Think about how often you show digital photos to others, either on your mobile phone or camera's LCD. Now think about how miserable the experience is trying to find an image on that camera or phone, how frequently you don't have the photo you really want to show, and how pathetically small and visually underwhelming the display is for the task. Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T700 aims to improve this picture-sharing experience by giving consumers not only a well-rounded point-and-shoot camera, but also a portable digital photo album able to store up to 40,000 images and view them on a 3.5-inch LCD screen. And we're pleased to say: it succeeds.
The T700 replaces the DSC-T300 in Sony's lineup. Like that camera, the T700 has a 10-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch Super HAD CCD sensor, wide 3.5-inch touch-screen display, f3.5-f10 35-140mm-equivalent Carl Zeiss lens (though the zoom range drops from 5x to 4x), Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization, and shooting features like Smile Shutter, face detection with child- and adult-priority control, and iSCN Intelligent Scene Recognition. However, along with improvements made to the LCD's picture quality (921,000 pixels up from 230,000) the T700's internal memory jumps from 15MB to 4GB--3.7GB available for photo storage--as well as support for up to a 16GB Memory Stick DUO PRO card. The internal storage combined with the 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD and the bundled Sony Picture Motion Browser software is what turns the camera into a digital photo album.
Measuring a little more than 0.6 inch and weighing 5.6 ounces, the T700 is ultraslim and light. We tested a brushed silver version, but it's available in gray, red, pink, and gold, too. The camera has an elegant feel with a full metal body up front and sides, and nothing but screen on the back. In fact, the only physical controls are the power and shutter buttons on top and the well-positioned zoom rocker at the right corner. The only other button is a small Playback mode button at the top right of the display. On the bottom is the battery/Memory Stick compartment, a proprietary connector for use with the included USB/AV cable, and a tripod mount. To take a picture you simply slide down the flat, 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, I had no problem seeing the screen in direct sunlight. Well, no problem after wiping away fingerprints; the T700 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--of which there are more and more. Aside from fingerprints, you might take issue with the touch screen's responsiveness. I found the T700's to be fine with fingers, but better with the included stylus (or "Paint Pen" as Sony calls it) likely because I could 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. 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. The DSC-T700 offers 10 scene modes--including a new Gourmet option for shooting food--as well as the typical auto features.
Sony has updated its Smile Shutter function so that it continues to automatically shoot pictures of people smiling until you tell it not to, but still lets you take single shots with the shutter button. There are three smile sensitivity levels as well. The iSCN Intelligent Scene Recognition now selects the best mode from eight scene modes up from five previously, and there's an advanced mode that will take a picture with the current settings plus an additional shot with optimized settings if need be (nothing like being second-guessed by your electronics). The company added an antiblink function iSCN, too, which will automatically take a second picture if it senses closed eyes. All of these worked well.
Performance for the DSC-T700 is about the same as the T300, and one of the top performers in its class. In CNET Labs' tests, it averaged 1.7 seconds from power-on to first shot. Shot-to-shot time ran about the same, while flash bumped that up to 2.4 seconds, which is pretty fast for an ultracompact. In high-contrast conditions it took only 0.4 second to focus and shoot, while that raises to a modest 0.9 second in a lower-contrast environment. It held a rate of 1.9fps in burst mode for over 50 shots.
Picture quality is also respectable with excellent color and contrast at low ISO sensitivities, 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 off-subject elements of the scene tended to look smeary and overprocessed, but nothing that was noticeable at traditional print sizes and certainly not on the T700's LCD. Noise in the pictures becomes noticeable at ISO 200 and starts to seriously obscure detail at ISO 800; we don't suggest using higher settings.