Sony DSC-T30 Review

 
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Sony T30 Exposure & Imaging

The Sony DSC-T30 is basically a point-and-shoot camera, which means that it has almost entirely automatic exposure control, although the user can dial in an exposure compensation adjustment to help the camera deal with subjects that are relatively light or dark overall. Other user controls include ISO (light sensitivity) and white balance, as well as contrast, saturation, and sharpness settings. Hmm... Maybe "point-and-shoot" is a bit too limiting a description? There's certainly a good assortment of controls for advanced users to twiddle with on the T30, the main limitation being that you have no direct control over either aperture or shutter speed. For real neophytes, a fully automatic mode can be set via the record menu, that removes most of the just-mentioned options, making the camera more truly a point-and-shoot model.

While the Sony T30 doesn't let you control exposure directly, it does give you a nice handful of "Scene" modes to help you get good-looking pictures under what would otherwise be challenging conditions. The Scene modes preset a number of camera exposure parameters to those needed for a variety of specific subject types. Scene options include Beach, Fireworks, High Sensitivity, High Speed Shutter, Landscape, Snow, Soft Snap, Twilight, and Twilight Portrait exposure modes.

When it comes time to print your photos, the Sony T30 does an excellent job, packing sufficient detail into its images to make good-looking 13x19 inch prints, about the largest consumer inkjet printers can produce. We did find that its images at ISO 400 showed more image noise than average, but they made acceptable-looking 5x7 inch prints.

Here's what we found in the T30's test images:

Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color, though a slight tendency toward a warm cast. Some oversaturation in the strong reds and blues.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Sony DSC-T30 oversaturates the strong blue tones quite a lot, red tones somewhat less so. Most consumers like bright, vibrant color, so we suspect many will find the T30's color very appealing. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. The DSC-T30 did render skin tones a little on the warm side in most cases, but again, many consumers will likely prefer "healthier" looking skin.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Most digital cameras we test push cyan tones towards pure blue, to produce better-looking sky colors. The T30 did this quite a bit more than most, but in our shots taken outdoors, the sky colors never looked unnatural. All in all, very bright color, especially blues, but color that we think most consumers will find very appealing.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Moderate warm cast with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was quite warm with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance modes, though the Incandescent setting resulted in the least strongest cast. That said, the impact of the warm color balance was much more evident on-screen than it was in prints made on the Canon i9900 printer here in our studio. Prints were a little yellowish, but the result was more an impression of the warmth of the original lighting than a defect in the color of the image. I found the best exposure with a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment, about average for this shot, though the white highlights are a bit bright. (The image at +0.7 EV was just too dim overall.) Colors are somewhat dark and yellow here, making the blue flowers very dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Slightly warm overall color balance, though very bright colors. About average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance, +1.0 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure but with a tendency to blow out highlights under harsh lighting. (The photos do as a result have a lot of "snap," that many consumers will find appealing. Shadow detail was somewhat limited, but nothing that would raise an alarm for a consumer digital camera. Exposure accuracy overall was about average, the camera requiring the normal amount of exposure compensation we're accustomed to seeing with consumer digicams on these shots.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,400 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,400 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 2,000. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,800 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,400 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,400 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images, slight oversharpening but relatively little blurring of detail from noise suppression.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, though some edge-enhancement artifacts are visible. (Faint "halos" around some of the branches here.) Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, but at low ISOs, the T30 shows less of this effect than most cameras.

Overall, the Sony DSC-T30's images are quite sharp, with moderate edge enhancement on the camera's part. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop at far right shows this in the darkest areas of Marti's hair, which do show limited detail. That said, there are a few individual strands still visible in the darker midtones.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, very high noise that blurs detail at the higher settings.

ISO 80
(Slight motion blur, very
long exposure)
ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,000

The Sony DSC-T30's lower ISO settings performed quite well, producing low to moderate noise without noticeable blurring of fine detail. Starting at ISO 400, noise becomes much more evident, and the noise suppression processing begins to blur fine detail more. The 800 and 1,000 ISO settings result in very blurry images, with a bright, strong noise pattern that's very noticeable. (When printed, the ISO 800 and 1000 shots look grainy and rough even at print sizes as small as 4x6 inches, although they'd likely be acceptable to most consumers at that size.)

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with good overall detail, though high contrast and limited shadow detail. Limited low-light capabilities, but entirely acceptable images under average city street lighting.

+0.7 EV +1.0 EV +1.3 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 produced high contrast in response to the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, with hot highlights the result. Detail was slightly limited in the highlights and shadows (more so in the shadows), though still pretty good overall. I found the best exposure with a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment, even though the highlights really are quite blown, as the exposure at +0.7 EV left Marti's face and the colors in the flowers much too dark. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

 

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Low light:
The Sony DSC-T30's maximum two-second exposure time (one second in all but night modes) limited its low-light shooting capabilities somewhat, though the camera was able to capture bright images under average city street lighting quite easily. At the higher ISO settings (800 and 1,000), the camera captured bright images to about 1/2 foot-candle, about half as bright as average city street lighting at night, but with very high image noise. The camera's autofocus system worked down to a little below the 1/4 foot-candle light level, even without the AF assist light, a very good performance. Do keep in mind, that the longer shutter times demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.) That said, we found the T30's Super SteadyShot image stabilization to be very effective, as we were in some cases able to get acceptable shots hand-holding the camera at exposure times of a half-second or more. (!)

Flash

Coverage and Range
Pretty good coverage and overall range, though our studio shots required an intensity boost to produce proper exposure.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash, High Intensity Slow-Sync Mode, High Intensity

Flash coverage was a little uneven at wide angle, with falloff in the corners, and just slightly uneven even at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the DSC-T30's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, and required the High Intensity adjustment in both normal and Slow-Sync flash modes. (This isn't unusual, most cameras we test need an exposure boost with this subject.) The normal flash mode resulted in a slight orange cast, but the longer shutter time associated with the Slow-Sync mode produced a much stronger cast (though more even exposure).

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
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The T30's flash was brightest at 8 feet, decreasing steadily in intensity from there on out. It would probably be usable to about 10 feet, but noticeably decreases in intensity after that point, becoming quite dim at 14 feet.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Excellent print quality, great color, very usable 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 images are noisy at 8x10, acceptable at 5x7, best at 4x6. ISO 800 and 1000 shots are noisy and soft even at 4x6 inches.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Sony DSC-T30's 7 megapixel sensor and sharp 3x optical zoom lens produces crisp, clear images that look good even when printed as large as 13x19 inches. Prints 8x10 inches in size are tack-sharp and crisp looking, even with significant cropping. As usual, it's the high-ISO shots that present the real print-quality challenge, and here the T30 stumbled somewhat. Although the camera offers options for ISO 800 and 1000, even ISO 400 shots looked quite noisy. Daylight shots at ISO 400 looked pretty decent when printed as large as 8x10 inches, but shots taken after dark showed a lot of very visible noise in dark areas, even when printed as small as 4x6 inches.

The ISO 800 and 1000 options were very much a mixed blessing. Under reasonably bright lighting, the noise levels are such that most consumers would probably find 4x6 inch (perhaps even 5x7 inch) prints noisy but acceptable. This might make these very high ISO settings useful for freezing fast action in daylight conditions. (Sports shots, for instance.) When the sun goes down though, things take a turn for the worse: Under low-light conditions (including indoor shots under the incandescent lighting so common here in the US), noise gets dramatically worse, to the point that we really don't consider the ISO 800 and 1000 sensitivity options usable for shooting under these conditions. - Which unfortunately is exactly when many people would most want to use them.

In terms of color, the Sony T30's images printed up bright and beautiful on the i9900. Blues definitely are very saturated, but we didn't find it objectionable on any of the shots we took. Caucasian skin tones came out slightly yellowish on a couple of shots, but that could have been a result of how the camera's white balance system responded to the lighting for those scenes. All in all, we think most consumers would find the T30's color very appealing.

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Sony DSC-T30

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