Apart from its big zoom lens, the H9’s most obvious feature is its huge three-inch 230k articulated monitor screen. This is mounted on a two-way hinged bracket, allowing it to tilt up to ninety degrees up or down, allowing it to be used either as a waist-level finder or for overhead shots, and is also quite handy if the camera is mounted on a tripod, although it would be even more useful if tilted from side to side. I’m fairly sure this is the largest articulated monitor on any non-SLR camera. It’s a good screen too, very bright and sharp with good colour rendition and a very high angle of view. The refresh rate could be a little better, but you can’t have everything.
Super-zoom cameras tend to be aimed at more experienced photographers, and the H9 caters for this more demanding audience with a range of manual options for creative photography. It has shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual exposure, with shutter speeds from 30secs to 1/2000th of a sec, and apertures from f/2.7-4.5 to f/8, selectable in 1/3EV increments.
The H9 is equipped with a couple of Sony’s more advanced features, specifically Super SteadyShot image stabilisation and the Bionz image processor with Dynamic Range Optimiser. Both of these work extremely well, the IS providing approximately 2-3 stops of extra shooting stability, and the DRO pulling out about two stops of extra shadow detail.
However the H9 is lacking a number of features I would have expected to see, such as manual focusing, an interval timer, or even more basic things like adjustable sharpness, colour balance, contrast or saturation. Even its range of automatic shooting options is very limited. The main mode dial offers the standard range of shooting programs, including landscape, portrait mode with face detection, night portrait and sports mode, as well as a scene mode, however this has just four scene programs; fireworks, snow, beach and twilight. Since snow and beach are pretty much the same thing, this has to be the most miserly range of automatic modes I’ve ever seen.
The H9 does have one unusual feature though; the clever nightshot mode first seen on the DSC-F717. This is a special shooting mode in which the infrared filter that normally sits in front of the CCD is moved aside, and a small infrared LED provides unseen illumination. All compact cameras can see infrared light to some extent (try it out with the IR emitter on your TV remote), but the H9 can literally see in the dark, producing an eerie green image on the monitor, and capturing grainy, ghostly images that wouldn’t look out of place in a Most Haunted series. The image quality is pretty terrible, and you can’t make out much detail, but it is an impressive novelty and a good party trick.