DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 24, 2003
Last Updated: June 12, 2004

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This review has been completed using a production-model DSC-T1. All sample photos are from the production camera. Thank you for your patience, as it took a long time to get a production model.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1 ($550) is an ultra-compact camera with a 3X zoom lens, 5 Megapixel CCD, and large 2.5" LCD display. It has many of the bells and whistles found on Sony's higher end cameras, but it's still a (rather pricey) point-and-shoot camera. It's also one of only two Sony models to use the tiny Memory Stick Duo cards -- which are roughly the size of a Secure Digital (SD) card.

Ready to learn more about the T1? Then keep reading our review!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-T1 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-T1 camera
  • 32MB Memory Stick Duo card
  • Memory Stick Duo adapter
  • NP-FT1 InfoLithium battery
  • Cradle
  • AC adapter
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and USB drivers
  • 119 page camera manual (printed)

As I mentioned, the T1 uses the tiny Memory Stick Duo cards, and a 32MB card is included, which is a good starting point, but you'll definitely need a larger card right away. The camera can use three types of Duo cards: regular, MagicGate, and Pro. The Pro cards are a requirement for the MPEGMovie VX Fine mode that I'll describe later. I do consider the use of the Duo card to be a liability, as it's yet another proprietary format. Regardless of what camera you had before, you'll have to buy all new memory cards for the T1. Duo cards are pricey, too: Sony wants $300 for a 512MB card (you can buy the Sandisk version and save some money).

So now you have a tiny memory card that isn't supported in other devices, right? Thankfully, that's not the case. Sony includes a Memory Stick adapter in the box, which lets you use the Duo card in a regular Memory Stick slot. A PC Card adapter is also available.

Small cameras require small batteries, and the T1 is no exception. Sony includes the new NP-FT1 lithium-ion battery, which has an energy rating of 2.4 Wh. That'll get you about 85 minutes (170 photos) in record mode, or 130 minutes in playback mode. That's pretty typical for cameras this small. Keep in mind that these are pricey batteries, at around $60 a pop.

When it's time to charge the battery, just put the camera into the included cradle, or just plug the adapter directly into the camera. Charging takes about 2.5 hours.

The T1 is somewhat unique, in that it has no USB or A/V port on the camera itself -- you are required to use the dock, or buy special adapter cables separately ($20 each for A/V and USB). The USB port here is USB 2.0 high speed.

The wacky design of the DSC-T1 includes a big sliding lens cover. To turn on the camera, you slide the door down (there's also a power button on top). As you can see, this is a very small camera.

I've already mentioned a few accessories for the T1 -- here are a few more. The most interesting is the MPK-THA marine case ($200), which lets you take the camera up to 40 meters underwater. Along with the marine case, there's also an underwater filter pack ($100) and underwater light ($350). Other accessories include a compact travel charger ($60) and two cases ($20 and $50).

Sony includes the same, tired version of ImageMixer with the camera. It's a very basic program for viewing your photos. Mac users take note -- the software is not OS X native. Both Mac and Windows users can find much better software products out there (Adobe Photoshop Albums and Elements come to mind).

The manual included with the camera is average, at best. Expect lots of fine print and a cluttered layout.

Look and Feel

If you take a stack of credit cards and pile them up to about 0.8 inches tall, you'll have a good idea about the size of the DSC-T1. Sony was able to create an ultra-thin, 3X zoom camera by doing what Minolta has done for a few years now with their DiMAGE X-series cameras. They place the lens elements down the body, rather than directly behind the lens opening. A prism redirects the light downward, which is where you'll find the moving lens elements and the CCD sensor.

The T1's body is all-metal, giving it a very solid feel. Do note that metal cameras love to get scratched, so take good care of it. The camera is also a little heavier than you'd expect (but by no means is it heavy). The important controls are easy to reach.

The official dimensions of the T1 are 91 x 60 x 21 mm / 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs 180 grams / 6.3 ounces with battery, memory card, and strap installed. The Minolta DiMAGE Xg (similar design, 3 Megapixel) is about the same size, but lighter: 3.4 x 2.6 x 0.8 inches and 120 grams.

Let's begin our tour of this camera now.

Here's the front of the camera, with that big lens cover moved downward. The main event here is, of course, the T1's 3X Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens. It's a pretty slow lens, with a maximum aperture of F3.5-4.4 (compare with F2.8-3.6 on the DiMAGE Xg). The focal length of the lens is 6.7 - 20.1 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. I don't think I have to tell you that lens accessories are not available for the T1.

Something else you need to know about the lens: watch your hands! More specifically, the fingers on your left hand. It's easy to accidentally put them into the picture.

Directly to the left of the lens is the T1's tiny flash. If you're thinking "I bet this camera will have a lot of redeye", well, so am I (we'll find out later in the review). The working range of the flash is especially poor -- 0.3 - 1.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 1.5 at telephoto. Compare that with the Xt's ranges of 0.15 - 3.2 m and 0.15 - 2.5 m, respectively.

Right below the flash is the AF-assist lamp. Yes, even on this little camera, Sony still manages to include one of these. And to think that some other manufacturers don't include them on their high end cameras!

The other big feature on the DSC-T1 is its large 2.5" LCD display. Not only it this a large screen, but it's also a high resolution one, with 211,000 pixels (though it didn't really seem that sharp). Images on the screen are sharp, and motion is fluid. The screen brightness is adjustable in the setup menu. You can also turn off the backlight (by pressing the display button) when you're in bright outdoor light, to help conserve battery life.

One of the tradeoffs on the T1 is that it lacks an optical viewfinder. For me personally, that's a deal breaker. Others may not be bothered. Since I've been comparing the T1 to the DiMAGE Xg for a while, I will mention that the Xg has an optical viewfinder, but has a much smaller 1.6" LCD display.

One other LCD/optical viewfinder issue has to do with shooting in dim lighting. Like most cameras, the T1 doesn't amplify the brightness of the screen in low light. That means that you may not be able to see what you're shooting at. Here is where that optical viewfinder would've come in handy.

To the right of the LCD are a whole mess of buttons. The menu button activates the menu, while the display button below it toggles the LCD on and off, as well as the information shown on it.

Next to those buttons is the four-way controller. You'll use this not only for menu navigation, but for changing shooting settings as well. These include:

  • Up - Flash (Auto, forced flash, slow synchro, no flash)
  • Right - Macro
  • Down - Self-timer
  • Left - Quick Review (jumps to playback mode)

To the upper-right of the four-way controller is the image size / delete photo button. Slightly above that is the microphone.

It's hard to see here, but on the far right is the mode switch, which moves the camera between movie, record, and playback mode.

The final item on the back of the camera is the zoom controller. It silently moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.2 seconds. The lens can be moved with precision by quickly pressing the buttons. Speaking of buttons, I wish that the zoom buttons were a little larger.

The only things to see on the top of the DSC-T1 are the microphone, power button, and shutter release button. You use this power button when you want to enter playback mode (so you don't have to uncover the lens).

Nothing to see here, other than the T1's very thin profile.

On the other side of the camera, you can get a better look at the mode switch that I mentioned earlier.

On the bottom of the camera, you'll find the battery and memory card compartment, as well as the dock connector. The battery/memory card compartment is covered by a flimsy plastic door.

The DSC-T1 does not have a tripod mount.

Over on the left, you can see the NP-FT1 battery. On the opposite site is the included 32MB Memory Stick Duo card, along with the Memory Stick adapter I discussed earlier.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1

Record Mode

It took just over two seconds for the T1 to "warm up" before I could take a picture. Very nice.

A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode

The camera was much faster in the autofocus speed department. It took about 1/2 second to lock focus in most cases, slightly longer if it had to "hunt" a bit. Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the T1's AF-assist lamp. Do note that shooting in low light can be very difficult, since you often cannot see anything on the LCD.

Shutter lag was very low, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot speed was excellent, with a delay of around a second between shots (assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off).

You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must use the Quick Review feature.

Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the T1:

Image Size # photos on included 32MB Memory Stick Duo
Fine Quality Standard Quality
(2592 x 1944)
12 23
3:2 ratio
(2592 x 1728)
12 23
(2048 x 1536)
20 37
(1280 x 960)
50 93
(640 x 480)
196 491

There's no TIFF or RAW mode on the T1.

The file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple. Files are named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap Memory Sticks.

The T1 uses the new Sony menu system that I first saw on the DSC-F828. The menu is overlay-style, meaning that its shown on top of the image you're preparing to shoot. Here are the menu options on the T1:

  • Camera
    • Auto - point-and-shoot, most menu items locked up
    • Program - still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access
    • Magnifying glass mode - explained below
    • Twilight mode
    • Twilight portrait mode
    • Landscape mode
    • Snow mode
    • Beach mode
    • High speed shutter mode - for action shots
    • Fireworks mode
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Focus (Multi AF, center AF, spot AF, 0.5/1.0/3.0/7.0 m, infinity) - more below
  • Metering mode (Multi, spot)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, flash) - no manual white balance to be found
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, standard)
  • Rec Mode
    • Normal - regular shooting
    • Speed burst - takes up to 4 shots in a row at a 0.33 sec interval; images not shown on LCD while shooting
    • Framing burst - same as above, but images are shown on LCD; slower (0.36 sec) interval
    • Exposure bracketing - take 3 shots in a row, each with different exposure; choose interval in following menu item
    • Multi burst - takes 16 shots in a row (at interval selected in menu) and compiles them into one 1 Megapixel image (like a collage)
    • E-mail - saves a 320 x 240 image along with your regular-sized image
    • Voice - record up to 40 seconds of audio with each image
  • Bracket step (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV) - for exposure bracketing
  • Multi-burst interval (1/30, 1/15, 1/7.5 sec) - for the multi-burst feature described above
  • Flash Level (Low, normal, high)
  • Photo Effects (Off, negative art, sepia, solarize)
  • Saturation (Low, normal, high)
  • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
  • Sharpness (Low, normal, high)

That magnifying glass option is a little bizarre -- I've never seen anything like it before. Basically, the closer you get to the subject, the more the image is magnified. 5 cm / 2 in from the subject, it's only 1X, but get to 1 cm / 0.4 in, and it's up to 3.3X. Great for reading the fine print in the manual!

The T1 has a pseudo-manual focus feature, where you can choose a preset focus distance. It's not as nice as real manual focus, but it's still useful. The three focus modes in the same menu control which autofocus mode the camera uses. The multi AF mode automatically selects one of five points to focus on.

There's also a setup menu, which has the following options:

  • Camera
    • AF mode (Single, monitor, continuous) - see below
    • Digital zoom (Off, smart, precision) - see below
    • Date/Time (Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on your photos
    • Redeye reduction (on/off)
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • Auto Review (on/off) - shows images on LCD after it is taken
  • Memory Stick Tool
    • Card format
    • Change/create rec folder - manage folders on the memory card
  • Setup 1
    • LCD brightness (Bright, normal, dark)
    • LCD backlight (Bright, normal)
    • Beep (Shutter only, on, off)
    • Language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese)
  • Setup 2
    • File number (Series, reset)
    • USB connect (PTP, normal) - you may need to change this depending on the operating system on your computer
    • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
    • Clock set

Single AF is just like you're used to: press the shutter release halfway and the camera locks focus. Monitor AF (called continuous on other cameras) lets the camera focus constantly, even without the shutter release pressed. This helps reduce the time required to take a picture. Continuous AF will focus before the shot and will continue to focus, even with the shutter release halfway pressed. Continuous AF is especially good for action shots, where your subject is constantly moving.

The T1 has two types of digital zoom. Precision digital zoom is the same old "enlarge the center" system that you should avoid. Smart Zoom lets you enlarge image without a loss in quality, with the catch being that you can't use much of it unless you're at a low resolution. For example, at 3M, you can only use about 1.2X -- but at VGA, you can use 4X.

Let's move on to photo tests now. Since the T1 lacks a tripod mount, I was unable to do the night shot test.

Since the DSC-T1 lacks a custom white balance feature, I was a little worried about how it would perform under my quartz studio lamps. Thankfully, the tungsten WB setting worked just fine. The resulting image seems a little "fuzzy" to me, but it's otherwise good in the color and exposure department.

You can get as close to your subject as 8 cm at wide-angle, and 25 cm at telephoto.

As predicted, the DSC-T1 has a serious redeye problem. This is not surprising, considering just how close the flash is to the lens. Expect to spend time cleaning this up in software.

The distortion test shows some very noticeable barrel distortion at the wide-angle setting. I don't see any vignetting (dark corners) here or in the real world photos that I took.

Overall, the image quality on the DSC-T1 is quite good, especially for a camera with an unusual lens design. Color and exposure were both good, and purple fringing was not a problem. If I had one complaint, it would be that noise levels were a bit high, giving some images a fuzzy, "video capture look" (example). If you're downsizing or making prints of reasonable size, I would not be concerned about this. For folks who do huge prints or want perfection at 100%, the noise may bug you a little.

Only you can decide if the DSC-T1's image quality meets your expectations. So please have a look at the photo gallery where you can judge for yourself!

Movie Mode

The T1 has the same, top-notch movie mode as Sony's top of the line DSC-F828 camera. The MPEG Movie VX Fine mode takes VGA resolution video (that's 640 x 480) at 30 frames/sec, until the memory card is full. This mode requires a Memory Stick Pro Duo card. A 512MB Pro card can hold about 6 minutes of video at this quality.

If you don't have the Pro memory card, don't fret. You can still use the very nice VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 16 frames/second. The included 32MB card holds about 1.5 mins in VX Standard. A low resolution "video mail" mode is also available -- it records at 160 x 112.

Sound is recorded along with the video. Just watch your fingers -- it's easy to cover the microphone (not to mention the lens).

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Here is a sample movie for your enjoyment (be warned, it's big). I wasn't thrilled about the video quality. And sorry about the wind noise -- it's always breezy here.

Click to play movie (15.7 MB, 640 x 480 Fine, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DSC-T1 has a pretty standard (though well-implemented) playback mode. Basic features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll". The T1 is PictBridge-enabled, allowing direct printing to compatible photo printers (note: your T1 may need a firmware upgrade to add this feature).

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then scroll around in it.You press the little magnifying glass button to enlarge, use the selector dial to zoom in further, and then use the four-way controller to move around. When zoomed in, you can also use the trimming feature I'll describe in a second.

Some of the more advanced playback features include:

  • Resize - change an image's size. The original image is not deleted.
  • Rotate
  • Divide - cut sections of movies
  • Trim - when zoomed into an image, you can crop the image down to the selected area. You choose the resolution of the new image (the old one is kept).

I do appreciate how the T1 lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all of them. (To do this, you must be in thumbnail mode.)

The T1 gives you quite a bit of information about your photos, including a histogram.

The T1 moves between images extremely quickly in playback mode -- showing a low res version instantly, with the high res image showing up a second later.

How Does it Compare

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1 is an impressive camera that packs a 5 Megapixel CCD, robust performance, VGA movie mode, large LCD, and even an AF-assist lamp into an ultra-compact metal body. It does so at a hefty (list) price, though: $550. That's a lot of bucks for a point-and-shoot camera.

The T1's photos are quite good for a compact camera, though they had a slight "video capture look" to them. The camera is responsive in all areas: startup, focusing, shot-to-shot performance, and playing back photos. The T1's support for USB 2.0 high speed makes transferring photos quick and painless. The camera has an enormous 2.5" LCD, which is bright and fluid. I found it very difficult to see anything in low light conditions, which becomes an issue when there's no optical viewfinder. The T1's VGA movie mode is big (in terms of resolution and frame rate), smooth (30 frames/second), and just so-so in terms of quality. In terms of ease-of-use, it doesn't get much easier that this. The camera has zero manual controls, so you just point and shoot.

I've already mentioned three downsides to the T1, namely price, the inability to see anything on the LCD in low light, and the lack of an optical viewfinder. Here are some more things that irked me. Given its price, some manual controls would've been nice. Redeye is a real issue, but it comes with the territory. Along those lines, the flash is very weak, with a limited range. And finally, I'm not thrilled with the idea of having to buy all new, expensive Memory Stick Duo cards.

All things considered, though, the DSC-T1 is a heck of a gadget. Its ultra-compact, stylish, go-anywhere body will make you the envy of your friends. It's not perfect, but the DSC-T1 is a pretty cool toy -- just bring your Visa card, as it's an expensive one.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality for an ultra-compact
  • Stunning design; ultra-thin body packs 3X zoom lens
  • Super-fast performance
  • Huge 2.5" LCD display
  • VGA, 30 fps movie mode
  • Optional underwater case
  • USB 2.0 high speed support
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Histograms in record and playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Yet another memory card format to invest in
  • Images often have fuzzy, "video capture look"
  • Redeye; weak flash
  • No manual controls -- not even white balance
  • LCD nearly impossible to see in low light
  • No optical viewfinder
  • No tripod mount

Other ultra-compact cameras worth checking out include the Canon PowerShot S500, Casio Exilim EX-Z40, Kyocera Finecam SL400R, Minolta DiMAGE Xg, Nikon Coolpix 5200, Olympus Stylus 410, and the Pentax Optio S4i.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DSC-T1 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the photo quality in our gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Read another review at Steve's Digicams.

Buy it now

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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