With a depth of only 8/10 of an inch, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T1 is one of the slimmest digital cameras we've seen. It's roughly the size of a credit card. Factor in the T1's weight--just 179 grams with the battery and the media installed--and you have one highly portable package. The stainless-steel body is finished in a pleasing brushed silver. Overall, the camera feels well made, with crisp controls. But the drawback of that slender profile is the omission of a tripod socket. A docking connector occupies that space instead.
Control placement is generally fairly good. You turn the power on and off by sliding over the nifty vertical lens cover. Getting a good grip on that thin form is a little tough, especially since the big 2.5-inch LCD leaves little room for your left thumb, but the camera's pocket-size design is obviously perfect for those traveling light. In standard Sony style, options line the bottom of the screen and sprout pop-up menus upon selection. The system is quick to operate, but we found some of the text and icons a bit cryptic.
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T1 has unusually good video capabilities, but its basic snapshot feature set will feel restrictive to advanced photographers. During fully automatic operation, seven scene modes are available: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, Beach, High-Speed Shutter, and Fireworks. In Program mode, you get those same presets, spot or multiarea light metering, five white-balance selections, and light-sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 100 to ISO 400. You can also adjust exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV in 1/3-step increments. However, activating any of these functions requires a trip into the menu system, which could be tough to access for a fleeting shot.
The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3X zoom lens covers a 38mm-to-114mm range (the 35mm-camera equivalent) and opens only as wide as f/3.5. The three autofocus modes are Spot, Center, and Multi, and the manual focus offers a selection of preset distances. Sony also included continuous and semicontinuous AF to help you keep a lock on moving subjects; the modes can reduce shutter lag but often drain the battery.
The camera can save JPEG images to a Memory Stick Duo at two compression levels and five resolutions. On its own, the media is too small to fit in slots and readers for standard Memory Sticks, but each Duo comes with an adapter that adds compatibility. The T1 ships with a 32MB card, but it can hold only about 12 best-quality photos, so you'll definitely need to spring for a higher-capacity replacement.
The unusually good movie mode can capture 640x480-pixel, 30-frame-per-second video with sound in clips as long as your card capacity allows. That frame rate requires Memory Stick Pro Duo media; the slightly less-expensive standard Duo limits you to 16.6fps.
The T1 does not support advanced accessories, such as supplemental lenses. But a nice bonus is the included USB 2.0 cradle, which can transfer images and charge the battery.
When it comes to performance, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T1 leaves little room for complaint. It goes from shut to shot in only 2.3 seconds, switches modes almost instantly, and pulls up images for review in less than 1 second. Typical shutter lag drops as low as 0.35 second, and the wait between captures is a respectable 1.2 seconds, climbing to just 1.6 seconds for flash photos. These stats place the T1 among our top snapshot-camera performers. The only exception to these good results is a notably weak flash. Its maximum range is rated at less than 5 feet, which Sony stoops to listing as 59 inches in the manual. In continuous-shooting mode, you can take four pictures at 3 frames per second before the buffer is full.
The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens travels reasonably smoothly and virtually silently. It zooms internally, so it never protrudes from the body. Autofocus is quick and decisive in good light, and an assist lamp helps it perform adequately in very dim conditions.
The T1 lacks an optical viewfinder, but the 235,000-pixel LCD measures a big 2.5 inches, taking up about 60 percent of the camera back. The screen offers a reasonably sharp if unexceptional image and works well in outdoor light.
Aside from the measly flash coverage, the T1's InfoLithium battery did pretty well for a cell about the size of a CompactFlash card. We shot 530 photos on a single charge.
Test photos from the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T1 looked good but not great. Colours were very nice, both saturated and natural. Indoor shots came out slightly warmer than what we've seen from most Sony cameras, which traditionally produce somewhat cool images. Generally, our pictures exhibited proper exposure and a decent dynamic range, with only moderate noise and minimal clipping in the highlights and the shadows.
Unfortunately, photos tended to be fairly soft, a flaw exacerbated by significant compression and postprocessing artifacts. Our theory is that Sony got a little overenthusiastic with a blur filter in an effort to reduce noise and JPEG blocking artifacts in the blue channel. As a result, shots will look good in scaled-down onscreen versions or even 8x10 prints, but we wouldn't recommend cropping in on any particular area.
If you live by the philosophy that you can't be too rich or too thin, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T1 belongs in the pocket of your Armani suit. But despite the T1's cool factor, enthusiasts won't be satisfied with its minimal advanced controls, and persnickety shooters will look down their noses at its image quality.
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