Sony DSC-T30 Overview
by Stephanie Boozer
and Dave Etchells
Review posted: May 29, 2006
Sony's Cyber-shot T-series of digital cameras have proven popular in the market thanks to their slim, compact bodies and ease of use while still allowing a fair degree of control over photos. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 builds on that heritage, as an update to the existing DSC-T9 model. The T9 was the first Sony camera to feature an image-stabilized lens branded with the famous Carl Zeiss name, and the T30 shares that same lens. The T30 couples this with a new 7.2 effective megapixel CCD imager, with a higher maximum ISO sensitivity of 1000. There's also a larger 3.0" LCD display versus the 2.5" type in the six-megapixel T9, and a new NP-FR1 InfoLithium battery that should offer almost double the battery life of that camera (420 shots instead of 240).
The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar stabilized lens has a 35mm effective focal length range of 38 - 114mm. Other features include shutter speeds from 30 to 1/1000 second, a choice of Multi-pattern, Center-weighted, or Spot metering, five white balance presets, 10 scene modes, USB and video connectivity, and both Memory Stick Duo / Pro Duo storage coupled with 58MB of built-in memory. Most other differences from the T9 are likely related to the changes noted above. The body is slightly larger (2-5mm in each direction) to accomodate the larger LCD and battery, and while the weight without battery / media is identical to the T9, the ready-to-shoot weight is 10 grams more thanks to the new battery. Shutter lag with AF / AE is just slightly longer, rated at 0.28 of a second, and the burst speed and depth are also downgraded just slightly to 5 shots at 1.1 frames per second, while the regular shot-to-shot interval is now 1.4 seconds - changes that are down to the higher resolution imager. As well as increasing the size of the body somewhat, the controls have also been revamped, and the sliding lens cover now doesn't extend the entire way across the front of the camera. Finally, the bundled software has been changed to Sony's Cyber-shot Viewer 1.0.
by Dave Etchells
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 is now the eighth in the T-series (though not all from this line made it to the US market), with similar overall specs to its predecessors. The camera's thin profile is clean and understated, with smooth panels and very few protrusions, and its mostly metal body is has just a few chrome trim elements to add a little flair. The Sony T30 has a lens design that zooms internally, thereby eliminating any lens protrusion on the front panel, improving its pocketability. The lens cover slides vertically with a soft but firm "snick," a very nice feel to it, similar to the original T1, but missing from some more recent T-series models. I found myself wanting to open it by using the chrome accent strip as a finger-hold, but that didn't work too well. Simply pressing on the top edge of the cover worked much better once I got used to it. Likewise, pressing up on the bottom edge of the cover worked for closing the cover, but felt a little unnatural to me.
With the cover open, there's a slight lip to the right side of the camera body, providing a slight finger-grip, but that never seemed to be enough for me to feel comfortably secure holding the camera. Part of the problem is that the slick plastic covering the LCD extends across the entire back panel, providing little or no purchase for your thumb when you're gripping the camera: I very strongly recommend attaching the wrist strap to the camera's eyelet and using it regularly.
I'm always a bit leery of LCD-only cameras, as the LCDs tend to wash out in bright sunlight, and in dim light, the refresh rate of the monitor often means that the viewfinder runs out of light way before the camera does when snapping pictures. Taking the Sony T30 for a spin outside on a sunny afternoon showed its LCD to perform very well in bright lighting, even with viewed in direct sunlight. Indoors under dim lighting or outdoors at night, the LCD's performance isn't quite as impressive, but is way more than adequate for most shooting conditions typical consumers will be likely to encounter. Fiddling around in the studio with the camera, I found I could (just barely) use the LCD viewfinder at a brightness level of 1/8 foot-candle, which was also about the limit at which the camera could get a good exposure at ISO 800 or so. This is pretty darn dark: Typical city street-lighting produces a light level of about one foot-candle, so the T30 will produce usable photos in much darker situations than that, and the LCD viewfinder will pretty much be usable for framing anything the camera will be able to take a picture of. All in all, a much better than average LCD viewfinder, and the huge 3.0" display is great for passing the camera around to share photos with friends and family. (I've often joked that the next step will be LCD screens that wrap around the camera body, it seems that the T30's is getting pretty close to that point.)
Another consideration with an LCD as large as the T30's though, is its susceptibility to cracking or being scratched if you carry it in your pocket. (As its size and shape practically beg you to do.) We don't have any way of measuring how sturdy or scratch-resistant these things are, but really, really recommend a small hard case for the camera if you're going to carry it about much. I can speak from painful experience of what happens when a camera in your pants pocket comes in contact with the corner of a table or chair. A bump that doesn't feel like much of anything to you could mean sudden death for your camera. Really large LCDs as found on the T30 only exacerbate the problem.
|Sony DSC-T30 ISO 400 Shots|
|ISO 400 by Night||ISO 400 by Day|
|Rather noisy for a 2006-vintage camera||Very clean under daylight conditions|
High ISO modes
The Sony T30 joins a number of other 2006 model-year cameras in providing options for very high ISO (light sensitivity) settings, as high as ISO 1000. Given these high settings, we expected to see evidence of some sort of breakthrough in noise reduction, but were disappointed in those expectations. Under bright lighting, the noise levels at ISO 800 and 1000 were indeed somewhat lower than we'd normally expect, but not that much lower. After the sun went down though, image noise really increased dramatically, to the point that even ISO 400 images showed a lot of image noise in the shadow regions. The photo above shows a crop from an ISO 400 shot, taken under normal outdoor city lighting conditions, probably about 1 foot-candle of illumination. This shot was hand-held, as part of my playing with the T30's image stabilization feature (see below), so some of the softness may not be the fault of the camera. The noise though is all its doing. In looking at this crop, it's important to keep in mind that this is a 7 megapixel digital camera, and you're looking at it 1:1 on your computer screen. When printed, the noise isn't nearly as bad as what you're seeing above. Still though, this is a level of noise that looks more like that from cameras from a couple of years ago, not one claiming special high-ISO capability. (In fairness to Sony though, I highly applaud the great improvements in subject detail we're seeing in the T30 over past models. They seem to have dialed-down the noise suppression processing on the T30, with the result that the camera does a much better job of retaining subtle subject detail when shot under better lighting. This is a very welcome improvement, addressing one of the few criticisms we've had of Sony cameras in recent history.)
Digital cameras are happily getting faster and more responsive across the board, an area Sony has done well in for some years now. The DSC-T30 felt very responsive when I was shooting with it, I rarely felt that I was missing a critical moment because the camera was too slow. My habit of "prefocusing" the camera by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before critical shots definitely helped with this (the T30 is positively blazing in that mode), but even when I was just punching the shutter button when I wanted to grab a shot, the T30 delivered the goods more times than not. Even in flash mode, where the shutter response is delayed slightly by the preliminary metering flash, the T30 felt more responsive than most cameras I handle.
Super SteadyShot Image Stabilization
Arguably the biggest feature of the Sony T30 is its Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization. There are relatively few really small cameras that offer image stabilization (several models from Panasonic, the SD 700IS from Canon, and the now-defunct Konica Minolta X1), the T30 is the first such from Sony, who's actually been a leader in image stabilization through the years in their camcorder line. I'm a huge fan of IS, it's just so useful when you're faced with less-than-bright lighting. There's old rule of thumb in photography that the longest shutter time you reliably hand-hold is 1 divided by the effective focal length. That is, for a 100mm equivalent focal length (about what the T30's lens is at full telephoto), you shouldn't expect to get sharp photos at shutter speeds any slower than 1/100 second. At the wide angle end, the limit would be about 1/40th. A lot of pros can hand-hold at slower speeds than these, and I used to be able to when I was younger, but these days I have a hard time even achieving the levels suggested by the rule of thumb.
For most casual shooters, image stabilization greatly extends the range of lighting conditions over which they can successfully hand-hold their cameras, permitting shutter speeds anywhere from four to eight times slower than the guidelines suggest. This means that they should be able to get by with shutter speeds in the range of 1/15 - 1/25 second at telephoto focal lengths, a pretty dramatic improvement. Image Stabilization won't save every blurred photo (and of course, won't do anything at all about subject movement), but it'll certainly save a lot of them.
|Super SteadyShot In action|
|An 0.8 second (!) exposure, with Super SteadyShot enabled.||Another 0.8 second exposure, but without Super SteadyShot|
The shot above shows the effect of Super SteadyShot in action. The subject was my cat, sitting on my lap, frozen in a meditative state. (In any event, he wasn't the least bit interested in what I was doing with the camera, such notice being beneath his dignity.) I "cheated" a fair bit on this shot by bracing my elbows against the arms of the chair I was sitting in, but even so, the 0.8 second exposure was so long that it was absolutely impossible to get a sharp image, regardless of how much I held my breath, tried to just "squeeze" off the shot, etc. With Super SteadyShot enabled, it still wasn't trivial, but I got more non-blurred shots than I did blurry ones. Pretty amazing!
The Sony T30 also sports a very capable movie mode, able to record 640x480 video at 30 frames/second. This makes for beautifully rich, detailed video imagery, but note that you need to use PRO-type Memory Stick media to support the very high data rates this kind of video generates. Non-PRO Memory Sticks will restrict you to the slower 16.6 frame/second movie rate. I did encounter an audio artifact with the T30's video in some circumstances, that sounded like the camera was picking up the mechanical noise from either the autofocus or image stabilization mechanism. The video clip above shows this pretty clearly, but I wasn't able to determine what caused it, to be able to reproduce it reliably. Some clips had it, most didn't.
The Sony DSC-T30's battery life was also very good, with a full battery indicating over three hours (190 minutes) of run time in capture mode, and 4.8 hours in playback. I always buy a second battery right along with any digital camera's I've ever purchased, but then I have something of an obsession about not running out of battery power. If you plan on any extended journeys away from a power outlet, I'd definitely advise picking up an extra battery for the T30, but if you're just using it around town and for short events, you likely won't need one. As just alluded to above the T30 also uses Sony's InfoLITHIUM battery system, which means that the camera can tell you exactly how much run time the battery is good for, in whatever mode you're currently operating it in. Sony has dropped this feature from some of their lower-end cameras (a shame), but retained it on the T30. It's one of my favorite camera features, as it completely avoids nasty surprises when your camera batteries fail at the worst possible moment. (They still may, of course, but at least you'll know that you're running short well ahead of time.)
All in all, the Sony T30 was a very enjoyable camera to use, and its image quality was very good as well. I really wish it felt a little more secure to hold onto, but in most every other way, it's absolutely first rate and a lot of fun besides.
- 7.2-megapixel CCD.
- 3.0-inch color LCD monitor.
- Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 3x zoom lens, equivalent to 38-114mm on a 35mm camera.
- Maximum aperture of f/3.5 - f/4.3, depending on lens zoom position.
- As much as 6x Precision Digital Zoom, and as much as 14x Smart Zoom.
- Full Auto and Program exposure modes.
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to one second.
- Built-in flash with four modes.
- 58MB internal memory.
- Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick PRO Duo image storage (no card included).
- Power supplied by NP-FR1 InfoLITHIUM battery (supplied) or AC adapter.
- Pixela Image Mixer and Picture Package software, plus USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
- Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization
- Movie mode with MPEG VX Movie option for continuous 30 fps recording at 640 x 480 pixel resolution. (Requires Memory Stick PRO Duo.)
- High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, High-Speed Shutter, Beach, Snow, Fireworks preset Scene modes.
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
- Picture Effects menu with Sepia and Black and white effects, plus Natural and Rich color options.
- Macro (close-up) lens setting.
- White balance (color) adjustment with six modes.
- Burst, Multi Burst, and Auto Exposure Bracketing record modes.
- Multi-Pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes.
- Variable light sensitivity with ISO equivalents from 80 to 1,000, and an Auto setting.
- Five-area Multi-Point auto focus with Spot and Center AF modes, as well as manual focus zones, and an AF illuminator.
- Single and Monitoring AF modes.
- Automatic Noise Reduction for longer exposures.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatible.
In the Box
The Sony DSC-T30 ships with the following items:
- Wrist strap.
- USB / AV / DC-in multiconnector cable.
- NP-FR1 Info-Lithium battery pack and charger.
- Software CD.
- Instruction manual and registration card.
- Large capacity Memory Stick Duo.
- Additional NP-FR1 battery pack.
- Small camera case.
The DSC-T30 continues a Sony tradition of high quality in the subcompact category, packing more features into a smaller space than most anything else out there, but this time with the added bonus of optical image stabilization. Like those of other recent T-series models, we found the lens on the Sony T30 to be of higher than average quality for a subcompact camera, and image quality was quite good as a result. The 7-megapixel CCD delivers plenty of resolution for large prints, and the smattering of scene modes makes it easy to bring back good-looking photos from what would otherwise be difficult shooting conditions. The biggest news of course, is the T30's Super SteadyShot image stabilization, which we found to be very effective. This will let you get crisp shots even when faced with hand-holding the camera under surprisingly dim lighting (assuming of course, that your subject is stationary as well). Of course, a tripod is always recommended when things get really dark, but we were very pleasantly surprised to see just how dark it could get, while we were still snapping sharp photos. On the other side of the coin though, we found the Sony T30's higher ISO modes rather noisy when shooting after dark, diminishing their usefulness. All in all though, we found the Sony DSC-T30 a delight to use, and its Super SteadyShot image stabilization made a huge difference in our ability to hand-hold long exposures. Bottom line, this would be a great camera to take along on a vacation: Super compact, able to handle a wide range of conditions, and able to save a lot of shots from what would otherwise be fatal camera-shake blur. An easy Dave's Pick as one of the more worthy digital cameras on the market, but I'd really like to see lower high-ISO image noise after dark.