The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has an electronic viewfinder on the back that is encased by a hard plastic eyecup. It’s far enough away from the back that noses won’t rub against the LCD screen. The view jumps from the LCD to the viewfinder when the LCD/Finder button to the right of the viewfinder is pushed.
This component is small – the window measures only 0.2 inches diagonally – but is useful when shooting outdoors when the LCD is difficult to see. The small viewfinder has much better resolution than the LCD screen too. With 201,000 pixels, it isn’t the best electronic viewfinder on the market but it’s not bad either. It shows a 100 percent accurate view, like the LCD, and has good color and contrast. It refreshes rapidly too, so even moving subjects will look like a video rather than a choppy film strip.
Users can choose what information is displayed on the viewfinder and LCD by pushing the top of the multi-selector labeled “Disp.” The view can be blank or full shooting info can appear. Pushing “Disp” again will brighten the screen, and pushing yet again will display a histogram with the shooting information. Overall, the viewfinder is small but has decent resolution and is most useful when bright light makes viewing the LCD impossible.
LCD Screen (6.0)
The H7’s LCD screen isn’t that great. Perhaps this is a strategic move on Sony’s part though. The Cyber-shot H9’s banner feature is its 3-inch LCD monitor that has a wide viewing angle and folds out from the camera so it can tilt up and down. Perhaps to make the pricier H9 more enticing, Sony put a sub-par LCD on the H7. It measures 2.5 inches, which is a decent size. But the resolution isn’t very good at only 115,000 pixels. At this resolution, the individual blue, green, and red pixels can be seen. It is difficult to judge whether subjects are focused on this LCD screen, although composition can be determined. The H7’s LCD doesn’t have a very wide viewing angle either, so holding it anywhere but directly in front of the eye will make the screen look like a film negative. Viewing the H7’s LCD outside in bright light is nearly impossible. The glassy surface catches glare and is quite hard to see. When reviewing images outdoors the electronic viewfinder is the way to go.
Sony opted to give the H7 a solid built-in flash unit rather than a hot shoe to attach external flash. The flash pops up automatically when needed; if users want to force it up, they will have to activate it through the flash menu. This is accessed by the right side of the multi-selector. Auto, On, Off, and Slow Sync options are available from here; red-eye reduction can be turned on and off in the recording menu and works in all the flash modes.
The flash is very effective for faraway subjects but useless for macro shooting. It is effective from 0.66-32.41 feet when zoomed out and 3.94-19.69 feet when zoomed in. Don’t even try using the flash for macro shooting: half the picture will be glaring white and the other half will have a dark shadow from the lens.
For portraits, the flash performed well. It provided even coverage on subjects’ faces and didn’t overexpose foreheads. Just a note: the corners of the frame are much darker than the center. This won’t show up unless shooting images of blank walls – which hopefully you don’t do often. But for those art photographers out there, this slight vignetting could be a problem. The Cyber-shot H7’s flash level can be adjusted on a +/- 2 scale in third increments from within the recording menu.
In the playback mode, there is a red-eye correction filter. I never had to use it because I never got a picture with red eyes. The Sony H7’s flash performs well in most situations and will especially provide excellent coverage for portraits.
Zoom Lens (8.75)
The Sony H7 is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 15x optical zoom lens, the same lens as the fancier H9. The lens is made up from 13 elements in 8 groups with 4 aspheric elements and 1 ED lens. Sony’s Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization system keeps these elements afloat so that any jostles from hands, toddlers, or earthquakes don’t ruin a picture.
The optical image stabilization is the most useful in the movie mode, when every little jostle is magnified and recorded. The optical zoom lens is fully functional in the movie mode, although its motor can be heard in the video. The lens isn’t loud, but it’s definitely audible. The Super SteadyShot stabilization is also useful in reducing blur in still images, but is more noticeable in movies. It can be turned on and off in the recording menu. When snapping still images, there is also an option to activate it only when the exposure is locked – rather than run it continuously – to save power.
The 15x optical zoom lens measures 5.2-78mm, which is equivalent to 31-465mm in the traditional 35mm format. The zoom is controlled by a rocker-type button on the upper right of the H7’s back. This rocker isn’t very sensitive; it only stops at about 21 focal lengths throughout the 15x range. When zooming around, a horizontal bar appears on the LCD or viewfinder. The bar shows the user’s approximate location in the 15x range and gives a numerical value as to its position: for example, “2.4x.”
The camera comes with a lens adapter and hood. The hood comes in useful in sunny shooting situation, but should be used with caution as the lens hood shows up in the photo when shooting at the widest angle. Users have to zoom in to about 1.5x to not have the black petals peek into the sides of pictures. The camera also comes with a lens cap and strap that attaches to the neck strap so it won’t get lost.
The Sony Cyber-shot H7 has 2x “precision” digital zoom, which degrades image quality and should basically never be used. It also comes with something called “smart zoom” that works well when used correctly. When the image size is reduced, the camera uses the entire image sensor to digitally zoom. There is no degradation of image quality in this mode. When the image size is set to 5 megapixels, the camera can zoom to 18x. When set to 3 megapixels, it is set to 23x. In the 2-megapixel widescreen mode, the H7 can zoom to 25x. At the smallest 640 x 480-pixel size, users can zoom up to 76x.
The lengthy Carl Zeiss lens has a fat barrel with a wide base that is great for handling and gives the camera a good solid feel. The lens has a wide f/2.7 max aperture that lets in lots of light. The 15x lens with image stabilization is a solid component as it should be; after all, it is the highlighted feature on this ultra-zoom digital camera.