Sony DSC-T50 Review
Sony's "top of the line" T-series model for 2006, the Cyber-shot DSC-T50 is an ultra-compact model that offers quite an array of high-end features like a 7-megapixel imager, Carl Zeiss "folded" internal 3x optical zoom lens, 56MB of internal memory and VX Fine 640x480 (30fps) movie mode. This is the second camera we have reviewed from Sony that features their 3.0-inch (230K pixel) Touchpanel Hybrid TFT LCD display, the first being the Cyber-shot DSC-N1 in 2005.
The T50 is a simple point-n-shoot digital camera that can be used by anyone at your home, school or office. The Auto and pre-programmed scene modes are perfect for the less experienced, and will help them capture great results in a variety of shooting situations. Program mode is also automatic, however it allows the user to adjust more advanced settings like White balance, ISO sensitivity, Metering, Focus, etc.
As mentioned earlier, this is a very compact and ultra-thin model. However, it can fit comfortably in your hands when using the "pinch" technique. And with a durable metal exterior, it should survive the active user's life-style. The only concern I have with the T50 (as well as most other T-series models) is to watch out for your left index finger ending up in view of the lens. Because the lens is positioned at the corner of the camera body, it is very easy to have your finger in your photos. Controls on the back are almost non-existent thanks to the big 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD. Only the Menu, Display, and Zoom controls remain. All other options are accessed through a well organized onscreen menu. You simply touch the screen with your fingertips or the included stylus to access menu options. Overall I found the touchscreen system works great, allowing for quick changes to camera settings; once you learn the layout of the menu. The quality of this LCD is impressive, and I found it worked great in almost all lighting conditions. When shooting outdoors it offers an excellent view, even when the bright sun is beating directly on to it. Unlike the N1, in marginal lighting, the display does "gain up" (brighten), making framing much easier. The glow from the AF-assist lamp also help illuminate your subject in dark conditions.
The T50 is quite the performer. 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 only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. Shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.4 seconds between frames without flash, and 2.0 - 2.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery strength.
There are 2 modes of continuous image capture; Burst and Multi Burst. In Burst mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 3.3 seconds, about 1.5fps. 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 otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting conditions, media, etc.
Like we have seen with the other T-series models this year, the image quality of the T50's 7-megapixel images is very good. Our outdoor samples showed nice exposure and pleasing color saturation. Images are also sharp, thanks to the 5 Area Multi-point AF system and its high-quality Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens. While offering a typical focal range of 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent), it offers quite a bit of versatility in composing your shots. The 38mm wide angle extreme works well for outdoor landscape shots and group portraits, while the telephoto capabilities are nice for close-up individual portraits. The lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at wide angle, but virtually no pincushioning at the telephoto end. Image noise was very low in areas of contrast, when the ISO setting is 200 or below. ISO 400 wasn't too bad, but 800 and 1000 are very noisy. Luckily, this model features Sony's Steady Shot technology, so you'll be able to capture blur-free images in lower lighting, without having to boost the sensitivity above ISO 400 very often.
The T50 features a tiny flash unit with a range of about 11.2 feet at wide angle with the ISO set to Auto. This is a typical range for an ultra-compact consumer model, and is sufficient for most interior shooting. While it doesn't have the power to illuminate an open room, you should still be very pleased by your close-up portraits and small group shots. However, be sure you enable the Redeye Reduction flash mode via the Setup menu. I found traces of red eye in a large majority of our people shots when this feature was turned off. Once this problem is over come, the T50 produces beautiful portraits that show good flash exposure, sharp facial features and natural skin tones.
Movie mode produced similar results as past T-series models. 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 T50 also features an in-camera movie editing function that can be used to divide your movies to a more memory-efficient size. You can also use the optical zoom during recording, something most cameras with not allow. Overall, our samples showed little compression noise and the AF system did well at keeping up with moving subjects and zooming.
Power comes from a proprietary NP-FR1 3.6v 4.4WH InfoLITHIUM battery, that Sony claims will allow the camera to capture up to 400 images. I found battery life was quite good, capturing over 105 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.
Bottom line - like the DSC-T10 and DSC-T30, the Cyber-shot DSC-T50 is an appealing 7-megapixel model. We feel it will make an excellent choice for anyone in the market for a durable and stylish model that offers robust performance, snaps great pictures, and includes some "cool" features like the 3.0-inch Touchpanel LCD. With an MSRP of about US$499, it may be a bit expensive, but we feel it still offers a good value for such a capable pocket-rocket!
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