Great Pictures, Video, and Zoom from a Fully Featured Compact Camera
10X Optical Zoom, Abundant Shooting Modes, 16 Megapixels, Good Battery Life, HD Video
Not the sturdiest camera available, not good in fast-action situations, poor zoom controller location.
The Bottom Line:
This camera has limited capabilities regarding fast action and recording video in low light (expected for point-and-shoot); beyond these limitations it does everything very well.
This is my fourth Sony camera (excluding one I bought for my wife). I was looking for a good alternate to my digital SLR, which I love but don’t always want to take with me because of the bulkiness and setup time. So far this camera has been perfect. It’s small enough that I can keep it in my jacket pocket when riding my motorcycle, but advanced enough to take excellent pictures and video in a number of different situations.
Let’s start with why I chose this camera. The 10x zoom was the real key for me. This camera is not much bigger than your average point-and-shoot; however, the 10x zoom is much larger than most. Although there are other point-and-shoots out there with higher zooms, 10x was my magic number because it kept the cost down. Most of the other brands cameras in an equivalent size package have a 4x or 5x zoom. Although that is adequate for most needs, I frequently ride my motorcycle to some interesting places and wanted the higher zoom to get closer in on the action.
One of the changes Sony made with this camera that I don't like is the placement of the zoom control. Every Sony camera I've ever used up until this one had a dual button for the zoom control where the right thumb would normally sit on the back side of the camera. The DSC-H70 places the zoom control in the form of a wheel on the perimeter of the shutter button; the user's index finger is supposed to make these adjustments now. When I was checking it out in the store, I thought I would eventually get used to it. Well, I may get used to it but I'm never going to like it. It's not convenient and a bit annoying. It also seems more prone to collecting dust/debris that might impact long-term use.
The second factor affecting my decision was the 16 megapixels this camera delivers. I wanted at least 12 megapixels, but was pleasantly surprised after finding that this 10x zoom camera had 16 megapixels. That’s a lot of resolving power in a small package. For perspective, an image from a 16 megapixel camera can easily be enlarged to 20 inches by 30 inches without noticeable loss of detail. It can probably be enlarged beyond that satisfactorily but I’m not sure why anyone would want to (and I haven’t done it yet so I won’t speak to it).
The start-up time of this camera is pretty good. From the time I press the button until the time the camera is ready to take a picture is around 1 second. This is not always the case, however, as occasionally the shutter guard sticks for unknown reasons, and can delay the startup by several seconds. This is not the norm and could be the result of my not being terribly kind to it (it gets bumped around a bit). Although this camera isn’t a piece of junk that will fall apart or shatter the first time you bang it into a wall as it dangles from your wrist, it has a lot of delicate parts, particularly in the lens – so don’t give it too many bumps.
Sony scaled back the available options on the mode dial for this camera. Up until this camera’s generation, I was used to seeing landscape, sports/action, portrait, and maybe one or two other modes being available directly from the mode dial. With the DSC-H70, these scene modes (and others are available from an option on the mode dial labeled “SCN.” My experience with these modes is that if you choose the correct mode for your situation, it will produce a better image than the fully automatic settings would. And there’s no worry about forgetting which scene mode is selected, because a small icon is provided in the upper left-hand corner of the LCD indicating the current mode of operation. The scene modes available with this model are “High Sensitivity” (for capturing images in low light without a flash), “Soft Snap” (for capturing closeups or macro pictures with a blurred background to make the subject stand out), “Twilight Portrait” (for using a flash to capture an image without washing out a darkened background such as a sunset), “Twilight” (for low light using a tripod), “Gourmet” (for taking pictures of food), “Beach” (for getting rich blues when shooting near the ocean or other water), “Snow” (for shooting whitish scenes with high brightness), “Sports Shooting” (which sets focus in anticipation of subject movement), “Fireworks” (uses a long exposure to capture the entire firework effect – tripod required), “Pet” (for taking pictures of critters, and “Soft Skin” (for shooting human subjects and not washing out their faces with the flash). I haven’t used the Gourmet, Fireworks, or Soft Skin settings yet, so I can’t speak to those. The other modes work as advertised.
A point of caution on the “Sports Shooting” mode: don’t be confused or lulled into a false sense of security that this will greatly increase the CMOS sensor’s sensitivity or reduce shutter lag. The only thing it seems to do is make the camera track focus in anticipation of a shot. In my experience with this camera, there is an unacceptable shutter lag with regard to fast action shooting. It is manageable, but it’s extremely difficult to anticipate a play (such as a defensive back making a tackle) well enough that the camera actually captures the desired picture. This camera can be used for a wide variety of subjects, but fast action is definitely a weak point, as it is for most point-and-shoots.
This camera, like most Sony cameras, records video very well. The DSC-H70 will record video at 1280 x 720 pixels and 30 frames per second (fps) for 720P HD movies in “Fine” resolution or “Standard” resolution, and 640 x 480 pixels and 30 fps. The difference between the “Fine” and “Standard” 720P videos is noticeable, and I’m not sure what the purpose is since it doesn’t save that much room on the memory card. Movie files are recorded in MP4 files. These should play back on any Windows 7 PC in Windows Media Player or QuickTime (depending on your preferences).
A new feature that I am in love with is the “Sweep Panorama.” This mode took just a little bit of getting used to, but was well worth the effort. By setting the mode dial to “Sweep Panorama,” the camera automatically detects the camera’s motion, and indicates in which direction to sweep the camera while holding down the shutter button. With just a little bit of practice, it is not hard to time your sweep to the camera’s settings. Ideally, the shutter button should be released when the camera’s buffer runs out. While the user is sweeping, the camera is using its image stabilization to very effectively “freeze” various portions of the sweep. The camera will then stitch together all the pictures in the sweep for one smooth panoramic shot. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the results are breathtaking, but they certainly are easy.
Another change Sony made with this camera (at least this is the first Sony I’ve seen that has it) is the option to use an SDHC card versus a Memory Stick Duo. I’m not sure whether one card is actually better than the other, but SDHC cards are often less expensive. I don’t know if this will mark the end of Memory Stick Duo cards, but it worked out well for me in this instance as I was able to pick up a 16 GB SDHC for less than I could have gotten a Memory Stick Duo of the same size. For this camera, a 2 GB card will yield more pictures and video that there is battery power available, so don’t feel compelled to get a card as large as I did. I’ve used the camera extensively with the SDHC card, and have no complaints about the camera’s performance with it. The SDHC card I bought is a SanDisk Ultra 20 MB/sec. I can’t advise anyone on what to expect with a lower performance card other than “it will work.” The product page on the Sony web site specifies the SDHC memory card must be “Class 4 or higher.”