Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 digital camera review

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-H10 replaces the previous H3 model and as such sits snugly beneath the other "H" models in the range, which is topped by the DSC-H50 and now the latest and newest DSC-HX1.

Key features include the 8.1-megapixel, 1/2.5-inch CCD, an upgraded 3-inch colour screen with higher resolution; jumping from 115k-pixels to 230k-pixels (over the H3) and is otherwise very similar to its predecessor. That said, even with 8.1-megapixels you’ll easily be able to print up to A3 and beyond if you know what you’re doing in image editing software, for example.

The camera’s 38-380mm (equiv.) zoom lens provides a 10x zoom ratio though it has to be said the 38mm wide is rather limiting for vistas or where a wider view is required for a shot. It is however an excellent piece of glass providing crisp and clear images.

You get Sony’s Super Steady Shot image stabilisation too, which helps with hand help shots at the longer end of the zoom or when you need to keep the ISO set to a more manageable level (in terms of noise, which I’ll look at in a moment) in low light. It adds a good two stops of hand held advantage and so, it is very useful, indeed, and I left it on all the time during my tests.

The sensitivity settings run from ISO 100 to 3200 and this is backed up by a Sony’s Dynamic Rage Optimiser that helps iron out the vagaries between high and low contrast parts of a scene without affecting the detail of either. This works well and can be set to run automatically or you can adjust the contrast manually as well.

The dual stabilisation also boasted by the H10 allows you to combine the image stabilisation with a high ISO setting, but here the noise issues we will discuss later become a problem, ditto the auto sensitivity setting, which automatically bumps the ISO up and down depending on the ambient light and your other settings, to get a properly exposed and sharp image.

The AF set-up is comprehensive enough with manual control (via the menus, so be warned, it’s very slow to use as a result) with auto AF options that include Face Detection AF (up to eight faces as once with child or adult priority settings. In the sports scene mode, you get an “Advanced Sports Shooting” mode that activates predictive focusing, a high shutter speed and continuous AF.

The camera’s small pop-up flash is actually quite well powered for a camera of this ilk and while Sony claim illumination up to 14m, that is in practice a bit ambitious and depends on the sensitivity you’re using. However the daylight Synchro and macro flash modes are good although watch out for the flash shadow cast if the subject is close to the lens in the latter mode.

And that reminds me; the lens comes with a rather ugly hood that looks like a giant inverted mushroom has been strapped to the camera’s lens. While this is very effective at preventing issues around glare from stray, off-axis light getting in, it makes the otherwise compact camera a bit of a hulk, and an ugly one at that!

Nevertheless, other handling is very good indeed, controls are simple and well laid out apart from the zoom controls, which are small and sit rather uncomfortably on the back of the body. I like the Home button, which quickly gets you to control central for the H10, allowing you to quickly get to the meat of the camera’s various menus.

The menus are clear and straightforward to use via a ubiquitous four-way jog control, but the use of so many key features being buried within menus (such as ISO, white balance and the like) makes using the camera a lot slower than I like.

The mode dial on the top of the camera accompanies the power and shutter release, that’s it, and it provides access to the main shooting modes including scene modes, a manual control and the auto settings for snapping, excellent HD movies, High ISO mode, soft snap (for a softer background to a scene for portraits, for example) and a landscape and night scene mode.

In terms of image quality, as is usual with such cameras, it depends largely on the sensitivity you shoot at and the H10 is not different here on that front. Between ISO 100 and 400, there are no issues though there’s less shadow noise in the lower ISO settings, as you’d expect.

Over ISO 400 things deteriorate rapidly with both noise issues and detail reduction coming into play as the camera tries to remove the noise, Over ISO 800, noise, detail and colour problems all get worse with ISO 3200 images being only really any good for small, on screen use.

White balance is very good across the board but the auto setting does suffer a slight cast under fluorescent lighting and you don’t get a manual white balance option either, which is a tad limiting. The metering impresses me however as this performs reliably across all three multi, centre-weighted and spot modes, again though, the selection of these is buried within menus.

Focusing is sluggish in low light, even with the AF illuminator active, but in brighter lighting the camera performs well enough at getting the pictures you snap sharp. Image detail is okay in low ISO and brighter conditions push the sensitivity though and detail suffers from overly aggressive noise reduction where colour balance suffers as well, but the latter is very good otherwise under “normal” brighter conditions.

Verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 provides a comprehensive set of controls that want them but is really a sophisticated snapper since the power of the maul options on offer are always locked away in menus and the like. Image quality is good in low ISO modes and although the 38mm wide end of the lens is limiting, the glass is sharp enough to make the most of the sensor’s resolution.

Overall this is nice little compact with a long zoom lens, it’s a shame it lacks an optical viewfinder though as the battery life was a little suspect. But it is obviously a camera meant for the (slightly) more adventurous snapper, and as such it fits the bill very well indeed.