Sony Cybershot DSC-T100 Review

I would've given this camera an Editor's Choice designation except for one problem
I would've given this camera an Editor's Choice designation except for one problem
I would've given this camera an Editor's Choice designation except for one problem

Highs

  • 8.2MP ultra-thin digicam with 5x zoom; optical image stabilization; 3-inch LCD

Lows

  • HD out requires optional accessories

Summary

Sony revolutionized the world of ultra-thin digicams with its very popular T series. Although Casio, Nikon, Kodak, Pentax and others try to match them, they always seem to fall a bit short. I’ve always loved the sliding front door that powers-up the camera. And although this design has been around for a few years, it’s still as fresh as ever. The DSC-T100 is the latest edition and it has a number of new features we wanted to try out including higher 8.2MP resolution, a more powerful zoom, a better processor and Face Detection–the new setting almost all camera makers are touting in 2007. Now does all this add up to something special or just more of the same? Let’s find out…

Features and Design

As you can tell, we’re big fans of the T series industrial design. The silver model we had is basically a sculpted piece of brushed metal, measuring 3.5 x 2.25 x .87 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 6 ounces with the battery and Memory Stick Duo card. There is subtle branding on the front that fits the overall style. The camera is also available in red or black. Slide the front panel down and the camera powers up and you’ll see the flash, lens, mic and AF Illuminator sensor. Of note is the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar glass that’s a 5x non-protruding optical zoom, the first T series with this zoom power. The Sony’s zoom has a focal length of 35-175mm in 35mm terms, far more powerful than the 35-105mm found in most digicams. Realize Casio has a new thin digicam with a 7x zoom, the EX-V7 ($399). However it’s 7.2MP with a 2.5-inch LCD. We’re on the list to test this one out to see if it measures up.

The DSC-T100 easily slips into a pocket but make sure there’s no change or keys there to prevent scratching the 3-inch LCD screen on the back. The LCD takes up most of the rear real estate, as you’d imagine. There’s just the wide/tele toggle switch, Menu and Home keys as well as the typical four-way controller with center set key. The top of the camera has a shutter button with power and playback keys angled to the side. The right of the camera has the battery/memory card compartment while the bottom simply has a tripod mount and an input for Sony’s bizarre hydra-headed connector that lets you connect it to a TV using A/V inputs or a computer via USB. Sony touts the fact this camera is capable of HD out to your HDTV—unfortunately you’ll need to purchase a separate accessory with the appropriate HD connectors. Sony’s CSS-HD1 dock costs $79, has component video outs and a remote; it also recharges the battery. There is a less expensive alternative since Sony has another hydra-connector with component outs for around $40. Guess you have to read the fine print…Still it’s a bit much to ask for an HDMI out on a sub-$400 camera, even for this reviewer.

The camera comes with a typical kit including the body, strap, rechargeable battery/charger, hydra-cable, printed manual and CD ROM with basic software and drivers. No Memory Stick Duo card is supplied (natch) so budget another $40 for a 1GB card. We dutifully charged the battery, loaded a card, set the date/time and hit the road.

Sony DSC-T100
Image Courtesy of Sony (T100 is also available in silver and black)

Setup and Use

The first thing that hits you is the menu system and the high-quality screen (rated 230K pixels). I’m happy to say the days of funky Sony interfaces are long gone. The camera has onscreen menus similar to what you’ll find on the Playstation 3 and other high-end Sony gear. It’s very easy to read and follow with simple declarative statements explaining the settings. Sony gets a tip of the hat for these menus. This is a point-and-shoot camera so don’t expect many manual adjustments such as focus, aperture and shutter speed. There are a few for those want to delve deeper such as white balance, ISO as well as type of metering and focus. But this is an aim-and-forget camera so it’ll be primarily used in Auto or one of the eight typical scene modes (Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Hi-Speed Shutter and so on). You can also pick red-eye reduction and everyone’s new favorite setting, Face Detection. With this, the camera automatically zeroes in on a face and optimizes the exposure, focus and white balance for this type of shot. A frame pops up that tracks the main subject’s face even as you move the camera to zero in on the shot. Hit the shutter and you’re supposed to get a quality portrait. More on this in a bit…

This DSC-T100 is an 8.2MP camera, meaning it captures 3264 x 2448 pixel images, something that chokes lesser-quality cameras. In this case, there’s barely any lag as the photos are saved. It can even shoot slightly over 2 frames per second in continuous mode (up to 100). This is an impressive number and you feel it as the camera reacts very quickly. It’s not a D-SLR with their typical 3 fps but for a point-and-shoot, it’s quite good.

Since this camera is so small, there’s really no way to support it properly; you have to hold it with your thumbs and index fingers. This grip opens you to a world of shaky stills but fortunately, the DSC-T100 has optical image stabilization and high ISOs (3200 max) to help smooth out the jitters. Naturally, if you’re shooting with just available light (no flash), there’s noise galore in very dim scenes but this is to be expected with any camera that crams 8 million pixels on a 1 /2.5-inch CCD.

This camera is one of the new point-and-shoot digicams that features the Sony Bionz processor that first appeared in the alpha D-SLR. This new chip improves the overall response plus enables Face Detection. It also has the D-Range Optimizer that initially was in the alpha; this circuit improves shadow detail.

I took a load of shots indoors and out. I especially liked the grid lines that helped keep the horizons level; this was very useful given the big 3-inch LCD. To give the Face Detection a workout, I took it along to a restaurant with a bunch of friends, to see how it handled those situations. Once the images were on the PC, I cranked out 8.5×11 full-bleed prints with no tweaking.

Since Face Detection is such a big deal—for camera marketers at least—my first prints were of the jolly bunch at the restaurant. Face Detection worked as advertised, as three frames appeared to follow the faces of my trio of subjects. With the big LCD it was fun watching the frames move around the screen to match up with the people. Sony claims it can handle eight faces at a time but my party was smaller so I can’t attest to this claim. Now a little light show is one thing but how were the prints? Actually they were quite good as skin tones matched reality and focus was spot on. Now it couldn’t make up for some droopy eyes because of too much wine but that’s another story! In this case the hype lived up to the reality.

As for other shots, I was very happy with them. Simply put: this is a very good camera that will keep point-and-shooters very happy.

Sony DSC-T100
Image Courtesy of Sony

Conclusion

I would’ve given this camera an Editor’s Choice designation except for one problem. Although Sony promotes the fact this camera outputs HD-quality shots to your HDTV, the only way you can do it is by purchasing an optional accessory for at least $40. Bummer. Given its long list of other excellent features—8.2MP resolution, quality photos, optical image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD, excellent menu system and Face Detection–this should have had a higher rating. Still this is an excellent 2007 camera and does the T series proud.

Pros:

• Powerful zoom in a tiny package
• Good image quality
• Very good 3-inch LCD
• Excellent menu system
• Optical Image stabilization

Cons:

• Few manual options
• Need optional accessories to view HD images on TV