Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 Overview

by Greg Scoblete and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 05/19/2011
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 digital camera is a pocket camera with a 10x zoom starting at 25mm and reaching out to 250mm, a great choice as an everywhere camera, or a vacation camera. With a 16.1-megapixel sensor, a Bionz-branded image processor, the Sony H70 should offer good speed and image quality when needed. The Sony H70's lens carries the same Sony G branding as the company's digital SLR lenses, an indication of its confidence in the lens' optical performance.
The Sony H70 has a two step aperture, which varies from f/3.5 to f/5.5 across the zoom range. At wide-angle the alternate aperture is f/8.0, and the lens also includes a built-in neutral density filter. To help combat blur from camera shake, the Sony DSC-H70's lens includes an optical stabilization mechanism that works in concert with a built-in gyro sensor to detect and correct for camera motion. As with certain of Sony's other recent Cyber-shot cameras, the stabilization function works with up to 10x increased power in Movie mode, taking advantage of the more forgiving lower resolution of the movies as compared to still images.
The Sony H70 uses a 3-inch Clear Photo LCD display with a resolution of 230,000 dots, roughly equating to a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels with separate red, green, and blue dots per pixel. A nine-point autofocus system includes face detection capability, and can recognize up to eight faces in a scene. The face detection function can be disabled if desired, and can also be programmed to give priority to either adult or child faces. The AF system can also operate in either center-weighted or spot AF modes, and includes an AF assist illuminator.
As well as still images, the Sony H70 can capture either high-definition 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) or standard definition VGA (640 x 480 pixel) video at a frame rate of 29.97 frames per second. Movies are saved with MP4 compression, and include monaural audio. The Cyber-shot DSC-H70 also includes a sweep panorama function, which can automatically capture multiple shots by simply sweeping the camera across the scene, and then stitch these in-camera into a single image with an increased field of view. A Self Portrait Timer mode allows the photographer to get in the picture before the shutter is automatically triggered, and a Smile Shutter function ensures everybody is smiling before the shutter fires.
The Sony H70 stores images on Secure Digital, SDHC or the latest SDXC types. The Sony H70 is also compatible with Sony's own proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Power comes from a Sony InfoLithium NP-BG1 rechargeable battery. Connectivity options include both USB data, as well as standard definition composite and high definition component video outputs.
The product bundle includes Sony's Picture Motion Browser v5.3 and Picture Motion Browser Portable applications. Pricing for the Sony DSC-H70 is around US$230, and the camera is available in black, silver, blue, or red versions beginning March 2011.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70 User Report

by Greg Scoblete
If there's been any upside to the Great Recession we're only now (we're told) dusting ourselves off from, it's that it helped drive prices down on everything from dental floss to digital cameras. Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H70 is clear evidence of this trend, packing a range of features into a very budget-friendly package. At a suggested retail price of $229, the Sony H70 delivers a 16-megapixel sensor, a 10x wide-angle zoom lens (25 to 250mm, 35mm equivalent), 3-inch LCD display and 720p HD movie recording. Throw in some manual control, several "Intelligent" scene modes and a compact design and you're looking at quite a capable digital camera in the Sony H70.
But there's a lot of competition for your camera dollar in this price range, including many cameras that can bundle big lenses into little bodies. Let's see how the Sony Cyber-shot H70 stacks up.
Look and Feel: The Cyber-shot H70 is comfortable to hold, with a rounded, ergonomic rest running down the left side. There's also a gently indented rest for your thumb to the right of the Sony H70's 3-inch LCD display. This little home for your thumb makes it easier to grip the camera one-handed, but it forces the camera's controls to cluster down at the bottom of the camera, and those controls are fairly small.
Beneath the thumb rest on the back of the camera you'll find a Playback button, a four-way controller for accessing the Display, Smile Shutter, Flash and Self-timer. Beneath these are buttons for the Menu and the In-camera Guide/Trash. These controls are not only small in diameter, but pretty flush with the Sony H70's body. Often they'll need a determined press to activate.
On the top of the camera you'll find an on/off button (also very flush with the camera but more responsive) a shutter button/zoom lever and a mode dial.
At 4 x 2 3/8 x 1 3/16 inches and weighing in at 6.8 ounces with memory card and battery, the Cyber-shot H70 is definitely pocketable and portable.
Aesthetically, the Sony H70 isn't much to look at. It's rather bland in black, but you'll also have a choice of more dynamic red, blue, or silver with a black lens barrel -- at least if you're shopping online.
Lens: The Cyber-shot H70 offers a 10x, wide-angle zoom lens (25-250mm, 35mm equivalent) with an aperture of f/3.5 - f/8.0 at the wide end, adjustable in two steps. It's a Sony G Lens composed of 10 elements in seven groups with four aspheric elements.

Wide and Tele. Got the time? With a 10x zoom you should be able to pull it in.
It's definitely nice to get this kind of optical zoom in camera just a smidge over an inch thick. It's doubly nice when it's a wide-angle lens, which is really useful for getting the scene in tight quarters. Sony also throws in what they dub their "Smart Zoom" technology, which delivers 12x when you're shooting at 10 megapixels. Unfortunately, the zoom is apparently not smart enough to automatically down-res your photo as you push past the 10x mark, so resolution must already be set to 10 megapixels before using Smart Zoom, which takes away some of the feature's utility. You can zoom still further if you lower the resolution more: at 5 megapixels you'll get 17x total, at 2 megapixels you'll get 24x (when shooting at a 16:9 aspect ratio). If you were inclined to take a VGA resolution photo, the Smart Zoom would propel you all the way out to 72x.
There's also a Precision Zoom function, which brings you out to 20x by cropping out a portion of the image and interpolating it back up to full resolution, though image quality deteriorates. As you zoom out past 10x, the LCD will display a box to help you frame the portion of the photo that will appear magnified. Unlike Smart Zoom, Precision Zoom will kick on while shooting at full resolution.
Sony's H70 also uses a nine-point autofocus system with face detection capable of recognizing up to eight faces in a scene.
Controls: The Sony DSC-H70 offers a mode dial atop the camera to access the camera's Scene Modes, iAuto, Program Auto, Manual Mode, Sweep Panorama Mode and finally, Movie Mode. There was room on the dial for additional functions, but Sony opted to keep it to this simple lineup.
When shooting in Manual Mode, you can control the aperture and/or shutter speed by hitting the button at the center of the four-way controller and then toggling left to right (for aperture) or up and down (for shutter speed). Pretty straightforward stuff. It's not every day you find these kinds of controls on a sub $250 camera, and they're nice to have, even if aperture is limited to just the lowest available (f/3.5-5.5) and the highest (f/8-13). What's a bit curious is that while you have the ability to adjust both shutter and aperture in Manual, there are no Shutter or Aperture Priority Modes. Those modes would have been useful as well, though the lack of a full range of apertures is probably why.
As mentioned above, the external buttons are on the smallish side, so you may need to use the edge of your thumbnail for them. But on the whole, they're responsive.

Advanced mode. It takes a little longer, but in tough lighting, Advanced mode can save the day... just like this little guy.
Modes: There's a fair amount to do on the Sony H70, enough to satisfy your average point-and-shooter with a little dollop of creative freedom thrown in, and the Manual Mode to slake the thirst of more advanced users. For starters, you have a selection of 12 Scene Modes -- the usual stuff: Portrait, Advanced Sports Shooting, High Sensitivity, Beach, Fireworks, etc. It's not as extensive a selection of scene modes as we've come to expect from a compact point-and-shoot, but it covers the important bases.
If you simply want a point-and-shoot experience, the Sony H70 is equipped with the company's iAuto or Intelligent Auto mode, which optimizes your exposure based on shooting conditions. Intelligent Auto Mode is also joined by an Intelligent Scene Recognition mode (set in the menu while in iAuto).
When you're shooting in Advanced Mode, the camera will snap two photos (one with the flash, one without) whenever it encounters scenes with low light or excessive backlighting. What's nice is that the camera will alert you when it's about to take two shots and will then display the images side-by-side briefly on the display. It takes a few seconds for the Sony H70 to process both images, so shooting in Advanced Intelligent Scene Recognition Mode can slow you down a bit, but it's a useful feature when used in challenging settings.
If you want a super-streamlined interface, you can set the Sony H70 to Easy Mode, which enlarges the text and icons and limits the number of settings you can access in the camera. I've never quite understood the appeal of Easy Modes (why make your camera less functional?) but your mileage may vary. You might want to use it as a mode to use when handing the camera to the kids or a complete novice.
Face Finding: The Cyber-shot H70 contains Sony's usual contingent of face-focusing technologies. Face detection can identify up to eight faces in a scene and you can set the camera to Child or Adult Priority to optimize focus on children or adults. There's also Blink Detection, which can be turned on or off to alert you when a subject is blinking.
Finally, there's Smile Shutter, which gets prominent placement on the camera's four-way controller and pauses the moment of image capture until a single person in a frame is smiling. You can adjust the sensitivity of the Smile Shutter in the menu so that the H70 can snap a photo at the merest hint of a smile or until your subject's chicklets are beaming. Smile Shutter is a neat trick but I find it has very limited utility outside of impressing people around you with what your camera can do (yes I do that, don't you?).
Sweep Panorama: Sweep Panorama is one of Sony's big bragging points, and for good reason: they've finally figured out how to make panoramic shooting on a point and shoot camera simple and the results are almost always impressive. Simply set the camera to Sweep Panorama using the Mode dial and a guide will appear at the bottom of the display pointing you in the direction in which you pan the camera. Then gently pan the camera in that direction and the camera assembles the panorama for you. Gone are the days of trying to align faint overlays of your previous image in the display - with Sweep Panorama the process is seamless. You can set the direction of your sweep, either horizontally or vertically and/or left to right and vice-versa, in the menu.
You can go super wide with ease using Sweep Panorama.
There are some tricks to shooting in Sweep Panorama, however. For one, it's best for static photographs. If any objects are moving in your frame, they're going to appear chopped up into many pieces or truncated depending on which direction they're moving as you pan.

HD optional. Out of the box, the Sony H70 only provides connection to Standard Definition TVs. You need to buy this $40 cable to connect to an HD Component-compatible TV.
HD Movie Mode: The Sony H70 boasts high definition video recording at 1,280 x 720 at 30 frames per second in the computer-friendly MPEG-4 format. Audio is recorded via a mono microphone (not surprising, given the price). There is an optional HD Output Adaptor cable as well, available for $40, which enables you to view your high def home movies on your HDTV or HD monitor. It's an RGB Component cable, so your HDTV will need to support this five-cord cable (RGB+LR).
You can use the camera's zoom while recording with a sensor-cropped focal length of 30 to 300mm. While it's nice to have access to the zoom while recording, the camera's microphone picks up the sound of the zoom motor, producing a distracting, high-pitched buzz every time you zoom. Not nice.

HD movie. 1280x720 at 30 fps. Click to download 11.8MB MP4 file.
The video quality at 720p isn't particularly impressive either. The video clips I recorded were frequently on the noisy side, especially indoors. I found the focus was rather soft too, although the lens did a nice job keeping things relatively in focus as you zoom.
Sony provides a small amount of control over your videos: you knock back the resolution to VGA quality, adjust exposure, white balance, and choose from center or multi metering mode. You can also select from Standard or Active image stabilization, depending on your conditions. While it's not the most extensive movie menu set you can find in a compact digicam, given the price it's nothing to sneeze at.
DRO: Another useful mode is Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO), which helps to bring out details that would otherwise be obscured by shadow. You can adjust DRO settings in Program Mode with a choice of Standard -- which recovers some detail in shadowed areas -- and Plus, which claims to recover said detail without losing the highlights. In practice, it didn't appear that DRO Standard washed out too many highlights, but it definitely wasn't as effective as DRO Plus at pulling all the details from the shadows. However, DRO Plus did tend to wash out some of the colors in the frame.
Taken in auto, you'll notice the bricks on the shadowed side of the monument are fairly obscure.
This shot, snapped in DRO Standard, brings out some of the detail in the shadowed bricks.
In DRO Plus you see far more details in the shadows but notice the grass and shrubs are slightly faded. The deep blue sky, however, remains relatively untouched.

Menu: The on-screen menu on the DSC-H70 is quite intuitive: it's easy to quickly find what you need, set it, and jump back into shooting. Hit the Menu button on the back of the camera and the Sony H70 will bring up a series of functions on the left of the LCD display, which expand out into the LCD as you highlight them. Each function is helpfully described for you by brief explanatory text on the display.
Once you dive into the camera's settings, the menu gets a bit more simplistic and less graphical (as you'd expect). You can pop out of the menu anytime by pressing the shutter.
One nice touch in the Sony H70 is the In-Camera Guide. It's accessible through a dedicated button on the back of the camera or in the menu. The guide not only explains almost all of the core functions of the camera, it also gives you easy access to the functions you were just learning about so you can make changes to the camera settings immediately.
The Guide is divided into six sections: Shoot/Playback Guide, Icon Guide, Troubleshooting, Objective Guide, Keyword and History. Shoot/playback explains the various modes in the camera while the icon guide explains what each icon on the H70's display means. In the 'objective guide' you can learn what specific functions do and there is some overlap here with the Shoot/Playback portion of the menu. In Keyword, you can search the Guide by select keywords (obviously) and in "History" you can view all the various guide pages you have already used in the event you need more information. All in all, quite a nice feature to have on board the camera, especially since the documentation provided isn't great, and is fragmented into multiple manuals and formats (PDF and HTML).
Shooting: The Sony Cyber-shot H70 makes for a pretty easy travel companion, given its trim size and light weight.
On the performance side, the Sony H70 is a bit of a mixed bag. It springs to life fast enough but when the flash is on, you'll notice some lag between shots. Burst mode isn't much help at all, it's a sluggish one frame per second at full resolution for just three images. The camera is many things, but it's definitely not a speed demon. That said, both iAuto and the Advanced Sports Shooting Mode did a nice job freezing fast-moving subjects.

Action. Advanced Sports Shooting Mode froze these flags flapping furiously in the frigid wind.
There's no viewfinder on the Sony H70 but framing your shots with the camera's 3-inch display was no problem, even in very bright sunlight. The display's viewing angle is generous, although vertical angles are less forgiving than horizontal ones. You can adjust the display's brightness in the menu to compensate for glare or to conserve battery life.
The controls, while small, don't present much of an obstacle to quickly finding the setting you need. The exception is the mode dial -- it's not only small but it's often hard to wheel around into your desired position. Plus, the symbols for Sweep Panorama and Movie Mode look awfully similar, especially when you're holding the camera at arm's length. On more than one occasion I popped into Sweep when I meant to enter Movie. (Obviously, after a few days you'll remember what's where.)

Run away! It doesn't look it, but these kids captured in iAuto were rocking back-and-forth vigorously trying to escape the Yeti - not pictured.
As noted above, the Sony H70 is a 16-megapixel point-and-shoot. That's a fair amount of pixels sandwiched onto a 1/2.3" CCD image sensor that is 7.7mm in size. The obvious downside of packing so many pixels is digital noise, which reared its head quite frequently in Movie mode and crept into a few low-light and indoor iAuto snapshots as well.
There is an upside, though, to a high-resolution camera, which is the ability to crop the sensor for digital zoom purposes and still retain a printable image. The Sony H70's Smart and Precision zooms are a good example of this, giving you close-up beyond what the optical zoom can deliver. When you exceed the limits of the optical zoom, the camera will display a guide box on the LCD to help frame the crop. While shooting, the image looked very unsteady in the box and I was pretty sure the resulting snapshot would be a blurred mess. To my pleasant surprise, that turned out not to be the case: the photos were crisp and blur-free.
As mentioned above, the Cyber-shot H70 has a Manual Mode but no Aperture or Shutter Priority Modes, kind of a strange omission. Another oddity is that while the camera offers Macro focusing, there's no way to actually set the camera to Macro Mode. The Sony H70 will do so automatically -- in Program and Intelligent Auto Modes -- which is nice, but somehow incomplete.
Playback: The playback capabilities on the Sony H70 are rather modest, as far as it goes. You can playback your images in a slideshow with or without some pre-loaded music. If you opt for music you'll have a choice of four five-minute songs, none are particularly good so you may want to load your own, which you can do using the included software. You can also select various transition styles for your slideshow: simple, nostalgic, stylish or active. When set to simple you can also choose the interval at which images slide past.
If you just want to scroll through capture images and videos you can view them by folder or the date they were captured. There are basic editing functions included in the Playback menu that include resizing, red-eye removal and the ability to apply an unsharp mask effect to a photo (the camera usefully saves this edited version, preserving the original).
Storage & Battery: The Cyber-shot H70 has a two-in-one memory card slot for accepting Memory Stick Duo and PRO Duo cards or SD memory cards, including SDHC and SDXC varieties. There's no internal memory to speak of (you only can get about three full resolution stills out of the camera's 27MB of on board memory) so a card is a must.
The Sony H70 uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (NP-BG1) which is held in place with a tiny latch that you need to press to pop the battery. The latch is small enough that it was often awkward to get the battery out. It also feels a bit flimsy. Battery life is rated at only 145 shots per charge according to the CIPA standard, which is below average.
Both the battery and memory card are housed securely in a latched compartment at the bottom of the camera, which springs open and shut with nary an issue. The plug for the multi-connector cable is adjacent to the battery compartment -- so the door must be closed if you wish to use the connector cable.

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