Auto Mode (7.0)
The only green icon on the otherwise cluttered mode dial belongs to the auto mode. The simple green camera icon is an oasis for beginners who want to avoid the camera’s many options and just shoot. In the auto mode, there are a few options that and be customized. Image size, face detection, burst, and red-eye reduction can be accessed in the recording menu. On the multi-selector the macro, self-timer and flash can be found. The exposure compensation can also be changed via the rotary dial to easily brighten or darken the image. This mode seems to work well in most situations.
Movie Mode (7.5)
The movie mode is accessed through the mode dial via a film strip-like icon. The H7’s movie mode is a lot like other Sony digital cameras’ movie modes. It can record MPEG1 video at 640 x 480-pixel resolution at a frame rate of 16 fps. This looks very choppy, so users will want to make an extra purchase to get a better frame rate. With the Sony Memory Stick Duo Pro card, the frame rate bumps up to a television-quality 30 fps. Having to make the extra purchase is a little annoying, but it’s necessary to get a larger capacity card anyway because the included 31MB of internal memory certainly won’t be enough.
There is also a 320 x 240-pixel resolution that snaps slowly by at 8.3 fps: some cameras’ burst modes shoot faster than this at much higher resolution. Still, the small file size is designed to be easier to email. When scrolling through the resolution options in the recording menu, the approximate remaining shooting time appears at the bottom of the screen: this is helpful in choosing an appropriate size.
There are plenty of other options in the movie mode. The color mode can be set to black-and-white or sepia. The metering can be set to multi or center. The white balance is as fully functional as it is when shooting still images. Having all these settings makes the H7 more versatile. It ensures that backlit subjects won’t be completely darkened and that Cousin Sue’s beautiful white wedding dress will look white instead of ivory in the movie.
Backing up the solid list of settings is even more functionality. The 15x optical zoom lens is fully functional in the movie mode even while the audio works. This is a change from the Olympus SP-550UZ, which has an 18x lens that only works in the movie mode if the audio is turned off. The Sony Cyber-shot H7’s lens makes an audible noise when it zooms in and out, but it isn’t incredibly loud. It will only be annoying if recording a quiet ballet performance or something of that nature. The bigger problem with the lens is the lagging auto focus that doesn’t seem to catch up with the zoom until a few seconds later.
Adding to the functionality of the H7’s movie mode is Sony’s Super SteadyShot image stabilization system. This can be turned on and off, but should be turned on at all times. It is very effective in keeping bumps and hand shake from ruining video.
Movies can be played back on the camera, but not edited. The playback mode has VHS-like controls, but no option to divide or edit the file in any way.
Overall, the Sony H7’s audio is clear and the video looks great. It operates on a list of automatic default settings, but can be easily changed in the recording menu so videos look even better in some situations.
Drive / Burst Mode (6.25)
One of the most marketed aspects of the H7 is its Advanced Sports Mode that combines the burst mode with a predictive auto focus mode. This mode is located directly on the mode dial and activates the 2.2 fps burst that can snap away for 100 shots at any resolution. This is a huge improvement over the Sony H5 that had a 1.1 fps burst mode that stopped after only five shots. The burst can be activated in the recording menu alongside the normal and exposure bracketing shooting modes. Of note is the self-timer that can delay 2 or 10 seconds and is activated with the bottom of the multi-selector. Overall, the Sony H7’s burst mode is quick and very impressive.
Playback Mode (7.5)
The playback mode has its pros and cons. The most disappointing aspect of playback is the poor screen resolution. The 2.5-inch LCD has only 115,000 pixels, making each red, green, and blue dot visible to the discerning eye. The poor screen resolution is a calculated move on Sony’s part though: it’ll drive consumers with a little more cash to the H9 with its bigger screen and additional resolution. With the exception of the screen resolution, the two cameras have the same playback mode.
There is a button on the back of the Cyber-shot H7 that easily enters and exits the playback mode. I’m glad the playback mode isn’t accessible from the cluttered mode dial; that would take too long to find, enter, and then return to shooting.
The following outlines many of the playback menu’s available features.
This Image, Multiple Images, All in this Folder
Start, Exit, Image (Folder, All), Effects (Simple, Nostalgic, Stylish, Active, Normal), Music (Music 1-4, Off), Interval (3, 5, 10, 30, 60 sec), Repeat (On, Off)
Soft Focus, Partial Color, Fisheye Lens, Cross Filter, Trimming, Red Eye Correction
This Image, Multiple Images
This Image, Multiple Images
This Image, Multiple Images
90 Right, 90 Left, OK, Exit
The retouching features are interesting and only somewhat useful. They are certainly not professional and are sub-par when compared to results from computer editing software, but they are also far better than what is often offered on digital cameras. The soft focus, partial color and fisheye lens features allow users to select the point of focus/color/etc. using the multi-selector and then adjust the picture from there. Soft focus blurs the background around the selected subject, partial color dulls everything around the subject to black-and-white, fisheye lens distorts the entire image, and the cross filter adds tacky crosses to lights and highlights around the frame. When pictures are retouched with these filters, they are saved as separate files so users can keep the original – always a good idea.
Users can navigate through images using either the multi-selector or the rotary dial, although the latter is much more comfortable and will save your thumb from overuse. The only drawback to the quick navigation is the lagging processing time. When pictures first appear, they look blurry. It takes about a half-second for them to sharpen up.
Pictures can be viewed individually or in groups of nine. Images can be magnified up to 5x, which isn’t much compared to other cameras that can zoom in to 8x or 16x. The 5x magnification was also on the Sony H5.
Videos can be played back and the volume adjusted. There are VHS-like controls to rewind, fast forward, pause, stop, and play. There aren’t any movie editing features though. Many digital cameras allow users to at least divide a movie file into two, but the Sony H7 doesn’t allow even that.
One of the coolest features in the playback mode is the slide show. Users can choose from interesting effects that are more exciting than a fade or wipe transition. Music can be added too. The camera comes with four preloaded soundtracks and Sony claims more music can be added, although we didn’t receive the software with our review unit. The included soundtracks last about 30 seconds and then repeat
; this is an improvement over Olympus digital cameras that have a four-second tune that plays over and over again.
Overall, the Sony H7’s playback mode has lots of great features and would be pretty incredible if it had a better LCD screen.
Custom Image Presets (6.0)
An abundance of scene modes clutter the H7’s mode dial. The High Sensitivity, Portrait, Advanced Sports Shooting, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape modes are located directly on the dial. There is also a “SCN” position that accesses the Twilight, Beach, Snow, and Fireworks modes via a menu.
The High Sensitivity mode uses the ISO 3200 setting and keeps subjects nicely illuminated but noise takes away from the sharpness of the image. Pictures taken in this mode are shot at full resolution, but they wouldn’t look good enlarged and hung on the wall because of the noise, undersaturated color palate, and limited dynamic range.
The Portrait mode took decent pictures even when the flash was used. The Advanced Sports Shooting mode was impressive as it kept subjects sharp even while they moved because the camera predicted the movement and locked its auto focus on it. The 2.2 fps burst mode that snaps up to 100 shots at a time is very impressive too. Entering the sports mode doesn’t automatically activate the burst mode though; users still have to enter the recording menu to turn it on. This is a little disappointing as preset scene modes are supposed to be just that: preset and ready to go.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has nine scene modes, which isn’t an incredibly lengthy list but it still covers all the basics. Consumers who are looking for vast amounts of preset modes should look at Casio digital cameras that stock more than 30 on most models.