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Review: Sony Cybershot DSC H5 compared to Canon Powershot S3 IS

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Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 review
Canon Powershot S3 IS review
SLR-type (19.6 oz)
SLR-type (18.2 oz)
7Mp / 3072 x 2304 (4:3) / 3072 x 2048 (3:2)
6Mp / 2816 x 2112 (4:3) / 2816 x1584 (16:9)
36-432mm, 1:2.8-3,7
36-432mm, 1:2.7-3.5
1 fps (max. 5 images)
Motor drive
2.5 fps (limited by capacity memorycard)
3 inch (230.000 pixels)
2 inch (115.000 pixels, tilt and swivel)
Full specifications
Full specifications
The H-range of Sony stands for a d-SLR type compact with a long zoom range. The Cybershot H5 (7 Mp) together with the DSC H2, are the successors of the Sony DSC H1. Because of its SLR-shape it balances well in the hand, even for large hands. The body is made of metal-like plastic and the grip is made of rubber. The general appearance is somewhat less solid than the Powershot S3.
The Powershot S3 IS has a different color from its predecessor, the S2, and is dark gray instead of silver. The SLR-model gets a more professional and solid look by this new color and is a lot less 'plastic'. On the outside the color is the only difference between the S2 and S3 and keeping the body the same, Canon continues the well balanced design for a good handheld. The grip for the right hand is made of structured plastic, but rubber is preferred for the best grip.
The buttons on the body of the H56 are well placed and the most important functions are within reach of thumb and pointing finger. Each button has a clear picto to indicate its function and for first use the manual can stay closed. The buttons have a plastic look and show some margin, so the camera is not protected against dust, sand and rain.
Not only the body of the Powershot S3 is the same as that of the S2, but also all the buttons are on almost exactly the same places. Just the button to change the exposure mode has a new function, and is now linked to the ISO-setting.
The Sony H5 has a cap for a television and USB connection. It is made of plastic, but looks solid enough for intensive use. This can't be said of the cover of the batteries and memory card. It exists of two parts. To change the batteries you open the whole cover and if you only want to take out the MS Duo stick, you can open just one half. The space around the card however is so small that you can hardly take out the memory card. This is not well designed.
Caps and covers
As with all other digital cameras caps and covers are small and need careful handling. The rubber caps for TV and USB/AC are tiny and fragile. The covers for the memorycard and batteries are better constructed and allow frequent use. Changing the four AA-batteries needs some attention while closing the cover.
When you pick up the camera you notice the big LCD-screen. It has 230.000 pixels and is very bright with a large view angle. The EVF has a standard quality (high contrast, grainy) and the subject is shown with some delay. As with the S3, LCD and EVF can't replace the viewfinder of a d-SLR and manual focussing for close-up or portrait photography is very difficult.
Viewfinder and LCD
Canon was one of the first with a tilt and swivel lcd-screen and again with the Powershot S3 it proves its use in bright light and in choosing a creative viewpoint. The size and quality are average with only 2 inch diameter and 115k pixels. This makes it hard to check focus in playback or use the lcd-screen for manual focussing. The EVF is useful in bright light and for extra stability, but just like the LCD its quality is average. The Electronic Viewfinder still can't compete with the viewfinder of a d-SLR.
As stated the H-range of Sony stands for long zoom and the H5 goes from 36mm to 432mm (12x optical). This asks for a high quality lens, but that's no problem thanks to the Carl Zeiss 1:2.8-3.7. Moreover the camera is equipped with Super Steady Shot (image stabilization), which allows you to make sharp pictures even in low light or at full tele. She equals the Powershot S3 at this point.
One of the highlights in the specs of the Powershot S3 is its 12 times optical zoom from 36 to 432 mm. This needs a fast lens and image stabilization. Both are available on the S3. At 432 mm the largest aperture is still f/3.5 and Canon's IS gives the user two or three stops slower shutter speed. Handheld shots at 432 mm and 1/50s or even 1/25s can still be sharp.
The DSC H5 can be used as a point-and-shoot camera with several scene modes. But with Spot, Center weight and Matrix measuring and programs like P, A, S and full manual, the more demanding amateur can handle almost every exposure situation. The ISO-range goes from 80 up to 1000, but as with all compact cameras noise is a problem above ISO 400. Sony has done a good job with noise reduction at ISO 400. Visible noise is low and still a large amount of detail is preserved. Pictures at ISO 400 don't ask for post-noise reduction and can be used for large format prints.
Exposure and ISO
The Powershot S3 has all the exposure modes and programs of an entry d-SLR to handle all exposure situations. And with the help of the various scene-modes the S3 also can be used as a 'point-and-shoot' camera. One of the key features of the latest digital compacts is the height of the maximum ISO-sensitivity. Although fairly good results are achieved at ISO 800 or even 1600, image quality at these levels is only usable for small prints and internet. Noise is very manifest or noise reduction delivers 'watercolor' paintings. Canon used little noise reduction with this new Powershot, so ISO 800 is noisy, but sharp.
Macro-mode works best in wide angle and the subject distance is very short then. In practice the lens then takes away the light from the subject. But at larger distances the camera makes extremely sharp and impressive macros.
The Super macro mode of the Powershot S3 allows you to get very close to the subject, up to zero inches! But there is hardly a subject that is suitable for this, because all the light is taken away by the camera. At larger distances however it is possible to make stunning macros, without too much distortion.
At this point the DSC H5 performs very disappointingly. One frame per second, with a maximum of 5 frames and slow writing times. The competition does a lot better and that's a shame for such a great camera.
Motor drive
The DiGiC II processor proves its power when putting the Powershot S3 in its high continuous mode. Until the memory card is full, it shoots with almost 2.5 frames per second and this is uncompared in its class.
Sony has to keep up a name with making video, and the H5 does a good job at this point. At 640x480, 30 fps and sound you can make small MPEG-movies. You can zoom during filming and automatic exposure and focussing make sure the subject is well exposed and sharp. The quality is a bit lower than with the Powershot S3.
Another unique performance is the quality of its movies. Avi-movies of 640 x 480 pixels, 30 fps, zoom with AE and AE and stereo sound without time limit almost make the Powershot S3 a mature video camera. The only con is you need a large memory card to make long movies (1 second = 2 MB).
The Sony H5 has the possibility to focus manual, but it isn't as easy and precise as with a d-SLR, so it hasn't got a real practical function, maybe at low light. The colors can be adjusted from Normal to Vivid, Natural, Sepia and B&W. The colorspace AdobeRGB and fileformat RAW are not available, which makes it a consumer camera. Besides the AWB the camera has 5 preset white balances and 1 manual. The camera can't operate an external flash, but the internal flash has a considerable range.

With the S3 you can focus manually, but, as with all other compacts, it is hard to practice. The Powershot has a lot of colorsettings. Not only Vivid or Neutral, but also Sepia, BW and saturation of only Red, Green or Blue. Besides that you can choose the way skin color must be handled or make your own personal colorsetting (and amount of sharpening). White balance is controlled automatically or with 6 presets and a manual setting. Although the Powershot G2 (August 2001) already had a RAW-mode, this isn't available on the S3, which is a shortcoming on a camera with this feature set. It is not possible to connect an external flash to the Powershot S3.

All important functions (ISO, WB, EV) are one button click away and settings can be changed fast enough to capture every spontaneous moment.
Parameter setting
The operation of the Powershot S3 needs only a short time to get familiar with. The function of most of the buttons is clear and the special F-button brings the most common parameters, such as Exposure Compensation, White balance and Resolution, within reach of the user. The control dial of the program modes is very handy. On the S3 ISO has its own separate button to change sensitivity in an instant.
The structure of the menu on the LCD is very clear and all parameters are well explained. With the 4-way dial you can step easily through the menus. Activating the menu enters the last changed setting to keep navigation to a minimum.
The menu of the LCD is user friendly and with the 4-way navigator button you can go through the menus quite easily. When you close the menu, the next time you open it, it returns at the top of the menu and not at the last set parameter. This forces the user to go through the menu every time he wants to set the same parameter.
It is not possible to save a personal set of parameters for later use.
With the Powershot it is possible to save one custom set of parameters. A Custom button lets the user link his own important parameter to it, such as IS on/off or AE/AF lock.
Start-up, zooming and focussing are fast and there is hardly any shutterlag, but still the H5 hasn't got the responsiveness of a d-SLR and the speed of the motordrive is very dated. So wildlife and sports photography aren't the key features of this camera, but for common subjects you don't have to miss a moment.
The responsiveness of the Powershot S3 is the same as the Sony H5. Canon however has done a far better job with the motordrive and the writing speed of the camera. With 2.5 fps (maximum unlimited) this camera equals an entry d-SLR.
color and exposure:
In most situations exposure is spot on, but sometimes the camera tends to underexpose to keep detail in the highlights. A simple levels adjustment solves this 'problem'. In Normal color mode colors are very accurate and natural, even at ISO 400.
With 7 Mp and a Carl Zeiss lens the camera captures a lot of detail. The in-camera sharpening is moderate but delivers crisp pictures. The Super Steady Shot does a good job for handheld shots. In spite of the noise reduction enough detail is kept at ISO 400.
Lens distortion:
The name Carl Zeiss says enough. There is moderate barrel distortion at 36mm and no pincushion at 432mm. Corner sharpness is good. Unexpected is the relatively large amount of chromatic aberration in almost all situations.
Sony has found a good balance between noise reduction and preserving detail and ISO 400 is usable for larger size prints. At ISO 800 and ISO 1000 the noise reduction is severe and delivers water color-like images.
Image quality
color and exposure:
Thee Powershot S3 handles the most common exposure situations very well, although there is a small tendency to blow out highlights. The colors are a bit warmer (yellow) than those of the Sony H5.
The S3 has one megapixel less than the H5 and in some situations detail is a bit less than with the H5. The default sharpening in the camera is a bit high, but can be adjusted by the user.
Lens distortion:
The Canon lens does a good job and has the same amount of distortion as the H5. She performs far better in case of chromatic aberration, which is very moderate even in extreme conditions.
The camera does not produce the clean images we are used to from a Canon camera. The pictures at ISO 200 and higher look somewhat more grainy, i.e. in blue skies. Canon keeps the amount of noise reduction low. ISO 400 shows more noise, but keeps more detail. Post processing is necessary in many cases. ISO 800 is for emergencies.
The Canon Powershot S3 IS and the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 are two very capable and compact all-round cameras and when you have to travel light they are the ultimate partners. They are consumer cameras due to absence of AdobeRGB and RAW, and responsiveness and image quality do not stand up to that of d-SLR's. With their manual controls however they are more than point-and-shoot cameras and can fulfil the wishes of even the more demanding amateur. On most points the Powershot S3 leaves the Sony H5 behind, but the latter has a very appealing LCD and resolution and image quality (besides the CA) are better. The colors of the H5 are somewhat more natural and the visible noise is less at higher ISO's. Both cameras can make breathtaking macros and very nice movies. The cameras are each others equals and won't disappoint its usersegment: all-round (travel) photography.
July 9, 2006
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