Sony DSC-T100 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 4/30/07
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100 -- a replacement for the DSC-T50 -- features an eight megapixel sensor which is coupled to a Zeiss-branded 5x optical zoom and a large 3.0-inch LCD display. The DSC-T100's 35 to 175mm equivalent lens incorporates Sony's Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization to minimize blur caused by camera shake at slow shutter speeds. Other T100 features include ISO sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 3,200, in-camera photo editing, a Memory Stick Duo/PRO Duo card slot plus 31MB of built in memory, and power from a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The T100 also offers high definition component video output, via an optional proprietary cable or cradle.
The Cyber-shot T100 includes Sony's new face detection technology, capable of detecting up to eight faces simultaneously. Sony's system is apparently linked not only to the T100's auto exposure, and autofocus systems as in most similar systems, but also to white balance and flash metering as well -- allowing the camera to ensure proper flash exposure, and pleasing flesh tones. Also, the T100 marks one of the first applications of Sony's Bionz image processor in their compact camera models. Sony says Bionz will offer improved image quality, faster response times, and better battery life in its compact cameras.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100 ships from March 2007, is priced at U.S. $400, and will debut in red, black, and silver.
Sony DSC-T100 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. Sony's T-Series has been one of the most attractive compact digicams since it was introduced. And this year's model is no exception. Gone is the T50's touch screen, but the 3-inch LCD that wins you over in a second is still there. So is the sliding lens cover that makes powering the camera on as simple as it gets.
But this year's T adds a more powerful 5x zoom to the package, along with face detection technology and that swift Bionz image processor from the Alpha digital SLR line. Toss in its high ISO performance, face detection, and Super SteadyShot image stabilization, and the T100 stands up to any compact out there.
That's not the whole story, though. The T100 has started Sony's digicam transition to HDTV, offering high resolution output of still images through either an optional cable, dock, or printing station. I've reviewed the $79.99 station separately (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/CSS/HD1.htm), with video of the instant, but sophisticated slide shows it produces.
Design. Stylish, ultra compact, sophisticated design -- which you can have in silver, black, or red. I had a silver preproduction model, and a black production model here, and both were stunners.
The T100 is just a bit taller and wider than a credit card, but it's about as thick as a deck of playing cards. That makes it easy to take anywhere, either in a pocket or a purse (but you'll want to protect that shiny LCD in a small camera case).
The Sony T100 isn't heavy, but it isn't a featherweight either. That helps steady it for picture taking without making it a drag to take along. There's a thumb well on the back, and a chrome bar on the front for your middle finger to hug while your forefinger tap dances on the Shutter button. I found it easiest to run my thumb up the back of the T100, along the LCD, rather than across the side. You can easily shoot pictures using one hand, but the T100 is so small, you're well advised to use two when you explore the menu system. Your thumb can dance around the very small command pad more easily that way.
In fact, the command pad is very simple -- and simple means easy to learn. You probably won't spend any time having to learn anything on the T100. At the top of the back panel you'll find the Zoom rocker, just where you'd expect to find it. And below the thumb well, you'll find the Menu button (which you'll use frequently). Just below that is the cropped four-way navigator, its left and right sides sliced off to fit the narrow column next to the LCD, with an OK button in the middle. And below that is the Home button, which gets you to the camera's top level shooting, playback, printing, memory management, and setup modes.
There are just three other controls: a Power button, and Playback toggle on the top panel, which bevels toward the back panel, and the Shutter button.
There! You already know how to use it.
Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder on the T100, but the 3-inch LCD will distract you from the real world with its 230,400 pixels in a 920 x 240 display.
I'm glad to see that Sony gives you the option to overlay the T100's display with a 3 x 3 grid. It helps you keep horizons straight, as well as laying out the rule of thirds for your compositional pleasure.
It also makes a very comfortable Menu system experience. All the goodies are in the Menu system, whether you want to adjust the Exposure Compensation, change the white balance, switch to that irresistible 16:9 aspect ratio, or shoot at high ISO.
Performance. While the T100 is a snap to use, there's a surprising amount of performance stuffed into its all-metal shell. Thanks to the Bionz image processor, the T100 is quick to start up and shut down, and the shutter is responsive, too (particularly when you half press it to set focus).
But the T100 is not only quick, it's doing a lot more in that shorter period of time, too. Its D-Range Optimizer minimizes blown highlights that are the bane of other digicams, while capturing a wider range of tones. Some of my more intense flower shots were actually overexposed instead of underexposed (as I normally do).
It also has the horsepower to handle nine-point autofocus, and face detection of up to eight people in portrait shots.
The T100 is also in a league of its own when it comes to transferring images from the camera to your computer over the included USB cable. I mean 10 times faster than other cameras. That's sizzling speed.
In-camera image editing is another place the T100 shines. It can automatically detect and remove red-eye, a real blessing if you're printing flash shots directly from the camera at a party, say. The other editing tools are a lot of fun too.
With the Partial Color option you can pinpoint an object in your scene to hold its color, and watch as the T100 turns everything else into monochrome. Then you can use the Zoom lever to expand or contract the color effect, great for images of flowers.
You can also apply a fish-eye lens effect with nine levels of control, or blur the periphery with five levels. These aren't just fun, but they can minimize composition problems, too.
Including the optical image stabilization of Super SteadyShot is something I've applauded in past T Series reviews, and I'm glad to see Sony has retained it on the T100. But the T100 also offers extremely high ISO performance, up to ISO 3,200 at a reduced image size (averaging pixel data to reduce noise). Super SteadyShot and High ISO combine to make what Sony calls its double anti-blur technology.
But is it really usable high ISO? Or just unprintable, noisy snapshots?
I test high ISO options by taking pictures of a couple of old dolls awaiting restoration in the garage. It's so dark in there that it takes your eyes a minute to adjust. The last thing you'd think of doing there is taking a picture. You can barely see anything yourself.
But quite a few cameras feature high ISO settings. So I take test shots with stabilization on (optical, digital, or both) so slower shutter speeds are available and I select the highest ISO settings on the cameras. If there's a High ISO Scene mode (as there is on the T100), I test that, too, to see if I can do better with the manual settings.
I usually can't. And the T100 was no exception. I used an image size reduced to 1,920 x 1,080 because I was shooting with a 16:9 aspect ratio. My shots at ISO 3200, 1/20 second, and f/4.4 were dark, soft, and quite noisy. But with High ISO Scene mode, the shutter speed dropped to 1/8 and ISO to 2500, delivering a brighter shot with less noise.
These weren't the sharpest shots of the dolls I've gotten, but it's a pretty extreme situation. My impression is that Sony is keen to retain color information at the expense of detail. And while a sharp-eyed reviewer may bemoan the loss of detail in Sony's high ISO images (especially when it comes to making big prints), I can't help but recall how people loved their Sony Mavicas, which could only save 1.3 megapixel images to a floppy disk. They certainly didn't have the detail of competing 3-megapixel models, but people loved the color.
High ISO shots are a different kind of photograph; different from the ISO 200 and under shots on most digicams. But I'm glad to have them.
Shooting. The T100 is such an elegant and compact companion, I took it everywhere (not just the garage). Whenever something caught my attention, I slipped it out of my jacket, slid the lens cover down, and framed my shot.
If I was really close, I just tapped the navigator's left arrow to switch into one of the Macro modes. I tapped it twice if I was even closer, otherwise just once. I did this for the stitching on a baseball cap, for a flower shot, for a bike glove; you can see all of them in the sample gallery.
If the subject was a street scene, I just composed with the Zoom lever. But I really like composing with a 16:9 aspect ratio, so I looked for some tall and wide scenes too. I knew they'd fill up the HDTV's wide screen when I put the T100 on the Station for a slide show.
Zooming took the most work, actually.
Take Smart Zoom, for example, which enlarges the image with "almost no distortion," according to Sony. At full resolution, optical zoom at 5x is all you get because there are no extra pixels to Smart Zoom with. That's really pretty good. As my cityscape shows, it can get you to City Hall faster than the light rail system. Change the image size from 8 megapixels to 5 megapixels, and you get 6.3x digital zoom to get downtown, at 3 megapixels you get 8.0x. And switch to VGA (640x480) to wander the alleys at 25x digital zoom.
Precision Zoom, on the other hand, let me tap into digital zoom out to 10x no matter the image size. But image quality deteriorates.
Shooting with Smart Zoom, and a 16:9 aspect ratio, I got 8.5x digital zoom with little image distortion, so I stuck with that.
The Gallery shows another set of the zoom images you see at right, taken just prior to these but with Super SteadyShot active. The ones you see here have Super SteadyShot turned off. You'll notice a slight difference in file size, but I found the image drifting in the LCD as I composed the shot when SteadyShot was on. Not only was that annoying, but you generally get sharper results turning image stabilization off when you're shooting from a stable support, as I was.
I'm a sucker for high ISO shooting, and just couldn't resist one night as I wandered around North Beach taking a few shots at ISO 1,600 and 3,200 at the full 1,920 x 1,080 pixels of a 16:9 image size. Color was dead on. Detail left something to be desired, and you could detect noise when enlarged. But I was happy with the shots. They captured a scene I otherwise would not have been able to shoot.
Connections. I was not happy to find no way to connect the camera to a high definition television right out of the box. After all, one of the highlights of the T100 is that it can output an HD signal for its stills. But you have to buy an optional cable or dock to actually take advantage of that feature.
Sony quickly sent me a Cyber-shot Station, happy someone was interested in reviewing the new output format. And when I connected it to an HDTV, I was wowed. The images themselves have quite a bit more resolution than any HDTV, and Sony's built-in slide show software takes advantage of that with pans and zooms that bring out all the detail of the originals.
The cable that ships with the T100 has a video out plug and monaural sound out. But I discovered that you can see a very nice presentation on your standard TV as well, including the slide shows. Detail was really quite crisp and all the special effects were in the slide shows, too.
Movies. Though the 1080p slideshows were impressive, one of the Sony T100's odd inconsistencies is that it only takes 640x480 movies, not HD movies. The Cyber-shot Station has two cables: a composite video cable for HD output and a stereo audio cable that also has standard video (yellow) output. If you attach both video cables to your set, the composite cable takes precedence and the VGA signal is ignored. But the T100 only outputs a VGA signal for video. So you see the station report: "Invalid operation. HD (1080i) output in progress." It can't send the VGA signal out the composite cable. You see the first frame of the movie on the TV but that's it. The error message is overlaid. The trick is to pull the composite connection out of the back of the Station so the VGA connection (assuming you've made it) is live. Then the movie plays.
Appraisal. If the attractive compact design doesn't win you right over, the large, gorgeous LCD will. And you won't regret it because the T100 is a very capable camera, making it easy to get great shots without too much contrast or saturation. A couple of editing tricks just add to the fun. And the payoff is a glorious slide show in high definition.
- 8.1 megapixel Super HAD CCD
- Carl Zeiss 5x optical zoom lens equivalent to 35-175mm on a 35mm camera
- 2x Precision Digital Zoom, 25x Smart Zoom (VGA resolution)
- Aperture range of f/3.5-5.6 (wide-angle), and f/4.4-10 (telephoto)
- Shutter speeds from 1/4 to 1/1000 second (Auto), and 1 to 1/1000 (Program Auto)
- 3.0-inch LCD with 230K pixels
- Microphone and speaker
- Nine-point autofocus
- Scene Modes: Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, High Sensitivity, Landscape, Snow, Soft Snap, Twilight, Twilight Portrait
- Sony Bionz image processor with dynamic range optimization
- 31MB internal memory
- Flash Modes: Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Slow Synch
- Self-timer with 10 and 2 second options
- Memory Stick Duo, and Memory Stick PRO Duo image storage (no card included)
- Powered by a NP-BG1 lithium ion battery for 340 shots
- Picture Motion Browser software
- Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization
- 16:9 aspect ratio perfect for HDTV playback
- High ISO: Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
- High Definition output with optional composite cable, dock or printer
- HD slide show with music
- Face Detection
- In-camera retouching: soft edge filer, cross filter, partial color filter, fish-eye filter
- Color modes: B&W, Natural, Sepia, Vivid
- Exposure bracketing
- In-camera red-eye reduction
- Burst mode of 100 shots at 2.2 frames per second at all resolutions
- Macro focusing (3-3/16 inch), and Magnifying Macro (3/8 inch)
- Available in silver, black, and red body colors
In the Box
The Sony DSC-T100 ships with the following items in the box:
- Sony DSC-T100 camera
- Wrist strap
- USB/AV multiconnector cable
- NP-BG1 Info-Lithium battery pack
- Battery charger
- Software CD
- Instruction manual, and registration card
- We strongly recommend buying a large-capacity Memory Stick PRO Duo; at least a 1GB card, preferably a 2GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings. (We recommend the PRO version of the Memory Stick Duo, because it supports non-stop video as well as longer sequences of continuous still-image shooting. You may want to pick up a Memory Stick Duo adapter, in case your card reader only accepts normal-size Memory Sticks.)
- Additional NP-BG1 battery pack
- Small camera case to protect the LCD
- HD Output adapter cable to provide composite video connectors for HD playback
- CSS-HD1 Cyber-shot Station dock to view images on standard, or HD televisions using a wireless remote control, and to charge the battery 30 percent faster than the included charger.
If the attractive compact design doesn't win you over at once, the large, gorgeous LCD will. And you won't regret it because the T100 is a very capable camera, making great shots easy, without too much contrast or saturation. Thanks to the Alpha's Bionz image processor and Super SteadyShot, there isn't much this slim digicam with its 5x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens can't do.
Detail does fall apart at high ISO, but that appears to be a tradeoff Sony makes to salvage color. I was able to shoot street scenes with credible results despite the high level of noise. The Sony T-series is the ultimate "party" camera, a popular take-along for parties and evening events, but make sure you stick to the low ISO settings and shoot with flash in about the six foot range, as the T100's noise suppression will obliterate detail otherwise.
The Sony T100's in-camera editing tricks are actually pretty fun and useful, producing good quality images, and the high definition slideshow feature is impressive, working on a standard TV out of the box. It's a shame that you have to buy the Cyber-station to take advantage of the slideshow feature with an HDTV. Though we want to warn you about the high ISO softness with the Sony T100, we still think it's a great camera, worthy of a Dave's Pick.