Sony invented the digital camera. OK, I’ll admit that’s a fairly contentious statement, but the Sony Mavica, launched back in the dark ages of 1981, was the world’s first consumer filmless electronic camera. It was based on video camera technology and used floppy disks for storage, but it was the direct ancestor of all the digital cameras we have today.
Original 1981 Sony Mavica
Sony has built on this heritage, and today is the worldwide market leader, selling more digital cameras than any other manufacturer. So that being the case, why did it take so long for Sony to launch an SLR-style semi-pro camera? Most of the other manufacturers have been making them for years.
The DSC-H1 was announced back in February last year, but it didn’t arrive in the UK until the end of summer and still hasn’t made a big impact on the market. This is surprising, because with a list price of £399.99 it offers a powerful specification and excellent picture quality for a very reasonable price. With a bit of shopping around online you can pick one up for around £260, little more than the price of a decent compact camera, which makes it a major bargain.
This may be Sony’s first SLR-style camera, but it is a very accomplished debut. It is quite large compared to its direct competitors, but it has a comfortable ergonomic design reminiscent of the Fuji S20 Pro or Nikon 8800. The body is strong polycarbonate plastic over a metal chassis, but the lens barrel is all metal. It has a large comfortable rubberized handgrip with a sculpted thumb rest on the back. The controls are sensibly laid out and easy to operate, and the big 2.5in 115KP LCD monitor is bright and clear, although rather vulnerable to scratches and finger marks.
However the most eye-catching feature, and the camera’s main selling point, is its huge 12x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a whopping 36-432mm on a 35mm camera. Like many recent super-zoom cameras, it also features optical image stabilization, essential when using a lens of this size.