Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T7 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T7
The T7 is an anorexic supermodel of a camera, but the slim design is married to a lean feature set. The macro and magnifying glass modes and the 30fps VGA movie mode are excellent, but it lags behind the competition on user-friendliness
While there's rarely any method in the product-naming madness, it's tempting to believe that the 'T' in T7 stands for 'thin'. Measuring just 9.8mm thick at the thinnest point, and only 14.7mm across its bulging belly, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T7 is an anorexic supermodel on a lettuce-leaf diet. It's far thinner than your wallet, even on the day before payday. If you're too shy to flaunt it round your neck, it'll slide easily into your pocket.
The slim design is married to a lean feature set. The macro and magnifying glass modes and the 30fps VGA movie mode are excellent, but it lags behind the competition on user-friendliness, with cryptic menus and relatively few scene modes. Snapshots are detailed, colourful and generally well-exposed.
The T7 measures 92 by 60 by 15mm and weighs 136g, including the battery pack and neck strap. Those figures are deceptive, though, because most of the body is only around 10mm thick. The extra girth comes from the lens cover, a 61 by 31 by 5mm slab that slides down to reveal the lens and activate the camera. Flicking the lens cover with your thumb is quicker and easier than pressing the tiny power button on the end, but the camera would be slimmer and look neater with a recessed lens cover.
The body is made of stainless steel and feels very solid, but the lens cover is silver plastic and is prone to chipping and scratching around the edges, spoiling the look of the camera. A protruding lug on one end provides an attachment hole for the lanyard and resting place for your thumb. The sleek design means there's very little to get hold of and you'll need to use both hands -- it's impossible to hold it steady with one. You also need to keep your fingers away from the lens, which sits very close to the top of the camera. A big orange blur on the viewfinder is a good clue that you need to change your grip.
Most of the controls are on the top and the back of the camera. On the top you'll find the microphone, an orange light that blinks when the flash is charging (and is difficult to see when you're looking at the back of the camera), a minuscule zoom controller, a spongy shutter button and a green power light. On the back there's a small slider for choosing between playback, still and movie modes, a menu button, a five-way controller for navigating the menus, a couple of small buttons for deleting files and turning off the display, and a speaker. The direction buttons on the five-way controller double as short-cut buttons for selecting the flash mode, activating macro mode, activating the self-timer and reviewing the last image. All the controls are small, so if you have large hands, you should test drive the T7 before you decide to buy.
The one big thing on the camera is the LCD, which measures 62mm (2.5 inches) across the diagonal. It's bright and sharp and functions reasonably well even in bright sunlight, making it easy to frame your images and show them to your friends. There's no optical viewfinder.
The T7 takes the smaller Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, currently available in capacities up to 2GB. The card slots into the bottom of the camera, and the dinky square NP-FE1 battery hides behind a door in the right-hand end. If you want to transfer images via USB or connect the T7 to a television, you'll need to use the supplied adaptor, which slots onto the end to provide USB, AV-out and DC-in ports. If you want to mount it on a tripod, you'll need to screw it to the supplied stand, which has a tripod socket in the bottom. You also get a battery charger that plugs directly into the wall. Although they are all small and light, it's annoying that you need to carry three separate accessories to make full use of the camera.
Like previous T-series cameras, the T7 uses a folded optics zoom lens. The zoom is mounted vertically in the camera, with a prism at the top to turn the light through 90 degrees. This means Sony can provide a 3x optical zoom within the body of the camera, rather than via a protruding lens.
The zoom range of 38 to 114mm (35mm equivalent) means the T7 isn't great for wide-angle shots of interiors or big groups of people, but does let you get close to more distant subjects. If you're interested in close-ups, the macro mode lets you get to within 80mm of small subjects, or you can switch to magnifying glass mode to get as close as 10mm. In this mode, a 5p coin can more than fill the frame.
Given that the T7 has buttons for all the main options (shooting mode, flash, macro, self timer, quick review, image size and delete), we suspect many users will never access the menus. If you get the urge to tinker, you can apply exposure compensation (±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps), change the focus mode (multi, centre, spot or a choice of five preset distances), or change the metering (multi, centre or spot). You can adjust white balance, although you can't set it manually, and fine-tune the saturation, contrast, brightness and flash level. On the downside, the menus are cryptic, with small icons that can be difficult to work out. We've seen friendlier efforts elsewhere, notably on the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z57.
Compared to ultracompact cameras such as the EX-Z57 and the Pentax Optio S5n, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T7 offers only a handful of scene modes: Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Soft snap, Landscape, High-speed shutter (for sport), Beach, Snow and Fireworks. Considering that four of these modes work best when the camera is mounted on a tripod, which involves having both the stand and a tripod to hand, we doubt you'll use them much. The range of special effects is even more limited: just B&W and Sepia.
Where the T7 does match the competition is with its Burst, Multi Burst and Movie modes. Burst mode records anywhere from 9 to 100 images in succession, depending on the image size, when you hold down the shutter button. Multi Burst records 16 small images in as little as half a second, then tiles them into a single frame. If you time it right, it's useful for analysing motion -- and a fun way to make montages. Finally, in Movie mode you can record VGA (640x480-pixel) video at 30fps. Having the speaker on the back means that if you turn the volume up, you can actually hear your audio.
We were initially sceptical about the folded optics lens, but images from the T7 were generally sharp and correctly exposed, with accurate colours. It sometimes overexposed brighter subjects and we occasionally felt the need to use exposure compensation. There was some barrel distortion at the wider end of the lens, but that's normal for small cameras, and there was little or no purple fringing on backlit subjects. Skin tones were well-balanced and natural.
The flash reaches 2 to 3m. It's adequate for taking portraits at night, but it won't enable you to light up a large room.
The macro and magnifying glass modes enable you to take interesting close-ups and can be great fun. Being able to use the flash in macro mode is a bonus, although you'll usually get better results with an alternative light source, such as a halogen desk lamp. Holding the camera steady can also be a problem.
Sony claims the battery is good for around 150 still images. We managed to capture over 300 in quick succession, with flash, and still had plenty of juice remaining. In real life you won't do that well, because you'll spend more time framing images and reviewing your shots, with the big screen draining juice out of the battery every minute. Nevertheless, Sony's figures seem credible.
Additional editing by Nick Hide