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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99

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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 is basically the sexier ultracompact version of the company's W350. It has many of the same features as that model, but switches from a telescoping external lens to an internal lens and adds a 3-inch touch screen. Unfortunately, the design and display raise the cost, but don't do anything to improve photo quality or shooting performance. That's not to say that the photos are bad, though, and if you want a touch-screen camera and can't afford a more expensive model, the T99 is a decent camera. On the other hand, if you don't need its "wow" factor, the W350 is a better value.

sony-cyber-shot-dsc-t99-digital-camera-compact-14-1-mpix-4-x-optical-zoom-carl-zeiss-flash-32-mb-black.jpg
7.0

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99

The Good

Good looking; excellent feature set.

The Bad

Slippery, small body; touch interface is a little laggy.

The Bottom Line

Sony packs a lot of features into the ultracompact Cyber-shot DSC-T99, but if you don't need or want the touch screen there are better values to be had.

Key specs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99
Price (MSRP) $249.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 4.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x, f3.5-4.6, 25-100mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 (MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 230 shots
Battery charged in camera No, external charger supplied
Storage media Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, Eye-Fi card support
Bundled software Picture Motion Browser 5.0 (Windows), PMB Portable 1.1 (Windows, Mac)

The T99 is very small and quite attractive. Available in five colors--black, silver, purple, green, and pink--it is eye-catching for its size alone, and its near-total lack of physical controls, the slide-down metal lens cover, and the 3-inch touch-screen LCD all add to the attraction. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to hold securely due to its rounded edges and slippery metal casing. Plus, the internal lens is positioned high on the front left side, making it all too easy to accidentally touch the lens and get your digits in shots.

The only physical controls are the power and shutter buttons, a small zoom rocker, and a small Playback mode button at the top of the display. The buttons are flush with the body, which gives it a streamlined look, but makes them tricky to find and press without looking. The camera can also be powered on or off by lowering or raising the lens cover. Everything else is handled through the LCD.

The touch-screen display is fairly responsive and can be calibrated for use with your fingers or the included stylus. However the interface is a little laggy, so making very fast changes to settings or moving to a different shooting mode isn't a snappy experience. Also, because it's a wide-screen LCD, there are gutters on the left and right sides when using the camera's full resolution. If you want to use the full screen to frame shots, you'll need to shoot in a wide-screen aspect ratio, which drops photos to an 11-megapixel resolution.

Though it may be slow to respond, the interface is at least easily navigated. A tap of the Menu icon in the upper left corner slides out a panel of available shooting options as well as access to a Toolbox icon to take you to a secondary menu for general settings. Back out to the main screen for framing shots and down the left side is a row of four customizable shooting-function icons (changing them is a simple drag-and-drop procedure). On the right side of the screen are shooting mode and playback icons. And if you don't want to see anything but what's in the lens, a simple tap and swipe on the left side hides everything. Still, touch screens aren't for everyone, and if you don't like them before using the T99, it's doubtful this one will change your mind. It's also not nearly as responsive as, say, the iPhone or other touch-based smartphones.

A multiuse port on the bottom of the camera works with the included cable for connecting to a computer, display, or TV by USB or AV output. Those who have hesitated to purchase Sony cameras because of the reliance on Memory Stick media will be pleased that the 2010 Cyber-shots accept SD cards. Eye-Fi wireless SD cards are supported, too, giving users an onscreen Eye-Fi indicator; a thumbnail of the photo or video as it is being wirelessly uploaded; and a menu option that allows you toggle the Eye-Fi's Wi-Fi receiver on and off and auto power off once wireless uploads are complete. The slot and battery compartment are protected by a lockable door, which you'll have to open regularly to remove the battery for charging. Though internal memory is limited, it does host a small piece of software for quickly uploading photos and movies to sharing sites when the camera is connected to a Windows or Mac computer.

General shooting options Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent white, Fluorescent natural white, Fluorescent day white, Incandescent, Flash, Custom, Underwater 1, 2, and Custom
Recording modes Easy, Intelligent Auto, Program, Sweep Panorama, Scene, Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Face Detection (Adult, Child), Touch AF
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 1.6 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects None
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Up to 100 shots

The T99's shooting modes are well-suited for snapshot photography and should not be considered for those who like to fiddle a lot with settings. That's not to say this Sony doesn't give you some control; the Program Auto lets you adjust ISO, white balance, autofocus points, light metering, and exposure values as well as control the amount of Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization used for rescuing shadow detail. The Intelligent Auto scene recognition mode turns out reliable results without any adjustments, but there are still a few options available to you, such as exposure and setting face detection priorities. An Easy mode takes away all options except for image size (large or small), flash, and the self-timer and enlarges onscreen text. There are 13 scene-shooting options including Beach, Snow, Food, Pet, and Underwater for use with an add-on housing.

There's a version of Sony's Sweep Panorama feature, too, that allows you to quickly and easily take panoramic shots horizontally or vertically. Though fun, the results just aren't as good as those taken with Sony's Exmor R-based models like the TX9 and HX5V. Consider them for Web use only or very small prints. Lastly, the Movie mode records at resolutions up to 720p HD with a mono mic for audio and use of the optical zoom while recording.

Shooting performance is fairly slow for the T99 with the exception of its time to first shot; slide down the lens cover and it turns on and fires in 1.6 seconds. Shutter lag--the time from pressing the shutter release to capture--in bright conditions is 0.5 second. In low-light conditions the lag goes up to 0.8 second. But the wait between shots is long: 3.9 seconds without the flash and 4.4 seconds with. Lastly, though the camera is pretty quick with continuous shooting for its class at 1.7 frames per second, it's a two-shot burst, so it slows a bit afterwards. With these times and the interface's laggy response, this point-and-shoot is best suited for portraits and landscapes and not moving subjects.

The T99's photo quality is average for its class, but can be very good depending on your needs. The camera is capable of consistently nice snapshots, particularly outdoors in daylight, mostly because it produces bright and natural and fairly accurate colors up to ISO 800. Sensitivities go from ISO 80 to ISO 3,200, but usability for prints more than 8x10 inches drops off at ISO 200 due to noise. Add to that the watery effect of Sony's noise suppression and lens distortion at the sides and corners and you end up with pictures that appear soft and painterly. If you're OK with some noise in exchange for getting a shot, though, photos up to ISO 800 can be usable for small prints or for online use, as long as you're not doing a lot of cropping.

And speaking of cropping, ideally a 14-megapixel resolution should buy you a fair amount of room for cutting down your images. However, the T99's photos are generally soft and lacking in fine detail when viewed at full size with the exception of those taken in macro. If you like to crop in a lot on subjects and then want to create 13x19-inch prints, you probably won't be happy with this camera (or any other current sub-$250 ultracompact, really).

What brought the overall photo quality of the T99 down is its lens distortion. Sony keeps the barrel distortion in check for the most part. There is some asymmetrical distortion on the left side. There's no sign of pincushioning at the long end of the zoom, though. However, there is distortion in the corners that pulls subjects up and in. The lens isn't particularly sharp, either. It's OK in the center, but drops off to the sides and corners, making subjects look soft and smeary. The camera produces a fair amount of fringing in high-contrast areas of photos, too. For the most part, all of this is distracting only when photos are viewed at full size or if heavily cropped. If you're not doing either of those, there's a good chance you'll like this Sony's results.

Video quality was good as well--on par with a pocket video camera--and you do get use of the 4x zoom while you're recording. Unfortunately, if you want to view HD movies and photos directly from the camera on an HDTV, you'll need to pony up for a proprietary component cable that connects to the multiuse terminal on the camera's bottom.

If you're considering the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 as a step up from a camera phone and most of your shots are destined for Web sharing and not prints, it's a good choice. That is, as long as you're not expecting the photo quality or performance of Sony's higher-end touch-screen models.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
1.9
3.9
3.1
0.7
0.4
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS
1.5
4.9
2.7
0.7
0.5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
1.1
4.5
2.8
0.7
0.5
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99
1.6
4.4
3.9
0.8
0.5
Nikon Coolpix S4000
2.9
4.1
2.5
1
0.6

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

sony-cyber-shot-dsc-t99-digital-camera-compact-14-1-mpix-4-x-optical-zoom-carl-zeiss-flash-32-mb-black.jpg
7.0

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6Image quality 7