Why carry around an ordinary compact if you can shoehorn a 10x superzoom into your pocket instead? Sony's new 10-megapixel H20 also packs in a 720p HD movie mode, SteadyShot image stabilisation and manual shutter speed and aperture control, and all for a modest £240.
Superzooms are great on paper, but they don't always work out so well when you actually try to use them. At maximum zoom, the AF can slow to a crawl and your subject jiggles around on the LCD like it's stuck on top of a giant jelly.
The H20 is different. If there's one thing Sony does well it's AF systems, and this one is almost as quick at full zoom as it is at normal focal lengths. And as soon as you half-press the shutter release, the SteadyShot optical image stabilisation cuts in and the jiggling stops dead.
While you're messing around with this camera's 10x zoom you notice something else. The quality at full zoom is actually rather good. This is something else that superzooms usually struggle with, producing too much colour fringing and not much definition. The Sony suffers from fringing all right, but the definition is good.
Keen photo types have plenty to play with here. You can display an on-screen histogram to conjour up the perfect exposure in program AE mode, or switch to manual and set the shutter speed and lens aperture yourself.
There's more. The 720p HD movie mode produces footage that's far and away clearer than standard digicam movie modes and you can even zoom in and out while you're filming.
This is a solid, well-made and responsive camera. Even the LCD is good... or at least it is in playback mode.
Oddly, the 76mm (3-inch) LCD is less sharp when you're actually shooting. So much so, you might wonder whether the camera is actually focusing properly or not (it is).
There are a couple of other things you could pick holes in too, such as the zoom range. Yes, it's a 10x zoom, but it's biased towards the longer end of the scale. The minimum equivalent focal length is 38mm, which is nowhere near as wide as the 25-28mm equivalent wideangle lenses on rival superzoom compacts.
The movie mode has something of a sting in the tail too -- the sensor doesn't like bright highlights, such as the reflections you get off metallic surfaces in sunlight, and they can produce prominent vertical streaks both on the LCD and in the saved footage.
Is this enough to stop you buying this camera? Probably not. No camera is perfect, and if these are the H20's only faults, it's doing pretty well.
The main problem with the H20 is that it lacks a wide-angle zoom. Otherwise though, its responsiveness, handling and controls make it a great camera to use. It's very effective at full zoom too, which is where many rival compact superzooms struggle. Finally, the rather good HD movie mode is a major selling point on its own.
Edited by Nick Hide