The ultra-zoom segment of the digital camera market is expanding as consumers seek more than the standard compact 3x lens and lust for the double digit optics. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 will satiate zoom cravers with its 8.1 megapixels and 15x optical zoom lens. The H7 is the less expensive sibling of the Sony H9, which has a bigger fold-out LCD monitor. The Sony H7 might be overshadowed by its big brother, but still provides a decent set of features at a reasonable price. The H7 will retail for $399 when it is shipped in June.
The chrome-plated Sony brand name is emblazoned on the flash unit. When the flash is opened, the hinge looks solid and the Sony logo looks up to the sky. Below the flash unit is the 15x optical zoom lens that is labeled “Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 2.7-4.5/5.2-78” around its edge. The black lens is surrounded by a chrome ring with a wide threading that conversion lenses can be screwed onto.
To the upper left of the lens is a black glossy oval with a non-intuitive icon on it: this is the wireless remote sensor. Directly below it is the relatively small auto focus assist/self-timer lamp. These features are positioned in a dip between the lens and hand grip. At the bottom of this dip is a label that reads “8.1 Megapixels.” On the left edge of the camera’s front is a hand grip that is completely covered in a rubber material that is textured to look like leather. Near the top of the grip is a cradle for a finger. Just above the cradle is the protruding shutter release button positioned on a diagonal plane between the top and front sides. All in all, the front isn’t very attractive. The lens’ curved right edge and the hand grip’s straight left edge give it an odd look.
The strange shape of the front is carried over to the back. The left edge of the back is curved like the lens barrel and the right side is straight. The upper left of the Sony H7’s back has a plastic eyecup with an electronic viewfinder; this sticks out about a third of an inch from the rest of the back. Below the viewfinder is the 2.5-inch LCD screen that is framed beneath a glossy glass-like window and garnered with the Sony logo at the bottom. To the upper right corner of the LCD are two buttons: the one on the left is labeled “Finder/LCD” and switches the view from one to the other, and the button on the right accesses the playback mode.
To the far right is the plastic zoom control that looks like an oval with a chunk bit out of the bottom. This, along with the slight dip in the center, helps users differentiate the sides without actually looking at the control itself. “W” is engraved on the left and “T” on the right to represent wide and telephoto ends of the zoom spectrum.
To the right of the LCD screen are a few more controls. The Menu button sits at the top and the Home button sits at the bottom; in the center is a multi-selector/rotary dial combo. The combo is a chrome color while the rest of the buttons on the back are black-colored plastic. The combo consists of a central selection button surrounded by a traditional multi-selector with icons engraved on each side to represent different functions. The multi-selector controls the following: display options from the top, flash from the right, self-timer from the bottom, and macro shooting from the left. Around the traditional control is a thin ring that rotates; this quickens navigation and prevents thumbs from tiring out by pushing one side of the multi-selector 80 times over to find a single image, for example. The back has a strange shape, but the layout is simple and easy to navigate.
Left Side (6.5)
This side isn’t very exciting. A 15x optical zoom designation is printed on the dark silver lens barrel toward the front, and the Cyber-shot label takes up the middle of the rest of the body. The Sony H7 has a neck strap lug above the “shot” part of the label and an inch-wide base at the bottom to keep this oddly curved side from tipping. On this base is a door that is hardly noticeable at all: it opens to a thin rectangular multi-port for the AV and USB cable. The top of this side is where the flash unit is housed with the electronic viewfinder in the back. The viewfinder has a circular plastic diopter control dial on the side that isn’t very easy to turn.
Right Side (7.0)
This side is short and stocky. The front two-thirds of the right side is coated with rubber that is textured to look like leather and has a dimple near the top to cradle the index finger. From this side, the profile of the shutter release button can be seen at the top. The ribbed side of the mode dial can be seen behind it. Below the mode dial is a small plastic door with a very tiny lip for fingers to grip and pry it open. This door covers the port to the power adapter. Behind this is a trapezoid-shaped neck strap eyelet that is large enough to easily loop the strap in. The eyelet clasp itself rotates to any angle. The very back edge is thicker near the top, allowing the thumb to easily hold the camera in place.
The hand grip doesn’t look quite as thick from this angle, as it is dwarfed by the fat lens barrel on the left side. The top of the lens barrel flaunts its ability to keep pictures stable: “Super SteadyShot.” The curvaceous left edge of the camera and both eyelets can be seen from the top. Though the eyelets are not evenly placed across from one another, they can rotate to any angle, making it a bit more comfortable.
Near the left side, above the lens, is the flash/viewfinder shaft. The flash sits at the front and is hardly noticeable from the top when folded down. Behind it are two labels, “MPEG Movie VX” and “DSC-H7,” and the viewfinder eyecup at the back. About three-quarters of an inch below the flash/viewfinder shaft is the microphone and power button. On the rear right edge of the top is the mode dial that is cluttered with text and icons representing its vast number of exposure modes. The right side of the H7’s top curls up into a hand grip with the shutter release button sitting atop a protruding chrome platform.
The fat lens barrel appears on the right of the bottom side and has a little rubber pad that holds it steady when resting on a table or other flat surface. Near the center is the metal quarter-inch tripod mount with a built-in speaker to its left. At the far left is a battery door that slides and springs open, but feels rather flimsy.