Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H400 review

Not a million miles away from the chunky look and feel of one of the best bridge cameras in recent memory, namely Sony’s RX10, the H400 could be viewed as the budget version at a very affordable £249. Again we have a DSLR-like design complete with huge handgrip and another whopper of a lens at the front, here an almost ludicrous 63x optical zoom, allied to a 20.1 megapixel top resolution that seems pretty much standard across the Sony range these days. At its heart is a 1/2.3-inch sized CCD sensor as opposed to the CMOS alternative more typically found in higher priced models like the Fuji S1 and ultimately more favoured in term of picture quality. But still, there are other aspects to savour here.

In practice, for shooting stills the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H400 takes around five seconds to travel from extreme wideangle to maximum telephoto setting.  Framing is controlled via a single zoom lever that encircles the raised shutter release button sitting at the front of the handgrip. Whilst the lens barrel, within which the optic retracts when not in use, has a ridged edge, this is to allow for a firmer grip when holding the camera in both hands rather than providing a means to manually extend or retrieve it, as with a DSLR. While one might assume that this is pretty much an ‘auto everything’ camera, and to extent that’s true, some degree of control is afforded by the creative quartet of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual via the chunky shooting mode wheel. Alternatively just stick the H400 on Intelligent Auto (iAuto) mode and fire away, letting the camera conveniently and reliably determine the rest.

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For those greedily hoping for the full package despite the budget spend, some disappointment comes with the fact that video is 720P rather than the Full HD 1080P; obviously there’s no reason why this should be the case other than a desire by its manufacturer to differentiate the H400’s spec from models higher up its own camera range. Unlike the Fuji S1 for a spend of around £150 more, the Sony’s rear LCD doesn’t flip out or rotate; it’s resolutely fixed. Whilst pictures are well saturated, detail suffers when shooting towards the telephoto end of the zoom plus when bumping up the ISO speed. We ended up with images that were both painterly looking in terms lacking sharpness, and rather noisy to boot – the perils of combining small sensor and a high 20MP resolution.

More positively we do get an eye level electronic viewfinder too on the H400, which isn’t always the case with cheaper super zooms. However the image provided is so small we found it practically unusable. Again this seems to be for no reason other than the camera needing to hit a certain pre-ordained price point. With a microphone and pop up flash located where a vacant hotshoe for the attachment of accessories might be on a higher priced model, to say both these features are useful is an understatement. Ultimately for the money it’s not surprising that the H400 doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that one might expect if one were spending twice the outlay. So whilst the H400 isn’t the best bridge camera we have ever comes across, it’s the best for this price at least.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re looking for the power of a big zoom but only have the budget to pay a little more than your average point and shoot, the H400 comes highly recommended. Though there is some obvious cost cutting here in terms of a sensor no larger than a pocket snapshot, the compromises with the H400 feel minimal if you’re quite happy shooting JPEG as opposed to Raw, and 720P video rather than the Full HD. In many ways it beggars belief that we are getting this much specification in terms of focal range and a solid-feel quality build for ‘just’ £249. However if you are able to stretch your readies to a super zoom with a larger sensor such as the RX10, the investment in terms of the jump in image quality is, we feel, worth it. Plus, bear in mind the bigger the zoom, the more you’re really gonna need a tripod as well to achieve optimum results!

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