shadows from going too dark. It's surprisingly effective. The results may not be as "punchy" and the shadows can show a bit more noise, but