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I purchased this camera almost a year ago to replace another Sony Digital Camera a Sony DSC W90 which I had lost. I spent a long time deciding whether to buy this camera or a similarly priced Panasonic Digital Camera. I decided to go for this as my previous camera being a Sony too, I knew beyond doubt that I would get what I paid for, but more importantly this camera was more future proof than the Panasonic, which would probably seem like an old relic in a few years. I am no expert photographer, so I usually would use the camera like anyone else, taking holiday pictures, pictures during special occasions and here and then when family visit and what have you not, so I didn't want something too complicated. I bought this camera for £189.99 online but this was when it had just been released, but now the price has dropped and you can easily get this for the £150 region if you shop around.
First Impressions and Overall Appearance.
On first impressions the camera is very beautifully and ergonomically designed with the customer in mind. It is well built and has no visible areas of weakness. It has a 3.0 inch LCD screen which is one of the biggest I have come across on any Digital Camera of this type. You may think that because of this big screen size Sony comprise on quality and the number of features on offer, but no. The camera has 14.1 Megapixels which is more than enough for me, but more importantly in this growing technological age it ensures that if you do decide to buy this camera it will last you a good few years and is future proof as most camera's these days have a minimum of 10 or 12 Megapixels. It has a 25mm Wide Angle Lens which rivals many other digital camera's on the market. The 10x Optical Zoom is also another feature which attracted me to this camera, as I was going to use this as a family camera and this zoom would ensure that I could take great pictures when zooming in without losing picture quality. The camera has a zwivel wheel, which lets you scroll through 7 different shooting modes (although there are many more once you start using it) on the top saving space on the back of the camera. Finally it runs on a Lithium Ion Battery which means you won't need to insert any batteries, rather just charge the battery provide using the provided charger.
Photo and Movie Quality
Having used this camera on many family holidays both abroad and at home and in varying weather conditions, I can safely say the picture quality is exceptional. When taking pictures of both people and of the natural environment I found that pictures came out very clear and sharp and even when zooming in you don't lose the 14 Megapixel quality. You can also alternatively lower the picture quality on this camera to 10 or 5 Megapixels depending on the type of photos you wish to take and the amount of memory you have available on your memory card, which is added bonus. Viewing each picture on the 3.0 inch LCD screen is great and having viewed the pictures on a HD Ready and Full HD 1080p TV I can say that they are just as crisp and clear as when you view them on the camera. There is also a Optical SteadyShot Active Mode Image which prevents you from taking any blurry or wobbly pictures. This is really useful when you're walking and trying to take pictures as I have found. The movie quality in this camera is even better and even though you can only take 720p HD movies they seem like 1080p. I have been very impressed with the movie quality and it has to be one of the best features of the camera in my opinion and the movies look superb on a HD TV, I was simply amazed at the quality, detail and colour. If you do consider buying this I can assure you that you won't be needing a camcorder anymore to make movies!
Battery Life and Charging Time
The battery included in this camera is Lithium G battery which has an impressive battery life. I have found the battery life on this camera pretty impressive both in terms of when taking photos and when it is turned off. For regular usage of take photos I've found that the battery will last more than 6 hours easily which is plenty in my opinion and for usage of video recording I found it lasts around 2 to 3 hours. When the camera is turned off it will last you a good few couple of months. I used during the Summer Holidays in July and left it fully charged and used it again during Christmas and there was still some battery left which was pretty good after 5 months. To charge the battery fully it takes around under 6 hours, but I've found if you charge it for 5 hours it should last you a few days usage. The battery bar on the LCD screen is also useful for letting you know how much battery is left. One thing to bear in mind though is the base door where the battery is stored when opened is a little flimsy so if you put too much weight on it when it is open it might snap off as the hinge is quite small.
This camera has a whole host of impressive features, but I think probably the most impressive is the Sweep Panorama. This is new feature exclusive to Sony Cameras and in my opinion very useful. Sweep Panorama allows you to take fabulous panoramic shots up to 224 degrees and even at the lowest horizontal panoramic setting you'll still get a field of view of 108 degrees. This is great when you want to take landscape pictures and the picture quality is phenomenal. I found this feature useful when on holiday taking photos from skyscrapers and of beach views and when you have these printed out they look great around your home. You can even take horizontal panoramic shots if you wish! As well as this the camera has a Scene Recognition feature, whereby it recognises the type of scenery you wish to take a snap of and the camera adjusts itself accordingly. Face Detection is also included as is common with many digital cameras these days, as well as Smile Detection which has a number of settings allowing you to take photos according to how and when the people in your photo smile. I found this a great feature when taking a picture of the kids and saves you having to keep clicking to take photos as it does it automatically when a smile is detected. As is with many Sony cameras this camera has the classic swivel wheel which allows you to navigate between all the different shooting modes and their description appearing on the screen each time they are selected. Another bonus is how easy it is to transfer photos to your PC or Mac. Sony provide a cable and CD in the box to allow you to transfer you images and movies and I've found it very simple to do so.
Ease of Use
This is a very simple camera to use despite the countless number of features it has Sony have successfully managed to make it a breeze to use. Zooming in and out is easy to do using the zoom wheel on the camera moving it right to zoom in and left to zoom out. This eliminates the need for separate zoom in and out buttons. Deleting photos is also very quick to do and you can delete single photos, multiple photos or a whole folder, all using one Delete Button on the camera. Viewing photos is even simpler and you only have to press one button to view all the photos you've taken and it shows you the time and date the photo was taken. The camera is quite light too at only 170g but it is a little chunky compared to other cameras as it has a depth of 29mm so it might be a struggle to fit in your tight jeans. The camera is well designed so it fits around your hands well and is comfortable when it is being used. I can't express how simple this camera is to use and even the kids find this a very easy to use.
All in all this a superb camera packed to the brim with features but nice and easy to use at the same time. It's a great camera if you are looking for something that will last a long time and deliver. I'm sure that if you do buy anyone will be able to operate it and be able to take stunning photos and record great quality movies. Furthermore, this camera doesn't break the bank and you get what you pay for and it is well worth the money.
Image quality is not found in the megapixels, but the lens, sensor, and processor. And this Sony camera exceeds in all areas, thus, picture quality is excellent in both photo and video mode. However in Panoramic mode, the camera is not taking multiple full size pictures, but multiple small sized ones, resulting in a very wide picture with a high horizontal, and low vertical resolution. The pictures are fine for what they are, but do not expect too much.
When in video mode, the DSC-H55 records in 1280x720 pixels progressive mode (meaning a full frame of pixels, rather than interlaced, which is a half frame of pixels twice as often) at 30 frames per second. The progressive shooting allows users to film static and moving images, without the annoying lines produced by interlaced footage. This feature really helps the DSC-H55 stand out from the crowd.
A high quality Sony G lens with a ten times zoom, accessible even whilst in video mode, is used. The lens has access to a wide 76 degree viewing angle, impressive for a 25mm consumer aimed camera. The zoom function is steady and reliable, and slows itself down for video, which is not always desired.
Consisting of all the buttons you would need to just shoot, and quickly access the easy to navigate menu, the DSC-H55 makes itself a consciously concise camera, with the perfect mix of buttons and menus.
The menus offer more than is to be expected from a camera of this price range and type, a white balance setting is included for both video and photo, an invaluable feature.
Accessing your footage is easy too, using a direct button on the camera, and then the standard arrow keys and zoom, making navigating through what may be thousands of pictures simple and fast.
Lightweight and slim, yet with enough bulk to feel secure in your hands, the DSC-H55 is ultra portable. It will fit nicely into your pocket, you will know it is there, but I rate that as a good thing.
The high resolution screen lets me view live and recorded images. It is a large size and of equalling image quality. Unlike many other cameras of this size, it does not suffer from glare, which is useful as the DSC-H55 has no optical viewfinder.
You may notice when aiming the camera quite high up, and quite low down in relation to your eyes, that the screen becomes very bright and you are unable to make out objects. This is a limitation of LCD technology for the time, and absolutely no fault of the camera.
Anything to be aware of?
The DSC-H55 uses Sony's SD and SDHC memory cards, many people moving to digital for the first time, or upgrading an older camera may need to check which cards their computer can read, as many older ones can only read SD. Memory card readers are inexpensive and easily available, do not let it put you off the camera.
The box also contains a USB cable, an AV cable to allow for standard definition television viewing, and a 2GB memory card (depending on the point of purchase), and a long life battery with charger. This is an excellent camera which is accompanied by an excellent starter kit.
Technologically speaking I am a semi-troglodyte. That is to say I have little understanding of megapixels or gigabytes except that the bigger the number, the better. Coupled with that I have the common man condition often termed 'Manual Blindness', I cannot read a manual and unless I can figure it out for myself by pressing obvious buttons then I have to ask someone for help. So, for me, a camera has to be intuitive to use. For this reason, I hope that this review may be helpful to you.
Taking photos is not particularly natural to me either. Even having a large and cumbersome manual camera hanging round my neck it can take me to the end of an event before I think, 'I wish I'd taken some photos.' But we needed a new digital camera as the last one was finally giving up the ghost, after 6 years of intermittent service. And so a camera went on the Christmas list, allowing my Dad to do the research into the most effective and practical, etc. This camera has won the EISA award for best compact camera which probably swung him.
So, although I will give details and numbers, they mean little to me and this review will take the approach of, 'What's it like to open the box, pick it up, and use it?'
Big Box, Little Camera - Size and Spec
Opening the box, I was greeted with a slick, black matt finished camera (although I believe it also comes in shiny silver too). Not the most stylish build and design but neat and simple. At just under 3cm deep (by 10 by 6) and at 170g it is small enough to slip into one of my side pockets and forget about until the photographic moment has passed by.
I can tell you two things about its spec immediately: it's 14.1 megapixels with a 10x zoom. I'm confident that puts it way ahead of my previous digital number and they are clearly written on it in case you were not aware.
On the reverse is a large screen which displays the photo to be taken, or that has been taken. Again this is a big improvement on my previous model both in terms of size and clarity.
On the base is door which slides open containing the battery (a Lithium Ion G Type, whatever it has lasted us well so far). Also contained here is the slot for the memory card. Handily this is an SD Pro Duo which seems to be far more readily usable than the previous (and smaller) card. Our camera came with a deal on the card, only £5 for 4GB which is about 620 shots, easily enough to keep us going for about a decade.
Pointing and Shooting - Functions
The best place to start is the on/off button located on the top. When depressed the camera lens opens and the screen on the rear starts with a snazzy little noise. There are icons telling you how much battery and how many shots are left, there are also varying details depending on what mode you are in.
Next to this on the top is a toggle which has the zoom in/out function and the button for taking photos in one. This is pretty standard fare but it is nice and neat on this model.
Finally on the top is the functions button. There are seven in all, and what is really useful is that the screen tells you how each function works when you select it so you are not left in the dark.
1) The first function is movie mode. There is a microphone on the top but this is a digital camera so its primary function is not as a camcorder. But it does do a decent enough job for the occasional filming moment.
2) Then there is the panorama function. This is a lovely little effect where you take a photo and, while keeping the button depressed, move the camera round in an arc and you get a long thin picture. Not sure how much I'll use it but it's very clever and would be great for panoramic scenes.
3) Manual Exposure. This is the function for allowing a longer or shorter exposure to give you greater control. I haven't managed to work out how to change the length of exposure, etc. But I get the impression that people who want to do that are not who this camera is aimed at. Nice to have on for flexibility, though.
4) Program Auto. Auto exposure with adjustable settings.
5) Intelligent Auto Adjustment. This function allows the camera to do the thinking for you. This is the one I use most.
6) Easy. This keeps things simple, doesn't select particular objects to focus on and keeps the display simple. Very useful when working out how to use it.
7) Scene Selection. This gives you a series of options on the screen which can be selected, for example: Sports shot, Fireworks, snow, soft background, no flash, etc.
This is a very helpful but simple selection of modes which allows someone like me the option of pointing and shooting or having a bit of a play if I want to be more complicated.
The other thing to point out at this stage is that it is very effective at recognising faces and selecting them. Sony claim that the camera has Optical steady shot and double-blur technology. It certainly seems to manage pretty well with awkward shots.
Finally on the rear, to the right of the screen, are a number of buttons. There is the play button which shows you what you have taken, a delete button, a menu button and a larger button for scrolling through the pictures and the menu. The advantage of the menu is that at every stage as you scroll through it gives you very clear instructions of what each page does. So whether its cutting the photos or rotating or printing this camera makes it very easy to find a way through.
Transferring to a computer is simple too. Although Sony supply their own programme I haven't used it. Instead I use it as an external drive, copying and pasting the photos I want to transfer.
Can it cope with me? - Evaluation
Does it take good photos? Yes, they are very crisp and very clear and I am really impressed. But then I would probably be impressed by any camera with this number of megapixels.
Instead the advantage for me is in its user friendly-ness. This is a very simple camera to work your way around. At every stage Sony seem to have considered a troglodyte like me and given clear instructions on the camera itself. It really makes it very simple just to pick it up and use it and come away with really staggering results.
What would I change about it? The only thing I would add to it is a device which knows when a good time to take a photo is and shouts at you 'TAKE A PHOTO NOW!' But I think that's beyond the ability, even of Sony, for the moment.
Sony's rrp is £240 but it seems to be generally available for more like £150. This doesn't put it in the 'Cheap as chips' end of the market but then you get what you pay for and at £150 you get a lot, in my view.
5 out of 5.