So you want to be a super model? Eat only lettuce, workout daily, and visit the plastic surgeon regularly. If your goal is to be a super model digicam, slim yourself down to practically nothing, add some bling, a dash of cool technology, and you’re there. The super-slim Sony T series has always been the Heidi Klum of cameras, with knockout style and a shape that can’t be beat. Yet the T series has always been more than a pretty package, delivering quality images along with its signature style. The new DSC-T900 is the latest member of the roster. Resolution was kicked up to 12MP from 10.1, it’s been slimmed down almost 25 percent compared to last year, and topped off with an improved LCD screen and HD video. Is this model a runway success or a stumble? Let’s check it out.
Features and Design
The T Series has always led the style parade with its slim form factor, brushed-metal exterior, and very cool sliding front panel, which powers it on. Nothing really radical externally has changed compared to last year’s T500, except thickness has dropped from 21.4mm to 16.3mm. This baby is really thin. Width remains the same in order to accommodate the 3.5-inch touch screen. However, Sony has dramatically improved the resolution, bringing it up to 921K pixels, versus 230K for the T500. Dimensions are 3.9 x 2.4 x .64 (WHD, in inches), and it weighs 4.8 ounces fully dressed – or should we say, with battery and Pro Duo card.
We received a silver-finish model, but there are black, bronze and red options to fit your style. The outside of the T900 has very few buttons and controls, because almost all adjustments are made via the touch screen. With the front sliding panel in the off position, there are just two engraved logos on a field of brushed metal. Slide the panel down, and you’ll see the non-extending Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x zoom (35-140mm), stereo mic, AF assist lamp, and flash. The right and left sides have nothing but screws, while the bottom of the Made in Japan camera has a metal tripod mount, along with the compartment for the battery and Memory Stick Pro Duo card. There’s also a special jack that mates with the supplied docking station. This is where you’ll find all the inputs/outputs found on a typical, larger digicam: USB, A/V, HDMI and DC-in. Yes, this 2009 digicam takes 720p HD videos.
The top of the T900 has a shutter button surrounded by a wide/tele switch, the power key, and a tiny, two-pinhole speaker. The top bezel on the back has a switch to move between still/video, and another to enter playback. The most critical element – and most obvious – on the rear is the 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD. It’s here you’ll find access to the myriad of menu options available. When you turn it on, there are icons flanking the main view screen. They can be eliminated to clear up the screen, but the actual viewing area is 2.75-inches diagonal. So even though the top line says 3.5-inch LCD, you lose a portion of that for the icon touch controls on the sides. Is this a rip-off? Not really. Canon models with true 3-inch screens like the SX200 IS are much thicker, in order to fit the physical controls. In this case, you really have to play with the touch screen controls to see if this tradeoff is worthwhile. We’ll give you our take in the performance section.
What’s In The Box?
The DSC-T900 comes with the typical bundle: camera, battery, charger, A/V and USB cables, as well as a wrist strap. There’s also a dock, a stylus used for “painting” on the LCD, but no HDMI cable, DC-in or MS Pro Duo card. The lack of a card or cable isn’t surprising (no one supplies them) but the DC-in should be part of the kit. Too bad Sony didn’t supply it. You also get a 62-page owner’s manual, and a link to a longer PDF on the supplied disk. The CD-ROM also has Sony’s latest version of Picture Motion Browser software for handling images. This is a decent freebie, and miles ahead of Sony’s earlier clunker programs.
Once the battery was charged and loaded, a 1GB MS Pro Duo card clicked into place, it was time to let our model strut her stuff.
Performance and Use
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900 is a 12-megapixel CCD camera, so it grabs 4000 x 3000 pixel stills. In movie mode, it’ll record 720p videos with stereo sound. It has the Bionz processor to speed things up, a trickledown from the company’s D-SLRs. Burst mode hits close to 2 fps, which is at the upper end of 12MP point-and-shoot cameras. Overall, the camera is very speedy and responsive.
The key interface is the touch screen, and we’ll spend some time here since it’s the raison d’être of this cam, along with great looks. The default view has icons on the right and left of the main view. From top to bottom on the left are home, Smile Shutter, self-timer, iAuto (intelligent auto), and menu. On the right, you’ll find flash, macro and display. Simply tap the icon, and related menus pops up. Although the unit comes with a stylus, we simply used a finger nail. The controls reacted quickly and accurately with taps. Handy captions tell you the options—everything is extremely simple to understand and operate.
There’s really nothing here you won’t find on any quality aim-and-forget camera. But forget any manual adjustments such as aperture and shutter speed. You can tweak exposure compensation, white balance, and ISO in the program mode. ISO hits 3200 in high sensitivity mode, but you can manually adjust it between 80-800 in program. One of the most noteworthy features is Smile Shutter, which automatically clicks the shutter when your subject smiles. It works well. iAuto (intelligent auto) is also a useful one, as it chooses the proper scene mode for a particular subject. It too worked well. We had to laugh at the food setting under the separate list of scene modes. It’s for a “natural shot of food,” for all the cool people carrying this around so they can show the latest dishes they barely touched (have to watch your calories, you know). Another trickledown from the D-SLR division is DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) which automatically adjusts contrast like Canon’s iContrast, and Nikon’s D-Lighting. It’s very helpful for handling mixed shade. The Sony has a nine-point autofocus system, and it focused very quickly with little shutter lag.
During our recent jaunt to Coney Island to review the Canon Vixia HF S10, we also pocketed the T900 so we could compare the stills. Even though a bit unfair (12MP vs. 8, 4x zoom vs. 10x) it was still worth checking out. That said, the images from the Sony had far more detail, accuracy and crispness than those from the Canon, which were the best camcorder photos we’ve ever taken. There’s still a noticeable gap between them, with the dedicated digicam winning out.
Once done, we returned home to crank out prints, and to watch the videos on a 50-inch plasma via HDMI. After closely examining the images on the monitor, and real copies, we were very pleased with the excellent shots taken outdoors. Shots taken without the flash were another story. Digital noise remains the bugaboo for high-megapixel P&S digicams. Though ISO 400 is typically the cutoff, we noticed loads of noise cropping up on T900 after going beyond just ISO 200. However, images taken with the flash and bright light were better than good.
The videos were a real letdown after the HF S10, but you can’t compare a real $1,299 camcorder with a $379 digicam. Even taking note these natural shortcomings, the colors didn’t have the pop or detail of true 1080i camcorder. The 3.5-inch screen on the T900 also eats batteries. Sony claims it’s good for 100 minutes or 200 shots, but we didn’t get anywhere near this amount. Definitely consider a spare as an add-on.
For what it is, the $379 DSC-T900 is a solid camera. It has great looks, a terrific touch screen, and takes high-def clips and fine photos with enough light. However, it performs pretty poorly in low light without the flash. For outdoor snapshots, photos of friends with smiling faces, and sheer style, it’s a winner. For those who want to move beyond that, look elsewhere.
- Stylish, ultra-thin digicam
- Excellent image quality, especially outdoors
- Fast focusing, quick response
- Touch screen and menus easy to operate
- Takes decent 720p clips with stereo sound
- Optical image stabilization
- Noisy at ISO 200 and beyond
- Touch screen controls might not work for you
- Might be too thin
- Poor battery life
- DC power adaptor not supplied