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Equipment Review - Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 @ GFC

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Equipment Review - Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9

posted by snekse
When I started this blog, I was never really planning on doing any equipment reviews, and I certainly would never have guessed I'd be doing one about a digital camera, but since I bought this camera specifically to take pictures of food to better share my experiences with others, I figure I should share my experience with this camera as well.

We just got back from a 10 day food orgy in the San Francisco bay area. Well, 10 days and 10 pounds later, I'm ready to weigh in on this camera. And I swear that pun was not intended.

Let me preface this review by indicating what I was looking for in a new camera.

First off I wanted something small. Something that I could slip into my pocket. Our current Sony DSC-S50 (***UPDATE: We now have the Canon Rebel Xsi) is a bit of a beast. I've used the Canon ELPH's and decided I wanted something practical that I could have on me at all times; at least while we're on vacation.

Since the DSC-S50 that we have is only 2.1 megapixels, the resolution wasn't much of a concern to me. I was willing to accept anything above 3 MP, but preferred to have at least 5 MP. Anything beyond 7 MP would have been pure icing.

Next, it had to have some features that would help me take better low-light flashless photos. I'm not a professional photographer or even an advanced amateur, so I need all of the help I can get. Here were some of the features I was looking for.
  • A Cuisine/Food Scene Mode, such as the ones found on the Pentax Optio S60 and the Casio Exilim EXZ750, that would select the right settings for taking food pictures in restaurants.
  • An image stabilizer typical only found in larger cameras such as the Canon Powershot S2 IS and the Sony DSC-H1 to reduce the blur caused by a reduced shutter speed.
  • High ISO levels and/or larger sensors found on most prosumer cameras like the beautiful Canon Digital Rebel XT for greater light sensitivity to compensate for the lack of flash.
At the very least, if I couldn't find even some of these features on a compact camera, then it had to have manual controls over each and every aspect of shooting such as the shutter speed, ISO level, aperture, etc... (A very rare thing to find in compact cameras) If I couldn't find at least that, then I would simply wait.

When the Sony DSC-T7 was announced, I got very excited because it was such a great looking camera. It didn't meet most of the feature requirements I was looking for, but I thought maybe it wouldn't matter. Unfortunately the reviews weren't kind to the T7.

So when the Sony DSC-T9 was announced, I wasn't all that interested until I saw two items in the spec sheet. Super Steady Shot optical image stabilization & high light sensitivity up to IS0 640. Whoa. Now my curiosity was peaked. Red lining actually. I couldn't wait for the reviews on this thing.

Long story short, the reviews have been slow, I've been impatient and my Christmas money has been spent. I ordered my camera just after the new year. And boy did I hate it...at first.

Let me start off with my biggest complaint. This camera takes horrible snap-shots of people indoors. I often get blurry pictures, terrible red-eye, poor skin tones and painfully slow response times for candid shots if the focus is not primed. This could easily all be due to me not knowing how to use my camera, but I really wish I could just set this camera to Auto and take decent snapshots. I think not being able to select the white balance while in Auto mode really sucks.

While I'm in the bitching mode, let me rattle off my other annoyances.
  • The fact that you have to remove the battery to charge it unless you buy the docking station.
  • As others have pointed out, the battery compartment door seems a little flimsy.
  • The battery life. I understand that it's an ultra compact camera, but 120 mins is just barely enough. I'd like that extra cushion, though it might be unrealistic for a camera of this size.
  • At the max ISO the camera indicates you're shaking even if it's resting on a table.
  • Taking low light pictures at ISO 640 results in a lot of noise. Again, probably unrealistic to expect more from something so small.
  • The Program Scene menus change depending on what's selected, so certain menus disappear - very hard to learn that way.
  • Lack of some really useful manual controls such as white balance.
  • A semi-ineffective flash bulb.
Now, what I liked.

It honestly comes down to one thing. It takes great food pictures in dimly lit restaurants without using a flash or being the size of a softball or costing over $800. The 640 ISO is fantastic. I really don't know if the image stabilization plays much of a role, but I like to think it does.

Other nifty features that I think help make this camera great are
  • The sliding lens cover. At first I didn't care for this, but I like how quickly I can turn the camera on and off to save battery life.
  • The construction. Very sturdy. I wouldn't want to drop it, but if I did, it could probably handle it better then most cameras.
  • Lots of built in memory. Great for emergency purposes, like filling up your memory card with an hour left in an event.
  • It's cool looking. Not a huge thing, but it's not a bad thing.
  • It's a small thing. About the size of an iPod - which is a huge thing.
  • The LCD screen. It's a huge thing for being on such a small thing.
So all-in-all, a pretty decent camera. Unfortunately I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. If you have kids, do yourself a favor and buy an dSLR that can hit a fast moving target. If you only take snapshots of people indoors under poor artificial light, get something with a stronger flash and more point-n-shot know how like the Canon Powershot A620 or the more affordable Canon Powershot A520. If, however, you are serious about food photography and want something small, fairly affordable and takes great pictures, then I would strongly suggest checking out the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9. This could prove to be an invaluable weapon in any gastronomic warrior's arsenal.

RATING: 8/10

SAMPLES: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 Examples

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 - 1

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 - 2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 - 3

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 - 4

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