Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T30
Sony's T series has been a staple of the company's camera line ever since it was introduced. With sleek silver (and recently black) bodies, sliding lens covers that stretch boldly across the camera front, and big LCD screens that dominate the camera back, Sony has hit on a design philosophy that resonates strongly with digital snapshooters. Add to that recipe their pocketable size, easy-to-use controls and menus, and solid image quality, and you have a tasty little digicam. While Sony has been smart enough to add optical image stabilization and keep the screen sizes competitive at 2.5 inches, we wish the Japanese giant would see fit to upgrade the T-series cameras with a faster, and perhaps wider, lens than the one included in its latest T, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T30.
At 3.7 by 2.2 by 0.9 inches and 4.7 ounces, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T30 is a bit larger than recent T-series cameras. As with the Cyber Shot DSC-T9, the T30's image-stabilized lens adds some depth over other T-series cameras. Its 3-inch LCD, compared to the T9's 2.5-inch screen, contributes to the increase as well. Still, the camera is plenty pocketable, and its vertically sliding lens cover integrates more seamlessly into the design than its predecessors, thanks to a raised portion on the camera's front face. The back of the DSC-T30 is black and covered in Plexiglas, giving it a slightly classier look than its older siblings. Sony has kept the straightforward menu system used in recent versions of the T series, and the button layout is very similar. The main exception is that the company switched from a cluster of five buttons to a five-way rocker for menu control.
As features go, this camera is very similar to the Cyber Shot DSC-T9. In addition to the aforementioned screens, both include 58MB of internal memory and optical image stabilization, which will give you about one and a half stops of leeway when shooting handheld in low light. For example, we were able to shoot sharp pictures at shutter speeds as low as 1/15 second and, at times, 1/10 second. The internal memory comes in handy if you take advantage of the camera's built-in slide-show mode, which creates fancy transitions and lets you choose from four preloaded music selections or upload your own music. Plus, with the included cable, you can output the slide show to a television instead of watching it on the camera.
Given this camera's price, we were underwhelmed with the 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) lens. Not only does its 3X optical zoom lag behind competitors, which are now moving up to 4X, but its slow maximum aperture range of f/3.5 to f/4.3 steals some of the thunder from the camera's image stabilization. To its credit, the lens produced very little fringing or vignetting and only minor geometric distortion at its extremes, which often wasn't noticeable in typical snapshots. Exposures were generally accurate and can be modified with exposure compensation (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3-step increments) or by choosing another of the three metering modes: matrix, center, or spot.
Colors were fairly neutral and skin tones generally pleasing. A weekend outing with an inordinate number of blue-eyed friends highlighted the DSC-T30's penchant toward red-eye. Even with the red-eye reduction enabled, the gaggle of light-colored eyes turned demonically crimson. Noise was relatively under control for a pocket camera. At ISO 100, it barely registered; at ISO 200 and 400, it became more apparent but was still under control. By ISO 800 and ISO 1,000, it was very visible, though pictures were usable, especially if you're printing at only 4x6 inches.
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T30 is speedy. Time from power-up to first shot is a mere 1.8 seconds, and subsequent shots took 1.3 seconds between captures in single-shot mode. With flash turned on, this shot-to-shot time lengthened to 2.4 seconds. Continuous shooting yielded 1.4 frames per second regardless of image size, and shutter lag zips through at 0.4 second.