With its new Cyber-shot H200 bridge, Sony is game on in the race to pack in the pixels. Although we thought that manufacturers were starting to calm down a bit with their Megapixel warfare, it looks like we were wrong. And so, just a few months after Sharp presented its 20-Megapixel sensor, Sony is sticking back with the H200, which sees 20 million pixels packed onto a tiny 1/2.3" CCD sensor. Otherwise, the H200 has a powerful 26x zoom lens with a focal range of 24-633 mm.
On first contact, the H200 is a bit of a mixed bag. The build and finish are fine for a camera at this price point, even if it is made entirely from plastic. Sony at least does a better job than Olympus with the SP-820 UZ. The controls don't wobble or feels loose, unlike the battery compartment door, which is a bit hesitant and isn't always easy to close. The grip handle is comfortable, although some users may have preferred this to be a bit wider.
The H200 is clearly aimed at beginners. The controls are quite basic and the menus are clear, concise and get straight to the point. Although there is a mode-selection dial on the top of the camera, the Cyber-shot H200 isn't the kind of bridge that can be used fully manually. In fact, apart from the automatic scene mode (portrait, landscape, sport, etc.) this Sony bridge only offers P (Program) and M (Manual) modes, rather than the full set of P, S, A, M modes. These probably won't get much use, as they may be a bit too advanced for the users primarily targeted here. Still, they're always there in case beginners want to experiment. Some users may even get a taste for manual settings and graduate to a more ambitious camera as a result.
As soon as you hit the On button, it's immediately obvious that the H200 has a TN screen with very tight viewing angles. The onscreen colours and contrast are all over the place, with mid-greys that are completely overexposed. You therefore shouldn't rely on the images you see onscreen when judging the colours in a photo (Delta E = 11.7).
The Sony H200 takes three seconds to start up and almost two seconds to save a photo. Speed therefore isn't the name of the game here. The autofocus isn't too slow, but there are faster cameras out there with powerful zooms. In fact, it could hold you back a bit when trying to quickly capture those fleeting "Kodak moments" of your kids, pets or favourite activities.
The Sony H200 has a CCD sensor. These are well-known for being less sensitive to light than CMOS sensors, as we've seen when reviewing cameras using the latest 16-Megapixel CCDs.
This is the first time we've tested a camera with a 20-Megapixel CCD. The sensor in the H200 manages to pack 20 million pixels onto a 1/2.3"-format CCD (4.6 x 6.2 mm). That makes for a pixel density of 70 Mpx/cm² and for photosites approaching 1.2 µm in size (that's 42 times smaller than a human hair!). We'll therefore need to hope that Sony has worked a minor miracle to ensure decent sensitivity levels here. Add to that the potential for diffraction issues due to the tiny photosites and the sensor size (see inset), and the heat is really on for this Cyber-shot snapper.
The ISO test pictures are OK ... but only up to 200 ISO. Beyond that, noise is clearly visible on flat, dark coloured areas. From 400 to 800 ISO noise seriously degrades detail in the shots, which really isn't helped by the heavy smoothing used to try to mask it. Settings above 800 ISO aren't worth bothering with, as everything just gets lost in a kind of digital soup.
The lens ensures the centre of the frame is rich with fine detail in spite of some chromatic aberration (noticeable purple fringes), which doesn't disappear entirely at the maximum zoom setting. The edges of the frame aren't as sharp, however, and end up looking quite soft. At telephoto, image sharpness is fine and remains so over the whole frame.
Sony H200, 80 ISO, 190 mm f/5.4.
And so the moral of the story is that 20 Megapixels aren't useful for much more than marketing. This kind of resolution has advantages if you're cropping photos on a computer—as manufacturers are only too keen to remind us. However, for taking photos—for pointing, shooting, printing—we can live without them. And the H200 hasn't managed to change our minds on that front.
The H200 films in 720p (MP4) at 30 frames per second with stereo sound. Image quality isn't the best here. The picture is over-contrasted, which in turn overexposes lighter zones and under-exposes darker zones. Dark parts of the picture are also prone to video noise.
Although sound is recorded in stereo, general audio quality isn't great. For starters, audio is recorded by two mics that are placed right next to each other—moving them apart would no doubt instantly boost to the stereo effect here. These little mics are also prone to echoes and reverberation.
At wide-angle, barrel distortion is unmissable and is remains easily visible up to the maximum zoom setting. The autofocus could be more responsive too. Noise from the lens focusing and zooming is picked up in the background of quieter scenes.