The Sony H55 is a 14.1MP point and shoot camera with a 10x optical zoom, which covers an equivalent range of 25-250mm on a 35mm format camera. It retails for $249 and is a sort-of middle-of-the-road point and shoot. It’s not quite as high end as the Sony HX5V; however, it’s still a step up from most of Sony’s W-series of Cyber-shot cameras.
Sony H55 Key Features
- 14.1MP CCD Sensor
- 3-inch LCD (230k dot resolution)
- 10x Optical Zoom (25-250mm equiv.)
- Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization
- Sweep Panorama Mode
- 720p HD Video Capture
- ISO 80-3200
- SD Card and Memory Stick Compatibility
The H55 is definitely compact enough to keep on hand; however, it’s not quite as small as the recently introduced TX5 or TX7, both of which feature touchscreen controls in place of buttons and dials. Still yet, the form factor of the H55 makes it pleasant and easy to hold. I liked the indentation on the right side, which gives the impression and feel of a grip for your right hand without adding any unnecessary bulk to the camera.
As noted, the Sony H55 offers a mode dial atop the camera for changing your basic shooting modes such as Intelligent Auto, Program, Manual, Sweep Panorama and Video, among others. It’s really hard to beat a mode dial for dumbing down camera settings and making it easy to find your way around. Switch over to the Scene mode and you can choose from 11 different modes based on the scene at hand: High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Advanced Sports, Gourmet, and Pet.
The controls on the back of the H55 are rather typical, with a 4-way control button and a set button within. This 4-way controller also serves as a quick access to settings for timer, flash, display and smile shot. A menu, display and trash button round out the controls. It’s certainly not as sexy as the TX5 and TX7 touchscreens; however, it’s a proven/standard design that works well. The 3-inch LCD on the H55 is perfectly acceptable; however, it doesn’t necessarily stand out from the crowd with its average display resolution of 230,000 dots.
Like a lot of point and shoot cameras nowadays, the H55 captures 720p video at 30p (29.97 fps), which is in addition to a standard VGA capture mode at 640 x 480 (also 29.97 fps). Oddly absent from the H55 is a direct-record button for your thumb. Instead, you have to change the mode dial over to Video mode and then press the shutter button. Considering the volume of compact cameras at a variety of price points that have a direct record button, I can’t quite forgive the H55 for this oversight. Using the shutter button to start and stop video recording is more cumbersome than tapping a button that’s right next to your thumb.
The video looks pretty darn good though. I think the zoom is very smooth with the 720p video and it is easy enough to hold and shoot (even if I do hold a grudge on the direct-record button). Below is a short clip that I shot with the Sony H55 at PMA 2010, which shows a little panning and zoom action from wide to telephoto.
As with all the other Sony Cyber-shots that feature Sweep Panorama, I love it on the H55. It’s fun feature that puts the ability to create a panoramic image in the hands of those who would not otherwise make one. The below image is a representative sample of what the Sweep Panorama mode can create.
If you aren’t familiar with how this mode works, you’ll be amazed when you see it for the first time. It’s as easy as holding the camera up like you would normally take a photo and then “sweeping” the camera from left to right while it captures multiple images through only one shutter press on your part. The camera processes the image and, boom, you’ve got a panoramic image on your memory card with no aggravating stitching after the fact.
One feature that I glossed over above, but will certainly be a big selling point for this camera is the 10x optical zoom. This is a big range for such a small camera. You can see what the range looks like in the below photos shot at the wide angle and telephoto ends of the zoom.
Above is the wide angle shot, and below is the 10x zoom shot. I’m sure that camera makers will continue to put longer zooms in even smaller bodies; however, this is an impressive feat to see this much zoom in such a small camera.
The above telephoto shot was captured at 1/30s and ISO 400, and is pretty impressive for a point and shoot camera. I was most impressed by the lack of blur from camera shake, given that this image is the equivalent of 250mm.
Additionally, Sony applies some pretty aggressive noise reduction to the images; however, Sony has been very successful with this in cameras like the WX1 and TX7. While the H55 definitely shows some noise at ISO 400 and above, most people will be able to live with family album 4 x 6 prints at ISO 800 or 1600, and below. While you can push the H55 to a maximum setting of ISO 3200 for full resolution images, the image starts looking pretty ugly and should probably be reserved for emergency uses only.
All in all, the H55 looks to be a decent camera for folks not wanting or needing to go all the way up to the HX5V. The Sony H55 still has some powerful features and a whole lot of resolution to work with at 14.1MP. The Sweep Panorama mode automatically helps it score points with me, and could certainly be put to good use on many shutterbugs’ scenic vacations or weekend trips to the mountains.
Remember, when you’re buying the Sony H55, you’re buying into a bit of a compromise because you are saving some dough over the HX5V, but you don’t want to drop down to the W-Series of Cyber-shots. While I may take a closer look at the H55 later on, I think that I’ve seen enough of this camera to recommend it to casual shooters looking for a compact, but powerful, camera that won’t hurt their wallets too bad.
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