Manual Control Options
The Sony H7 has a full palette of modes and settings ranging from completely automated to fully manual. Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program, Automatic, and preset modes cater to any level of expertise. There are plenty to satisfy those who prefer manual controls: white balance, ISO, focus, and more. Most of the manual controls can either be found in the recording menu or changed with the rotary dial and selection button. They are detailed below.
Auto Focus (8.5)
The Sony H7 has a 9-point auto focus system that is superior to most comparable cameras’ systems. It acts quickly and reliably much of the time, although its dependability decreases as the zoom increases. The auto focus mode defaults to multi but can be set to center and flexible spot auto focus. It can be activated continuously (monitoring AF) or singly.
The camera’s viewfinder or LCD screen shows green brackets around the focus area when the exposure and focus are locked just before pictures are taken. In low light, the camera shoots out an orange auto focus assist lamp. This adds some time to the focus system, but it is still effective. The camera has trouble focusing in low contrast situations and when there is no clear subject, like a field of grass or a close-up of flower petals. In these cases, there is a manual focus mode that is a better option. Manual focus is outlined below.
The Sony H7 has a face recognition mode that can be turned on and off in the auto and portrait modes. Some other cameras have face detection technology but flaunt it prominently with its own position on the mode dial or a designated button. The H7 buries its technology and is a hidden gem. The Sony H7’s face recognition technology superimposes white boxes around faces within view and tracks whether the photographer or the subjects move. The H7 tracked eight faces at most when I tested it with groups of people. It recognized and tracked faces very quickly and is competitive with other systems by Fujifilm, Samsung and Canon. This technology automatically finds faces and adjusts the focus and exposure accordingly.
Manual Focus (3.0)
As stated in the previous paragraph, the manual focus function is useful in low-contrast shooting situations. Using the manual focus isn’t entirely simple though. The LCD screen’s resolution is so poor that it’s hard to tell if the subject is in focus, and it’s hard to look through the viewfinder and adjust the focus without glancing at the buttons. The H7 does have an expanded focus feature in the setup menu that activates to blow up the center of the image – but the resolution still isn’t good enough to tell if subjects are sharp. The manual focus is grouped with the auto focus modes directly on the screen and accessed by the rotary dial and selection button. Selecting a point of focus is then done by pushing right and left on the multi-selector and moving across the bar that appears with “1 cm” on the left and “∞” on the right. It is best to avoid the manual focus feature, but is sometimes unavoidable when snapping pictures of rose petals, walls, and low contrast subjects.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 has a vast selection of ISO settings that can be used at any resolution. Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200 settings are available on the viewfinder or LCD screen. They are accessed by scrolling with the rotary dial and selecting with the central button. There is a live view so users can see how the ISO 80 setting differs from 3200. Even when eyeballing pictures snapped at high ISO sensitivity, such as those in the High Sensitivity scene mode, the prevalence of speckled noise can be seen and edges that should be clean and straight look tattered and fuzzy. There is a distinct difference in illumination and noise; for more complete analysis, see the Testing/Performance section of this review.
White Balance (8.5)
The Sony H7 has a plethora of white balance modes: Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash, and One Push. The last mode listed is Sony’s manual white balance setting and there is a One Push Set option next to it in the recording menu. When users select this setting, the camera automatically takes a reading of whatever is in front of the camera, so users have to be ready and have the camera framing white before selecting it. The custom white balance works well; check out the testing section for a more detailed analysis on the accuracy of colors and such. In the recording menu, there is a live view of the white balance options. There is also a help menu that explains when to use the different white balance settings, making it even easier to choose a good setting for the situation.
Users have complete control over the exposure if they desire it. In the manual mode, the shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted. In the priority modes, one or the other can be changed along with a more basic exposure compensation mode that can be changed in almost all of the shooting modes. The +/- 2 scale shows in steps of 1/3 and is accessible on-screen with the rotary dial and selection button complete with a live view. The live view is nice because it allows users to select an exposure value without looking at numbers or charts, although there is a histogram available. Exposure bracketing is available and is grouped with the burst mode: it snaps three pictures in increments of +/- 0.3, +/- 0.7, or +/- 1. If users have no desire to manually adjust the exposure, there are plenty of modes that use auto exposure.
The Sony H7 has three metering modes typical of compact digital cameras: multi, center, and spot. There is a live view in the recording menu that they are located in.
Shutter Speed (8.75)
The Sony H7 has a nice wide shutter speed range that goes as slow as 30 seconds and as fast as 1/4000th of a second. The full range is available in the shutter priority mode only. The manual mode truncates the shutter speeds to 30-1/2000th of a second. The aperture priority mode uses shutter speeds from 8-1/2000th of a second. The program mode uses 1-1/4000 and the auto mode uses 1/4-1/4000th of a second. The H7 employs a noise reduction system when shutter speeds slow down past 1/3 of a second. Users can scroll through shutter speeds with the rotary dial and selection button on the screen and view the effect on the exposure in real time. Overall, the H7’s shutter speeds are impressive and the ability to access the entire range in the shutter speed priority mode is a big plus.
The massive 15x optical zoom lens lets in plenty of light with the max f/2.7 aperture. When fully zoomed in, the aperture can still open to f/4.5. Throughout the range, the aperture can shrink as small as f/8 and can be controlled automatically or manually. These numbers are very similar to the Olympus SP-550, which has an 18x lens that opens to f/2.8 in wide and f/4.5 in telephoto.