Sony DSC-T99 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99|
|Dimensions:||3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in.
(93 x 56 x 17 mm)
|Weight:||4.3 oz (121 g)
|Full specs:||Sony DSC-T99 specifications|
3.5 out of 5.0
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99
by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 11/11/2010
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 digital camera replaces the company's previous TX1 model, and is based around a 14.1 megapixel Sony Super HAD CCD image sensor with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar-branded 4x optical zoom lens. The Sony T99's lens offers a 35mm-equivalent range from a useful 25mm wide-angle to a moderate 100mm telephoto (or 27 - 108mm in 16:9 aspect ratio mode). The aperture varies from f/3.5 to f/6.3 at wide-angle; at telephoto the maximum aperture is f/4.6, and the minimum aperture isn't stated. Autofocusing is possible to just one centimeter at wide-angle, or 50 centimeters at telephoto. The camera can capture 4:3 aspect ratio images at up to 4,320 x 3,240 pixel resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio images at up to 4,320 x 2,432 pixels, or 30 frames-per-second video at 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) resolution or below with AAC-LC mono audio, using MPEG-4 compression.
On the rear panel of the Sony Cyber-shot T99 is a 3-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio Clear Photo LCD Plus panel with about 100% coverage, and a resolution of 230,400 dots. This display serves as the only method of framing and reviewing images, given that the Sony T99 doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. The Sony DSC-T99 has a 9-point autofocus system, and includes a face-detection system capable of detecting up to eight faces in a scene and differentiating between children and adults. This capability is used to provide a Smile Shutter function that automatically triggers the shutter when your subject is smiling, as well as both anti-blink and blink-warning features.
The Sony T99 offers three methods for determining exposures: multi-pattern, center-weighted, or spot metering. Shutter speeds from 2 to 1/1,600 second are possible under automatic control, and sensitivities ranging from ISO 80 to 3,200 equivalents are on offer, with the entire range available under automatic control. 2.0EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3 EV steps. The Cyber-shot T99 also offers Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, useful for combating blur caused by camera shake without adversely affecting image quality. Eleven white balance settings are available including auto and nine presets, two of them for underwater photography, plus a manual white balance setting.
As well as Intelligent Auto and Program modes, the Sony T99 offers a selection of 14 Scene modes, which together offer a modicum of control over the look of images. The new Soft Skin mode works in concert with the face detection feature to soften only facial skin tones. There's also an intelligent Scene mode which can automatically select from a subset of nine scene modes -- Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight Tripod, Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Portrait and Close Focus -- as appropriate. Using the Sony T99's Sweep Panorama function, a series of photographs are captured and stitched automatically by sweeping the lens across the scene, but unlike the newer Intelligent Sweep Panorama, the Sony T99 doesn't analyze frame content when capturing and stitching images, making it more prone to chopping up larger moving subjects. The function allows automatic creation of 265, 182, or 127-degree panoramas in-camera.
The Sony T99 includes a four-mode flash strobe with red-eye reduction capability. Flash range is stated as 0.08 to 2.8 meters at wide-angle, or 0.5 to 2.3 meters at telephoto, when using automatic ISO sensitivity. A two- or ten-second self timer allows the photographer to get in the picture themselves, or to avoid camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button when shooting on a tripod. Images and movies can be recorded on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo, PRO Duo (Mark 2 only), PRO Duo High Speed, or PRO-HG Duo cards, as well as the more common Secure Digital, SDHC, or SDXC cards. 32MB of internal memory is also available, useful for capturing a handful of the most important photos should you forget to bring a flash card along on a day trip. The Sony T99 includes NTSC standard definition video output connectivity, as well as USB 2.0 High Speed data connectivity. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary NP-BN1 Infolithium battery pack. It's rated 230 shots.
The Sony T99 digital camera began shipping in the US from September 2010, priced at around US$250.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99
by David Elrich
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 makes me flash back to the Minolta DiMAGE X, a compact 2-megapixel camera with an internal zoom lens that wowed the camera world in 2002. Sony followed soon afterwards with its original T-series, a 5-megapixel digicam which also used an internal zoom. Eight years later, Minolta is gone, much of it merged into Sony itself, but the T-series remains very popular, ranging from the $399 TX9 to the much more affordable Sony T99. Now it's time to determine if this new 14-megapixel digital camera is a worthy successor to those pioneering cameras.
Look and Feel. This latest addition to the Sony T-series is incredibly small and compact with an internal non-protruding zoom lens and a sliding front panel that powers the Sony T99 on/off. The panel also protects the lens when not in use. I've always liked this camera style. The 5-megapixel DSC-T1 arrived in 2004 and here we are with a 14MP edition for half the price. Gotta love it! Available in five colors (silver, black, green, violet, and pink), the Sony T99 gives a strong hint as to the target buyer of this diminutive digicam--calling Paris Hilton, please. Being decidedly male, I liked the silver review sample. I really enjoy the fact you can carry this one with you everywhere.
The front of our brushed silver Sony T99 had an attractive finish with just two engraved logos on view when closed. Slide the lens cover down and there are just a few more unobtrusive markings. With its soft corners and low-key styling, the camera is as minimalist as can be. Also on the front is the porthole for the internal 4x zoom lens, pinhole mono mic, an AF Assist/self-timer lamp and flash.
Since this is a touchscreen camera you'd be hard pressed to find a mode dial--or any dials for that matter. The only hard controls are an on/off button on the top, a rather small shutter button and a similarly small joy-stick type zoom lever on the top right corner. Are you detecting a theme here? This is a small digicam with small controls. Although I occasionally fumbled with the buttons, it wasn't too terrible, and after awhile, shooting operations were fairly smooth. Just remember to grip the camera at the edges with your index fingers and thumbs since, it's easy for your left middle finger to wander in front of the lens. On the rear bezel is a 3-pinhole speaker and a Playback button.
Dominating the back is the 3-inch LCD with 230K dots. Like other low-res screens, it tended to smear in low light and there were definite problems in direct sunshine. Make sure you adjust the LCD to "bright" when you're heading outdoors.
On the right side is a lashing point for the wrist strap, the left is plain, while the bottom has a compartment for the lithium-ion battery and memory card. You'll also find a tripod mount on the bottom, and my favorite Sony bugaboo--the Multi Connector slot. Sony supplies a Multi Connector cable with the camera and it has USB, stereo audio and video RCA connections. And what do you do if you want to watch 720p HD videos directly on your TV--a key selling point for this camera? Why you have to buy a special cable for $40 or so that connects via component video. This is really annoying, but let me not bore you with another tirade. The camera measures 3.75 x 2.25 x 0.687 (WHD, in inches, 93 x 55.6 x 16.8mm) weighing 4.3 ounces (121g) with battery and card. As noted, you can easily carry this digicam with you 24/7.
Lens. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 has a 4x wide-angle non-protruding optical zoom with an equivalent focal range of 25-100mm. The extreme wide-angle is great for landscapes, architectural images and group shots. The tele setting is a bit on the weak side but you can't realistically expect the 35x zoom of the much larger Canon PowerShot SX30IS in such a tiny form factor. The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x zoom has 12 elements in 10 groups with 6 aspherical elements and 1 prism. It's rated f/3.6-f/6.3 (wide) in iAuto and Program Auto. Macro gets as close as 1cm (0.4 inches) wide, 50cm tele (1.63 feet). The camera has Sony's Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization to help cut down on blur.
Controls. Shades of the iPad! There are a few rare controls (Shutter, Zoom lever, Power, and Playback). Practically everything is done via the touchscreen. Although Sony supplies a Paint Pen, you can easily tap your way through the menus and adjustments with your fingernails if they're long enough. It's a very intuitive and simple-to-use system, on a par with Canon's new touchscreens.
Modes. Clearly for the casual shutterbug--there are minimal manual adjustments--it's easy to see why Sony doesn't bother with a printed Quick Start guide. When you power up, you'll see icons on the left and right of the main view screen. Tap the Mode icon and you can move from Intelligent Auto (iAuto), Sweep Panorama, Movie Mode, P (Program Auto), and Scene. Intelligent Auto is for pointing and shooting. The camera decides what is front of it and adjusts accordingly. It uses Intelligent Scene Recognition, combined with Face Detection and OIS to handle most everyday situations. Like competing systems, iAuto makes photography effortless--which is very good.
With Program Auto (P) you can change a few parameters including ISO (Auto, 80-3,200), exposure compensation in 0.3 EV steps (+/- 2 EV), white balance (9 options), metering (multi, center, spot), DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization, 2 levels) and that's really about it as far photo tweaks. With this baby you can't even change compression. And forget anything related to shutter speed or aperture in this digicam. If you're looking for manual focus or aperture- and shutter-priority search elsewhere.
Helping set this point-and-shoot apart from the 300-plus available is the Sweep Panorama mode. You just "sweep" your arm holding down the shutter and you capture panoramas up to 265 degrees. Once done the camera stitches the frames together and you're done. I've always been a big fan of this feature. You can sweep up/down as well as left or right. You can also adjust exposure compensation and white balance in this setting.
When you press the Scene icon, you have access to 13 choices such as Portrait, Snow, Pet and so on. It's a fairly limited selection, but most of the key bases are covered.
The Sony T99 captures high-def videos using the MP4 format (1,280 x 720p pixel videos at 30 fps with a bit rate of 9 Mbps). Lower resolutions are available if you just want to email a clip to friends and family.
Menus. Tap the Menu key--depending on the mode you're in--you'll have access to adjustable parameters; you'll use the touchscreen to step through the choices. In iA, for example, it's just exposure compensation and single/burst modes. Move to Program and there are many more options as detailed earlier. I've used the latest touchscreens from Canon, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. The T99 ranks up among the better ones with a very straightforward, easy-to-understand system.
Storage and Battery. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 uses a variety of media: Memory Stick Duo, Pro Duo, Pro Duo high speed, Pro HG-Duo as well as SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. You should always use higher-speed, higher-capacity cards for high-megapixel cameras that shoot HD videos. Use at least a Class 6 high-speed card in the Sony T99. 4GB to 8GB should do the trick in this case.
The Sony T99 comes with an NP-BN1 lithium-ion battery. Per CIPA standards it lasts for a pretty weak 230 shots in still mode. A spare definitely makes sense especially since the "bright" LCD setting will wear down the battery more quickly than "normal."
Playback. Hit the playback key on the rear bezel and you can review your shots. You can move through them one at a time, review them in calendar mode or thumbnails. Unfortunately, you can't enlarge them by spreading your fingers like the iPhone or iPad but if you tap on the image, you can enlarge it. There are also slideshow options (continuous or with music). I wish the screen had a higher resolution for closely examining photos but you really shouldn't expect that on a sub-$249 digicam. A better screen would also help in direct sunshine.
Shooting with the Sony T99
One of the beauties of a compact camera like this one is the fact you can take it everywhere. I had it in my pocket over the period of several weeks, shooting stills and videos from the streets of New York to natural wonders in Wyoming.
The Sony T99 is a fun little camera that's a nice companion since it's so light. As for basic handling and ergonomics, the camera is simple to use--other than an occasional wayward finger in front of the lens. I definitely had problems with the screen shooting with the sun directly hitting it, but making the "bright" adjustment definitely helped. I did all of my shooting at the 4,320 x 3,240 pixel JPEG level, with DRO set to Standard and used Multi AF (9 points). I started with iAuto, moved to Program and "swept" some panoramas. Movies were shot at the best setting (720p). As always, when done, I made full-bleed 8x10 prints with no post processing and viewed movies on a 50-inch plasma HDTV using the optional Multi Connector cable. Photos were also closely examined (100%-plus) on my monitor.
Before getting into details, let me say the Sony T99's touch-screen controls were no detriment whatsoever. In fact, it was quite enjoyable tapping around the screen choosing menu options and you can even tap a specific area on the screen for more pinpoint focus. The overall impression of my prints was quite favorable. Although some of the images didn't have the pop of Canon's better point-and-shoots, colors were really on the mark. This was shown in our lab tests as well, which showed the camera produced "great color overall, with better than average hue accuracy, though cyan is shoved toward blue and yellow toward green. Still, overall results are quite good here. (See below.)" Shots taken of a native American in tribal gear were as good as you'd like with accurate skin tones. A wooden fence had very fine detail, Yellowstone mineral springs looked fantastic, as did a bright yellow fence near the Jersey Shore. Where I was a bit disappointed were scenic mountain/lake views that were a tad overexposed. A slight adjustment in exposure compensation would've helped here.
The Sony T99's Sweep Panoramas came out great (I used the very wide 265-degree setting). An onscreen animation "tells" you how to sweep the scene and for how long. Wyoming landscapes and bridges over the Charles River in Massachusetts were quite impressive. If you're not a fan of panoramas due to the post processing complexity, Sony's iteration will make you one. Note that the Sweep Panaorama images from the Sony T99 are nowhere near as sharp as the images from some of Sony's higher-end cameras. The shot above looks fairly sharp, but it's very soft at 100 percent. It's still suitable for printing at 11x2.4 inches with some sharpening and levels adjustment.
The Sony T99 has a 14-megapixel CCD sensor, and if you've read reviews of cameras with similar resolution, you know what's coming next. At lower ISOs (up to 200) there were few issues with noise when you confine the camera to small print sizes, but the speckles started to show up at 400, then really made their presence felt at 800. This is fairly typical for a point-and-shoot; try to stay at 400 or below for best results; 1,600 and 3,200 should be avoided unless all you'll produce are 4x6-inch images; just know that they'll be a little soft.
During my travels around town and country, I really appreciated the Sony T99's 25mm wide-angle setting. Manufacturers are to be congratulated for offering more models with very wide-angle options. Although I certainly would've liked more than a 100mm telephoto setting, it wasn't a deal breaker as the tradeoff for a smaller, lighter package was well worth it.
Alas the Sony T99 is no Alpha A55V with its 10 fps burst mode. In fact, the Sony T99 only captures 0.69 frames per second for a whole two shots. Forget about anything but the most static subjects. Another bummer is the macro mode; my results were very hit and miss; our lab came to a similar conclusion. Overall camera response was just okay. Full autofocus shutter lag is on the slower side, at 0.71 second at wide-angle and 0.70 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.131 second, not the fastest out there, but still reasonably quick, according to IR labs.
The movies taken by the Sony T99 won't win any technical prizes at the Academy Awards but they're a good 720p. The 9 Mbps compression rate prevents obvious jagged edges and digitization so the motion you see on the big screen is rather smooth--and this was on a 50-inch display. Colors were fairly accurate here as well.
See our lens and image quality analysis, along with timing, pro/con, and our conclusion below.
Sony Cyber-shot T99 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharper at center
Wide: Very soft at lower left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Again very soft at lower left
Sharpness: Both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the Sony Cyber-shot
DSC-T99's zoom show significant blurring in the corners of the frame compared
to what we see at center, particularly in the lower left corners. At both zoom
settings, the effect extends a noticeable distance in toward the center of the
Wide: No measurable barrel distortion
Tele: Also no visible pincushion
Geometric Distortion: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99's image processor
does a great job of controlling geometric distortion at both zoom settings,
as there was no measurable barrel or pincushion distortion at either end of
the zoom range.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is a little high in terms of pixel count and brightness, with distinct blue and red pixels visible on either side of the target lines. At telephoto, the effect is a little brighter, particularly where the strong red pixels are visible.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99's Macro mode captures a very small
minimum area at 0.94 x 0.71 inches (24 x 18mm), albeit at the expense of very
strong blurring along the left side of the frame. (This is a common limitation
among consumer digital cameras in macro mode, though the effect here is a little
stronger than average.) Bright chromatic aberration is also a detractor in the
printed details of the dollar bill. The camera's flash is quite dim at this
close range, though a definite plus is that the flash is actually effective
at all here.
Sony Cyber-shot T99 Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Sony Cyber-shot T99's LCD monitor showed about 99% coverage accuracy at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is good, but there was a slight vertical shift compared to the image captured by the sensor.
Sony Cyber-shot T99 Image Quality
Color: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 produced great color overall, with
better than average hue accuracy, though cyan is shoved toward blue and yellow
toward green. Saturation is pretty good overall as well, though bright reds
and blues are on the bright side. Bright greens are spot-on. Darker skin tones
show a slight orange shift, while lighter skin tones do have a pink cast. Still,
overall results are quite good here.
Warm and reddish
Warm and yellow
Incandescent: The Sony T99's Manual white balance setting did the best job under our household incandescent lighting, while the Auto and Incandescent settings produced strong warm casts.
Horizontal: 2,200 lines
Vertical: 2,200 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct
line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height in both directions.
Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,500 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated wide-angle distance of 9.2 feet, though the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 had to raise the ISO to 800 to achieve this. At the telephoto rating of 7.5 feet, results were also bright. (Again, the camera raised ISO to 800.)
Auto flash produced fairly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light by using a slower shutter speed of 1/30 second, and raising ISO to 320. Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization should help avoid blur due to camera shake at this slower shutter speed, but any strong movement of the subject could be problematic at 1/30 second.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is fairly strong at ISO 80 up to 200, with some visible softening beginning at ISO 400, though areas containing reds in low local contrast such as our red-leaf fabric already suffer detail loss at ISO 80. Chroma (color) noise is pretty well controlled at the lower ISOs, though luminance noise becomes strong at 800 and up. Noise pixels become much stronger and intrusive from 800 on up, lending an illustrative effect to those images. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.
Printed: ISO 80 and 100 printed results look good at 13x19 with good color and detail, except in the red areas, where low-contrast detail is already affected by noise suppression. Details are not tack sharp, and there's some haze over the image, but it's not bad overall. (See Note below.)
ISO 200 shots also look good at 13x19 inches, not much different from ISO 80 and 100.
ISO 400 images look better at 11x14, with slight softening and noise appearing in the shadows.
ISO 800 images are quite usable at 8x10, though shadows are grainy.
ISO 1,600 images are a little soft at 5x7, but usable.
ISO 3,200 shots are still more soft, even at 4x6, so this ISO setting is better avoided.
Overall a decent performance from the Sony T99, though image quality starts to degrade more noticeably after ISO 800.
Note: After printing several of the gallery shots from the Sony T99, we noticed very aggressive noise suppression even at ISO 80 in full sunlight, so we caution that enlargements above 8x10 at any ISO setting are liable to look somewhat artificial.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 Performance
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is on the slower side, at 0.71 second at wide-angle and 0.70 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.131 second, not the fastest out there, but still reasonably quick.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is also sluggish, capturing a frame every 3.42 seconds in single-shot mode. Sony rates the T99's full resolution burst mode at only 0.69 frames per second for 2 shots, which is poor.
Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99 flash recycles in about 4.7 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is on the slower side of average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99's download speeds are quite fast. We measured 9,039 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The Sony Cyber-shot T99 ships with the following items in the box:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T99
- Wrist Strap
- Plug-in Battery Charger BC-CSN
- Battery Pack NP-BN1
- Multi Connector Cable (USB and A/V)
- Paint Pen (stylus)
- Software CD-ROM
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity, high-speed Class 6+ SDHC/SDXC memory card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Sony T99 Conclusion
At $249 or less, the Sony T99 is an excellent little carry-everywhere camera. There a few drawbacks, but if you're looking for a compact, attractive digicam that captures good photos with accurate colors, then by all means pick it up. I like the Sony T99's 25mm wide-angle lens, the touch-screen interface, solid image stabilization, Sweep Panoramas and decent MP4 videos. The Sony T99 is a good buy for producing decent snapshots from a pocket, take-anywhere digital camera; just keep print sizes below 8x10 for best results.
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