Its Carl Zeiss telephoto lens and manual features are strong, but the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50's focus-lock is erratic, and startup is slow.

Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-H50 has some outstanding features. But it also has a few kinks that may or may not hang you up, depending on how picky you are about certain functions.

Any list of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50's strengths begins with its Carl Zeiss 15X zoom lens. In 35mm terms, that's a whopping 465mm when the DSC-H50 is zoomed in as tight as it can be, and 15X is an impressive telephoto capability, given the size and weight of the camera.

Shooting on the street, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50's lens opened up a world of subjects that otherwise would have been too distant for us to capture. We used the telephoto constantly, often shooting from the hip using the tilting LCD display (another great feature) to remain incognito. Sony's Super SteadyShot image stabilisation kept most of the photos surprisingly sharp, even when we had the lens cranked to 15X on a cloudy day.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50's manual capabilities include aperture priority, shutter speed priority, and a fully manual mode, as well as bracketing modes for exposure, colour, and white balance.

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You can even choose the amount of noise reduction applied to your photos in-camera. Two of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50's features we found particularly handy were the adjustable flash and the dedicated light-metering button. Notching the flash intensity down made for warmly lit indoor photos sans the blown-out-face problem so typical of on-camera flashes. And the metering button, located directly behind the shutter release, made switching between full-scene, centre, and spot metering a cinch.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 has plenty of other virtues, too. In our lab tests it scored as well as or better than its competitors in image quality, especially sharpness.

In burst mode, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 shoots 1.6 frames per second (fps), faster than the cameras we compared it with. The H50's mode dial is user friendly, making the manual functions and 12 scene modes easy to access. With a macro range of 1cm, the camera takes superb close-ups. And the video (640 by 480 resolution at 30fps) is excellent for its class.

Finally, there's the smile sensor. Whether it's ultimately useful or not, setting the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 on a tripod and having the shutter trigger when everyone smiles is definitely great for laughs.

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