Sony DSC-T77 Review
By Mike Flacy
With the success of the DSC-T70 from last year (2007), Sony has introduced the new Cyber-shot DSC-T77. This is a stylish and sleek model that offers most of the same features we saw on the T70. These include a 3.0-inch 'wide' touch screen LCD, Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization, iScene technology, 9-point AF system, 640x480 'VX Fine' movie mode, HD (1080i) video output, in-camera photo editing, Smile shutter mode, and Face detection technology, all packed into a diminutive stainless steel body. Sony has updated the T77 with more resolution at 10-megapixels, added a Carl Zeiss 4x optical zoom lens, DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) technology, Anti-Blink and two new scene modes.
Like its predecessor, the T77 is a simple point-n-shoot digicam that was designed to be taken just about anywhere. In fact, this is one of the smallest cameras I have ever used. With 11 scene modes, Easy, Auto and Program AE, this is also one of the easiest to use. Like we saw with the T70, the touch screen LCD really adds a new level of dimension to the camera. Since there are very few buttons that need to be placed on the body, Sony was able to make the T70 and T77 more compact. The menu system is a breeze to navigate thanks to the easy to identify icons that are right on the screen. The T77 also allows you to touch the LCD to choose the focus area while taking pictures, and while reviewing pictures you just touch the screen to enlarge or magnify an area of the picture.
The design and layout of the T77 is identical to the T70. I found the ergonomics of this camera were pretty good when you consider its size. You can comfortably shoot with one or two hands, just be sure you watch out for your fingers on the left side of the camera, because the lens is very easily blocked, as it is located in the top left corner of the camera. I found using the 'pinch' technique worked very well to help eliminate any chances of this. The only controls or buttons that remain are the power, play, shutter release and zoom lever. As mentioned in the paragraph above, all of the other camera settings are accessed via the onscreen touch menu. The screen can be operated with your fingertips or the included 'paint' stylus pen. The LCD benefits from a nice anti-glare coating that allows you to frame images in bright lighting conditions without much fuss. This display also gains up nicely when using the camera in lower lighting, however the live image does get a bit grainy. Fingerprints are always something you deal with on a touch screen, but like past models, they were not as noticeable as expected.
The T77's shooting performance resutls were up to par with our expectations of a Sony model, outstanding. From the time you flip the front cover open until you are able to take your first photo is between 2-2.5 seconds. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused, and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. In single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.8 seconds between frames with the flash off, and 2.5-3 seconds with the flash on. Sony also claims this model can capture images at 1.6fps using the continuous shooting or 'Burst' mode. I found that this mode performs better than what Sony claimed, capturing 11 images in just 6.0 seconds (1.8fps), then the camera would pause for a second, then capture a few more shots, pause, etc. This is due to the buffer filling up. Our tests were performed using a Sony 4GB Memory Stick PRO Duo Mark 2 memory stick, Program mode, flash off, and all other settings at the factory default unless noted. Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting conditions, media, etc.
Image quality was very good for an ultra-compact 10-megapixel camera. When shooting outdoors, the T77 produced pleasing images in various conditions, whether the day was nice and sunny or overcast and snowy. Our samples show that this camera can capture beautiful images using the full Auto exposure mode. Photos are nice and sharp, with very little edge softness. The Exposure system is very accurate outdoors, and color saturation is very natural. The new 4x optical zoom in a welcomed addition. While 1x doesn't seem like much, it does add a good deal of versatility for composing your shots. The 35mm (equivalent) wide angle end of the zoom range is a bit wider than the T70s, and works well for most indoor shooting as well as outdoor landscapes. The telephoto end is great for close-up photography, just don't expect to bring those distant subjects up close and personal. The T77 features Sony's exclusive 'iScene' (Intelligent Scene) recognition system. When using the Auto exposure mode as we did, iScene (when enabled) will automatically analyze your subject, and switch the camera to the appropriate Scene mode. Overall, I found this system was very accurate while shooting our sample images.
Like most ultra-compact digicams, the T77 has a tiny built-in flash unit. Sony claims a maximum flash range of up to 10 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto). I found shooting from about 5-6 feet away produced the best results, especially if you are in a dimly lit room. The only issue I had indoors was the amount of Red-eye in our people photos. This was seen when we had the Red-eye reduction mode turned off, as the pre-flash does add about a half a second to the shutter lag time, which can cause you to miss spontaneous moments. Luckily there are also very effective in-camera editing options, like Red-eye correction. One of the many 'cool' features on this camera is the Smile Shutter mode. This is a function that was introduced not too long ago, and seems to becoming more and more popular. You can choose three levels of sensitivity for Smile shutter, and I found that the medium (default) option worked very well. I was impressed at how fast the camera would fire once the subject smiled. Overall, this is a great and 'stealthy' feature that will help you capture photos of those who always run from the camera.
Image noise is typical for an ultra-compact. As with most consumer models, the higher you raise the sensitivity, the more noise you are going to see. While reviewing our M&M shots, I found the Sony handles noise well at ISO 400 and below. Even the 800 settings looks relatively usable. However, the 1600 and 3200 options look horrible in my opinion, and I don't really see how they could be of much use. We used the T77 in Auto mode for most all of our testing, and the camera seemed to to a great job at keeping the ISO as low as possible. So, unless you manually set the camera to these extreme settings, I don't think you'll have many problems with image noise.
The T77 offers the same movie options that we have seen from Cyber-shot models for sometime now. You have the option to record in VX Fine (640x480), Fine (640x480), and 320 (320x240) resolutions. As with past models, the VX Fine mode requires the use of a Memory Stick Pro Duo card. One feature that is not common on digicams is the ability to use the full range of the zoom while recording. Our movie samples turned out good when you consider they were captured from such a tiny camera. Indoors the live image does get a bit grainy, however our example was taken under some very dim tungsten lighting.
Powering the T77 is a Sony NP-BD1 3.6v 680 mAh InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery. This unit is charged in the handy AC charger that is included with the camera, which features fold-away prongs. Sony claims this pack can power the camera for up to 220 images on a full charge. I was able to capture about 105 images, several short movie clips, and conclude all of our other tests before the battery was exhausted. I highly recommend you purchase a second pack to keep charged and ready at all times, especially since you can be charging one pack while using the other.
Bottom line - Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T77 is about as compact as they get. However, this little guy still offers some powerful features, along with good overall image quality and great performance. With all metal construction, you can be confident that it will stand the test of time. The touchscreen system works extremely well, in fact I didn't have any problems using the onscreen menus at all; even with my large fingers. With a street price of US$299 or less, the T77 isn't cheap. However, I feel when you consider the technology that has been used here to create such a capable camera in such a small form, it does offer a good value. That said, if you're in the market for the smallest, most compact digicam you can get your hands on, be sure to check out this little gem.
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