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Sony DSC-T50 Overview

Sony's Cyber-shot T-series has proven popular in the market thanks to designs with slim, compact bodies, and an emphasis on ease of use (while still allowing a fair degree of control over the final image). The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 is an update to the existing DSC-T30 model. Both cameras include the same image-stabilized 3x optical zoom lens, branded with the famous Carl Zeiss name and coupled with a 7.2 effective megapixel CCD imager. The most significant difference between the existing camera and the Sony T50 is the addition of touch-screen capability to the large 3.0" LCD display. (We're currently awaiting clarification as to whether this has changed the camera's overall weight, and if so by how much). Noise reduction in the Sony DSC-T50 has also been adjusted, and now operates at exposures 1/6th of a second or longer (formerly this was 1/25th of a second or longer). The Cyber-shot T50's built-in flash memory capacity falls by two megabytes to 56MB, the "Candle" scene mode swapped for a "High Sensitivity" mode, and a new "Normal" slideshow mode has been added. Finally, the Sony DSC-T50's bundled software has been changed to Picture Motion Browser v1.1.

The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar stabilized lens in the Sony T50 has a 35mm effective focal length range of 38 - 114mm. Other features of the DSC-T50 include ISO sensitivity from 80 to 1000, 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 on top of the aforementioned 56MB of built-in memory. Shutter lag with AF / AE is rated at 0.28 of a second, and the Sony Cybershot DSC-T50's burst speed and depth are listed as 5 shots at 1.1 frames per second, while the regular shot-to-shot interval is 1.4 seconds. The addition of the touch-screen LCD sees battery life downrated slightly from 420 to 400 shots (to CIPA standards), from the same NP-FR1 InfoLithium battery used in the T30.

The Sony Cybershot T50 hits retail in October 2006 (some online retailers are already listing it, as of late September), priced at $500.

 

Sony T50 User Report

by Dave Etchells, 9/28/2006

T10/T50: Kissing Cousins
It should be noted that this camera is based on the same internals as the Sony T10, which we reviewed in full a short while ago. If you read the details of the Sony T10 review, you'll understand much of what the Sony T50 can do. The only differences we found were:

Normal Macro. The T50's normal macro mode gets you about as close as do most competing cameras.

A Great Lens
As noted, the Sony T50 is functionally almost identical to the Sony T10 that we reviewed just a short time ago, with a touch screen system borrowed from the Sony N2, which we'll be posting a full review on very shortly. As far as we can tell, it uses the same sensor and same zoom lens as the T10, so its images and capabilities are very similar in most respects. We did notice that the T50's shots are a somewhat more contrasty and a bit more saturated than those of the T10, but the differences (at least based on our current sample) seem pretty minor.

Magnifying Glass Mode. Now that's close! (In the full-size image, you can see individual pollen grains.)

That it uses the same lens as the T10 is very good news, as we were quite impressed with the optical quality of that model: Subcompact digital cameras, particularly those with "folded optics" as in the Sony T50 and T10 often suffer from very soft, blurry corners and loads of chromatic aberration (colored fringes around contrasting elements in the corners of the frame). Much to our surprise, the T10's corners were unusually sharp, and the Sony T50 appears to follow suit.

No Macro. For reference, here's a look at the whole subject.

The Sony T50 also offers the super-macro (ultra-macro) "Magnifying Glass" mode, great for bug-hunters and other macro fanatics. The shots at right show what you can do with the T50's Magnifying Glass mode. (Click any of the images to see larger versions.) The real challenge is getting light in on your subject, with the camera's lens only a centimeter from the subject!


No SteadyShot. You can't really tell the difference image stabilization makes without strapping two cameras together and snapping the shutter at the same instant on both, but this image shows typical results I got doing my best to hold the camera steady at 1/6 second.

Super SteadyShot: Sharp Photos in Dim Lighting
The best part of the Sony T50's optical setup though, is its Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization, that greatly reduces the effects of camera shake on long exposures. If you haven't shot with an image-stabilized camera, you're in for a treat. Shooting indoors at reasonable ISO (light sensitivity) settings often means blurred pictures: It's almost impossible to hold a camera steady enough to not blur photos when shutter speeds drop to 1/4 second or less, unless you're using a tripod. Playing with the Sony T50 though, I found I could very easily hand-hold 1/4 second exposures, if we were reasonably careful. Without image stabilization, the best efforts of my none-too-youthful hands resulted in marginal sharpness at 1/30 second. That's a huge difference, enough to make the difference between having to use the flash all the time indoors or being able to get beautiful natural-light shots instead.

With SteadyShot. There's still some motion blur here, but it's a lot less than in the shot above. Printed at 8x10 inches, the shot is a little soft but usable. At 5x7 inches and below, it looks great.

Talking about shooting under limited lighting brings up the topic of high-ISO performance and image noise. Digital camera makers these days are trying to increase the maximum light sensitivity of their cameras as much as possible, but doing so amplifies noise from the sensor along with the image data. Higher light sensitivity (larger ISO numbers) lets you shoot with faster shutter speeds in dim conditions, but the resulting image noise can give your photos a coarse, blotchy look. Like the T10 before it, the Sony T50 sports a maximum ISO setting of 1000, but also like the T10, shots at that extreme ISO show lots of image noise.

How you feel about image noise will depend a lot on how large you like to print your photos. Images that look just fine printed as a 4x6 inch snapshot can look horrible when blown up to 8x10 inches. In the case of the Sony T50, we think that most consumers would be reasonably happy with ISO 400 shots enlarged to 8x10 inch prints. At ISO 800 and 1000 though, the images get very rough-looking. They're probably acceptable (barely, in my opinion) for 4x6 inch snapshots, but not much beyond that.

Main Touch-Screen Menu. Pressing the menu button (the top button on the right, with an icon showing a pointing finger) brings up this display. Options here roughly correspond to those that would otherwise be available via rear-panel buttons on other Sony cameras.

Touch-Screen Control
Arguably one of the biggest (or at least most visible) features on the Sony T50 is its use of a touch screen for all menu navigation, a feature it inherited from the Sony N2 and the N1 before it. The camera's back panel contains only two controls, one to cycle through the various record-mode and playback screen displays, and the other to call up the menu system. Once the menu system is activated, you navigate through it by touching "virtual buttons" on the screen.

Shooting Mode option. Touching one of the "virtual buttons" on the display brings up a second-level menu showing the available options. Touch an option to select, one of the up/down arrows to scroll for more options, or the "return" arrow at the top to return to the previous screen.

Touch screen controls seem to be a love-it/hate-it proposition with users. Personally, I find the touch screen system on the Sony T50 and the N2 tedious and awkward to use: It just takes too many touches to get to anything I need, particularly when compared to the very clean, efficient user interface of Sony's other cameras. That said though, we've heard users rave about the touch screen as being the epitome of simplicity and ease of use. I guess it takes all types, and fortunately, these days it seems there's a camera for every one. If you like touch screen navigation, then you'll probably love the Sony T50: While they require more interaction than I personally prefer, I have to admit that they're easy to understand, and the touch system works very well indeed. -- I never found myself selecting something I didn't intend to, nor did the camera ever fail to make the selection I intended.



Main Menu. This is a portion of the main menu. Sony cameras with conventional button-based interfaces take you here with one press of a button, but the T50 requires two.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I'll share two of my other objections to touch screen on digital cameras here. The first is that they perforce require a two-fisted approach to menu navigation: You can grab the camera with both hands and use your thumbs, or shift your grip, hold it with one hand and poke at the display with another. However you go about it though, it's a two-handed affair, something that isn't necessarily the case with conventional button-based navigation.

As to my other complaint, what do you get when you touch a shiny surface with your fingers? -- Fingerprints! Since this takes us into display readability, I might as well talk about the Sony T50's LCD display next.

Big, Bright, and Beautiful
One of the real standout features of the Sony T50 is its enormous 3-inch display screen. The 2.5-inch screen on the T10 looked pretty big, the 3-inch unit on the T50 looks positively huge. It's nice and bright too, and uses "transflective" technology, so it even stays (at least somewhat) readable in direct sunlight. It also does a surprisingly good job in very dim lighting, letting you see what you're shooting, under conditions pretty much as dark as the camera is capable of rendering a usable image in. And with 230,000 pixels, images on the LCD are crisp and sharp.

If you use the Sony T50 outside much though, it quickly becomes apparent that the designers must have been wearing cotton gloves when they were testing it. (Or maybe they just had abnormally dry hands.) Whatever the case, the touch panel inevitably leads to big, greasy fingerprints all over the display, just what you don't need when you're squinting at the screen under full sunlight, trying to make out your subject. A quick swipe across a convenient (and clean!) shirtsleeve quickly remedies the situation, but as soon as you have to access the menu system, you're right back where you started.

OK, OK, I'll quit whining about the touch screen. It does what it's supposed to. Lots of people really like them. (And I mean REALLY like them.) Just not me. 'Nuff said...

In the Hand (or Pocket)
The Sony T50 definitely qualifies as an "ultra compact" digital camera, but at just 1/16 shy of a full inch thick, it's noticeably thicker than other T-series models. The T50 measures 0.94 inches thick, while the T10 measures 0.80. That doesn't sound like much, but the net effect is that the T50 looks and feels more chunky when you hold it in your hand. That said, the T50 is still an eminently pocketable camera, and the sliding lens cover does an excellent job of protecting the lens.

Part of the increased body thickness is to make room for a larger battery than the one used in the T10, perhaps to handle the increased power drain from the larger LCD screen and touch-panel system. The good news though, is that the larger battery more than makes up the difference, as the T50 carries a CIPA battery-life rating of 400 shots, compared to the more modest 250 shots of the T10.

Better Flash
We didn't have a chance to run our full set of flash-range tests on the Sony T50, but a couple of informal shots in the studio revealed that another benefit of the larger body on the T50 is much better flash range than we found on the T10. In wide angle mode using the Auto ISO setting, flash range seemed to be on the order of 15 feet, even better than the 11.2 feet claimed by Sony. (Take this with a grain of salt, it wasn't at all a scientific test. There's no question that the Sony T50 has greater flash range than the T10 though.)

 

Basic Features

 

Special Features

 

In the Box

The Sony DSC-T50 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Slim form factor, literally shirt-pocket sized
  • Touch-screen interface is popular with many users
  • Excellent feature set for a subcompact
  • Very effective image stabilization for steady photos even in limited lighting
  • Excellent lens, very sharp, softens only in extreme corners, chromatic aberration is lower than average.
  • Excellent shutter response, much faster than average autofocus performance, especially for a subcompact model
  • Good flash range for a compact camera, noticeably better than that of the T10
  • Bright color will appeal to many consumers
  • Very large LCD screen, usable (but a little hard to see) in full sun and in surprisingly dim lighting too
  • Excellent video capability (with sound), surprising in such a tiny camera
  • Good, bright AF-Assist lamp
  • Very fast USB 2.0 computer connection
  • Excellent battery life for a subcompact
  • Excellent print quality, very nice looking 13x19 inch prints
  • High-ISO shots are very noisy, particularly under limited-light conditions
  • Short exposure times limit low-light shooting somewhat (still more than adequate for typical city night scenes though)
  • Continuous-mode cycle times are on the slow side
  • Below-average white balance performance under household incandescent lighting
  • Bright color is nice, but strong blues are oversaturated, may be a bit much for some users
  • An excellent lens overall, but pincushion distortion at telephoto focal lengths is higher than average
  • Touch screen interface can be awkward to use, requires more touches for many settings than does conventional button-based interface (reviewer's personal bias, you may feel differently)

 

The ultimate judgement will have to await a complete test of a production-level model, but the Sony T50 looks like another winner. I personally dislike the touch-screen interface, but have to acknowledge that a lot of people really like it, so don't take my word for it. Find one in a store someplace and play with it to see what you think of it yourself. (Or, if you already know you like touch screens, just click through to one of the retailers listed below and buy yourself one, at great internet prices. ;-) Touch screen bias aside, this looks like a great little digital camera, with a huge, beautiful LCD screen and great anti-shake technology built in. The slightly larger body also gives it better battery life and much better flash range than the similar T10 model. Based on what we saw in our casual usage of the Sony T50, it actually expands on the capabilities of the T10, which was awarded a Dave's Pick. On that basis, we'll make the T50 a Dave's Pick as well.