Sony T77 Overview
by Mike Pasini
and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 12/18/08
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 is a replacement for last year's DSC-T70 model, and features a higher-res 10-megapixel sensor coupled to a more powerful Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar branded 4x optical zoom with a roomy 16:9 aspect-ratio 3.0-inch touch-screen LCD.
The DSC-T77's 35-140mm 35mm equivalent lens gains a little extra reach at both ends of the zoom range, and incorporates Sony's Super Steady Shot optical image stabilization to minimize blur caused by camera shake at slow shutter speeds. This despite a body that's said to be the slimmest of any Sony digicam, at less than 0.6-inch (15mm). Other Sony T77 features include ISO sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 3,200, a Memory Stick Duo/PRO Duo card slot plus 15MB of built-in memory, and power from a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The Sony T77 also offers USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connectivity for connection to a personal computer, and high definition video connectivity for viewing on the latest HD televisions.
The Cyber-shot T77 includes Sony's face-detection technology, which is capable of detecting eight faces simultaneously, and is linked not only to the camera's autoexposure and autofocus systems as in most similar systems, but also to white balance and flash metering as well. This allows the camera to ensure proper flash exposure and pleasing flesh tones. The Sony T77's face detection system also provides both an updated Smile Shutter function, and the existing child/adult priority mode, as well as a new anti-blink function in portrait mode that automatically captures two images and then discards any with the subjects' eyes closed. If eyes are closed in both photos, the Sony T77 warns of this so you can retake the photo.
The Sony T77 features Sony's Bionz image processor, first seen in the company's Alpha dSLRs. Sony says Bionz offers improved image quality, faster response times, and better battery life in its compact cameras. Also on offer is an updated intelligent scene recognition function, which can now automatically select from eight different scene modes including macro, portrait, and landscape.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 ships from September 2008 priced at US$300, and body color choices include brown, green, pink, and silver.
Sony T77 User Report
by Mike Pasini
The T77 is a close relative to the T700, which I recently reviewed. Close relatives often have quite different personalities, despite a strong resemblance to each other. But that's not the case with these two.
The Sony T77 offers everything we liked about the T700 while stripping only a few of the more exotic features like the T700's 4GB of built-in memory and reducing the 3.5-inch LCD to 3.0 inches. Those are tradeoffs we can live with -- especially since Sony knocks $100 off the price.
There are very few features missing, though. One is the scrapbook function that can assemble multiple similar images into JPEGs with backgrounds as easily as running a slide show. That one pinches me a little, but I can live without it.
So if you were a little hesitant about the more extreme features (and higher price) of the T700, you'll love the more conventional Sony T77.
Design. We often label this part of our report "Look and Feel" but the Sony T Series merits the more elegant "Design." It isn't just pretty, it's functional. The slim case makes sense and the big screen has important work to do, too.
This all starts with the lens cover, which slides down to power the camera on and powers the camera off when you slide it up. The smart thing about this approach is that you don't have to look for a Power button before you can shoot with the T77. If you're tracking your subject, the last thing you want to do is leave it for a moment to find some Power button to turn on the camera.
You can get directly into Playback mode by pressing the Playback button on the beveled edge of the top panel. But to turn the Sony T77 off, you have to find the tiny Power button on the top edge. Pressing the Playback button again just reminds you to lower the lens cover to start shooting.
Next to that tiny, slightly recessed Power button is the elongated and slightly raised Shutter button. And to its right is the small tab of the Zoom lever. Those are the only buttons on the Sony T77.
There is next to no travel on the Sony T77's Zoom lever (almost like a joystick) but it was fairly responsive. None of these ultracompact zoom controls are really smooth, taking a lot of fun out of using them. But this one is better than most.
That's because the 3.0-inch 16:9 LCD is also touch-sensitive. A stylus with a small nipple at one end is provided to keep the Sony T77's screen free of smudges, but a finger works well, too. It does smudge pretty miserably, but it remains readable in sunlight. And when it's on, you aren't really distracted by the smudges.
Despite the LCD's dominance of the back panel, the Sony T77 actually has something of a thumb grip back there. The right-hand edge has a quarter inch area with two ridges that are just enough to hold the camera securely. And the camera strap eyelet has a nice wide curve to it, giving your thumb even more support.
The lens itself is a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 35-140mm 4x optical zoom with optical SteadyShot image stabilization, which is very handy at slow shutter speeds. I can't confirm it's the same optical design as the T700, but it certainly seemed as if it were.
The Touch-Screen. Here's a tip for using the Sony T77's touchscreen: turn off the function guide (Home, Setup) as soon as you can. While the explanations can be helpful, you'll quickly get annoyed with the need to tap the OK button to dismiss some of them.
Sony uses the four corners of the touchscreen as buttons to the Home, Menu, and Display menus (the top right is unused). But between them, Sony has ringed the screen with icons for various functions available in any particular mode.
The top of the Sony T77 screen shows the battery status, image size, stabilization status, and the number of shots remaining on which memory device.
But you can't just tap the image size icon to change resolution. Nope, you have to hit the Menu corner button to bring up the shooting menu. Which is odd, because the way you change the Flash mode is by tapping the flash icon on the right panel. And the way you change the Sony T77's shooting modes is by tapping the mode icon on the left panel. And, just for the hat trick, the way you change ISO is by tapping the ISO icon on the bottom of the screen. Pretty nuts.
Once you tap into another menu, the right top corner comes alive with a big cancel button until you select a different setting and it turns into a big OK button. You can tap any of the Sony T77's listed options or the cancel button to return to shooting mode.
I really liked having almost every option on the screen at once. It's a lot easier than trying to remember if it's the Function button or the Menu button that has the control you want to change. The icon display does clutter the Sony T77's screen, sometimes making it difficult to compose the shot. But you can turn off that display, just showing the image, if you promise to turn it back on to use the touchscreen.
And like any touchscreen camera, it turns a one-handed operation into a two-handed operation. I didn't mind that as much as I usually do, but I didn't fiddle with the settings on the Sony T77 as much as I usually do either.
That may be the secret to why I enjoyed using the Sony T77 and T700 touchscreens more than most. The cameras don't require (or encourage) much, uh, participation from the photographer.
Modes. Under the Mode icon, there are 10 shooting modes including Landscape, Soft Snap, Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Scene Selection, Auto, Program Auto, Easy, High Sensitivity, and Movie mode. That's the order they appear on the Sony T77's menu, oddly enough.
Under Scene modes, you can access Gourmet, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Underwater, and Hi-Speed Shutter.
But the Sony T77 can intelligently detect a few scenes all by itself. Eight of them, in fact: Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight using a Tripod, Portrait, Landscape, and Macro. And man do I love an auto macro even if it takes a little longer to find focus. The Sony T77 has two intelligent scene modes. In Auto iSCN mode, the camera takes a single shot using the optimal settings. In Advance iSCN mode, the camera takes a picture with the current settings and only if necessary takes a second picture with optimized setting.
Perhaps even more important than all that, though, is the Bionz image processor's Dynamic Range Optimization. Time and again we've seen this feature save an otherwise lost shot, salvaging highlights that would normally be blown out or holding onto shadow detail that would normally be lost.
The Sony T77 can recognize up to eight faces, controlling flash, focus, exposure, and white balance to optimize skin tones and deal with red-eye. And it can distinguish between adults and children so you can tell it which faces to watch for a smile, grin, or laugh, too. But it also features an anti-blink function that will take two shots in Portrait mode, saving the one with less squinting.
Movie mode is limited to 640 x 480 at 30 or 16.6 frames per second and 320 x 240 at 8.3 fps. There's no HD on the Sony T77. You can shoot clips up to 10 minutes in length, maximum. And you can use the optical zoom, too.
Sony hasn't neglected to give you some pretty good options. You can tag images as Favorites making them available for quick retrieval. But you don't have to go to that much effort. You can simply use a Calendar View to find each shoot by date or a Date View to see every image shot on a particular day.
You can also tap into the Sony T77's ability to distinguish adults from children by filtering your collection by faces. Options include finding images with people's faces in them, finding children's faces, finding infant's faces, finding smiling faces. And it's quick. We shot a birthday party one evening and filtered the results by smiling faces just to make it look like everyone had a good time.
We also tried the infants and children filters. The youngest child showed up as the single infant when she was being held by her grandmother. That shot also showed up in the collection of children images.
And, of course, there's a slide show option (with music), which is something Sony does very well, automating pan and zooms.
Sony also includes a Picture Motion Browser (don't ask me why they named it that), a Windows application that can with which you can organize and view your full collection your computer. You can set labels and ratings, get map views with GPS data (which the Sony T77 does not record), retouch and edit images, and share and archive them.
Storage and Battery. The Sony T77 is powered by a 3.6-volt, 680mAh lithium-ion battery. The LCD represents an unusual battery drain but we were able to shoot with flash without running out of power at an evening party.
In addition to the 15MB internal memory, the Sony T77 supports Memory Stick Duo and Pro Duo media.
My low-compression 10-megapixel shots ranged from 2.9MB to 3.5MB per image. Those are 3,648 x 2,736 pixel images.
Performance. With a Bionz image processor, you expect high performance marks and the Sony T77 delivers. It scores above average on combined wide-angle and telephoto autofocus lag, prefocus lag, and cycle time.
And it's above average for USB speed, LCD size, and flash cycling (which, considering the short range of the flash is no compliment).
It scores average marks for its 4x optical zoom and 5.26 ounce weight, neither of which are faults.
But in that department, the 2.3-second startup and 1.8-second shutdown times are just average (a good deal faster than the T700, though).
Playback. Sony doesn't provide a cable to connect the T77 directly to your HDTV. All you get is the octopus cable with AV and USB connections. That's a pity (which we've been complaining about all year) because it shoots in 16:9 mode at a resolution greater than any HDTV and direct output from the Sony T77 would be a lot of fun not only at your house but when you visit others, too.
You can order a composite cable as an accessory (VMC-MHC1) or a Cyber-shot Station cradle (CSS-HD2). But you shouldn't have to.
Image Quality. In my review of the T700, I found image quality suffered from technical defects like oversaturation of reds and blues as well as chromatic aberration. But I also confessed to liking the pictures the T700 captured.
The Sony T77, which shares the same lens, sensor, and image processor as the T700, impressed me much the same, as you might expect. While this isn't top-drawer image quality, it isn't far behind. And hardly an issue for the snapshooter.
Still, let's nit pick at bit, shall we?
The Still Life shot at ISO 100 shows pronounced blurring as you move away from the center of the image. The blurry area of the image is actually quite large, in fact. Almost all lenses on compact digicams show blurring in the corners but it usually stays in the corners. Look at the yarns in this shot starting with the white one. That's just gone. But the next three aren't sharp either. You've got to work your way back to the purples and blues before the blurring starts to let up.
You'll see the same problem with the crayons. Those on the left side are blurrier than those on the right.
The Samuel Smith label is another story. At first I suspected the image had been blurred by camera movement. But both the ISO 80 and ISO 100 shots show the same artifact: a blurred edge at the top of the label. The same blurring appears in the green field of the label, appearing almost like double vision. I suspect the Bionz processor is not handling this sharp edge very well.
In the Multi Target test you can see strong chromatic aberration along the bottom of the image. The arrows show several pixels of bright coloration but even higher and more toward the middle of the image you'll see it in the scale below the Q-60 target.
The sharpness targets in the middle of that image look pretty good, though. The Sony T77 delivers about 1,600 lines of horizontal resolution and a bit less, perhaps 1,500, vertically. Again, though, peeking at the corners, you can see the capture is not nearly as sharp.
The gallery shots show the tendency to oversaturate reds in the fire alarm shot. It's hard to believe the alarm is always in the shade. It looks like the sun is beating down on it.
The Bionz processor and its dynamic range optimization tends to do a very nice job on the hydrant shot. But this time, not so hot. There's noticeable blooming of the bright hydrant into the dark foliage behind it. It almost appears to be glowing. Still there's more highlight detail than usual in the shot. And the shadows are not plugged up.
My shots of Tim Lincecum warming up for the Giants' last game of the year are a lot better than the shots I got of J.T. Snow with a Fujifilm S2000HD the night before. But the green-checked shirt of former Giants CEO Peter McGowan signing autographs is a nightmare. Other detail in that image -- shot at only ISO 125 -- is blurred beyond recognition, too. Like hair. The overall shot isn't bad, but on close examination, you have to scratch your head. This is ISO 125?
Higher ISOs, it almost goes without saying, were disappointingly devoid of detail and color. The dolls, shot at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, were just not good images. The Sony T77 did a little better with the Alfa stick shift knob at ISO 400 and 800 as far as color goes but not detail, a familiar Sony complaint. Just compare the green snake in each of the image. You can tell by the intensity of the color which shot was ISO 400, 800, and 3,200; the green fades as the ISO goes up.
Again, this is not a lot different from the T700. But the bias toward color and disregard of detail are not a compromise acceptable to everyone.
Appraisal. The casual photographer will appreciate this slim camera for its fun touchscreen and vibrant color. It's easy to take along and fun to shoot with. You don't pay too dearly for the subcompact size, as images are of good quality, and Sony's image-enhancement features, like Dynamic Range Optimization, help improve your results in tough situations. And who can argue with stylish looks combined with practical design? It is a Sony after all.
Sony T77 Basic Features
- 10.1 megapixel Super HAD 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor
- 4x optical zoom (35-140mm 35mm equivalent)
- 2x digital zoom
- 3.0-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels
- ISO sensitivity from 80 to 3,200
- Shutter speeds from one to 1/1,000 second
- Aperture ranges from f/3.5 to f/10
- Memory Stick Duo and PRO Duo memory card support
- Custom 3.6-volt lithium-ion battery
Sony T77 Special Features
- Bionz image processor
- Available in silver, black, green, pink, and brown
- Smile Shutter technology
- Face Detection technology
- Double anti-blur solution with Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization
- Intelligent Scene recognition
- Dynamic Range Optimizer
- Auto Macro
- Function Guide
- In-camera retoucing
- Image management
- HD output with optional cable
In the Box
The Sony T77 ships with the following items in the box:
- T77 body
- Rechargeable Battery Pack
- Battery Charger
- Multi Connector Cable
- Wrist Strap
- Paint Pen
- Station Plate F
- Large capacity Memory Stick Duo PRO. (Memory Stick PRO versions can handle high-res movie data and give faster download times.) They should be used for all current Sony cameras.
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Sony T77 Conclusion
If you look too closely at the Sony T77's images, you might conclude that this slim little camera isn't for you. There's corner softness, chromatic aberration, and noise at higher ISOs. But add in the fact that the Sony T77 is a very slim camera with a 10-megapixel sensor, and you can begin to forgive its flaws--flaws shared by just about every other slim point and shoot camera (and few are this slim). And the corner softening isn't as bad as most other pocket cameras, such that you won't notice it when printing at 8x10.
The Sony T77 is $100 less than the T700 (an earlier Dave's Pick), but just as capable. It simply eliminates the huge internal memory and uses a slightly smaller LCD, which is still generous by today's standards. The touchscreen interface is easy to use and works well; we're not sure it's necessary, but it does remove the need for buttons on the back, which allows a wider screen than would normally be possible. The front slider is convenient and well-made, and we just love how the whole package looks and works. The Sony T77's images are pleasing, and we were especially impressed with how it handled our extreme sunlight test, with Standard DRO making a great shot out of a terrible situation with no exposure adjustment, one of the few cameras we've tested that essentially overcame the challenges of our test. That's high praise. Ultimately, it's the great experience of shooting with the T77 that earns it a Dave's Picks.