The H2 offers an array of features, is fast and responsive, yet not without fault
Colours are vividly rendered and well-saturated
Delivers an even exposure
Reasonable level of detail
Can underexposure shots
Highlights are occasionally blown-out
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Like last year's H1, Sony's second generation bridge camera has a touch of the Flash Gordon about it.
There's something about its eyepiece, lens barrel and silver plasticky body that recalls the helmets and spaceships of a 950s TV show. However, on first inspection it also looks chunky, clunky and unwieldy.
While both rivals boast optical image stabilisation to prevent image blur at the telephoto end of the zoom, Sony has christened its own anti-shake mechanism 'Super SteadyShot'.
Denoted by a wobbly hand icon, this has a dedicated button that can be set to continuous adjustment, or activated on a shot-by-shot basis. And, as you'd expect with Sony's camcorder heritage, it's also present in MPEG Movie mode.
When it comes to still capture, the H2, like the Canon S3, eschews TIFF or RAW formats and sticks with common JPEG. Though Panasonic's FZ7 combines TIFF capture with light sensitivity up to ISO 600 for shooting in the near dark, the H2 stops at ISO 1000.
Nevertheless, it betters the Canon's noisy ISO 800. Sony claims to have minimised noise problems at high ISO by improving signal-to-noise ratio, which, for those looking for available file formats, it has confusingly dubbed Clear RAW NR technology.
The rubberised grip to the right of the H2 affords comfortable one-handed operation and houses two rechargeable AAs. They're claimed to be good for up to 400 shots, though the battery indicator was showing half full after 50.
Shot composition is via the 2-inch LCD or, a better bet, the tiny but higher resolution electronic viewfinder. Although you can quickly swap between them, it would have been great if (like Sony's Alpha DSLR) the EVF sported an eye sensor that immediately activated it and perhaps even pre-focused.
One thing to bear in mind: as the eyepiece juts back proud of the body, it's awkward to use if you're wearing glasses.
On a positive note, the H2 powers up in a couple of seconds, the lens barrel extending to maximum wide angle in anticipation of the first shot, while the LCD bursts into life. Screen menus have a clean, legible layout, while the mode wheel atop the camera is mirrored by a virtual on-screen equivalent, complete with explanations of the settings.
What's immediately noticeable on review is Sony's typically vivid handling of colours. Images aren't quite as sharp as those from the Canon S3 IS, despite the H2's inclusion of Carl Zeiss optics. It's a trade- off though, as the H2's handling of image noise is better than the Canon's.
On close inspection, it starts to creep in from ISO 400 upwards, though we still got usable images at ISO 800 and IS0 000. While the Panasonic also loses detail at higher ISO, the addition of that camera's TIFF settings may give it the edge for some.
As expected, the H2's Super SteadyShot anti-shake system isn't infallible, but it will allow more usable shots at the telephoto end when shooting hand-held. There's also a screw thread for a tripod. No MemoryStick came with our review unit, although a 30MB internal memory - enough for nine maximum-quality JPEGs - is included to get you started.
Indeed, Sony has ensured that the H2 features sufficient hand-holding to allow a beginner to take the camera out of its box and start shooting straight away, but crammed with enough real photographic functionality to satisfy the expert. It should also be noted that it's roughly £100 cheaper than a budget digital SLR. Gavin Stoker
Colour: The handling of colour is where the H2 truly excels, delivering well-saturated, vividly-rendered pictures - just what you'd expect from a Sony.
Sharpness: Though a Carl Zeiss lens and plenty of light helps render a reasonable level of detail, the H2 isn't always the sharpest tool in the box.
Metering: Faced with an array of colour, multi-zone metering has helped deliver an even exposure right across the frame, free of any casts.
Skin tones: The H2's handling of skin tones is flattering in the main, though under bright conditions detail is lost and highlights appear burnt out.
Outdoor shots: This swan shot reveals how the Carl Zeiss lens has picked up the delicate detail of the feathers and water ripples, but it has taxed the H2's handling of highlights.
Indoor shots: When it comes to a combination of interior photography without flash, close up and image stabilisation, the H2 knows its, er, onions.
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