Sony Cybershot DSC-T1




Introduction

My first digital camera was a Fujifilm DS-7 in August of 1998. At the time, it was fairly state of the art and I snagged it off the now defunct Onsale.com. It had a whopping 640x480 resolution, a 1.8” LCD and it sported 4MB of memory on a SmartMedia card. While it was cool because of the instant gratification, the resolution was fairly poor, the flash sucked, and it was a fairly large unit. In fact, it was so large that it was difficult to carry around since it wouldn’t fit in any pockets.

I kept wishing someone would make a camera that was like the Canon Elphs since those were so easily pocketable. As I was about to embark on a 1 year job overseas, I desperately wanted to get a new camera and was looking at the other Canon models which were some of the smallest at the time. As luck would have it, one week before I left the Canon Powershot S100 was released in the US and I picked one up. This camera was truly state-of-the-art and is perhaps one of the finest pieces of equipment I’ve ever known. With all of the features of its much larger cousins and a 2.1MP resolution (nearly top of the line at the time), the Powershot S100 was the perfect camera. Since that time, I’ve been hooked on small full featured digital cameras.

Amazingly, my Canon Powershot S100 lasted me 3 years even though I did end up picking some larger prosumer cameras along the way. The S100 was my everyday camera that easily slipped into my pocket and went with me everywhere. In the middle of last year, I decided to retire the S100 and go with a new camera. I initially chose Casio’s Exilim Z3 digital camera; however, a week after I purchased that camera, I heard of Sony’s first entry into the slim camera category, the Cybershot DSC-T1.

One has to wonder what took Sony so long to enter the category. Sony is the master of miniaturization and it was shocking that they were absent from this segment of the market. Their P-series cameras were ok and their U-series cameras, while small, were neither high quality nor full featured.

So, why was I blown away by the DSC-T1 and why did I send my newly purchased Casio Exilim Z3 away? Read on to find out my impressions on this camera.

Sony Cybershot DSC-T1

First of all, the Sony DSC-T1 is in a class all by itself. Leave it up to Sony to make a big splash in the small, full-featured camera category. There are actually too many specs to mention but we’ll look at the most important specifications:

• Imaging Device: 1/2.4” 5.1 Megapixel Effective Super HAD™ CCD
• Recording Media: Memory Stick Duo™ Media, Memory Stick PRO Duo™ Media
• Zoom: 3X Optical, 2X Digital Zoom, 0 – 4X Smart Zoom™ Feature (depending on resolution). Up to 12X Total Zoom (depending on resolution)
• Macro Focus Distance: Selectable 3.1” (8cm), Magnifying Glass Mode 0.4” (1cm)
• Color LCD: 2.5” 211K Pixels Hybrid LCD Screen
• ISO: Auto, 100, 200, 400
• Still Image Modes: JPEG (Fine/Standard), Burst, Auto Bracketing, Email, Voice Memo
• MPEG Movie Mode: MPEG VX Fine (640 X 480, 30 fps) with Audio, (MPEG VX Fine Requires Memory Stick PRO™ media) MPEG VX Standard (640 X 480, 16.6 fps) with Audio, Video Mail (160 x 112, 8.3fps) with Audio
• Supplied Accessories: NP-FT1 InfoLithium® Rechargeable Battery, AC-LM5 AC Adapter/In-Camera Charger, UC-TA USB Cradle, AV Cable, USB Cable, MSG-M32A Memory Stick Duo™ Media, Memory Stick Duo Adapter, Wrist Strap, Software CD ROM
• Dimensions: 3 5⁄8” x 2 3⁄8” x 4⁄5” (91 x 60 x 21mm)
• Weight: 6.3 oz (180g) w/battery, Memory Stick Duo™ Media & Wrist Strap

For a full rundown of the specifications, you should check out Sony’s DSC-T1 page.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the DSC-T1 is a 5 megapixel camera. This is definitely a first in this class of camera. With this resolution you can get fairly large prints and capture a lot of detail.

You’ll also notice that that no lens protrudes out of the system. Typically, you would then assume that the camera has no optical zoom like many other cameras in the class. However, Sony has taken a book out of Minolta’s DimageX camera with a prism based lens system that fits inside the camera. Of course, Sony uses a brand new Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens that offers a very adequate 3x optical zoom. The camera also has a very good macro mode if you like to take close ups. The lens is near silent and is ready to go very quickly. This camera is extremely fast and the camera is ready to shoot about a second after you open the cover.

The camera also features Sony’s MPEGMovieVX movie mode which can capture up to 640x480 at 30 frames per second. Other modes include 640x408 at 15 frames per second and a 160x120 at 15 frames per second mode.

Of course, one of the big eye candy features of the camera is the insanely large 2.5” LCD on the back of the camera. While some other cameras have large LCDs, none are larger than 2.5” and none sport a 211,000 pixel screen. Many cameras barely have more than a quarter of the DCS-T1’s screen resolution. That means you can truly see a lot of detail and get a better idea of your shot composition. On older cameras, I’ve nearly torn my hair out when I thought I had good shots (via the LCD screen) and only found out later that they were blurry. The screen is so big that Sony has chosen to not include an optical viewfinder with the camera. I found this weird at first but quickly got used to it. The screen is also transflective so that you can see the screen very well outside in bright daylight. I’m used to Sony using a hard coating on their LCDs so it’s definitely a departure for them with this “soft” LCD.

The DSC-T1 comes with a cradle that allows you to charge the camera, output pictures and video to TV, and connect to your PC. Although I didn’t realize it at first, you can charge the camera without the cradle. The bottom of the camera has the same connector as the cradle itself. The camera doesn’t have a video-out or USB port so you’ll have to use the cradle if you want to use either of those two features. I almost never use the cradle since I like taking the memory out and directly plugging it (with Duo adapter) into my Sony TR notebook.

One of my issues with small digital cameras is that many tend to not have lens covers which always baffles me. Most people with small cameras will carry their cameras in their pockets so that they can easily get to them. Without a lens cover, the lens could easily get dirty or get scratched. Luckily, Sony has addressed this issue with the DSC-T1. The camera’s lens cover fully covers the flash, AF assist lamp, and lens. The cover also acts as a power switch. The second you open the lens the camera turns on and is ready to go. The reason why I love this is that it makes it much easier to get your shot off.

Build Quality and Layout

As small as the DSC-T1 is, it’s actually heavier than it looks. This is a good thing though as the camera feels very solid and is well built. The brushed metal seems to be scratch resistant although I try to keep it in covered whenever I can. The camera is extremely thin and feels good in your hand. The heft of the camera seems to help when taking one handed shots.

The camera’s body has very clean lines and a simplistic layout. Of course, having only a single interface port helps in maintaining the clean design. There is a single sliding latch that opens to reveal the Memory Stick Duo slot and the battery. As you can see, there’s very little room for anything else given the slim nature of the camera.

The buttons are logically laid out and have nice tactile feel. There are three main modes for the camera: Movie Mode, Camera Mode, and Play Mode. If you’re familiar with Sony cameras then you’ll be familiar with the menu layout and the button layout.

As typical Sony, the camera offers a few “fun” modes like Sepia, Solarize, and Negative Art. Of course, you can do all that stuff in Photoshop so those are modes I tend to ignore.

While the DSC-T1 is mostly an automatic camera, there are a few pre-set modes and a “programmable” mode that gives you some modest manual control features. For instance, you can change ISO modes (Auto, 100, 200, or 400), flash levels, quality modes, white balance settings (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Tungsten),  metering mode (Spot or Multi), focus settings (Spot, Center, Multi and pre-defined distances), exposure settings, and recording modes (Normal, Speed Burst, Framing Burst, Multi Burst, E-mail and Voice). So, while not fully manual, the DSC-T1 does still give you a decent amount of control. 

To give you an idea of how big the camera is I’ve taken a few shots of it along with my venerable Canon Powershot S100 and the recently departed Casio Exilim Z3.

As you can see, they’re all small cameras. The DSC-T1 is slightly longer than the Exilim Z3 but it’s thinner as you can see below.

I love this angle of the three cameras as you get a very good idea of how far these cameras have evolved.

Picture and Movie Quality

Although picture quality is a subjective thing, I find the picture quality of the DSC-T1 to be extremely good in most cases. I also have a Sony DSC-F707 which is also a 5 megapixel camera and the DSC-T1 compares well in well lit situations. However, in lower light situations, the DSC-F707 is much better with the DSC-T1 exhibiting more noise in darker areas. The DSC-T1 has an extremely quick start up time and allows you to capture those special or unexpected moments.

Below are samples of the pictures I’ve taken. The only modification to the pictures is a Photoshop resize. I would present the full pictures but they’re all over 2MB each.

The movie mode is handy to have when you want to capture a scene in which a picture will not do it justice. MPEGMovieVX uses MPEG2 compression to record the movies so the quality is very good. Additionally, the DSC-T1 has a built-in microphone so that your movies will have sound included. The movie mode is great since there is no limit to how much you can capture. You’re only limited to the size of your memory card. The movie mode has three settings. The 160x120 mode is nice but not useful for me but the 640x480 modes are very useful. The standard mode records 640x480 at 15 frames per second which is extremely usable; however, the 640x480 at 30 frames per second mode is truly amazing. In my tests, the quality is DV-like and looks extremely good on a television. Of course, the downside is that the best quality mode eats memory like crazy. A 256MB card will only last around 3 minutes. Most of the time, my short clips are 20 seconds to about a minute so it’s still a handy feature to have.  One last thing to mention is that to use the best quality MPEGMovieVX, you must have a Memory Stick Pro Duo card (currently 256 and 512MB only).

The camera can take photos in different megapixel modes offering 5, 3, 1, and 0.34 megapixel modes. By default, the DSC-T1 comes with a 32MB Memory Stick Duo card which is fine for playing with the camera but obviously not very useful. You can take around 12 pictures at the maximum resolution. I purchased a 256MB Memory Stick Pro Duo memory card and it’s much more useful offering around 94 pictures and around 3 minutes of MPEGMovieVX time. I find that this works fairly well for most cases although I plan on getting a 512MB card in the future so that I can take more video clips.

Battery Life

For a camera this small, the battery life is impressive. On a full charge, the camera’s InfoLithium battery shows that 90 minutes of life is available. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it is a good amount of battery and can essentially last one whole day. How often are you going to keep your camera on continuously? Of course, you’ll probably want a second battery “just in case”. As always, if you’re shooting mostly day shots or don’t have to use the flash that much then you’ll get even better battery life. My estimation is that you can nearly fill up a 512MB Memory Stick Pro Duo before the battery gives out. That’s around 180 pictures so that’s not too shabby. Of course, it might be less if your friends keep asking you to show them the pictures.

Room for Improvement

One of the most surprising things for me was the fact that the cradle was not very “Sony-like”. The functionality it great but it’s so strange that the cradle does not match the DSC-T1 at all. You would think they would either use a shiny contrasting color or the same color metal finish as the camera itself. Instead, you get a putty colored plastic cradle. It’s definitely not the most aesthetically pleasing cradle. Shame on Sony!

The flash is anemic. Of course, they do mention that it only has a short effective range so it’s not good for large group shots in poorly lit rooms. I found that group shots up to 7-8 people at 5 feet are decent. Anything further and the flash doesn’t cover well. Also, the red-eye mode doesn’t seem to work that well. I found that I still had red-eye victims in my shots even with it turned on. So, I normally keep it off and manually fix the eyes in Photoshop. It also creates a lag so I don’t think it’s worth it.

Although a minor issue, I wish Sony had some sort of mechanism to keep the battery in place when you open the door to take the Memory Stick out. The battery slides out too easily. I would like to see the same mechanism they use for the Memory Stick or the batteries in their other cameras where the battery clicks in and out.

I do wish that Sony included a mounting point so that the camera can be used on a tripod. I understand that the camera is so small that it might not be practical but it would still be nice to have.

It would also be nice if the camera had direct AV and USB ports. Of course, this would upset the aesthetics of the camera so this isn’t completely necessary…unless they can think of something clever.

As cool as the MPEGMovieVX mode is, it would be nice to see them use some other form of compression. Obviously, MPEG-4/Divx would be a nice choice since the quality is nearly the same as MPEG-2. Of course, cheaper larger memory cards could help alleviate this issue. 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo cards would be nice…

Final Thoughts

First of all, I’m no camera expert and consider myself an amateur/recreational photographer. If you want a more in-depth analysis of the camera then you should check out DPReview.com or DCResource.com, my two favorite resources for digital cameras. These guys are professionals and cover every single facet of the cameras they review.

Although the DSC-T1 is on the expensive side, it is worth every penny. Despite a few minor issues, the camera is definitely in a league by itself. It’s highly portable and takes great pictures. If you want an everyday camera that’s fast enough to catch those unexpected moments then I highly recommend this camera.

Luckily, the camera is now available in the United States and other markets outside of Japan so you too can get your hands on one without too much trouble.

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