The H9’s performance is pretty good for a super-zoom camera, starting up in about 2.5 seconds and shutting down again in about the same time. In single shot mode, shot-to-shot cycle time is an impressive 1.2 seconds, while in continuous mode it can maintain two shots a second until the memory card is full, which is pretty good going. Sony’s nine-zone AF system is very quick and reliable, and works well in a wide range of lighting conditions, including complete darkness thanks to an AF assist lamp. It will also focus in the dark in Night Shot mode with the help of the IR illuminator. Battery performance is also fairly good for a big camera, with the 940mAh Li-ion battery providing enough juice for approximately 280 shots, although unlike some recent Sony still cameras, the H9 doesn’t have the useful InfoLithium charge meter.
Unfortunately the DSC-H9 is fitted with a small 1/2.5-inch sensor. It is a Sony SuperHAD CCD, which should confer some advantage, but in fact the final image quality really isn’t that good. Surprisingly, considering its illustrious brand name, a lot of the problems are caused by the lens. It suffers from significant barrel distortion at the wide angle end, pincushion distortion at the telephoto end, and very visible chromatic aberration getting progressively worse toward the edge of the frame. Centre sharpness is good, with plenty of fine detail, but the negative effects detract noticeably from the image quality. Image noise is also an issue, but mainly because of the very heavy-handed noise reduction system, which is unfortunately not adjustable. Images over 200 ISO look very processed, and images at the 3200 ISO setting are, as is usually the case, virtually unusable. I also noticed some problems with inconsistent exposure, with several shots being significantly under or over exposed.
Sony’s DSC-H9 has some interesting features, including an impressive zoom range, manual exposure options, night shooting and a big tilting monitor, and it is competitively priced, but it lack the versatility of some rival cameras. It is also lacking in final image quality, with unexpected optical problems as well as overpowered noise reduction. Not a bad camera, but there are better alternatives available.