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Old May 12, 2006, 1:01 PM   #1
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Having owned a Sony H1 for just over 7 mos. I was of course naturally curious when the H2 and H5 were announced. I finally held an H2 at the store yesterday and made a little"First impressions" list as well as some addditonal comments and observations.

1. The H2 isNOT as ugly as it appears in photos...LOL! Although it's still a silver headed step child compared to the H1. The H1 is just plain nicer looking than either the H2 or H5 and feels a bit more comfortable in hand.

2. The H2/H5 EVF (electronic viewfinder) Supposedly has more pixels than on the H1 and the image did look a bit sharper. It was hard to tell a major difference as I was inside a store with flourescent lights 14 feet or so overhead so the LCD might've been gaining up a bit to compensate for less than optimal indoor lighting. Also I didn't check the EVF brightness setting either. I keep mine set to Bright and this one may have been set to normal.

3. Menu system has been improved a bit and offers more info. Resolution now tells you how many shots can be taken at a given resolution. I'm not sure if this is based on full stick capacity or remaining memory but I would assume remaining. Menu is also a bit more self explanatory in other areas as well which will help first time digicam users.

4. There a few newsettings in the menu which are niceadditions.A flash front or rear curtain optionand Natural and Vivid Color settings come to mind as well as a few other minor changes. Nice additions butby themselves not worth selling an H1 over.

5. Buttons and layout - Mostly changes for the worse here..with ONE BIG exception.

A. I'll start off with the exception...and it's a good one. There is now a dedicated playback button. It's a nice feature so you don't have to wear out thefunction wheel to switch to playback mode OR miss a shot that happens in front of you while you're function wheel is set to playback (as on the H1).

To Clarify...the H1 DOES have a quick review button...but it is not used to enter full playback mode. Just to review the last shot taken. To enter full playback mode on the H1 and review several shots it is necessary to spin the mode dial to Playback.I've personally missed shots with my H1 because I was in playback mode reviewing multiple photos I'd just takenand wasnt able to switch back toa shooting mode on the wheel fast enough to be able to compose, adjust lighting, focus and get the shot.

The H1, H2 and H5 are all shutter priority cameras, meaning you can switch fromthe camerasmenu mode or fullplayback mode (last shot review mode for theH1)to shooting mode by just pressing the shutter half way.With the H2/H5 youpress the playback button to review photos but can leave the mode dial in Manual, Program or whatever shooting mode you like so you're ready for a shooting opportunity at a moments notice. Simply press theshutterrelease half-way and the camera instantly leaves playback mode and enters shooting mode.The dedicated playback button was sorely needed anda welcome addition to the H series.

Now the downside.That nice new playback button is notwell placed. It should be on the back and easy to see and reach....not on an angle at the top where you have to hold the camera down and look to press it. Its a flatbutton that's near flush with the camera body andcan't be easily felt so if they wanted it where it is....it should've been raised a bit for easy feel access.

B.Rear buttons....Button typeand placement is a real disappointment on both of the new H cameras.The H1 hada nice button layout and the H2 is terrible.The buttons on the rear of the H1 were well placedand nice to use in concert with eachother. Button placement on the H2/H5 seems almost haphazard and those near thumb buttons to the far right....I accidentally pressed em a few times while zooming and even just holding it. I've never accidentally pressed a function button on my H1 by just holding it or during zoom!

As for the 4 way controller ring. Another big mistake made in the re-design! The H1 has individual raisedbuttons I can feel without even looking. I can pretty much look in my LCD viewer or Display and just press by feel. Not so on the H2. The H2 has acircular one piece button that is nearflat and you have to actually look tosee where on that "ring" like button you are before pressing...assuming youcan even find it at all without looking due toit being near flush with the body. Thelow profile of the 4 way controller "ring" also creates another problem.The "select" button in the middle of the controller ring is now harder to presswithout accidentally hitting oneside ofthecontroller ring.

[ Justa note: Sony isn't the only mfr. using this flush circular type 4-way controller "ring button" and I'm just as disappointed with the few cameras I'vepicked up for comparison thatalso use this type of controller. RAISED is better for sight unseen feel and offers a more positive pressthan buttons that are near flush or slightly below the body surface.]

C. Bracket and Focus buttons (located on top of right hand grip). Location is the same as the H1....however same re-design complaint as the other new buttons in thatthey are nearly flush with the surface and not as easy to press as those on the H1.

I honestly don't know whatSonywas thinking by releasing 2supposedly "improved" models....andre-designing thebutton types and locationsfor the worse when they wereso well designed and placed to begin with on the H1. I want to be able to control my camera quickly...either at a glance or without looking at all...and the button re-design and re-placement on the H2 (and H5) has slowed down camera control considerably compared to the H1.

6. H2 Glass and image quality - The H2/H5 Lens looks veryl impressive with the Carl Zeissname on it....but the jury is still out whether the H1already had a non-branded Zeiss lens to begin with.- There are more H2 photos being posted online and the H5 has apparently been released early as well so there are some H5 photos showing up online also. The image quality is not a major improvement over the already excellent photos produced by the H1...however there is a slight resolution advantage and perhaps a bit more detail. For the most part... the resolution advantage of 6 or 7.2mp vs. the H1 5.1mp won't be seen unless blowing up really large.

****(UPDATED 5/26/06) After seeing newly posted H2/H5 noise comparisons****

Improved image noise algorithm:

A moreimportant advantage the new H cameras have over their H1 predecessor is the improved in camera noise reduction algorithm. Image noise is slightly lower than that of the H1 through 200 ISO. The difference is much more noticable at 400 ISO which was not very usable on the H1 for crops of photos taken in low light (ISO400 was still usable on the H1 for daytime photos albeit a bit noisy on crops).

With the New H cameras, ISO400 low light image noise is present but not as color mottled and produces better results when cleaned up with noise removal software. Even ISO1000 seems usable in normal lighting...however...ISO800 and 1000 are quite color mottled in lower light situations. Usable for smaller prints after cleanup with noise removal software but not for blowups. The main thing is...lower ISO200 noise and a more usable 400 than the H1.In recently posted comparisons I've seen....the H2/H5have MUCH lower ISO400noise than the Canon S3-IS...which has a very noisy ISO400 and almost unusable ISO800.

7. Storage method - Major Nitpick here. WHY did Sony go with a duo memory stick instead of a full size MS as the H1 used? Possibly size was a factor due to internal design changes... but MORE likely they're just trying to force people (who have already purchased sony memory sticks for their old cameras) to purchase the new duo-pro sticks as a way of generating even MORE revenue!And Sonyends up DOUBLY cashing in since the purchases would not be limited to ms duo sticks but ALSO ms duo card readers as well since some older MS readers will not support duo sticks...even with an adapter.

Alongthese same lines....from what I've read apparently early H2 releases will NOT support Sandisk Duo Pro sticks. New H2 Owners are stuck either using Sonybrand duo sticks...OR returning their H2 to Sony for a firmware upgradeor trying to locate a friend who has a Sony Made Duo stick so they can download a firmware update from the Sony site and then upload to the camera thus allowing it to accept the San disk duo sticks.

***Models after a certain production number supposedly have the new firmware installed in them from the factory to correct this issue and the H2's currently on the market should NOT haveany problems using non-Sony duo memory sticks.

Conclusions and final thoughts:

I really like my H1 and the only reason I had even been considering an H2 is the higher 800 and 1000 ISO settings sinceit stands to reason that higher available ISO would mean noise at 200 and400 SHOULD be even lower than on the H1. The H1 was already class leading OVER the Canon S2 AND Panasonic FZ cameras as far as low image noise goes...but the possibility of being able to use ISO400 moreoften was intriguing enough that I held the H2 in my hands and gave it a once over.

***UPDATED 5/26/06****

After seeing recently posted photos, I am impressed with the lower image noise on the new H cameras and the ability to zoom in movie mode on the H5 is a nice touch...as is the dedicated playback buttondespite its poor location and flat design.

However,despitethese few minor yet welcome changes... the switch to memory stick duo andchanges regarding button design(now flushbuttons and a circular ring controller) andpoor button placement compared to the H1 are steps in the wrong direction in myopinion.

From an ergonomics standpoint Sony got it right the FIRST time in creating the H1. It was a great Superzoom camera. With only minor refinements it could've been thePERFECT superzoom camera...but they had to mess with it!

IF in creating the H2/H5 Sony had simply lowered high ISO noise ...but left the H1 relatively unchanged... INCLUDING button types and locations, LCD screen size (shrank on the H2) and retained the H1 body shape (including the longer aluminum barrel of the H1 which is great to hold) - PLUS allowed H1 owners to retain use of the memory sticks they already own...they might've gotten my upgrade money.

Things being how they turned out...I'll live with slightly more image noise athigher ISO because theH1 is so muchnicerand faster to useergonomically from acamera control standpoint.

Also in designing these replacements for the H1, Sony didn't add any of the camera features that were on my H1 revision wish list...such as....

Addition of a hotshoe,more focusing points, allowing the camera to be controlled by the PC (even my4 year old digicam has that feature), and a remote option wouldn't have hurt either. Ok...its my wish list...so a manual focus ring would've beennice as well. I'm not talking about turning the H cameras into an R series camera...just tossing in a few more SLR like features.

From where I'm standing....Despite a few minor shortcomings...Sony hit the mark with the H1...but missed (H1 owners) with the H2 and H5 due to poorly re-designed button ergonomics.

However, for those looking for a superzoom camerathat don't mind flat buttons (or the locations) and ring controller... and might be considering the Canon S3 or a Panasonic FZxx ....the H2/H5 cameras appear to havevery low image noisewhen compared to the competitionare a bit chunky but still comfortable to hold...and of course....there's the excellent image quality.

My next purchase will bea DSLR.I'm curious to see how the Sony/KM AlphaDSLR reviews turn out.Sony is going to have to pull a rabbit out of their hats withregards to features, performance and price because I've had my eyes on another DSLR for a while which will be even less expensive by the time Alpha cameras hit the market.

Sony.....Impress me with the Alpha!

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Old May 12, 2006, 3:39 PM   #2
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Thank you for such a detailed and comprehensive review.
The only one detail I want to point is SUNDICK MS issue.
It seams to be addressed since SONY recalled some units and released firmware update.
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