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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 12, 2005
Last Updated: January 17, 2008
This review has been completed. The camera tested is a full production model, and all product shots and sample photos are from that camera. And for those who noticed, yes, I got a silver one for the final review.
When I first saw photos of the new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 ($449), my first thought was "oh good, ANOTHER one of these!". Upon further inspection I found that this is more than another ultra-thin T-series Sony camera. The T9 is the first camera in Sony's ultra-compact lineup to feature an optical image stabilization system, something which is quite uncommon on ultra-thin cameras like this. Image stabilizers help reduce camera shake, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds than on unstabilized cameras.
The other features on the T9 are more run-of-the-mill: a 6 Megapixel CCD, 2.5" LCD display, AF-assist lamp, and VGA movie mode.
Ready to learn more about Sony's latest T-series camera? Our review starts now!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-T9 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
As is the case with Sony's other recent cameras, the T9 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 T9, like the other cameras in the T-series, uses Memory Stick Duo cards, which look kind of like Secure Digital cards. I'd recommend a 256MB or 512MB MS Duo card as a good starter size. An adapter is included with MS Duo cards which allow them to be used in regular Memory Stick slots.
The DSC-T9 uses the now familiar NP-FT1 lithium-ion battery. This battery packs just 2.4 Wh of energy, which is as low as you'll find. Despite that, Sony's clever engineers have managed to squeeze quite a bit out of this battery, giving the T9 above average battery life numbers:
As you can see, the DSC-T9's battery life numbers are better than average, and noticeably better than the DSC-T7. A few cameras on that list still have the edge, though.
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 T9.
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 T9'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 160 minutes.
The T9 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, as it makes it too easy to accidentally turn the camera on when you put it into your pocket. As you can see, the T9 is a very small camera.
There are just a few accessories available for the T9. The most interesting is probably the SPK-THC Sports Pack ($100), which lets the camera go up to 3 meters underwater. Another nice one is the CSS-TNA Cyber-shot Station camera dock ($80), which can charge the camera's battery, show photos on a television (a remote control is included), and transfer photos to your computer. Also available is an external battery charger ($60), AC adapter ($40), and various camera cases.
Picture Package viewer (Windows only)
Sony includes Picture Package v1.6.1 for Windows as the main image viewing application. It's a pretty basic image viewer and doesn't compare to things like ACDSee, Photoshop Elements, or even the software designed by other camera manufacturers.
Picture Package Editing
This latest version of Picture Package adds basic editing capabilities. You can remove redeye, adjusting brightness and contrast, and crop/resize your photos. You can also e-mail them at the click of your mouse.
Music Transfer software (Mac version)
This software is also what you'll use to transfer your own music to the camera for use in the slideshow feature. While I didn't try the Windows Music Transfer software, the Mac version was pretty basic, but it worked. As you can see, up to four tracks can be stored on the camera, and the software can grab them from MP3 files (which didn't work for me) or from an audio CD.
Also included are Mac and Windows versions of ImageMixer VCD2, which is used to make Video CDs of images and movie clips. Video CDs are a "poor man's DVD" format -- the quality isn't as good -- though many DVD players can read the discs.
The DSC-T9'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
If you've seen the Cyber-shot DSC-T5 or T7, then you've seen the T9: they look almost identical. The T9 is an ultra-thin camera made almost entirely of metal, and it feels quite solid. As I said in the previous section, I'm not a huge fan of the sliding lens cover, but you may not mind. The T9 is small enough to fit in any pocket, and it's easy to operate with just one hand.
As is the trend these days, the T9 comes in two colors: silver and black.
Now let's see how the T9 compares in terms of size, volume, and weight with the competition:
As you can see, the T9 fits into the middle of the ultra-compact pack in terms of size and weight. That doesn't mean too much, since all of those cameras are really small!
Let's start our tour of the DSC-T9 now!
The DSC-T9 uses a different lens than the other cameras in the series (with the image stabilizer being the most notable difference). 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 still 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 T9 to be so thin. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
The biggest new feature on the T9 is its optical image stabilizer, which Sony calls Super SteadyShot. The DSC-T9 is one of only a small handful of ultra-thin cameras to have an image stabilizer, which is normally found on ultra zooms. Quite often indoor photos (without the flash) turn out blurry, because the shutter speed is too slow. While the OIS system won't make the shutter speed faster, it will reduce some of the "shake" that blurs photos at those speeds. Tiny sensors embedded in the camera detect the minute movements of your hands, and an element in the lens is shifted to compensate for that motion. How well does it work? Have a look:
Both of these photos had exposure times of 1/4 seconds. The top photo was taken without Super SteadyShot, while the bottom one was taken with it. The best places to see the differences are the various logos in the picture (Canon, Kodak, 12X, etc). If you need another example, check out this movie comparison.
While OIS systems don't miracles, there's no doubt that they're very helpful. The SteadyShot system is extra helpful on a camera like this (with only an LCD for shooting), as you hold the camera in a position prone to camera shake.
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.
Just above the AF-assist lamp is the built-in flash. While still not great, the flash has been strengthened a bit on the T9 when compared to the older T-series models. The working range of the flash is 0.1 - 2.8 m at wide-angle and 0.25 - 2.3 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). That's about 12% better than the DSC-T5, 7% better than the DSC-T7, but it's not nearly as good as the flash on the DSC-N1, especially at the wide end of the lens.
The back of the DSC-T9 isn't too much different than the other T-series models. As with its predecessors, the T9 features a big and bright 2.5" LCD display. The screen packs 230,000 pixels so everything is nice and sharp, and it's still easy to see even in bright outdoor light. In low light situations the screen "gains up" automatically so you can still see what you're trying to take a picture of.
As you can see from the photo, the DSC-T9 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.
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 2.3 seconds. I counted an incredible twenty three steps throughout the 3X zoom range.
Below the zoom controller are several buttons. The Display button will increase the screen brightness and also toggles what information is shown, while the Menu button does just as it sounds. Below those is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation as well as:
The final two buttons below that are:
On the top of the T9 you'll find the speaker plus buttons for power, shutter release, and image stabilization on/off. Why would you want to turn of the OIS system off? One example is when the camera is on a tripod, where the stabilization system can actually end up blurring your photos in those situations.
Nothing to see here.
On the other side of the T9 you'll find the battery and memory card compartment. These are kept under a plastic door that's on the flimsy side. Let's take a look behind it now.
Here's the same view with that plastic door opened up. You can see the battery compartment on the left and the MS Duo slot on the right.
The included NP-FT1 battery is also seen on the right side of the photo.
On the bottom of the DSC-T9 you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the connection for the optional camera dock. This same connector is where you'll plug-in the included USB + A/V cable.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9
After you flip down the T9'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
I was impressed with the DSC-T9's autofocus speeds. In good light the camera typically took just 0.1 - 0.3 seconds to lock focus. Even when the lens was near the telephoto end the camera still focused quickly. The only slowdown was when the camera had to use the AF-assist lamp, which extends focus times to over a second in some cases. Speaking of which, that AF-assist lamp helped the T9 focus well in dimly lit rooms.
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 playback mode.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the DSC-T9:
As you can see, the T9 holds a decent amount of photos on its built-in memory, though you'll still want that larger memory card. Not surprisingly, the T9 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 DSC-T9 has the standard overlay-style Sony menu system. Here's the complete record menu (some of these options may not be available in all modes):
There are quite a few shooting modes on the DSC-T9, though they're all automatic. There are no manual controls on the T9, unless you count the limited manual focus.
The T9's ISO sensitivity goes a bit higher than most cameras in this class -- up to 640. Later in the review you'll see how the camera performs at those settings!
I should also add one note about the burst mode on the T9 (in addition to the timings mentioned above): the screen "blacks out" briefly between shots, which can make following a moving subject a bit difficult.
The setup menu adjusts a mix of mundane and useful functions on the T9. They 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.
There are two SteadyShot options available in the setup menu. The shooting setting will only activate the OIS system when the photo is about to be take, while the continuous mode has it going even while you're composing the photo. The OIS system performs best when the shooting mode is used.
The download music option lets you transfer music from your Windows PC into the T9 for use with the enhanced slideshow feature. More on this in a bit.
Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?
As you can see, the DSC-T9 had quite a bit of trouble with my quartz studio lamps. Since there's no custom white balance option I had to use the closest one (tungsten), which is still off, hence the brownish cast. It's too bad, since the subject itself is nice and sharp.
This color cast issue will only be a problem if you shoot under unusual lighting conditions. For regular shots you won't have to worry about any of this, but if you have a weird mix of lights (or studio lamps) you may want to find a camera with custom white balance.
Just for the heck of it I ran the photo through the Auto Color filter in Photoshop CS2. The results are much closer to reality:
That's a whole lot better!
As with the other T-series cameras, there are two macro modes on the T9. 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 night shot turned out fairly well. The camera took in a decent amount of light, though a longer exposure would've been nice. The slowest shutter speed available on the camera is just two seconds, and that's only available in the night scene modes.
Anyhow, all the buildings in the photo are nice and sharp, things aren't too noisy, and purple fringing levels are reasonable.
Since I can't control the shutter speed on the T9 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 T9's lens. While you won't have a problem with vignetting (dark corners) on the T9, you may encounter some blurriness in the corners of some photos.
One thing that hasn't changed on the T9 is its big problem with redeye in flash photos. While your results may vary, do remember that redeye is very common on ultra-compact cameras like this.
Now let's take a look at how the T9 performs at high ISO settings. 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-T9 at various ISO settings.
And with that, let's look at the crops!
You'll be hard-pressed to see the difference between the ISO 80 and 100 shots. Things are still looking very clean at ISO 200, and you could probably get a good-sized print out of the ISO 400 shot as well, especially after running the photo through noise reduction software. Details start getting destroyed at ISO 640, but I was still able to make an "acceptable" 4 x 6 print after cleaning things up in NeatImage. All-in-all the T9 impressed me with its high ISO performance -- sure it's no D-SLR but it's still pretty good for a pocket-sized point-and-shoot.
Aside from the white balance issues I encountered with my studio lamps, I found the DSC-T9's photo quality to be very good. Photos were well-exposed with accurate color, low noise, and minimal purple fringing. My only complaint is that photos are a little soft at times, and if you agree you can either turn up the in-camera sharpening in the record menu or do it later on your computer.
Ultimately you need to be the judge of the DSC-T9's photo quality. Have a look at our photo gallery, print the photos if you'd like, and then decide if the T9's photo quality meets your expectations.
The DSC-T9 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!
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer, however, can be used.
Here's a sample movie for you. It's not the greatest clip, but you should get the idea.
Click to play movie (9.7 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-T9's playback mode is slightly different than its predecessors. Some of the features haven't changed, including 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 slide show feature is the feature that has changed the most compared to earlier T-series cameras. Borrowing from Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-N1, the slideshow feature now offers transitions and music. 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. Do note that this software only works on Windows PCs.
By default, the T9 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the Display button and you'll see a lot 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-T9 is a very good ultra-thin camera, though it has its share of flaws. Despite the T9's negatives (which I'll cover below), the camera earns my recommendation thanks to its image stabilizer, snappy performance, and good photo quality.
The T9 is the latest member of Sony's T-series family, and it shares much in common with its siblings. That includes an ultra-thin metal body (in black and silver), a 3X zoom lens, AF-assist lamp, and 2.5" LCD display. Unfortunately the T-series cameras (well, most of them) have a sliding lens cover that looks cool, but is an annoyance in actual usage. While some manufacturers put a big LCD on a camera with lousy resolution, Sony did not. The 2.5" screen has a healthy 230,000 pixels, and it's easy to see outdoors or in dimly lit rooms.
The most notable feature on the DSC-T9 is its optical image stabilizer. The T9 is one of only a small handful of ultra-compacts with image stabilizers (the others being from Panasonic and Konica Minolta), and it sure comes in handy when you're taking shots in not-so-great lighting. While it won't work miracles (like stopping motion blur), it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. The stabilizer can be used in movie mode, as well.
Other features on the T9 include an unlimited VGA movie mode, numerous scene modes, an enhanced slideshow feature, and a whopping 58MB of built-in memory. The T9 is 100% point-and-shoot, with no manual controls to be found (the pseudo manual focus feature doesn't count in my opinion). It would've been nice if Sony included a custom white balance feature on the T9, because as you saw it had some trouble with my studio lights.
Camera performance is very good in all areas. The camera starts up very quickly, it focuses rapidly (except in low light, though it does that well), and shot-to-shot speeds are snappy. The T9 has better-than-average battery life, and it supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard for fast photo transfers to your computer.
Photo quality on the T9 was very good, with my only real complaint (aside from those white balance issues) being the slightly soft look to the pictures. Photos had accurate exposure and color, and low purple fringing and noise levels. Redeye was a problem, unfortunately. The T9 also surprised me with its high ISO performance, allowing for small prints to be made at the ISO 640 setting.
There are few other downsides of the T9 worth pointing out. As you know by now, it has no optical viewfinder, which may or may not bother you. The cover over the memory card and battery compartment is quite flimsy and prone to breakage. While it's an improvement over earlier T-series models, the T9's flash is still on the weak side. And finally, it would be nice if there were shutter speeds slower than two seconds available.
While it's not perfect, the DSC-T9 is a nice improvement over Sony's earlier T-series models, and it gets my recommendation. The competition is tough in the ultra-thin category though, so check the competition carefully before you buy!
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-T9 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?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
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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