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Quick Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 7/23/2005
User Level
Novice to Intermediate
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Everyday
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Very Good
Print Sizes
11x17s or 8x10s with heavy cropping
Availability
Now 
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$349.95

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Design
Operation
Specifications
Recommended Accessories
Conclusion
The Sony DSC-T33 is one of Sony's latest subcompact Cyber-shot models, quite similar to the original T1, and the new ultra-thin T7. A little lighter and slightly bigger, than the T7, the Sony T33 is still a full-featured digital camera, with a 5 megapixel CCD, a 3x optical zoom lens, a huge 2.5-inch LCD screen, and a full complement of options such as variable ISO settings, color saturation, contrast, and sharpness adjustments. Automatic exposure control offers point-and-shoot ease, with a handful of scene modes for more difficult shooting situations. Packaged with a camera dock for quick USB connection to a computer, the Sony T33 offers exceptional portability and a great selection of features. Read the review below for the details, but if you're looking for a compact and very functional five-megapixel digicam for a little less, the Sony DSC-T33 should be on your list.

 

Camera Overview

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 is fourth in the T-series (though not all from this line made it to the US market), with very similar 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 surrounded by a chromed plastic bezel that holds the front and back panels together. The Sony T33 has a vertical lens design that zooms internally and eliminates any lens protrusion on the front panel. At roughly the same size as a small makeup compact and with almost the same outline as a credit card, the DSC-T33 is definitely pocket friendly and travel-worthy. Sony even has an underwater housing available as a separate accessory, so you can literally take it just about anywhere. The most noticeable feature on the DSC-T33 is its large, 2.5-inch color LCD monitor, which takes up most of the camera's rear panel. Though small, the Sony DSC-T33 doesn't skimp on features, offering a 3x optical zoom lens with a range of focus options, a 5.1-megapixel CCD for high-resolution images, and a host of preset shooting modes and exposure options.

A fair question for those familiar with the very similarly-featured but $150 more expensive Sony T7 might be "what's the difference?" The answer is precious little, other than the very noticeable difference in body thickness between the two. In fact, most of the differences between the two camera favor the less expensive but larger DSC-T33, which offers better battery life, better shutter response, and a "Speed Burst" shooting mode that the T7 lacks. But of course, there's the sheer drool-factor of the T7's ultra-sleek, impossibly thin styling, which will surely be worth another $150 for many style-conscious users.

The Sony DSC-T33 is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 3x, 6.7-20.1mm lens, equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera. (A fairly standard zoom range, going from an average wide angle to a good telephoto.) Normal focus ranges from approximately 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity, with a Macro setting that lets you get within 3.25 inches (8 centimeters) when the lens is zoomed to its wide angle position, and 9.8 inches (25 centimeters) at its telephoto setting. A Magnifying Glass scene mode (described below) gets even closer, focusing as close as one centimeter (though it also uses digital zoom to enlarge detail). Besides its default automatic focus control, the Sony T33 offers a range of fixed focus settings through the Record menu, as well as Center AF, Spot AF, and Multi AF focus area options. (Spot AF reads from the very center of the frame, and Center AF from a larger area at the center.) Through the camera's Setup menu, you can also select Single and Monitoring AF modes. Monitoring mode adjusts focus continuously. An AF illuminator lamp on the front of the camera helps focus at low light levels, a very handy feature I wish more digicam manufacturers would add to their cameras. In addition to the camera's 3x optical zoom, the Sony T33 offers a maximum of 6x Precision Digital Zoom. Sony's Precision Digital Zoom does an excellent job of minimizing loss of quality, although there's no getting around the tradeoff between resolution and magnification that Digital Zoom implies. There's also an option to use Sony's Smart Zoom digital zoom up to 12x, which simply crops out the central portion of the CCD's image, without interpolating it to a larger-size file. This means that the maximum digital zoom varies with the current image size setting, the greatest zoom only available at the smallest image size. It has the advantage though, of avoiding any interpolation artifacts. This also means that there is no digital zoom factor when you have Smart Zoom set and shoot at the full 5 megapixel resolution.

The large 2.5-inch LCD monitor is the only viewfinder on the camera, and its generous size definitely helps with framing. Unlike most digicam LCDs though, the screen on the Sony T33 is "transflective," which means that it functions every bit as well in full sunlight as it does under indoor conditions. (Overall, this is one of the best LCD screens I've yet seen on a digital camera.) The informative display reports a variety of camera settings (including aperture and shutter speed when the Shutter button is halfway pressed), and features an optional live histogram display in both Playback and Record modes.

Exposure is automatically controlled on the Sony DSC-T33, great for novices and casual users looking for simplicity. However, a range of nine preset Scene modes is available, as well as a handful of adjustable exposure options. An On/Off button on top of the camera turns the camera on, and a Mode switch on the right side selects between Movie, Record, and Playback modes. Within Record mode, you can select Auto, Program, Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, Beach, High Speed Shutter, Fireworks, or Candle exposure modes. The Auto setting takes away all user control, with the exception of flash, macro, and resolution settings. Program mode keeps exposure control automatic, but allows user control over all other exposure variables. Magnifying Glass mode magnifies the subject on the LCD display up to 3.3x (a separate function from Macro mode), focusing on subjects as close as one centimeter. However, keep in mind that this mode also employs the digital zoom function, which may degrade image quality slightly. Both Twilight modes optimize the camera for low-light shooting by allowing shutter times as long as two seconds, while Landscape mode sets the camera up for shooting broad vistas. Snow mode enhances saturation to prevent loss of color in bright white snowscapes, while Beach mode ensures that blue tones are recorded accurately in lakeside or seaside photos. Both Snow and Beach modes bias the exposure system to help avoid the underexposure problems most cameras have with overall-bright scenes of this sort. High Speed Shutter mode is best for moving subjects, and uses faster shutter speeds to freeze action. Fireworks mode preserves color by using a slower shutter speed and smaller aperture setting to capture the full display, and Candle mode keeps candle-lit scenes looking right by not white balancing the candles as white light sources, keeping them yellowish.

Although the camera controls aperture and shutter speed at all times, it does report the settings it's chosen on the LCD information display, so you have an idea of what the exposure parameters are while you're shooting. By default, the camera uses a 49-segment Multi metering system to determine the exposure, which takes readings from throughout the frame. However, a Spot metering mode is available through the Record menu, good for high-contrast or off-center subjects. You can manually increase or decrease the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV), and sensitivity is adjustable to ISO equivalents of 100, 200, or 400, with an Auto setting as well. When shooting at slower shutter speeds or higher ISO settings, the Sony DSC-T33 automatically enables a Noise Reduction system to eliminate excess image noise. The DSC-T33 offers Saturation, Sharpness, and Contrast adjustments, as well as a Picture Effects setting that lets you record images in sepia or black and white monotones. White Balance options include an Auto setting, as well as Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash modes. The Sony T33's flash operates in Forced, Slow-Sync, Suppressed, and Auto modes. Red-eye reduction is a separate option that can be turned on or off in the Setup menu.

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available storage space. At the 640 x 480 setting, you can choose between Standard and Fine quality options. Standard records at 16 frames per second, while Fine records at 30 frames per second and requires Memory Stick PRO Duo media to support the necessary data rates. Through a Record menu option, the Sony DSC-T33 also offers a Multi Burst mode, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This is a useful tool for analyzing golf and tennis swings.) The same menu option also offers Exposure Bracketing, Burst, and Speed Burst options. Exposure Bracketing mode captures a series of three images at different exposure settings, and you can set the exposure step size that's applied between shots. Burst mode works like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera, capturing a maximum of nine images in rapid succession. Speed Burst captures as many as four frames (regardless of resolution) 0.33 seconds apart. (Speed Burst is one of the feature the Sony T33 has that isn't shared by the more expensive T7. A nice, high-speed continuous mode that's quite a bit faster than those normally found on subcompact digital cameras.) A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture, giving the photographer time to run around and get into the picture.

The Sony DSC-T33 stores images on Sony Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick PRO Duo memory cards, available separately in capacities as large as 128MB for standard Duo cards and 1GB for PRO versions. A 32MB Memory Stick Duo comes with the camera, but I highly recommend immediately purchasing a larger capacity card right along with the camera so you don't miss any shots. (Also, note that you'll want a PRO Duo card, which is required for the T33's highest-quality video recording mode.) For power, the Sony T33 uses a single NP-FT1 Info-Lithium battery pack, which accompanies the camera, providing better than average battery life for a subcompact digital camera. An included USB cradle also acts as the battery charger and AC adapter, and connects the camera to a computer as well. (The cradle also includes a threaded socket for use with a tripod, but that usage is a little awkward, due to the angled position of the camera in the cradle.) The Sony DSC-T33 doesn't have any standard connection terminals itself, though the cradle features USB, DC In, and AV Out connector jacks. A software CD is loaded with Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers, for downloading and organizing images.

Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel CCD.
  • 2.5-inch color LCD monitor with Transflective design for dramatically improved visibility in bright light.
  • Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 3x zoom lens, equivalent to 38-114mm on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum aperture of f/3.5 - f/4.4, depending on lens zoom position.
  • As much as 6x Precision Digital Zoom, and as much as 12x Smart Zoom.
  • Full Auto and Program AE exposure modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to one second.
  • Built-in flash with four modes.
  • Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick PRO Duo image storage, 32MB Memory Stick Duo card included.
  • USB cradle included for easy connection to a computer or television set, USB and A/V cables included.
  • Power supplied by NP-FT1 Info-Lithium battery (supplied) or AC adapter (via USB cradle).
  • Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with MPEG VX Movie option for continuous recording at 640x480 pixel resolution. (Requires Memory Stick PRO Duo.)
  • Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, Beach, High Speed Shutter, Fireworks, or Candle exposure modes.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Picture Effects menu with Sepia and Black and white effects.
  • Macro (close-up) lens setting.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six modes.
  • Burst, Multi Burst, Auto Exposure Bracketing, and Speed Burst record modes.
  • Multi-Pattern and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents (100, 200, 400) 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) compatibility.


Recommendation
With its thin, compact size and simple, no-frills appearance, the Sony DSC-T33 is a lower-cost addition to Sony's Cyber-shot line of ultra-small digicams. Though it's small, the camera offers excellent features like a Carl Zeiss zoom lens, a large transflective LCD monitor, and 5.1-megapixel CCD. It offers the convenience of point-and-shoot simplicity with enough advanced features to make it possible to take photos in otherwise challenging situations (low light, fast action, etc.). The Sony T33 is also notable for its shooting speed, doing far better in this respect than the majority of subcompact models currently on the market. Overall, the T33 is a good choice for anyone wanting a capable, portable camera that takes good photos in a variety of circumstances. It's larger than its sibling the nearly identically-featured Sony T7, but is also a little faster, has longer battery life, and adds the Speed Burst continuous shooting mode. The DSC-T33 is easy to use, but has enough flexibility to handle a range of conditions. We did find a problem with blur down the right side of the camera at certain zoom settings, however, so see the tests below.

 

Design

Small and very compact, the Sony DSC-T33 and its fellow T-series cameras mark a noticeable departure from the rest of Sony's Cyber-shot line. The camera's slim dimensions and large LCD panel are distinctive design features. Because the camera has a vertically-oriented internal lens, the front panel remains smooth at all times, and very pocket friendly. Measuring 3.91 x 2.39 x 0.81 inches (99.4 x 60.9 x 20.7 millimeters), the DSC-T33 will definitely fit into shirt pockets and tiny evening bags. Though it sports an almost all-metal body, the Sony T33 is still light weight, at just 5.29 ounces (150 grams) with batteries and memory card.

The front of the Sony DSC-T33 is nearly flat, except slight slope from the right to the left toward the lens. The lens cover is a little shutter that swings open and shut with a nice mechanical slap sound when the Power button is pressed. Because the lens design is all-internal, it doesn't telescope outward when the camera is powered on. Instead, the lens lines up vertically inside like a periscope, using a mirror to reflect the view. This also makes the camera quick on the draw (only 1.3 seconds from power-on to the first shot captured), as you don't have to wait on the lens to telescope into position before you can shoot. Next to the lens are the flash and self-timer / AF illuminator lamp. There is no handgrip on the Sony T33, so use the included wrist strap to safeguard your investment.

The DSC-T33's lightweight aluminum front panel represents one of the minor quibbles we had with the camera. It's made of fairly thin aluminum, and apparently isn't backed up with solid plastic inside. As a result, it's quite susceptible to being dinged, to the point that we managed to put a small but very noticeable dent in it while we were testing it. This doesn't detract from the camera's excellent photographic capabilities, but if you plan on carrying it in a pants pocket (which its design very much lends itself to), you may want to consider some sort of a soft case for added protection.

The right side of the Sony DSC-T33 features a sliding Mode switch (the icons for which are on the rear panel), and a small eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

The opposite side of the camera is featureless.

The Sony T33's top panel has a chromed plastic raised ridge that is flat across the top. The Shutter and Power buttons line up on the right corner, with a small microphone to the left of these. The power button illuminates green when the camera's power is on. Finally, a small amber LED just behind the shutter button indicates the status of the flash, and also illuminates when the camera battery is charging.

The remaining few camera controls are on the back panel, along with the very large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor. A zoom control is in the top right corner, with two curved holes for the speaker beneath. The Five-way Navigator is next to the lower left corner of the LCD monitor. The Display, Menu, and Resolution / Erase buttons are lined up right of the LCD.

The Sony DSC-T33 has a flat bottom panel, which holds the dual-slot memory card and battery compartment, as well as the connector jack for the USB cradle. There is no tripod mount on the camera; instead, this is found on the cradle. An odd, though precisely-designed plastic bracket snaps into place to keep the camera from falling out of the cradle when tilted vertically. It unfortunately stows nowhere naturally, except in a camera bag, and is liable to get lost (along with most CDs and manuals).

 

Camera Operation
The Sony DSC-T33's user interface is straightforward, and is very similar to those we've seen on earlier Cyber-shot models. The animated LCD displays have the same basic options and characteristic Sony labeling, but with a slightly updated layout that's still straightforward and simple to navigate. The Sony T33 has only a few external controls, as most of the exposure options are accessed through the LCD menu system. The camera's Five-way navigator keys serve multiple functions, and you can quickly change the camera mode via the Mode switch on the side panel. The arrow keys of the Five-way navigator scroll through menu selections, and the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. There's an external button for directly accessing the image-size setting or for deleting images in playback mode. These are close together, which is good because both of these controls are used enough that having to navigate the LCD menu system to access them is a nuisance. The menu system is so simple and intuitive I think even novice users will be able to become completely familiar with it in an hour or less.

Record Mode Display: The DSC-T33's LCD monitor reports a fair amount of camera information in Record mode, including the battery level and approximate operating time left (a feature unique to Sony digicams, thanks to their "InfoLITHIUM" battery technology), image resolution and quality, exposure mode, flash mode, autofocus mode, and any other basic settings. A set of focus brackets is in the center of the frame. A half-press of the Shutter button adds the shutter speed and aperture settings to the bottom of the display. The Display button cycles through a range of display modes, enabling a histogram, as well as eliminating the information overlay. A fourth display mode turns off the LCD's backlight, presumably to save power. This is useful on this camera even though it has no optical viewfinder because its excellent transflective screen works well in direct, or even diffuse sunlight. (Although this mode also disables the battery-life display, my measurements indicate that it extends battery life by about 25%.)

Playback Mode Display: In Playback mode, the LCD monitor reports basic information such as the image resolution, battery level and time, folder number, image series number, file name, and the date and time the image was captured. Pressing the Display button enables an expanded information display with basic exposure information and a small histogram. You can also cancel the information display entirely, by pressing the Display button a third time. As in Record mode, a fourth press of the button turns off the backlight, but not the LCD for use in direct sunlight. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom control brings up a 9-image thumbnail display of previously-captured images, and pressing it a second time switches to a 16-image display. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom control reverses the process, and continued pressing smoothly zooms in on the currently-displayed image. When zoomed, the arrow keys scroll the enlarged view around the image as a whole.

 

External Controls


Lens Shutter
: Mounted inside the camera's body, this cover automatically flips across the opening to reveal or conceal the lens.


Shutter Button
: Located on the far right side of the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed. Half-pressing the shutter button causes the camera to display the shutter speed and aperture setting its exposure system has chosen for the current scene. Even though you can't control the shutter speed or aperture manually, being able to see what the camera has selected can be a useful guide for experienced photographers to judge depth of field or anticipate motion blur.


Power Button
: To the right of the Shutter button, this button turns the camera on and off.


Zoom Rocker Button
: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this rocker switch controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images and accesses the index display mode as well as a detailed information display. (The "T" side zooms in, the "W" side zooms out. Zooming out from the normal-sized single image view brings up an index display of tiny "thumbnail" images.)


Mode Switch
: This switch is on the right side of the camera, though the indicator icons line up beside it on the rear panel. The following options are available:

  • Movie: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the memory card has space.
  • Record: Places the camera in still Record mode, with a handful of preset scenes and Auto and Program AE modes available.
  • Playback: Replays captured still images and movie files, with options for image management and printing.



Menu Button
: Located next to the top left corner of the Five-way navigator, this button displays or dismisses the settings menu in any Record mode or in Playback mode.


Display/LCD Button
: Above the Menu button and adjacent to the upper right corner of the LCD display, this button controls the LCD monitor's display mode. In both Record and Playback modes, the button cycles through the image and information displays, and turns the LCD monitor's backlight on and off.


Image Size / Erase Button
: Below the Menu button, this button activates the Image Size setting in any Record mode. In any still image mode, resolution options of 2,592 x 1,944; 2,592 (3:2); 2,048 x 1,536; 1,280 x 960; and 640 x 480 pixels are available. Movie mode options include 640 x 480 (Standard), 640 x 480 (Fine), and 160 x 120 pixels. (The 640 x 480 Fine option is only available when using the Memory Stick PRO Duo media format.)

In Playback mode, this button calls up the single-image erase menu, letting you delete the currently displayed image. Pressing this button in Index display mode gives you the options of selecting multiple files to delete, or of deleting all files in the current folder on the memory card.


Five-way Navigator:
In the lower right corner of the rear panel, this five-button control pad features four arrow keys and a center "OK" button. The arrow keys navigate through any settings menu, and the OK button confirms menu selections.

In Automatic Record mode, the up arrow controls flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Suppressed, and Slow-Sync modes. The down arrow activates the Self-Timer option, while the right arrow controls the Macro mode. The left arrow calls up a quick review of the most recently-captured image.

In Playback mode, the left and right keys scroll through captured images on the memory card. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrow keys move around within the enlarged view.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In this mode, the camera captures standard still images, controlling aperture and shutter speed. Pressing the Menu button displays the Record settings menu, with options varying depending on the exposure mode selected:

  • Camera: Offers Auto, Program, Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, Beach, High Speed Shutter, Fireworks, and Candle exposure modes. The mode selected dictates which of the following options are available. Program mode offers all of the following, most of the other choices offer less. Auto mode provides access only to the Mode and Setup menu options.
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
  • Focus: Changes the focus area to Multi AF, Spot AF, or Center AF, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, or 7.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • Spot Metering: Turns on Spot Metering or puts the camera in Multi Metering mode.
  • White Balance: Sets the color balance to Auto, or adjusts for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, or Flash light sources.
  • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.

  • Image Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Fine or Standard.
  • Mode: Changes the recording mode to Normal, Burst, Speed Burst, Exposure Bracketing, or Multi Burst modes.
  • Bracket Step: (Only available if Exposure Bracketing is selected above.) Sets the level of exposure variation for Auto Exposure Bracketing shots. Step sizes include 1.0, 0.7, or 0.3 EV.
  • Interval: (Only available in Multi Burst mode.) Specifies the shutter interval for Multi Burst mode. Options are 1/7.5, 1/15, or 1/30.
  • Flash Level: Sets the flash intensity to Normal, Low, or High.
  • Picture Effects: Applies Black and white or Sepia creative effects.

  • Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation, with High, Normal, and Low options.
  • Contrast: Controls the level of contrast in images, with options for High, Normal, and Low.
  • Sharpness: Adjusts the in-camera sharpening. Options are High, Normal, and Low.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. When playing back movie files, you can also opt for "frame-by-frame" playback, which plays back the movie file slowly, several frames at a time. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Folder: Selects the folder of images to be played back.
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image, or removes protection.
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device, or removes the print mark.
  • Print: Allows printing to PictBridge printers.
  • Slide: Enables a slide show of all images captured on the Memory Stick Duo. You can control the interval between each image, the range of images to be played back, and whether or not the slide show repeats.
  • Resize: Resizes the current image to one of the available resolution sizes.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Divides movie files into segments, providing a very basic editing tool you can use to "trim" your movies to just the portion you want to keep.

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has available space. If set through the Set-Up menu, this mode can also record Clip Motion or Multi Burst frames. The LCD menu system offers the following options: (Sorry, no screenshots here, the options are the same as similar items in normal Record mode.)

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
  • Focus: Changes the focus area to Multi AF, Spot AF, or Center AF, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, or 7.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • Metering Mode: Switches between Multi and Spot metering modes.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the color balance for Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Picture Effects: Applies Black and white or Sepia creative effects.

Set-Up Mode: The following four-page Set-Up menu is available in Playback, Record, and Movie modes, as an extension of the LCD menu:

  • Camera:
    • AF Mode: Sets the autofocus to Single or Monitor (continuous) modes.
    • Digital Zoom: Enables Smart Zoom or Precision Digital Zoom, or turns digital zoom off entirely.
    • Date/Time: Controls the date and time display, options are Day & Time, Date, or Off.
    • Red-Eye Reduction: Enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash (which will fire with all flash modes), or turns it off.
    • AF Illuminator: Puts the AF Illuminator into Auto mode, or simply turns it off.
    • Auto Review: Activates the Auto Review function, which automatically displays the most recently captured image post-capture.

  • Camera 2:
    • Enlarged Icon: When a mode is changed, its icon appears enlarged onscreen momentarily. This menu item turns this feature on and off.

  • Memory Stick Tool
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick Duo, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Create Rec. Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change Rec. Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded to.

  • Setup 1
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the LCD backlight feature, setting it to Normal or Bright.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sound, setting it to Shutter, On, or Off.
    • Language: Changes the camera's menu language to English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, or Portuguese.

  • Setup 2
    • File Number: Sets file numbering to Series or Reset. The Series option continues numbering files from one memory card to the next, while Reset starts over with each new memory card.
    • USB Connect: Places the USB connection into PTP or Normal modes.
    • Video Out: Specifies the camera's Video Out signal as NTSC or PAL.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock.

In the Box

The Sony DSC-T33 ships with the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • 32MB Memory Stick Duo card and adapter.
    (Note that this is a standard Duo card, not a PRO Duo as needed for the highest-quality video recordings.)
  • USB cable.
  • Video cable.
  • NP-FT1 Info-Lithium battery pack.
  • USB cradle and retention clip.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.


Recommended Accessories

  • Larger capacity Memory Stick.
  • Additional NP-FT1 battery pack.
  • Small camera case.
  • Marine Pack underwater housing, for fun at the beach.



Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Specifications

See the specifications sheet here.

 

Test Results

We ran the Sony DSC-T33 through our usual battery of tests, and have summarized our findings here. To see a complete listing of all our test shots and do your own analysis, go to the Thumbnails page.

Lens

Zoom
Though a typical 3x, the Sony T33's lens is less vulnerable because it stays inside the camera

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
38mm
114mm
Digital Zoom

The Sony T33 zooms over the equivalent of a 38 - 114mm range, offering reasonable zoom in a small package. It seems a little soft at wide angle in our test shot. But it's still very useful for most point and shoot situations.

Macro
Two different macro modes grace the Sony T33, one accessed with the right Nav button, one through the menu

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Standard Macro Macro with Flash

The Sony T33's macro setting performed reasonably well, capturing a small minimum area of 2.78 x 2.09 inches (70.7 x 53mm). We saw better performance from the T1, however. The flash exposes the scene well, but not completely; yet with minimal glare.

Of the two modes, we've only tested the optical zoom, because the Magnifying Glass mode uses digital zoom, which degrades the image. A degraded macro image is as good as a crop, so it's not worth commenting on.

Distortion
Moderate barrel distortion and high pincushion

This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel--usually at wide angle) or inward (like a pincushion--usually at telephoto). The Sony T33's 0.8% barrel distortion at wide angle is average among the cameras I've tested, although I personally feel that this level is too high. At the telephoto end, the T33's 0.6% pincushion is quite a bit higher than average.

Barrel distortion at 38mm is 0.8%
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Pincushion at 114mm is 0.6%
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image

Chromatic aberration
Moderate, has minor effect on images at edges

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
3-4 pixels top left 3-4 pixels top right

Chromatic aberration is moderate, showing about 4-6 pixels of moderately bright coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Corner Sharpness
Left side is good compared to others but the right side has an unacceptable blur along the entire edge

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Comparatively sharp on the left Much fuzzier along the entire right side

Although I saw a little softening in the corners of some images, most of my shots from the Sony T33 showed quite a bit less blurring in the corners than I've come to expect from subcompact digicams.

Unfortunately, there's a rather significant blurring on the right side (or the top when turned vertically on the tripod), evident here in the far shot, and also in the Sunlit Portrait shot (see Extremes below). When combined with the noise reduction, it seems that Marti's hair and face are very blurry, while the flowers are tack sharp. Looking at the resolution chart as well shows the entire right side of the frame to be quite out of focus.

Viewfinder

Coverage
Very good accuracy from the LCD monitor (the only viewfinder on the Sony T33)

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
114mm equivalent

The large 2.5 inch LCD on the T33 is excellent for framing images, and it is nearly 100% accurate, displaying almost exactly what is recorded onto the camera's memory card.

Flash

Coverage and Range
The Sony DSC-T33's very small flash has a very small effect

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent

Flash coverage at both wide angle and telephoto shows quite a bit of vignetting, and its range is very limited.

Even at 8 feet, our closest test range, the flash did not illuminate the DaveBox adequately.

In our informal people shots, the Sony T33 showed red-eye in nearly every shot.

Flash range test
8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see T33FL08.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see T33FL09.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see T33FL10.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see T33FL11.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see T33FL12.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see T33FL13.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see T33FL14.JPG
1/50 sec
f4.4
ISO 100

Sensor

Exposure
Indoor Portraits had good color, but both flash and normal exposure required correction

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Auto White Balance Incandescent WB
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Normal Flash Slow-Sync Mode

Color balance indoors under incandescent was very warm in Auto mode, with the blue flowers appearing purple. As usual, Marti's white shirt tricked the camera's meter, requiring +0.7 EV of exposure compensation to get a good exposure. Most of the warm cast is gone in Incandescent mode, still requiring that +0.7EV correction. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs. This is a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

The flash on the Sony T33 also tended to underexpose somewhat. It has to be set to High flash compensation to get a decent exposure even in our well-lit indoor scene. Slow-Sync mode captures more of the scene's essence, while filling in the shadows a bit, but still requires High flash compensation.

See full set of test images.

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,350 lines of strong detail

Our laboratory resolution chart reveals sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,350 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,600 to1,625. 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 1,500 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Strong detail to 1350 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1350 lines vertical

See full set of test images.

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonable sharpness, slight oversharpening and aggressive noise suppression

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Good definition of high-contrast elements, but sharpening produces slight "halos," coarser detail. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Sony T33's images are sharp, but this sharpness is achieved with a slight over sharpening (enhancing the edges after capture). Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transistion in color or tone. In the case of the T33, the in-camera sharpening produces slight "halos" around contrasting edges, and also tends to slightly coarsen the finest detail in the image.

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, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing only limited detail, even though individual strands are quite visible against her cheek.

ISO & Noise Performance
A bit better than average performance for a point and shoot camera

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400

As with most small point and shooters, low ISO settings on the Sony DSC-T33 produce clean images with little noticable noise. Starting at ISO 200, you start to see more granularity especially in solid colors, not unlike the grain in ISO 400 film. At right you can see a crop from a test image at each ISO setting. The Sony T33 does well, except that its attempts to remove noise tend to destroy subtle subject detail. For faces though, the result can nonetheless be pleasing, if not strictly accurate.

When we printed the T33's images, we found that it did noticeably better than average at ISO 400, when compared to other 5-megapixel cameras in its price range: Even 8x10 inch prints at that setting came out looking pretty good, and at 5x7 inches, the noise had very little impact at all.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good detail, somewhat sullied by noise suppression and high contrast; very poor low light performance

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image
Normal +0.3EV +0.7EV

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 Sony T33 is just okay in this regard, displaying both washed out highlights and shadows with plugged-up detail. Noise suppression is visible in both shadows and highlights as well, contributing to the loss of detail, made more severe in these areas. Be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above. Better yet, shoot in the shade when possible.

Our low light testing revealed serious limitations in the lens and sensor's ability to gather and process light. The chart below tells the story. If your subject is too far away for the flash, just forget it. Bottom line, the Sony T33 wouldn't be a first choice for after-dark photography.

  1 fc (footcandle) equals a standard streetlit scene
  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
100
Click to see T33LL1003.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL1004.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL1005.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL1006.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL1007.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
ISO
200
Click to see T33LL2003.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL2004.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL2005.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL2006.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL2007.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
ISO
400
Click to see T33LL4003.JPG
1/1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL4004.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL4005.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL4006.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LL4007.JPG
1 sec
f3.5
ISO
100
Click to see T33LLN03.JPG
2 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LLN04.JPG
2 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LLN05.JPG
2 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LLN06.JPG
2 sec
f3.5
Click to see T33LLN07.JPG
2 sec
f3.5

Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly oversaturated color, very typical of consumer digital cameras. A bit too "hot" on bright reds, slightly less on greens. Generally good hue accuracy

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera imageMost 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 T33 follows this trend, although it really likes bright reds and greens, to the point that these colors look a bit artificial to our eyes. 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 T33 did tend to render skin tones a bit on the yellow side, but the color was probably within what most users would consider acceptable limits.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. On this score, the Sony T33 does pretty well, and the minor distortions it introduces are calculated to do things like avoid blues turning purple, etc.

Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image

Overall, we think most people will like the T33's color very much. Our random "Gallery" shots showed very pleasing color across a wide variety of subjects. (See our Sony T33 Photo Gallery for more shots taken with the camera.)

Output Quality

Print Quality
Very good print quality, great color, very usable 13x19 prints. ISO 400 images are slightly rough at 8x10, excellent at 5x7.

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.)

In the case of the Sony T33, we found that it had enough resolution to make good-looking 13x19 prints, although they were just a little soft. (More than good enough for wall display though.) Looking at the T33's high-ISO shots, images captured at ISO 400 looked a little rough, but surprisingly good when printed at 8x10 inches. At 5x7 inches, ISO 400 shots still showed some image noise, but at a level that most consumers would find entirely acceptable. Color-wise, the Sony T33's images looked great when printed on the i9900, with bright, vibrant color, but still very natural-looking.

Timing and Performance

Sony T33 Timing
Surprising speed for a consumer camera, very surprising in a subcompact model.

Startup/Shutdown:
Power On to first shot 1.3 seconds
Shutter response (Lag Time):
Full Autofocus Wide
0.24 second (!)
Full Autofocus Tele
0.32 second (!)
Prefocused
0.011 second (!!)
Cycle time (shot to shot)
Normal large/fine JPEG 1.07 seconds
Flash recycling 5 seconds
Continuous mode 0.8 second
1.25 frames/second
(9 large/fine frames)
"Speed Burst" 0.32 second
3.09 frames/second
(4 frames, any size)

More so than most digital camera makers, Sony seems to have really gotten a handle on autofocus speed. All of their current cameras focus quite quickly, and the Sony T33 is really very fast, particularly for a subcompact model, but quick even when compared to the best full-sized cameras. Full-autofocus shutter lag ranged from 0.24 - 0.32 seconds depending on the zoom setting, and prefocus shutter lag was a blazing 11 milliseconds (0.011 seconds). This is even faster than the T33's "little" brother the T7, and is excellent by any standard, regardless of camera size. (Big kudos to Sony for getting one of the most annoying digicam shortcomings under control.) The Sony DSC-T33 was also quite fast from shot to shot, managing a shot every 1.07 seconds in single-shot mode (also better than the T7), and capturing up to nine large/fine images at a time in burst mode, at a rate of 1.25 frames/second (a little slower than the T7). Also on the T33 is the standard Sony "Multi-Burst" feature, which captures sixteen 320x240 images at up to 30 frames/second, and stores them in a single full-sized image. (Great for checking tennis and golf swings.) The Sony T33 has one more trick up its sleeve though, with its "Speed Burst" mode, in which it can capture up to four frames of any size or quality at a rate of just over three frames/second. Really quite impressive, especially for a subcompact camera.

See full Picky Details page.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery
Better than average battery life for such a small camera, with the added benefit of fairly accurate run-time info from the camera.

Operating Mode
Battery Life
Still-image capture mode
backlight on
100 minutes
Still-image capture mode
no backlight
? minutes
Movie capture mode, 640
Fine, backlight on
70 minutes
Movie capture mode, 160
backlight on
79 minutes
Image playback
backlight on
180 minutes (!)

The Sony T33 uses a custom rechargeable Li-ion battery for power. I didn't have the ability to test its power consumption via an AC adapter, but the times reported by Sony's InfoLITHIUM battery system have proven to be quite accurate. The table below shows maximum run times as reported by the camera.

With a worst-case run time of 100 minutes in record mode, and playback run time of 180 minutes, the Sony T33 does quite a bit better than average among the subcompact cameras I've tested. I still highly recommend purchasing a second battery right along with the camera and keeping a charged spare on hand, but the T33's battery life at least isn't so short that you'll find yourself running out after just an hour or so. Turning off the LCD's backlight extends run times only about 25%, and there's no option to turn the LCD off entirely, since the camera has no optical viewfinder.

Storage
The included 32MB card is the bare minimum for a 5 megapixel camera.

Image Capacity with
32 MB Memory Card
Fine Normal
2,592 x 1,944 Images 12 23
File Size 2.7MB 1.4MB
2,048 x 1,536 Images 20 37
File Size 1.6MB 865K
1,280 x 960 Images 50 93
File Size 640K 344K
640 x 480
Images 196 491
File Size 163K 65K

The Sony T1 stores its photos on Memory Stick Duo memory cards, and a 32MB card is included with the camera. I strongly recommend buying at least a 64MB card, preferably a 128MB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings. Be sure to buy a Memory Stick PRO Duo card, to be able to take advantage of the camera's high-resolution/high quality video recording mode, which standard Memory Sticks can't support.

See full Picky Details page.

 

Pro: Con:
  • Ultra-slim form factor, literally shirt-pocket sized
  • Rich feature set for a subcompact
  • Excellent shutter response, much faster than average autofocus performance
  • Good continuous shooting speed, very good buffer depth (9 large/fine frames)
  • Very good color, better than average accuracy, bright and vibrant without being overdone
  • Big, beautiful LCD screen, entirely usable in full sun and in surprisingly dim lighting too
  • Excellent video capability (with sound), remarkable for such a tiny camera
  • Good, bright AF-Assist lamp
  • Very fast USB 2.0 computer connection
  • Excellent battery life
  • A good lens, but both barrel and pincushion distortion are higher than average
  • Significant blur on the right side of images at near-wide angle zoom
  • Aggressive noise suppression reduces detail at high ISO
  • Poor low-light performance due to short maximum shutter times
  • Very weak flash (very common with subcompact cameras)
  • Odd tripod mount requires two pieces (not critical though, few will use this camera on a tripod)

 

Conclusion

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The DSC-T33 continues a Sony tradition of high quality in the subcompact category, packing more features into a smaller space than pretty much anything else out there, but with a new spin: the T33 is affordable. Most impressive is how few tradeoffs Sony was forced to make to achieve this. The DSC-T33 shows good image quality, with good color, and high resolution. Its image sharpness and noise levels aren't quite up to the level of the best full-sized 5-megapixel cameras out there, but they're impressive for a subcompact model. Relative to competing full-sized digicams the T3 does have limited low-light capability and limited flash power, but that's expected in a camera of this size. While offering the ease of use of a fully point & shoot model in "auto" mode, the T33 provides enough flexibility and image control to satisfy even relatively sophisticated users. The noticable blur down the right side at certain zoom settings was significant enough to keep the T33 from earning a "Dave's Pick," however. Still, if you're in the market for a really compact digicam, the DSC-T33 is slim enough to always be along to get the shots.


 

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