Review: Sony Cybershot DSC H1 compared to Canon Powershot S2 IS

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Review: Sony Cybershot DSC H1 compared to Canon Powershot S2 IS

side-by-side digital camera review
Sony Cybershot DSC H1 front
Canon Powershot S2 IS front
Sony Cybershot DSC H1 review
Canon Powershot S2 IS review
36-432mm, 1:2.5-3.8
36-432mm, 1:2.7-3.5
0,9 fps
2,4 fps
2.5 inch
1.8 inch
The body of the Cybershot H1 is fully plastic, but thanks to the surface structure and different colors the camera has a 'professional' metal SLR-look. The lens moves through a metal barrel and forms a counterweight to the batteries at the right. The handgrip has a rubber coating and provides a good grip.
The SLR-type body of the Powershot S2 is made from plastic. Just like the Sony H1 the surface is rugged and has different colors. Together with its weight, it takes a experts eye to see it is not made of metal. The balance of the camera is okay. The grip of the camera is nice, but not as firm as the Sony H1.
The number of buttons on the small body is limited to the most essential ones for capturing and playback and leaves enough room for your fingers. The zoom lever on the back is controlled by the thumb. With the 4-way controller you can navigate through the LCD-menu and playback zoom. It also provides a quick setting for flash, macro and self timer. Under the shutter release a wheel is positioned to set shutter speed or aperture or perform a program shift. The On/Off button is sunk a bit to deep in the body and is hard to press.
The body is covered with buttons and switches to operate or give access to the most important parameters. An eye-catcher is the start/stop movie button on the back. During still-capturing one can directly start a movie. The zoom lever is round the shutter release button. The On/off button is positioned in the lever for Capture- en Playback mode, which requires some attention during operation. Most buttons are exactly on the right place, which is not the case with the Menu-button. The latter could be activated accidentally when you hold the camera while carrying it around.
Caps and covers on digital cameras tend to be fragile and with the Sony H1 it isn't different. The cover of the batteries and Memory Stick is very ingenious, but sometimes the batteries fall out when you remove the memory card. The tiny cover of the Memory Stick does not open far enough and only with very tiny fingers the card can be switched easily.
Caps and covers
The quality of the caps and covers is not different from other cameras. They must be used with care. The cover of the memory card opens not far enough and just like the Sony H1 it is almost impossible to take out the SD-card without crashing the cover.
The camera has a large LCD-screen (2.5" and 115,000 pixels) and works well as a viewfinder, even in bright light conditions. In addition it serves as a display to access the various menus which, depending on the country of purchase, are available in different languages. By pressing a button you can switch from LCD to the Electronic Viewfinder which is a bit coarse and has high contrast.
Viewfinder and LCD
The Electronic Viewfinder is of average quality. This is fully compensated by the twist-and-tilt LCD-screen. You can shoot from any angle and always have a perfect view on your subject with very little reflection.
The camera has an optical zoom range from 36 to 432 mm (12x). With this moderate wide-angle to super-tele a large range of subjects can be captured from the same position. With this zoom range image stabilization is a must and on the Sony H1 it opens the possibility to shoot sharp pictures at 1/50s handheld in full tele and that means 2 à 3 stops advantage compared to the rule of thumb 1/f (1/400 s). Image stabilization can be used both in single shot and continuous mode.
The zoom range goes from 36 to 432mm (12x optical) and together with the sophisticated image stabilization system a wide range of subjects can be captured without a tripod. This makes the camera very suited for candid- and travel photography. Handheld at a tele setting of 432 mm pictures are pin sharp at 1/50 s. The system works well with still subjects as well as during panning with a moving object!
The Sony Cybershot H1 has a variety of exposure modes. The beginning photographer can choose from several preset exposure modes such as Portrait, Landscape, Beach and High-speed shutter. In case you want more control the common basic modes are available: Program, Aperture- en Shutter priority as well as Manual (P, A, S and M). Exposure compensation varies from -2 to 2 Ev with steps of 1/3 Ev. The sensitivity of the sensor ranges from ISO 64 to 400.
Exposure and ISO
The exposure programs are similar to any other high-end compact camera and in addition to presets and P, A and T manual settings are available. A nice feature is that you can 'photoshop' while taking a photo. You can instantly shift and de-saturate colors of certain parts of the subject. Exposure compensation varies from -2 to 2 Ev (1/3 steps) and ISO-settings are 50, 100, 200 and 400.
In Macro mode you can capture an object of 1.4" covering the total width of the sensor. The barrel distortion is above average, but colors and mid-sharpness are good.
The closest distance for Macro is 0". In practice this is no useable feature, because the lens takes all the light. But when you take some precautions with the light, it is possible to take stunning close-ups with 0,8" objects filling 2592 pixels (3000 pixels/inch!). Barrel distortion and corner unsharpness are noticeable.
In continuous mode the camera isn't very fast. The 'motor drive' only captures 1 frame per second and stops after 9 frames to write the data to the memory card. This is far below the performance of several other competitors.
Motor drive
While in some respect the Sony H1 and the Canon S2 look like twins, in terms of speed they are each others counterpart. With 2.4 fps, which only stops when the memory card is full, the Powershot S2 shows his real power and leaves the H1 in the shadow. The Digic II and smart buffering makes the camera extremely fast and suitable for capturing action and sport.
Sony is famous for its video cameras, but this doesn't reflect on the H1. The quality of the movies and sound is poor and it is not possible to zoom during filming.
The Powershot S2 is also positioned as a movie camera. Quality (640x480 resolution, 30 fps) and features (stereo sound and zoom) are very good. The only limitation is the maximum file size of 1 GB. During movie recording one can take stills at high resolution. The movie mode will be interrupted for a moment.
Auto focus has 5 positions and works both in single shot and continuous mode. Exposure is measured in Matrix or Spot. sRGB is the only color space and no RAW-format is available. Two features that are both required for professional use. Saturation, Contrast and sharpness are adjustable in the camera settings. White balance gives you in addition to Auto WB, 5 presets as well as manual WB. USB is Hi-speed, delivering a data transfer of 480 kbps.
The auto focus point can be set freely in single shot and continuous mode. Exposure measurement options are Matrix, Centrum-weight and Spot. Again there is only sRGB available and no RAW! In-camera Saturation, Sharpness and Contrast can be set for personal preferences. The white balance has 6 presets and a manual setting. The Hi-speed USB transfers 480 kbps (>50 MB/s theoretical).
There is hardly any startup time. The exposure program can be set quickly with the main mode dial. The 4-way controller lets you set flash, macro and self timer. To change parameters such as white balance, ISO and exposure compensation you must enter the camera menu and that takes some time.
Parameter setting
The camera is very responsive and reacts instantaneous. Exposure and parameters such as ISO, white balance and exposure compensation are set intuitively with the main mode dial and the function button.
The LCD-menu needs some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's reasonably simple and parameters can be set rather quickly. If you leave the menu and open it again, you get the last changed parameter. This feature lets you change i.e. ISO fast enough to make exposures at different settings.
The menu structure is very clear. in P, A, T and M mode all parameters can be changed. Leaving the menu and re-entering it brings you back to the first parameter with the need to scroll to the desired parameter, which takes a lot of time. In the Function mode the last setting is kept, so WB and ISO can be changed quickly.
The Cybershot H1 doesn't have the possibility to save certain parameter settings in a custom function nor is there an Easy-set button which you can personalize for a favorite parameter.
The Powershot S2 has a Custom setting, in which a combination of parameters can be saved. There also is an Easy-set button which allows you to go directly to an often used parameter, like WB or Resolution.
Start-up, operation, focusing and shutter delay are excellent and you don't have to miss a shot with his camera. Unfortunately the 'motor drive' is too slow as is the buffering. This makes the camera not really suitable for action- and sports photography. During the time the camera is writing data to the memory card, no pictures can be taken, so a fast memory card is a must.
Canon put all their knowledge in the Powershot S2 to make it a very fast digital compact camera. As said it is very responsive and 2.4 fps in continuous mode without limit is a unique feature for this type of camera. Auto focus is fast, also in low-light conditions. Zooming from full wide-angle to full tele AF will take some time.
Color and exposure:
The colors which the H1 produces are very natural, though sometimes the automatic white balance does his job too good, and takes some warmness from photos at sunny days. Photos seem a bit blueish then. Colors can be adjusted in-camera by changing Saturation and Contrast. Exposure is handled well. In 90% of the subjects the Matrix measurement delivers a nice exposure with the tendency to some blown out highlights.
The photos show good detail, but in default setting they seem somewhat over sharpened. Image stabilization works well until 400mm and gives 2 to 3 stops advantage for handheld shots. At 432 mm photos are not sharp when taken out of hand, although they are when shot from tripod.
Lens distortion:
The lens suffers from more than average chromatic aberration. In full wide-angle and macro there is a noticeable amount of barrel distortion.
As with most digital compact cameras ISO 400 is tops. Sony controls the noise at higher ISO-levels very good. Pictures at ISO 400 are very useable and show enough detail, although color accuracy diminishes.
Image quality
Color and exposure:
The Powershot S2 delivers good colors and white balance tends to make them a bit warm and saturated. This can be modified in-camera. Exposure is progressive, delivering bright pictures, but keeping the highlights within range.
Handheld pictures at 432 mm are razor-sharp. In the rest of the zoom- and aperture range sharpness is acceptable with signs of over sharpening. The in-camera setting can solve this 'problem'.
Lens distortion:
A zoom lens of this focus range can suffer from many deviations: chromatic aberration, distortions, vignette and unsharpness. The Powershot S2 handles all these problems at a very acceptable level and seldom one of those issues is unacceptable manifest.
Canon seems to keep noise reduction very modest. Noise is therefore noticeable above ISO 100, but detail is maintained. With a noise filter one can reduce noise in the post-processing. At ISO 400 all pictures are useable for prints of 8" x 6" or smaller.
The Sony Cybershot DSC H1 and the Canon Powershot S2 IS are almost each others equal. Apart from the same specifications, both cameras almost perform at the same level. Nevertheless the Powershot is the winner in this test because of it's somewhat higher responsiveness and much higher frame rate in continuous mode. This makes the camera very suited for sports- and action photography. Though video isn't a main feature on this kind of still cameras, the quality of the avi-movies of the Powershot S2 is stunning and therefore a pro. Both cameras are suitable for beginners and more advanced photographers and are extremely useful for 'candids', nature- and travel photography, as well as taking pictures at concerts and indoor events.
Sony Cybershot DSC H1 samples Canon Powershot S2 IS front samples
July 31, 2005
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