When Sony announced the 10-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-T500 in August 2008, 720p HD video recording in point-and-shoot cameras wasn't widespread. Now, even though it's popular, the T500 does have some of the best video quality I've seen in an ultracompact camera. It also has the photo quality of a camera far below its price point and an irritatingly short battery life.
The all-black T500 has a mostly metal body, and sliding the front cover down reveals not only the optically stabilized 5x f3.5-4.4 33-165mm-equivalent lens but a larger-than-normal stereo microphone as well. The whole body measures 3.9 inches wide by 2.4 inches high by 0.8 inch deep, but the little camera feels more substantial than Sony's slimmer models usually do with a weight of 6.2 ounces. A texturized rubber grip juts out from the right side giving you something to push down on to drop the lens cover and hold while shooting. On back a wrist-strap loop sticks out providing you someplace to rest your thumb next to the 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD. On top are the only physical controls: a power button, play button, and a shutter release that has a zoom ring on front and a switch at the back for quickly jumping from still shooting to movie mode.
If having to wipe off fingerprints is a deal breaker, you'll want to skip this camera--and probably the increasing number of touch-screen models, for that matter. Aside from fingerprints, you might take issue with the touch screen's unresponsiveness. It's adequately fast for poking around the three onscreen menus (Home, Menu, and Display) along with the handful of controls that are accessible directly from the screen including flash, macro, timer, and resolution. Navigating the camera settings is easy enough. 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 shooting choices like scene modes and resolutions. Nevertheless, Sony dropped this Home/Menu distinction in its 2009 models for a reason.
Compared with its line-mate, the DSC-T700, the T500 is relatively light on features and options. For still photos you get a choice of Auto, Scene Selection (there are nine to pick from including High Sensitivity and High Speed Shutter), and Program Auto. The latter gives you control over white balance, color, flash level, burst and bracketing modes, ISO sensitivity (it reaches ISO 3,200), and exposure compensation. In Movie mode you get two shooting options: Auto and High Sensitivity. Both provide controls for focus, white balance, and exposure compensation, but in Auto you also get sepia and black-and-white color options as well as the ability to change between multipoint and center metering.
Noticeably absent from the T500 compared with the T700 is the latter's high-resolution display (921,000 pixels to the T500's 230,000 pixels), 4GB of storage (just a measly 4MB for the T500), and Sony's Bionz Engine image processing. The lack of the Bionz engine might be at least partially to blame for the T500's mediocre photos and its leisurely performance.
Things start off OK with sharp, detailed photos presenting good color and white balance at ISO 80 and ISO 100, though there's some visible lens distortion on the left side, which is common in this class of cameras. Photos at and below a size of 8x10 were fine quality, though all photos generally look soft. Viewed at 100 percent, we saw some chromatic aberration, and everything tended to look smeary and overprocessed. Noise in the pictures becomes noticeable at ISO 200 as does some color shift and vignetting. The image noise starts to seriously obscure detail at ISO 800; we don't suggest using it or higher settings. The T500 also tends to blow out highlights. In general, the photos are OK, but they don't match the hefty price tag of the camera.