Depending on your point of view, superzooms are either the dSLR-like cameras you can carry around easily or overpowered compacts that don't fit in your pocket. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 is a 9.1-megapixel superzoom, sporting a 15x optical zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens. We carried it around to see if it's worth £230.
The H50 is a sturdy beast, complete with no-nonsense metal lugs for the strap. It has a nicely contoured, SLR-style grip for the right hand. There's plenty of room between grip and lens for your fingers to securely hold the camera with one hand.
One of the most important design factors in a camera built around its zooming capability is the zoom control. We approached the small-looking zoom rocker pad with trepidation and were blown away. It's easily the most sensitive zoom control we've used for ages.
A spinning selector wheel surrounds the standard click pad. The wheel has raised ridges to make it grippy enough to spin easily, but it's narrow. We prefer the Nikon Coolpix scroll wheel that combines scroll wheel and click pad.
The screen is a large 76mm (3-inch), 230,000 pixel LCD. This takes its cue from the Sony Alpha dSLRs with a fold-out arm attached to the bottom of the electrical viewfinder. The screen will tilt to a right angle from the camera, facing either up and down for low-level or overhead shooting.
Like most superzooms, the H50 extends its lens when turned on. We've seen some cameras such as the Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd pop the lens cap off when so doing, an endearing if possibly damaging quirk. But it's still better than the H50 lens, which strains and chugs against the cap that resolutely fails to come off. We're pretty certain that's not healthy for the lens and would rather run the risk of losing the cap when we've forgotten to remove it.
Sony is still annoyingly keen on proprietary formats, so you get a Sony-specific data transfer connection. Instead of USB, you get a special cable with AV out and USB connection, so don't lose it. The camera also records to Sony's Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro Duo format, which may be useful if you have a Sony Ericsson phone.
The H50 comes complete with a lens adaptor ring and lens hood. Other accessories include a remote control that controls shooting as well as playback.
The H50 has an impressive amount of tweakable options. Hitting the menu button gives instant access to white balance, bracketing level, flash intensity, dynamic range, noise reduction, colour settings -- the list goes on. Even in fully automatic mode, you can adjust face detection, red-eye reduction and scene recognition.
The 15x zoom lens has a 31-465mm focal length, equivalent to a 35mm camera. A 1/2.3-inch CCD and Bionz processor handle the thinking, while features include face detection with high-speed subject tracking, an adjustable smile shutter, and dual anti-blur with Sony's Super SteadyShot image stabilisation. The H50 shoots raw files and high-definition still images, but video is only VGA and sound is only mono.
Photo slideshows can be played back on your television with music via a one-touch slideshow button. Yet again, a proprietary HDMI cable is required. In playback mode, the camera can filter images by whether there are faces or even just children's faces in the picture.
Another interesting feature we associate more with camcorders than cameras is infrared nightshot mode.