By Allison Johnson and David Rasnake
Touch screen cameras certainly are nothing new at this point. But for everyone except jaded camera reviewers, it seems that the novelty of being able to tap your way through settings changes on a huge screen hasn't worn off. Biases about whether or not a touch interface does more to get in the way of ease of operation than it makes up for with cool touch-responsive integrations aside, there's still something a bit "sci-fi" about a camera with little or no physical interface: even though the convenience of actual buttons means that they'll probably never become a thing of the past, touch screens continue to seem like the technology of the future.
Sony can largely be credited for making touch screen ultracompacts one of the hottest niches of the point-and-shoot market, and like clockwork the manufacturer has delivered a premium touch screen camera with every new model cycle. Thus the announcement of the latest flagship Cyber-shot, the
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700, wasn't particularly surprising. No one can deny that the T700 looks exceptionally good (although male buyers might opt for a color other than our review unit's hot pink exterior). In fact, it looks like the only thing standing in the way of the T700 being one of our favorite cameras of the year may be the pictures it produces.
The 10.1 megapixel Cyber-shot T700 replaces Sony's T300 premium touch-screen camera, and users interested in a basic overview of the concept might want to proceed by first checking out our Cyber-shot T200 review from last winter.
Sony has visually reworked its T camera, and a 4x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar folded optic with SteadyShot optical image stabilization and an effective range of 35-140mm pairs well with the T700's ultra-thin all metal construction, providing a clean-lined look reminiscent of previous Sony T models while going in a different, more clean-lined direction.
Photographic modes and features are relatively conventional, with the T700 providing Sony's standard range of auto, program, and scene modes; a complete list of mode options is as follows:
Intelligent Scene Recognition technology, which jumps into action when the camera is in Auto mode, has been made more intelligent across Sony's latest models, expanding the number of modes from among which the camera automatically selects. Similarly, Sony's Smile Shutter portrait capture technology has been lightly refined, although we found performance of this feature (which automatically captures an image when a subject is smiling) to work about as well as it had in the past.
Compared to the anti-blink warning systems currently on the market, Sony's anti-blink technology goes a step further: part of the iSCN system, anti-blink automatically takes two shots in rapid succession when a portrait situation is detected, recording only the image in which eyes are open (or warning the shooter if neither shot proves acceptable).
Picture Motion Browser Software
Among its notable features, the T700 also takes Sony's portable photo album concept to new levels. Recognizing that one of the primary conveniences of digital photography is the ability to easily take hundreds of photos anywhere using tiny flash memory, the T700 pulls double duty as a photo viewer with 4 GB of integrated memory (the camera also supports standard varieties of Sony's Memory Stick media, and will default to recording images on external media first if you plug in a card).
In order to take advantage of the camera's portable viewer functions, you'll need to install Sony's Picture Motion Browser image editing and memory management software, and after spending some quality time with the T700, I went ahead and installed the included software package. My photo editing needs are pretty basic, and I imagine that most potential Cyber-shot consumers aren't looking for much more than simple editing functions in addition to support for the portable photo viewer memory management functions that this software provides.
The program itself was installed easily, and after a reboot I was uploading my pictures via USB cable from the camera itself. The default setting is to delete the picture files from the camera once they are imported onto the computer. This seems strange to me, since this is supposed to be a portable photo library. A helpful window popped up and asking me if I really wanted to clear the files from my camera before I made that mistake. Once I had uploaded my photos, it started analyzing each picture to detect features like faces and scenery. Once this was complete, I had the option of displaying only picture with people or landscapes. Not incredibly useful, but a neat feature.
The Sony's resolution makes for massive files for basic web or print use. I hoped to find a setting that would automatically adjust the size of these photos as I uploaded them to my computer, but I didn't find any such feature. It seems that resizing must be done once the pictures are uploaded to your computer. This is done by selecting either an individual photo or group of photos, selecting a maximum range of pixels, and shrinking the photos to match the pixel range. By default, the program will save a copy of the file in another folder on the computer. With some simple adjustments, the software will overwrite the existing file with the resized photo.
Picture Motion Browser also allows for basic photo editing. Changes can be made to saturation, brightness, tone curve, and so on, and photos can also be cropped with the trimming tool. I was happy with the adjustments it made to my photos when I chose to automatically correct them. Outside of these functions, users can also display photos in a slideshow, transfer them to CD or DVD, and tag photos as favorites or give them labels.
The software also allows users to upload files directly to websites like Shutterfly or YouTube. Without opening a web browser, the program allowed me to log into my Shutterfly account and upload a photo. For a casual photographer interested in uploading photos to social networking sites, creating slideshows, and making basic adjustments to photo quality – as well as managing the camera's considerable internal memory – this software delivered.
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
Styling and Build Quality
If the overworked adjective "sleek" could ever be applied to a camera, then now is the time. The back of the camera is entirely devoted to a 3.5 inch LCD touch screen display.
On the other side, the flat sliding lens cover gives the visual impression of a slim body that just keeps going and going.
Like other models in the CyberShot T family, the lens is positioned in the upper right corner. With a solid metal build, this is a camera designed to be shown off. Consumers looking for a stylish camera will find it modern and attractive.
Ergonomics and Interface
At just under 5 ounces, the T700 is light enough to slip into a sizable pocket but heavy enough to remind you it's there. Measuring less than an inch wide, it fit easily into my coat pocket when I took it for a spin around the neighborhood.
A true point-and-shoot, I was able to slide the lens cover back, take a picture, and close it again with one hand. However, with a retail price tag of $400 and such an aerodynamic design, I'm sure I wouldn't handle the camera this way regularly. The ultra slim-and-sleek design gives it a slippery feel in the hand and makes it a bit awkward to handle. Though the metal exterior might withstand a certain amount of abuse, I didn't feel compelled to find out exactly how much.
No menu navigation is necessary to begin taking pictures – once the lens is cover is flipped open, the camera powers up in shooting mode. A button on top allows a quick review of the last photo taken. A toggle on the right shoulder operates the zoom action. But with a grand total of three buttons on top of the body, the user is dependent on the T700's touch screen for all other functions.
As with just about every Sony we've ever tested, the menus on the T700 could be simpler. There's arguably too much layering, and too many different paths to get to certain menu areas. The "home screen" concept remains a bit confusing as well, providing overlap and redundancy with other options in the shooting and playback menus. This interface confusion is nothing a few days with the T700 won't clear up for most people, but it can add time and hassle if you're the type of shooter who likes to be able to quickly make adjustments on the fly.
The touch screen seems to be the deal-breaker or maker. Even users with relatively slender fingers found it tricky to hit the small on-screen buttons at times. Those with bigger fingers who gave it a try found it difficult to use and didn't warm up to the T700. An included stylus attaches to the wrist strip, which helps, but doesn't make the touch screen interface perfect. Using the stylus also eliminates fingerprints on the screen, which accumulate quickly. I found that the screen became easier to negotiate as I became more comfortable with the camera.
The touch screen does have advantages. It allows the user to shift the focus within the frame of a shot by touching the display. Again, this function hinges on how cozy the user is with the touch screen interface. The large LCD also offers a nice way to view photos. Sony has geared the T700 for this purpose, giving it 4 GB of storage space and a slew of slideshow options with pre-loaded music and transition effects.
Display performance itself is surprisingly hit or miss, given the 3.5 inch screen's fantastic resolution specs (Sony advertises the display at a very DSLR-like 921,000 dots of resolution). Using the T700 for playback or image viewing, you'll get clear images with rich colors. Oddly, though, the same doesn't hold true for the post-shot review images that pop up for a few seconds immediately after taking a shot: these are unnaturally blocky and pixelated, often making it tough to tell if an image is even precisely in focus. Ultimately, this means more time switching between shooting and playback modes to check images, and several of us who shot with the camera were so unsatisfied with the post-shot image review results that we disabled post-shot image display altogether.
Timings and Shutter Lag
Sony has continued to set increasingly high bars for speed and performance with its ultracompacts. When we reviewed the Cyber-shot T200 last year, the T series flagship from two generations back impressed us with some of the best auto focus and shutter lag numbers we'd seen to date from a point-and-shoot. Since that time, small cameras have continued to get faster by degrees, but refinements to the T camera's basic architecture have apparently helped keep it vying for position at the front of the pack in the speed and performance race.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot A2000 IS||0.03|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.05|
|Nikon Coolpix P6000||0.06|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3||0.08|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Canon PowerShot A2000 IS||0.38|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.42|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3||0.46|
|Nikon Coolpix P6000||0.61|
Although users shouldn't expect those kinds of auto focus numbers under all conditions – the T700 is definitely more variable than some competitive models in its performance – with the default settings under optimal lighting conditions, there's no reason not to expect press-to-capture speeds without pre-focusing of well under half a second time after time. This kind of responsiveness, which is easily on par with much more expensive and full-featured advanced compacts, makes the T700 a pleasure to use for grabbing snapshots.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3||4||3.1 fps|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||3||2.5 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6 fps|
|Canon PowerShot A2000 IS||5||1.6 fps|
|Nikon Coolpix P6000||5||0.9 fps|
Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.), as tested in our studio. "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Even shooting with SanDisk Extreme III card, the T700 isn't going to outrun your DSLR in continuous drive mode. But its numbers are consistent, respectable, and meet Sony's performance claims.
The only timings-related area where our T700 had a truly poor showing, in fact, was in the amount of time it takes to cycle between shooting and playback modes. Going from shooting into playback can take upwards of 5 seconds to complete, which only added to our frustration with the grainy post-shot review images (as this forced us to spend a lot of time making this cycle).
The T700's performance calling card is unquestionably its auto focus speed. As noted above, this camera is among the fastest we've tested to date in press-to-capture evaluations under ideal conditions, and in use, the system earned nothing but respect from us for its reliability when it comes to grabbing focus. Even with an AF assist lamp, there's an appreciable difference when shooting with the T700 in poorly lit indoor environments – timings of nearly a second weren't uncommon when working in "ISO 3200" situations. But we saw very few "error outs" working with the T700 over several weeks, with the camera finding its mark on the first try about 95 percent of the time regardless of conditions, and doing so at speeds that were, at worst, moderately fast by any standard.
Sony's aforementioned touch to focus point selection system on its Cyber-shot T cameras is no longer among the avant-garde of gadgetry. It's not even a Sony exclusive technology anymore. But the ability to tap a point on the screen and have the camera lock focus on that area without even having to manually change the focusing mode seems no less a brilliant technological integration than when it first debuted. Besides the auto multi-area/touch override mode that is the T700's default setting, users can opt for conventional center and spot focusing modes, as well as four approximate distance settings that several as de facto focus limiters – hunting for a lock first around the distance you specify. As always, I find an infinity setting, which speeds up press-to-capture times somewhat, an especially useful and versatile inclusion.
Lens and Zoom
Keeping expectations low is the best way to not be disappointed with the image results that come from compact, internally contained optics like those on the T700. But from a pure performance standpoint, these "folded" lenses, which use an optical design not unlike a periscope and thus have no elements that extend beyond the body of the camera itself, definitely have their advantages. In the case of the T700, no protruding lens means nothing to worry about getting damaged by contact while in use. As with all compact Sony optics we've tested, zooming on the T700 is also fast, smooth, and nearly stepless – all contributing to a positive use experience.
There's nothing particularly impressive about the range or the maximum aperture of the T700's Zeiss-branded glass, however. The lens covers the equivalent of 35 to 140mm, for a total of 4x range, with maximum apertures values ranging from f/3.5 at wide angle to f/4.6 at telephoto. The T700 definitely hits the most commonly needed lengths for taking snapshots, though more wide-angle coverage, more speed, or both might be expected from a camera at this price.
One area of lens performance that has consistently earned praise with Sony's T cameras is macro operation. Like its forerunners, the T700 has an excellent close focus setting that ensures consistent lock to well under a quarter of an inch by our measurement. This makes the camera idea for grabbing frame-filling close-ups of even the tiniest subjects, and casual natural/flower photographers will have a lot of fun getting up close and personal.
To get this level of macro focusing performance, you'll have to manual put the camera in Close Focus mode, which disables a few key functions (like the ability to specify a focus point within the frame by touch). Even if you leave the T700 on its default Auto Macro mode, though, it's still possible to capture shots at distances under 2 inches at wide angle.
Power for the T700's on-board flash unit is listed at some over 10 feet at full wide angle using auto ISO. Translation: you won't get room-filling kick from the T700's tiny flash, especially if you lock down the sensitivity at ISO 80. Like most Sony Cyber-shots we've looked at, the T700 trades power for speed with its flash, with the unit's relatively modest full-strength burst recycling in just over 5 seconds on a fully recharged battery.
Flash shots look fine most of the time, with generally even exposure. Though you won't find many control options beyond the basics, there is a slow sync setting for maximizing ambient light and controlling some of the T700's flash-induced harshness.
On that note, the T700's flash metering can be inconsistent. The camera often wants to blow out highlights in flash shots up close, though toning down the flash power in the menu (there's a three-step flash power compensation control) to its reduced setting provides a better baseline for close-up shooting or fill flash outdoors.
You might not expect to find optical image stabilization in a camera as tiny as the T700, but in this case, you'd be wrong. This Cyber-shot uses Sony's Super SteadyShot system, which promises sharp shots at shutter speeds several stops below your normal threshold. In our experience with the system, this claim checks out: we were able to shoot consistently sharp images of stationary subjects down to around 1/10 most of the time.
Otherwise, there's little else to report here. The system can be disabled for tripod use, or toggled between single-shot (only stabilized when the shutter release is pressed) or continuous (stabilized all the time, but harder on your battery) modes. You won't find vertical/horizontal panning stabilization modes, however.
Other than a less than stellar flash outing, the news on the T700's performance has been overwhelming good. The disruption to this winning streak, however, is (once again) battery life that struggles to keep up. On the one hand, it's hard to blame the T700: a 3.5 inch high-res screen that's touch-responsive is going to eat up power, and it's not like the camera has much room to hide anything more substantial than a very slim lithium-ion pack.
Apologies made, though, we're betting shooters will still be disappointed by the T700's real world numbers, which never made it above the 175 shot mark in our tests. In one day with lots of image review, we even manage to kill the battery having taken right at 120 shots on the charge. While that's more than most casual users will likely take with the T700 during a night on the town, if you're using the flash frequently or taking advantage of the T700's strengths as an image viewer, having backup batteries on hand at all times will probably be a must if you don't want to end up out of luck mid-shot.
As a final note, although typical camera power-on times were snappy, users should expect a languorous start-up the first time you attempt to fire up the camera after charging the battery. We're assuming this has something to do with recalibrating the T700's detailed remaining power read-out.
It's an old song with Sony's T models: consumers love the looks and performance, while photo-focused reviewers can't believe that anyone would find a camera – especially a $400 camera – that takes such ugly pictures appealing. And while we've heard it before, the same tune can largely be played again for the T700. Sony is making improvements by degrees with some of the image quality issues associated with this concept, but the T700's tiny form factor alone suggests that compromises will have to made somewhere along the way.
So just how bad are the pictures? If you're a casual photographer, don't panic. There are cameras that take better images than the T700, sure, but if you're looking to fill a family photo album or get some memory snaps of family and friends, there's no reason to immediately write off this Cyber-shot. But if more serious picture taking is your cup of tea, the T700 has a few bad habits that you may want to take into consideration before your hard-earned money changes hands.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
Trouble for the T700 starts with its default multi-area metering, which is simply all over the map: at times, the camera will severely underexpose, but usually highlight clipping is the order of the day in scenes requiring much dynamic range. The truth is that the T700's sensor doesn't seem to have a lot of usable range compared to many competitors, giving the system less flexibility to deal with overexposure before clipping and detail loss occur.
Both exposure compensation and metering mode options (the camera also has center-weighted and spot metering choices) are easily accessed via the main quick menu along the bottom of the screen, and it's probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with these controls giving this camera's metering proclivities.
If you find the T700's dynamic range a bit clipped, the inclusion of Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer (or DRO) system may be of interest. As with other Sony cams, DRO on the T700 provides three levels of adjustment: an auto setting that appears to slightly recurve shadows and mid-tones, a more aggressive post-processing option (DRO Plus) that pulls out even more separation in darker areas, or an option to disable the system altogether.
While compensating exposure to preserve highlights and then using DRO at its maximum setting to push out blocked up shadows did seem to help salvage some mildly backlit scenes, for instance, it's obviously not able to magically restore image information that simply doesn't exist in blown-out areas.
As suggested above, Sony's default processing is a bit harsh and contrasty, but a fat saturation bump imparts a look that works well for many subjects – yielding shots that are crisp, punchy, and ready for immediate printing.
A bit of kick in the blues often helps to counteract the washed-out look of some oversaturated outdoor shots, but Sony's default processing also seems to saturate reds more than might be preferable, exacerbating a tendency to clip the red channel when dealing with vivid subjects.
Unfortunately, there's no neutral or "real" rendering option to cut saturation. There is, however, a vivid mode that further boosts saturation and contrast while apparently providing a sharpening bump as well.
Overall, casual users may not be bothered by the lack of adjustablity with the T700. But unlike with many competitive models (Panasonic's very flexible FX500 comes to mind), if you don't like the output the T700 gives by default, there's very little that can be done to tweak it without post-processing.
The majority of cameras we test show auto white balance performance under incandescent light that ranges from poor to extremely poor. And the T700 is, unfortunately, toward the lower end of this lower-end scale.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
White balance presets also proved inconsistent, often shifting hues slightly between shots with the same lighting. (We even experienced this phenomenon when shooting with the camera on a tripod to take our studio test samples.)
The T700's tiny, internally contained optic will be a source of consternation for serious photographers interested in this camera. Distortion is a constant battle, with the lens showing strong barrel distortion (where straight lines bow out from center) at wide angle, and pincushioning (straight lines bow in) that's almost as bad at telephoto.
Even more maddening, though, is the lens's fringe issue. Coupled with the fact that the T700's sensor gets overloaded and clips easily (leading to some obvious "bloom" areas around peaked highlights), one of the most pronounced fringing problems we've seen pops up in boundary areas.
As a rule, we don't go too hard on cameras with chromatic aberration problems because, as a rule, the resulting fringe is rarely an issue beyond 100 percent viewing. But although most CA that we experience with small cameras isn't likely to ruin shots for the small print or low-res web user groups, the T700's nasty combination issue proves essentially impossible to mask – even at small image sizes. Even without looking for it, strong fringing is hard to miss in the reduced-size sample shot above.
The solution? Some basic picture taking "best practices" for making sure you're avoiding problematic situations whenever possible can go a long way toward staying out of trouble, and cutting the exposure compensation if you have room on the bottom end to do so can help keep the T700's somewhat poor and often unpredictable multi-area metering in check (kicking on the live histogram for this purpose can be a help as well). The example presented above is obviously and admittedly a torturous example from a compositional standpoint, but that doesn't absolve the T700's lens of responsibility for a poor performance in this regard.
Sensitivity and Noise
Sony has tended to leave a bad taste in my mouth with high-sensitivity performance on its Cyber-shot T models. The last flagship T camera we reviewed – last year's Cyber-shot T200 – showed an unrelenting ugliness in its ISO 3200 shots that was hard not to notice even in tiny prints or at very small on-screen display sizes. And while exacting image quality standards clearly take a back seat to style and general performance in the T models, given Sony's price point for this model there's some feeling that (to extend the analogy) the two should at least be riding in the same car.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
One big problem with the T700 for those who focus on pixel-level details is that your "safe" ISO range for detailed examination or large prints is ISO 80 to 200. By ISO 400, the images are, at the pixel level, already what could be fairly called "noisy," and then Sony's much-derided noise reduction kicks in aggressively to smear out detail and kill saturation above that.
ISO 1600 and 3200 are pretty much as expected, exhibiting the "watercolor" look that has become Sony's unfortunate signature for the T models. Nothing here is worse than before. But looking at ISO 3200 shots from the T700 next to those from previous T cameras suggests that not a lot has improved, either – odd, since Sony has made great strides in getting noise and noise reduction balanced elsewhere in its Cyber-shot group.
Additional Sample Images
Hands down, the T700 is certainly the best looking, most solidly built small camera we've had the pleasure of shooting with this year. Sony usually earns serious points for style and build quality in our evaluations, but the general opinion around here is that they've even outdone themselves with this model. We shoot with a lot of cameras, and in my experience it's rare that random people will approach you to ask about your camera – especially if it's a point-and-shoot. But it happened with the T700. More than once. It really does look that good.
With all of its strengths on the style front and some solid performance marks besides, we're tempted to let the T700 off the hook for its generally lackluster showing in our image quality analysis. Certainly, if you're not hoping for more than a camera for taking pictures of friends and family to post online or make regular-sized prints from, the T700's image quality is generally very livable. But there's no denying the presence of some objectively serious flaws – from color fringing, to excessive saturation, to blown-out highlights, to shaggy high-ISO images – in the T700's sample shots.
So how to rate this Cyber-shot on balance? Like so many things, that all depends on user expectations and preferences. In our view, you can't get anything with more aesthetic appeal at the moment, and so long as you have realistic expectations for the T700's images, this alone may be reason enough to justify the purchase. If you're the type who likes to spend time dissecting the details of your shots, however, the T700 will give you plenty to agonize over.
|Sensor||10.1 megapixel, 1/2.3" Super HAD CCD|
|Zoom||4x (35-140mm) Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar, f/3.5-4.6|
|LCD/Viewfinder||3.5", 921K-dot XtraFine LCD with touch interface
|Shutter Speed||60-1/1000 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Easy Auto, Program, Scene, Movie, High Sensitivity
|Scene Presets||Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Hi-Speed Shutter, Underwater, Gourmet
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash|
|Metering Modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Focus Modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Spot AF, Flexible Spot AF, four approximate distance AF modes, Macro, Close Focus
|Drive Modes||Normal, Burst, Self Timer
|Flash Modes||Auto, Forced On, Slow Synchro, Forced Off|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Pro Duo|
|File Formats||JPEG, MPEG|
|Max. Image Size||3648x2736
|Max. Video Size
||640x480, 30 fps
|Zoom During Video||Yes
|Battery||Rechargeable lithium-ion, 680 mAh
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output (includes HD output), DC input|
|Additional Features||Face Detection, Smile Shutter, Bionz processor, touch screen interface, super macro mode, HD Slide Show with music, scrapbook mode, photo library, Picture Motion Browser software