Sony DSC-T30 Review
The DSC-T30 is the latest addition to Sony's very popular "T" series of CyberShot models, and shares many of the same features found on its predecessor the DSC-T9 from last year (2005.) While it has the same Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens, Steady Shot technology, and 58MB of internal memory, it includes a larger 3.0-inch LCD display, boosts resolution to 7-megapixels, and increases the maximum ISO sensitivity to 1000 (the highest setting we have ever seen on a consumer Cyber-shot model.) This point-n-shoot model can be used by just about anyone with its Auto exposure mode, and for those more creative users, it also offers a Program AE mode with more advanced settings as well as 9 pre-programmed scene modes for great shots in various shooting environments.
Like past models, the T30's ergonomics are excellent. Although it is what we consider an "ultra-compact" model, I found the various controls were well-placed on the body, making for a comfortable feel in your hands. As usual, the onscreen menu system was logically organized, allowing you to quickly change camera settings. Its huge 3.0-inch Clear Photo LCD worked great outdoors, however, it fails to "gain up" when shooting in marginal lighting. Fortunately, the AF-assist lamp will illuminate your subject for a brief moment while obtaining a focus lock. Overall the display was a pleasure to use, with only one real issue, fingerprints. The slightest amount of oil from your fingers will show on this LCD; so be prepared to clean it often.
Shooting performance was excellent. From sliding open the lens cover till the first shot was captured measured an impressive 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. Shooting in single exposure mode, The shot to shot delay averaged 1.3 seconds between frames without flash, and 1.7 - 2.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery strength.
The T30 has 2 modes of continuous image capture; Burst and Multi Burst. In Burst mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 2.4 seconds. During the capture sequence the viewfinder briefly displays the last captured image, to help you to follow moving subjects. Multi Burst records 16 images at a user-specified interval of 1/30, 1/15, or 1/7.5 seconds and combines them into a single 1-megapixel image / collage. It's most useful in recording an athletic movement, such as a golf swing or tennis stroke. For later evaluation; when reviewed in-camera, the images can be viewed frame-by-frame or as a continuous sequence. The above times were measured using a SanDisk ULTRA II 512MB Memory Stick PRO Duo memory card, using program mode, size/quality set at 7M/Fine, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting conditions, media, etc.
Image quality was great for a 7-megapixel consumer camera. Outdoors it produced pleasing images that were well exposed and showed good color saturation. Images were also nice and sharp, thanks in part to the Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom. This lens offers a typical range of 38 - 114mm (in 35mm equivalence.) At 38mm, you'll be able to capture group portraits and landscape shots, while the 114mm telephoto end will help bring your subjects closer. I noticed moderate amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle, but very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around brightly lit subjects. Noise levels are very low when using an ISO speed of 200 or lower, becoming more noticeable at 400 and above. At ISO 1000, noise can be seen even when viewing an image at 27% (average view on a 19-inch monitor set at 1024x768.) While image quality does suffer, I found images are still quite usable; the ability to capture blur free images in marginal lighting greatly outweighs this negative effect. Couple this with Sony's Steady Shot technology, and the T30 is the perfect choice when shooting ambient light shots.
One issue I found while using this model was how easy it is to get fingerprints on the lens. While this usually does not effect your images that much I did see a noticeable effect on some of our samples. The center of the frame looks blurry like it is not focused. You can see what I mean by looking at our museum shot, as well as our movie sample. This however is easily remedied, by simply cleaning the lens off with an appropriate cloth.
Indoors it also performed well. Like just about every single "ultra-compact" model, the T30 features a tiny flash unit with a range of 11 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto.) While this is a bit better than past models, it still lacks the power to illuminate open rooms. We achieved the best "people" photos when shooting close-up portraits from about 5 feet away, using the mid-telephoto end of the zoom range. When doing this, both our indoor and outdoor portraits showed good flash exposure, pleasing skin toes and sharp facial details. The T30's macro capabilities are impressive. Macro mode is great for shooting small objects (like items for online auctions) from about 3 inches away, while magnifying glass mode can focus on your tiny subjects as close as 0.4 inches!
Movie mode produced good results when using its 640�480 "VX Fine" mode. The frame rate is 30fps, however, movies captured at this quality will consume nearly 1.3-megabytes per second, and require the use of Memory Stick Duo Pro media; so make sure you purchase a large capacity card if you plan on recording movies often. The T30 also features an in-camera movie editing function that can be used to divide your movies to a more memory-efficient size.
The T30 is powered by a proprietary NP-FR1 3.6v 4.4WH InfoLITHIUM battery, that Sony claims will allow the camera to capture up to 420 images. I found battery life was quite good, capturing over 130 shots and several movie clips, as well as conducting our other tests on a single charge. Since the battery is charged out of the camera in the handy AC charger, we recommend you purchase a spare pack just in case; you don't want to lose that once in a lifetime shot because of a dead battery now do you?
Bottom line - the Cyber-shot DSC-T30 continues Sony's tradition of robust performance, great image quality, and easy to use features, all packed in a durable metal package that can be tucked away just about anywhere. The only issues I had with the camera were the fingerprints on both the LCD and Lens. With 7-megapixels of resolution, you'll have plenty of versatility for making prints from your typical 4x6-inch to poster size pictures. With an MSRP of about $499, some may feel it's a bit expensive. However, with all of these high-end features, the stylish and durable body, and of course excellent performance, we feel it offers a great value; especially for those who must have the "latest and greatest" Sony.
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