printer-friendly reviews are for non-commercial use only
DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 22, 2006
Last Updated: January 12, 2008
The Cyber-shot DSC-T30 ($500) is the top-end model in Sony's ultra-thin camera lineup. The T30 takes the basic design and features of the DSC-T9 and cranks them up a notch. That means that in addition to a 3X zoom lens and optical image stabilizer that you'll also get a 7.2 Megapixel CCD, huge 3-inch LCD display, support for higher ISO sensitivities, and greatly enhanced battery life. All that (and more) in a camera that fits in your smallest pocket!
Is the DSC-T30 the ultimate ultra-compact? Find out in our review!
Since the cameras are so similar, I will be reusing some content from the DSC-T9 review here to save time.
What's in the Box?
The DSC-T30 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
As is the case with Sony's other recent cameras, the T30 does not include a memory card. Instead, Sony has built a whopping 58MB right into the camera, which is a lot more than you'd get if a memory card was included. The bundled memory is a great starting point, but if you want to take a lot of pictures or record movies at the highest quality setting then you'll need to pick up a memory card. The T30, like the other cameras in the T-series, uses Memory Stick Duo cards, and I'd recommend a 512MB or 1GB card as a good place to start. An adapter is included with MS Duo cards which allow them to be used in regular Memory Stick slots.
The DSC-T30 uses a more powerful (not to mention physically larger) battery than the other T-series cameras. This battery, known as the NP-FR1, was also used in some of the P-series cameras (among others). The FR1 battery packs 4.4 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which translates into battery life like so:
Not only does the T30 turn in the best battery life of any Sony ultra-compact camera, but it comes darn close to being the best in class. Unfortunately for the T30, Casio has some really bright engineers, and their two ultra-compact camera came out on top.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. They're expensive ($50 a pop) and you can't use "regular batteries" to get you throw the day in an emergency. Unfortunately these batteries are standard features on ultra thin cameras like the T30.
One thing I do like about Sony's InfoLithium batteries is that they tell you exactly how many minutes you have left before you run out of juice.
When it's time to charge the T30's battery, just pop it into the include external charger. This is my favorite type of charger -- you just plug it right into the wall. The typical charging time is a sluggish 290 minutes.
The T30 has the same sliding lens cover design as several other cameras in the T-series. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of this design, as it makes it too easy to accidentally turn the camera on when you put it into your pocket.
There are just a few accessories available for the T30. The most interesting is probably the MPK-THC Marine Pack ($140), which lets you take the camera up to 40 meters underwater. The only other accessories include an AC adapter and a leather carrying case ($40).
[Paragraph updated 6/21/06]
Sony includes their new Cyber-shot Viewer software with the DSC-T30. This software replaces the not-so-great PicturePackage software, and it's about time. Unfortunately, Cyber-shot Viewer isn't as powerful as Olympus Master and similar products, and there's still no Mac version available (though iPhoto works fine with the T30).
The software can import your photos right from the camera, and they are all organized by date. You can view photos in the traditional thumbnail view, as you can see above.
A screen with more details is also available.
Photos can also be viewed by the date on which they were taken. You can choose from year, month, or day views.
Double-clicking on any image brings up the edit window. Here you can rotate and crop photos, remove redeye, and adjust brightness, saturation, and sharpness. Yes, pretty basic... but it works.
Music Transfer (for Mac)
Also included on the software CD is the Music Transfer application, which you'll use to send songs to your camera for the enhanced slideshow feature. You can transfer MP3 files on your computer or rip audio from a CD, and the camera holds up to four songs. There are Mac and Windows versions of Music Transfer.
The DSC-T30's documentation is split into two parts. For the basics there's a fold-out "Read This First" guide, which covers things like charging the battery and simple camera operation. For more details you'll want to crack open the User's Guide, which covers just about everything. The Read This First guide is pretty easy to follow, though the main manual isn't terribly user friendly.
Look and Feel
From the front you'd be hard-pressed to see a difference between the "old" DSC-T9 and the T30. They're both small and metal, and they each use the annoying sliding lens cover that I mentioned earlier. Look at the back of the cameras and you'll really see the difference: the T30 has an enormous 3.0" LCD display, compared to 2.5" on the T9.
The T30 is well put together, with a sturdy and stylish metal body. However, as is usually the case, the plastic cover over the battery and memory card slots is on the flimsy side. The camera doesn't have too many buttons, and everything is well placed.
Image courtesy of Sony Electronics
As is the trend these days, the T30 comes in two colors: silver and black.
Now let's see how the compact DSC-T30 compares in terms of size, volume, and weight with the competition:
The DSC-T30 isn't the smallest or the lightest camera in its class, but who cares? All of these cameras all really small, and they fit into any pocket with ease.
Let's start our tour of the DSC-T30 now!
The DSC-T30 appears to have the same 3X optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens as the T9. This F3.5-4.3 lens has a focal range of 6.3 - 19.0 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens uses the "folded optics" design, which puts most of the elements down the body, perpendicular to the front most lens element. This is what allows cameras like the T30 to be so thin. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
The T30 also shares the same Super SteadyShot image stabilization system as its predecessor. Image stabilizers compensate for "camera shake", which often occurs at shutter speeds below 1/30 sec. The camera detects this motion and moves an element in the lens to compensate for it. Now this won't stop motion and it certainly won't work for really slow shutter speeds (like 1 second), but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could on a camera without IS. Want an example? I have two:
Image stabilization on
Both of these photos had exposure times of 1/6 seconds. The top photo was taken without Super SteadyShot, while the bottom one was taken with it. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the differences. If you want another example, check out this short movie I took with and without SteadyShot.
And now, back to our tour. Just to the left of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which is also the self-timer countdown light. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it has a range of up to 2.7 meters.
Just above the AF-assist lamp is the built-in flash. The flash is a little more powerful than on the T9 when the ISO is set to Auto, and I think that's because the camera can crank up the sensitivity higher. The working range at Auto ISO is 0.1 - 3.4 m at wide-angle and 0.25 - 2.7 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to the T30.
The biggest new feature on the T30 is its huge 3-inch LCD display. Big LCDs are one of the two most popular new camera features in 2006, with high sensitivity modes being the other (which the T30 has too). Thankfully, Sony didn't skimp on this particular screen, as they've given it 230,400 pixels, which makes everything nice and sharp. The screen was quite usable in bright outdoor light and in the dark as well. In lower light situations the screen brightens automatically so you can see what you're trying to take a picture of.
As you can see from the photo, the DSC-T30 lacks an optical viewfinder (as do most cameras in this class). Whether this is a bad thing sort of depends on you: some people want them, others don't. I know I do.
The switch above the LCD moves the camera between playback, still, and movie modes.
At the top-right of the photo you'll find the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.2 seconds. There are a whopping twenty one stops in the 3X zoom range on the T30.
Below the zoom controller are the Menu and Display buttons. The latter toggles the information shown on the LCD display. Below that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation as well as:
The final two buttons below that are:
On the top of the T30 you'll find the microphone plus buttons for power, shutter release, and SteadyShot (image stabilization). This last button turns the IS system on and off. When would you shut off such a useful feature? One time when it is probably a good idea is when the camera is on a tripod, when the IS feature may do more harm than good.
Nothing to see here.
On the other side of the T30 you'll find the battery and memory card compartment. These are kept under a plastic door that's pretty flimsy.
The included NP-FR1 battery is also seen on the right side of the photo.
On the bottom of the DSC-T30 you'll find a metal tripod mount, speaker, and connection for the optional camera dock. This same connector is where you'll plug-in the included USB + A/V + DC-in cable.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30
After you flip down the T30's lens cover you'll wait about 1.3 seconds before you can take the first picture.
A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode
Focus times were just like on the DSC-T9: snappy. Typically it took between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds for the camera to lock focus -- even at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing was very good thanks to the T30's AF-assist lamp.
As with Sony's other cameras, shutter lag was not noticeable, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed was excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot (assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off).
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must enter use the Quick Review feature to do that.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the DSC-T30:
The DSC-T30 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to.
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 DSC-T30 has the standard overlay-style Sony menu system that's been around for a while now. Here's the complete record menu (note that some of these options may not be available in all modes):
There are quite a few shooting modes on the DSC-T30, though they're all automatic. There are no manual controls on the T30, unless you count the pseudo-manual focus. The high sensitivity mode is new to the T30, and it's just like the ones found on other cameras. The T30 will crank up the ISO until the shutter speed is fast enough for a sharp photo. The downside to this, of course, is increased noise -- and, in the case of the T30, reduced color saturation as well (more on this below). My advice is to skip the high sensitivity mode altogether and just turn up the ISO manually, keeping it at 400 or below for best results.
There are three shooting modes on the DSC-T30. In the regular burst mode the camera took five photos in a row at a rather sluggish 1.1 frames/second. The multi burst 16 feature takes sixteen photos in a row and puts them into a single image (like a collage). The exposure bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You set the interval between shots for both the multi burst and exposure compensation modes in the shooting menu.
There's also a setup menu on the T30, which can be accessed from the shooting and playback menus. The options here include:
Single AF is just like you're used to: press the shutter release halfway and the camera locks focus. Monitor AF lets the camera focus constantly, even without the shutter release pressed. This helps reduce the time required to take a picture.
The camera 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 the 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. The lower the resolution, the more smart zoom you can use. This is basically the same as Panasonic's Extended Optical Zoom feature.
There are two SteadyShot options available in the setup menu. The shooting setting will only activate the IS system when the photo is about to be taken, while the continuous mode has it going even while you're composing the photo. The image stabilization is most effective when using the shooting mode.
The download music option lets you transfer music from your Mac or PC into the T30 for use with the enhanced slideshow feature that I'll mention in a bit.
Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?
Like most cameras without a custom white balance feature, the DSC-T30 had trouble with my studio lamps. As you can see, there's a noticeable brownish cast to the image, which wouldn't have been there if there was a way to manually set the WB. That's a shame, since the subject is nice and sharp. If you want to see how things should've looked, here's the same image after a trip through the Auto Color function in Photoshop.
This color cast issue will only be a problem if you shoot under unusual lighting conditions. For regular shots you probably won't have to worry about any of this, but if you have a weird mix of light (or studio lamps) you may want to find a camera with custom white balance.
As with the other T-series cameras, there are two macro modes on the T30. The normal one lets you get as close to your subject as 8 cm at wide-angle and 25 cm at telephoto -- pretty average. But if you want to get really close, turn on the "magnifying glass mode", which reduces the minimum distance to just 1 cm -- perfect for super close-ups. Do note that the lens is locked at the wide-angle position in this mode.
Despite not having any manual shutter speed controls, the DSC-T30 did a great job with our night scene. The way to take long exposures is to use the "twilight" scene mode, which allows for shutter speeds as slow as 2 seconds. Do note that the ISO sensitivity is set to "auto", so noise levels may be a bit higher than you'd like. Thankfully the T30 used ISO 125 here, which kept things looking pretty clean (for a 7MP camera). The buildings are nice and sharp, and purple fringing is kept to a minimum.
Since I can't control the shutter speed on the T30 I am unable to do the night ISO tests. Look for a different ISO test below.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the T30's lens. While you won't have a problem with vignetting (dark corners) on the T30, you may encounter some blurriness in the corners of some photos.
A compact camera usually has bad problems with redeye, and the T30 is no exception. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll deal with this annoyance in your flash shots.
Here's that ISO test I promised. Above is our test scene, which has the same brownish cast as the macro shot since the camera can't seem to get the white balance right in my studio.
Below are crops of that scene taken at each of the five ISO settings on the camera. While the crops will show how the camera does at high ISO sensitivities, for more detailed comparisons you'll want to view the full size images. Printing them isn't a bad idea either, as it will allow you to see just how large a print you can get out of the DSC-T30 at various ISO settings.
Things look really clean all the way through ISO 200, and you should have no trouble making large-sized prints at any of those sensitivities. Things aren't much worse at ISO 400, either, and you should still be able to get an 8 x 10 inch print out of those photos. Two things happen at ISO 800: one, noise levels increase dramatically, and details start to disappear. Two, color saturation drops noticeably -- this happened on the DSC-W50 as well. Thus, my advice is to keep things at ISO 400 or below for the most detail and color accuracy. If you do that you'll be very happy with what this camera can produce.
I was very pleased with the photo quality on the Cyber-shot DSC-T30. It took well-exposed, colorful pictures with very little noise (considering the resolution of the camera). Subject sharpness was just how I like it. Purple fringing did make an appearance, and I'd call it "above average".
As always, don't just take my words as gospel. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing the samples if possible, and then decide if the T30's photo quality meets your expectations!
The DSC-T30 has the same top-notch movie mode as Sony's other digital cameras. 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, with sound. The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, and you cannot use the internal memory at that setting either. A 1GB Pro Duo card can hold about 12 minutes of video at the highest quality setting.
If you don't have a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, don't fret. You can quadruple the recording time by using the VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 16 frames/second. An even lower resolution mode is also available: 160 x 120, 8.3 frames/second, which boosts recording time by a factor of fifty seven!
The T30 is somewhat unique in that you can actually use the optical zoom during filming. The lens moves slowly to prevent the motor noise from being picked up by the microphone. Naturally, the image stabilization feature is available for movies too.||
[Paragraph updated 5/23/06]
Here's the usual sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (13.1 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, MPEG format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-T30's playback mode is identical to the one on the T9. Basic features include DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view (9 or 16 images per screen), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo up to five times and then move around in the zoomed-in area. This is great for checking to make sure that your subject is properly focused.
Images can also be rotated, resized, and cropped. If you're viewing a movie you can split it into smaller movies.
The T30 has the same enhanced slideshow feature as the DSC-N1, DSC-T9, and DSC-M2. You can choose from five "effects" (transitions), including normal, active, stylish, nostalgic, and simple. You can also select four music tracks (or just turn off the sound), and Sony includes some sample music with the camera. If you want your own music, use the Music Transfer application to move your MP3s to the camera.
By default, the T30 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the Display button and you'll see a bit more, including a histogram (shown above).
The camera moves between images quickly in playback mode. If you go one image at a time, the next one appears instantly, without any low resolution placeholder. If you really start flipping through them, you'll see a low res placeholder followed by the high res image a half second later.
How Does it Compare
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 takes everything that was great about its predecessor (the DSC-T9) and makes them bigger. You get more pixels, a bigger screen, and almost double the battery life. The camera does get a bit larger to accommodate some of these features, but it's still a very compact (not to mention stylish) camera. While it's not for everybody, the DSC-T30 is a camera that I can easily recommend to most folks.
The DSC-T30 has put on a bit of weight since the T9, but it's still a very compact camera (similar in size to Canon's SD700). The T30 has a stylish metal body that comes in silver and black, though I'm (still) not thrilled with its sliding lens cover and flimsy door over the battery/memory card compartment. The two big features on the T30 include its huge 3-inch LCD display and optical image stabilizer. The LCD is big, high resolution, and easy to see indoors and outside. Not surprisingly, there's no room for an optical viewfinder on the camera. The image stabilization feature (Sony calls is Super SteadyShot) lets you use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise, and it helps smooth out your movies as well. Sony built a whopping 58MB of memory into the T30, though picking up a large Memory Stick Duo card is still a good idea.
Like all of the T-series cameras, the DSC-T30 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera. There are no manual controls of any kind, which is too bad, as it could use some (most notably white balance). What you will find is a fairly run-of-the-mill selection of scene modes that cover the most common shooting situations. The T30 offers a high sensitivity mode, though I'd skip it and adjust the ISO manually to avoid the high noise levels and poor color saturation at ISO 800 and above. The camera has Sony's now standard MPEGMovie VX mode, which allows for unlimited recording at 640 x 480, 30 fps. Even better, you can use the optical zoom while filming movies. The T30 also has the enhanced slideshow feature that's on a couple of Sony cameras this year.
Camera performance is excellent in almost all areas. The T30 starts up in a little over a second, focuses very quickly, and shutter lag was not a problem. Battery life was superb for an ultra-compact camera, and the USB 2.0 High Speed support will quickly transfer those big photos and movies to your PC. The only disappointment in this area was the burst mode, which chugs along at just 1.1 frames/second.
Photo quality was very good in most situations. The T30 typically took well-exposed photos with accurate color and low noise levels. Speaking of noise, you'll be able to make large prints through ISO 200, and maybe at ISO 400 as well (noise reduction software will certainly help here). The ISO 800 and 1000 settings weren't very impressive, with lots of noise and noticeably worse color saturation. Purple fringing levels were above average, and redeye was a big problem as well. The T30 probably isn't the best choice if you shoot under unusual lighting, as my macro test shot hopefully showed. If you do a lot of that then you'll probably want to find a camera with a custom white balance feature.
If you want an ultra-compact camera that offers style, performance, image stabilization, and a huge LCD display then the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 is for you. It's not for people who want manual controls or those who shoot under unusual lighting -- but for everyone else, this little camera is well worth your time.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra-thin cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD450 and SD550, Casio Exilim EX-S500 and EX-Z750, Fuji FinePix Z1, Kodak EasyShare V550, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1 (image stabilization), Nikon Coolpix S3, Olympus Stylus 600, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 (image stabilization), Pentax Optio S6, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-T30 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Then have a look at our gallery!
Want another opinion?
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.
Home | News | Digital Camera Reviews & Info | Forums | Buyers Guide | Shopping | FAQ | About | Advertising
All content © 1997
- 2012 Digital Camera Resource Page LLC (R)
All trademarks are property of their respective owners.