The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900 is immediately impressive. A 12-megapixel camera with a stabilized 4x internal zoom lens, 3.5-inch touch-screen display with a resolution four times that of a typical camera LCD, and few physical controls in a body that's roughly half-an-inch thick and is so light there's a good chance your wallet weighs more. (Well, at least before you buy a T900, anyway.) Of course, you might expect excellent photos for that money, too, and that's where the T900 comes up a bit short.
The camera has an elegant feel with a full metal body up front and sides, and nothing but screen on the back. A wrist strap loop off the right side doubles as a thumbrest--otherwise your thumb's on the screen. The only physical controls are the power and shutter buttons on top, with a zoom ring around the shutter release and a switch at the back of the ring for going between shooting stills and movies. The only other button is a small Playback mode button at the top of the display. On the bottom is the battery/Memory Stick compartment, a proprietary connector for use with the included USB/AV cable and multi-output dock, and a tripod mount. To take a picture you simply slide down the metal lens cover and click away. You'll want to be careful of errant fingers getting in shots and touching the lens, however, as the lens is positioned at the far left.
Sony's high-contrast Xtra Fine display is quite good. At its Normal
brightness setting, there was no issue seeing the screen in direct
sunlight. Well, after wiping away fingerprints there was no issue; the
T900 seems to collect more than most. If having to wipe off
fingerprints is a deal breaker, you'll want to skip this camera and
probably all touch-screen models for that matter.
fingerprints, you might take issue with the touch screen's
responsiveness. I found the T900's to be fine with fingers, but better
with the included stylus (or Paint Pen as Sony calls it) likely because
you can be more precise with it. It clips onto the wrist strap and
allows you to quickly poke around the three onscreen menus (Home, Menu,
and Display) along with the in-camera retouching and painting tools
(you can add stamps, frames, or draw on pictures) all while keeping the
screen free of fingerprints.
Navigating the camera settings is easy enough, once you
remember what menu system you want. The Home menu gives you access to
all the main features and options, while the Menu screen provides
context-sensitive options; for instance, if you're taking still
pictures, you get all the settings related to the shooting mode you're
Being a snapshot camera there's no reason to expect the T900 to have manual controls for shutter speed and aperture, and it doesn't. You do, however, get four automatic modes: Program Auto has the most controls with access to ISO, exposure, white balance, focus, and metering; Sony's Intelligent Auto; Easy mode that takes away all but a couple basic shooting options; and SCN, which lets you select from five specialty scene situations, but automatically handles all other settings. (There are five additional standard scene modes like portrait and landscape just sort of hanging out in the Mode menu.) If you tend to leave it in Auto mode, Sony's Intelligent Auto turned in reliable results as it picks from eight scene types (branded iSCN) and turns on face detection and image stabilization. Sony's iSCN can be set to Auto or Advanced, the difference being that in difficult lighting the camera will automatically take two shots with different settings so you have a better chance of getting a usable photo. Also worth mentioning is that the T900 has exposure bracketing that'll take three photos, one at the exposure you select and then two more at plus and minus 0.3EV, 0.7EV, or 1.0EV.
Performance is excellent for an ultracompact camera. Start-up time is a
fast 1.4 seconds with an identical shot-to-shot time. Turning on the
flash has little impact, only going up to 2.2 seconds for it to refresh
and capture. Shutter lag is 0.4 second in good lighting, while more
challenging dim lighting extends the lag time to an average 0.7 second.
The T900's continuous mode is respectably quick, too, at 0.9 frames per
second. What's probably the biggest disappointment is battery life: a
fresh charge from the included little lithium ion pack gets you about
Photo quality for the T900 is a bit tricky. The results are roughly the same as the sub-$250 Cyber-shot DSC-W290,
which was very good for its price. The T900 is $100 more, though, so
the expectation is there that the photos should be better and they
aren't. (The extra money no doubt went into the better LCD and
miniaturization of everything.)
Color and exposure were very good: pleasing and accurate,
though reds were occasionally a little too vivid. The camera goes from
ISO 80 up to ISO 3,200, but usability drops off significantly above ISO
400 (typical of cameras in its class). However, even at ISO 80, photos
viewed at full size have a grain to them that only gets more pronounced
as sensitivities get higher. It had little to no impact on large prints
(13x19 and below) made from test shots taken up to IS0 200. If you're
planning to make prints that large, just keep the ISO as low as
possible. In the end, the photos are good for a snapshot camera, but if
you're expecting better quality because of the higher price tag, don't. (Click to see a slide show of sample photos from the T900.)
Those interested in picking up the T900 for the added benefit
of HD movie capture will be happy that the quality is very good. And,
you get use of the 4x optical zoom while recording.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900 is a good, fast snapshot camera that's also very attractive and extremely compact. Its battery life is a little short, its touch screen won't please everyone, and some will find the photo quality unworthy of the camera's price tag. In this case, though, you're paying for the great design more than for great photos.