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DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 25, 2005
Last Updated: May 17, 2012

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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 ($450) is the follow-up to the Cyber-shot DSC-T1, which was one of the most popular cameras of 2004. (Okay, there was a DSC-T3 too, but it was never sold here in the U.S.) The T33 doesn't change very much from the T1, aside from its refined body design and new "hybrid" LCD. The features from the old T1 that have carried over to the T33 include a 3X optical zoom lens, 5.1 Megapixel CCD, 2.5" LCD, and point-and-shoot operation.

How does the ultra-thin DSC-T33 perform in our tests? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-T33 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-T33 camera
  • 32MB Memory Stick Duo card w/adapter
  • NP-FT1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger / AC adapter
  • Cyber-shot Station camera dock
  • Tripod adapter
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Sony Picture Package software, ImageMixer VCD2, USB drivers, and Cyber-shot Life tutorial
  • 140 page camera manual (printed)

Sony includes a 32MB Memory Stick Duo card with the DSC-T33. This is a decent starter size, but you'll want a larger card right away if you plan on taking more than a handful of images or movies. I'd recommend 256MB as a good place to start (cards as large as 2GB are now available). Memory Stick Duo cards are smaller than regular Memory Sticks, but don't worry, there's an adapter included that will let you use the Duo cards in a regular Memory Stick slot. Do note that Memory Stick's tend to be more expensive that other memory card formats such as SD or CompactFlash.

The DSC-T33 uses the same NP-FT1 battery as its predecessor. This compact battery packs just 2.4 Wh of energy, which is pretty much as low as you'll find on a digital camera. Despite that, the T33 is able to take 180 shots per charge (measured using the CIPA standard), which isn't bad at all for a camera in this class (better than the Canon SD300 or the Panasonic FX7).

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. One thing I do like about the InfoLithium battery used by the T33 is that it tells you exactly how many minutes you have left before you run out of juice.

Front view of the Cyber-shot Station and DSC-T33

Here's the back view, with the A/V, USB, and DC-in ports visible

There are two ways to charge the T33's battery. You can plug the AC adapter directly into the bottom of the camera, or you can use the included Cyber-Shot Station camera dock (shown above).

While the dock is optional for battery charging, you must use it if you're planning on connecting to a TV or your PC. The USB port here supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol. Don't worry, though, it'll work on your old computer too!

The dock has another other important function that you'll find out about later in the review.

The best news about the T33's new design: no more sliding door on the front of the camera! Now there's a small cover over the lens which opens and closing automatically when you press the power button. As you can hopefully see here, this is one small camera.

There aren't too many accessories available for the DSC-T33. The most exciting is probably the MPK-THB underwater case (around $150), which lets you take your T33 up to 40 meters underwater. Other accessories include a portable battery charger ($60), car battery charger kit ($70), and a few camera cases ($27 and up).

Picture Package viewer (Windows only)

Sony includes Picture Package for Windows as the main image viewing application. And "viewing" is about all it does -- you can print and rotate your images, but that's it. The software can also create slideshows with music or burn your photos to a CD-R disc.

ImageMixer VCD2 (Mac only)

Mac users don't get to use PicturePackage (you can use the camera with iPhoto just fine). Instead, they get ImageMixer VCD2 and the Image Data Converter. ImageMixer is used to create a Video CD from your images. VideoCDs are kind of like a poor man's DVD -- not as good, but usable.

Cyber-shot Life (Windows only)

The best part of the software package is the Cyber-shot Life tutorial, which is Windows only. Here, a girl and her dog show you how to use your camera. While it's a little cheesy, the tutorial is far more useful for learning the ins and outs of your camera than the manual. Do note that it's not camera-specific, but that shouldn't matter since Sony's cameras have a lot in common with each other.

I don't think I've ever read a Sony manual that I thought was good, whether on a $300 camera or $3000 television. The one included with the T33 is complete, but cluttered, complex, and poorly-organized.

Look and Feel

The DSC-T33 is a sleeker version of the old DSC-T1, with the biggest changes found on the front of the camera. As I said, the best news it that the dumb sliding door on the front of the camera is gone! What hasn't changed: the camera is still all-metal, very thin, and it can go anywhere you do. Most of the controls are well-placed and easy to reach, save for the power button.

Now let's see how the T33 compares in terms of size, volume, and weight when compared to the competition:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD400 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 130 g
Canon PowerShot SD500 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.3 in. 9.7 cu in. 170 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z57 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Fuji FinePix Z1 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.4 cu in. 130 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE G600 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.2 in. 9.8 cu in. 195 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 3.3 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 7.1 cu in. 125 g
Kyocera Finecam SL400R 3.9 x 2.5 x 0.6 in. 5.9 cu in. 125 g
Nikon Coolpix 5900 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 11.3 cu in. 150 g
Olympus Stylus 500 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.2 in. 10.3 cu in. 165 g
Olympus Stylus Verve S 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 9.0 cu in. 115 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 136 g
Pentax Optio S5i 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.8 in. 5.3 cu in. 105 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 6.9 cu in. 155 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8.4 cu in. 125 g

Yes, the DSC-T33 is actually larger yet lighter than its predecessor. Believe it or not it's actually one of the larger cameras in this class -- sure doesn't feel like it!

With that out of the way, let's begin our tour of the camera now, beginning, as always, with the front.

The DSC-T33 has the same "folding lens design" as the DSC-T1. What that means is that the light comes through the front of the lens, is reflected downward by a prism, and goes down the body through the rest of the lens elements and then onto the CCD. This allows for the ultra-thin body that makes the T-series cameras what they are. This same design has been used on other cameras from Konica Minolta for many years.

The lens used here (and on the earlier T-series models) is an F3.5-4.4, 3X zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar model. As you can see by the maximum aperture, this is a pretty "slow" lens, which means that it doesn't let in as much light as a "faster" lens. This becomes an issue when you want to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible. The focal length of the lens is 6.7 - 20.1 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. You cannot attach a conversion lens to the T33.

To the left of the lens is the T33's built-in flash. One of the weak points of the DSC-T1 was its flash, and well, things aren't any better on the DSC-T33. The flash range is 0.1 - 1.6 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 1.5 m at telephoto. Compare that with 0.5 - 3.5 m (W) and 0.5 - 2.5 m (T) on the Canon SD400 (the SD500 is even better), 0.2 – 3.2 m (W) and 0.1 – 1.8 m (T) on the Minolta X50, and 0.3 - 3.0 m (W) and 0.6 - 2.3m (T) on the new Fuji Z1 and you'll see what I mean. I did a head-to-head comparison with the Canon SD300 and the DSC-T33 and the formers' flash photos were vastly superior. As you'd expect on an ultra-compact model like this one, you cannot attach an external flash to the camera.

Just below the flash is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations.

There's one other thing I need to mention about the DSC-T33: watch your hands. It's very easy to block the lens or flash with your fingers, so you need to keep an eye on them!

Probably the biggest feature on the DSC-T33 is its 2.5" LCD display (pun intended). The screen has changed quite a bit since the DSC-T1, and for the better. For one, the resolution has increased a bit, now up to 230,400 pixels (from 211,000). Even with the high resolution, I never though that the T33's screen was as sharp as others than I've used. Anyhow, the other nice new feature is the "hybrid" technology used on the screen. This gives the LCD outdoor visibility that is second to none. You can even turn off the LCD backlight when you're outdoors, which increases battery life by about 17%. In low light situations, I found the screen to be very dark, bordering on unusable.

Just like on the T1 and other ultra-thin cameras like this, there's no optical viewfinder to be found on the back of the camera. Whether this is a problem really comes down to your personal preferences. I like having an optical viewfinder, while others may not care. Apparently studies have shown that most people only shoot using the LCD, and I do most of the time myself. However, there are times when I need the optical viewfinder, like in low light conditions, or if I can't see the LCD outdoors, or if I just want to get a firmer grip on the camera, so that's why I like to have one.

Enough editorializing, let's continue the tour. At the top-right of the photo you'll find the zoom controller. This moves the lens silently from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.1 seconds. By quickly pressing on the controller you can make very precise adjustments to the focal length.

Below that you'll find the Display and Menu buttons and the speaker. The Display button is used to turn the LCD backlight on and off, and also chooses what information is shown on the screen. To the right of those is a switch which moves the camera between movie, still recording, and playback mode.

Continuing downward we find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and also for:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off) - redeye reduction is turned on in the setup menu
  • Down - Self-timer (on/off)
  • Left - Quick Review (shows the last photo taken so you can review or delete it)
  • Right - Macro (on/off)

The last things of note on the back of the camera are the Image Quality / Delete Photo button and a reset "hole".

On top of the camera you'll find the microphone, shutter release button, and the power button. Two things to mention here: for one, watch your fingers (again), as the microphone is easy to block accidentally. Secondly, I don't care for the positioning of the power button -- you could possibly turn the camera off instead of taking a picture!

Nothing to see here. As you can see, the lens never protrudes from the body.

Nothing to see here, either.

On the bottom of the T33 you'll find the battery / memory card compartment and the dock connector. The plastic door covering the battery and memory card slots is very flimsy, so watch out. The dock connector can also accept the AC adapter cable, so you don't need the dock for charging the battery. For USB or video output, you must use the dock.

I bet you're wondering where the tripod mount is. Well, there isn't one. To use a tripod you must put the camera in the dock, attach a special plastic "camera holder" (which didn't come in the box with my review unit for some reason) and then mount the dock on your tripod. I'm not thrilled with the idea of having to carry along the dock with me if I'm going to be using a tripod, but I don't see a whole lot of room on the camera for a traditional tripod mount.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33

Record Mode

The DSC-T33 starts up even faster than its predecessor, taking just 1.1 seconds to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Awesome!

A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode

Focus speeds are excellent, with the camera typically taking anywhere from 0.2 - 0.5 seconds to lock focus. In low light the camera can take upwards of a second to focus, but it will lock (thanks no doubt to the AF-assist lamp).

Shutter lag was very low, even at 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 use the Quick Review feature first.

Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the T33:

Resolution Quality # images on 32MB card
3072 x 2304
Fine 12
Standard 23
5M (3:2 ratio)
3072 x 2048
Fine 12
Normal 23
2048 x 1536
Fine 20
Normal 37
1280 x 960
Fine 50
Normal 93
640 x 480
Fine 196
Normal 491

The DSC-T33 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.

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 T33 uses the same menu system as other recent Sony cameras. The menu is overlay-style -- meaning that its shown on top of the image you're preparing to shoot -- and it's pretty easy-to-use. Here are the menu options on the T33:

  • Camera (Auto, program, magnifying glass, twilight, twilight portrait, landscape, snow, beach, high-speed shutter, fireworks, candle) - see below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Focus (Multi AF, center AF, spot AF, 0.5 m, 1.0 m, 3.0 m, 7.0 m, infinity) - see below
  • Metering mode (Multi, spot)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, flash) - no custom option to be found
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, standard)
  • Rec Mode
    • Normal - regular shooting
    • Burst - takes 9 shots in a row at about 1.2 frames/second at the highest JPEG quality (based on my tests using a MS Pro Duo card)
    • Speed burst - takes 4 shots in a row at 3 frames/second
    • Exposure bracketing - camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value; choose the interval between shots in the record menu (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, or ±1.0EV)
    • Multi burst - takes 16 shots in a row (at interval selected in menu) and compiles them into one 1 Megapixel image (like a collage)
  • Bracket step (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV) - for the exposure bracketing feature described above
  • 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, black & white, sepia)
  • Saturation (Low, normal, high)
  • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
  • Sharpness (Low, normal, high)

The DSC-T33 is very much a point-and-shoot camera. The only pseudo-manual control is for focus, and that's pretty limited (but handy nonetheless). The difference between the Auto and Program shooting modes is that the menus are locked down while in Auto mode.

I should mention that there's a noticeable "blackout" on the LCD while shooting in burst mode. It's not as much of a problem in speed burst mode, though in regular burst mode you may find it difficult to follow a moving subject.

There's also a setup menu (accessible from the record or playback menu), which has the following options:

  • Camera 1
    • AF mode (Single, monitor) - see below
    • Digital zoom (Off, smart, precision) - see below
    • Date/Time (Off, date, day & time) - whether date/time is printed on your photos
    • Redeye reduction (on/off)
    • AF illuminator (on/off) - turns the AF-assist lamp on and off
    • Auto Review (on/off) - shows images on LCD after it is taken
  • Camera 2
    • Enlarged icon (on/off) - a visual aid for changing camera settings
  • Memory Stick Tool
    • Card format
    • Change/create rec folder - manage folders on the memory card
  • Setup 1
    • LCD backlight (Bright, normal)
    • Beep (Shutter only, on, off)
    • Language (English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian)
  • Setup 2
    • File number (Series, reset)
    • USB connect (PictBridge, 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 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.

Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?

Though it's not terribly sharp, the T33 did a pretty good job with our macro test. Colors are nice and saturated, and accurate too.

There are two macro modes on the DSC-T33. 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.

The T33 did a good job with the night shot as well. Again, it's on the soft side, but the camera took in plenty of light and there's very little purple fringing to be found. Noise levels are average for a 5 Megapixel camera. Since you can't manually select the shutter speed on the T33, you'll need to use the twilight mode for long exposures.

Remember that you'll need a tripod AND the camera dock in order to take long exposure shots like this!

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the T33's lens. There's a bit of blurriness in the corners as well, and I did see this in my real world images as well, but it was barely an issue.

The DSC-T1 was a redeye fiend and the DSC-T33 isn't much better. While your results may vary, you can almost count on dealing with this in your flash photos.

Overall image quality on the DSC-T33 is very good. Probably the biggest issue is something I've seen on other "folding lens" cameras (the DSC-T1 included), and that's softness. Images have this soft, almost "fuzzy" quality that reminds me of something a camcorder would take. Now that won't bother most people, but when you've reviewed literally hundreds of cameras like I have, you tend to notice these things. Color and exposure were accurate most of the time (though the camera might "blow out the highlights" more than some cameras), and purple fringing was not a major problem.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and decide if the photo quality meets your expectations. I also encourage you to print the photos, just like you would if they were your own.

Movie Mode

The DSC-T33 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 competition is catching up, though, as more and more cameras can also do this.

The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, so you can't use the included 32MB card for the fancy video mode. 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 still use the very nice VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 16 frames/second. A much lower resolution (160 x 112) option, known as Video mail, is also available. A 1GB memory card holds 44 minutes in VX Standard mode and nearly 12 hours in Video mail mode.

As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Movies are saved in MPEG format.

Here's a very exciting sample movie for you (I'm kidding). It may be short in length, but it's big in terms of file size.

Click to play movie (10.4 MB, 640 x 480, VX Fine mode, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The Cyber-shot DSC-T33 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 camera is PictBridge-enabled, allowing for direct printing to compatible photo printers.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then scroll around in it. This is useful for checking the focus in a photograph. Sony's done a good job at making this feature nice and snappy.

Some of the more advanced playback features include:

  • Resize - change an image's size
  • Trim - crop a photo
  • Rotate
  • Divide - cut sections of movies

By default, the T33 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the Display button and you'll see a lot more, including a histogram.

The camera moves between images very 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-T33, like its predecessor, is best suited for outdoor photos, where it does a very good job. Indoor photos will leave much to be desired, thanks to a weak flash, lots of redeye, and an LCD which is too dark to see in those conditions. The T33 is a very stylish, ultra-thin metal camera that will attract attention wherever it goes. The design changes since the T1 are for the better: no more sliding door on the front, and the LCD is now much more usable outdoors. Like with the T1, you need to keep an eye on your fingers, as they can easily block the lens, flash, or microphone.

Photo quality on the T33 is generally good, though images could definitely be sharper (this seems to be a common issue with cameras that use this lens design). Camera performance is excellent. The T33 starts up quickly, focuses quickly (even in low light), there's no shutter lag, and shot-to-shot speeds are superb. The camera is 100% point-and-shoot, with no real manual controls to be found. Other nice features include a 1 cm macro mode, a first rate VGA movie mode, and support for USB 2.0 High Speed.

I already mentioned some of the T33's negatives in the previous paragraph, and here are a few more. There's no optical viewfinder on the camera, which will bother some people and not others. If you want to connect to a computer or a television, you must use the included camera dock. Similarly, the only tripod mount is found on the bottom of the camera dock, which is pretty awkward. The door covering the battery and memory card compartment seems very flimsy, as well. And finally: the DSC-T33 uses expensive Memory Stick Duo cards, so don't forget to factor that into the total purchase price.

If you want a "go anywhere" camera that will be used mostly outdoors, I definitely recommend the DSC-T33. If you'll be taking a lot of flash or low light shots, you'll do better with another camera.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality (though see issue below)
  • Ultra-thin, stylish metal body
  • Huge 2.5" LCD is very usable in bright outdoor light (though see issues below)
  • Robust performance
  • AF-assist lamp; good low light focusing
  • First-rate movie mode
  • Live histogram in record mode
  • USB 2.0 High Speed supported

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are on the soft and fuzzy side
  • Weak flash
  • Redeye
  • USB, video out ports, as well as tripod mount only found on the camera dock
  • LCD hard to see in low light
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Flimsy plastic door over MS/battery compartment
  • Watch your fingers, as the lens/flash/mic are easy to block
  • Expensive memory card format

Other ultra-thin cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD400 and SD500, Casio Exilim EX-Z57, Fuji FinePix Z1, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50, Nikon Coolpix 5900, Olympus Stylus 500 and Stylus Verve S, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7, and the Pentax Optio S5i.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-T33 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!

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.