Sony DSC-T9 Review
The CyberShot DSC-T9 is the big brother of the DSC-T5 that we reviewed earlier in 2005. It adds 1-megapixel of resolution, for a total of 6-megapixels, increases maximum sensitivity to the equivalent of ISO 640, and adds Steady Shot, a form of optical image stabilization. Weighing just shy of 6 ounces including battery, media and wrist strap, the T9 is a member of the growing class of 1-megapixel per ounce digicams. Despite its small size, it packs a 3x optical zoom lens and a large 2.5-inch LCD into its stylish metal body. Its Automatic exposure mode will appeal to beginners needing the ease of use of a point-n-shoot, while its Program and Scene modes provide features desired by intermediate photographers.
The most distinguishing feature of the T9 is its packaging. The light weight, durable metal body's height and width are barely larger than a credit card, and its depth is only 0.8 inch; the DSC-T9 can easily be carried in a pocket or purse. It is stylish enough that some users might choose to show it off as a fashion accessory attached to the included silver wrist strap. Its small size was facilitated by 3 components:
Despite its small size, the T9's controls are well-placed on the body and have a positive feel. And although it seems contradictory, the T9 has one of the largest LCD viewfinders among consumer digicams, despite the camera itself being one of the smallest. The 2.5" Clear Photo LCD is not only large, but very usable as well. It has a control for backlight brightness, but I found its use unnecessary even in bright sunlight. The LCD viewfinder is also effective indoors, gaining-up the live image in dim lighting conditions and helping you compose the shot. The LCD's wide field of view makes it visible from other than head on, allowing you and your friends to easily review captured images. Because there's no optical viewfinder on this camera, SONY wisely provided this top-notch LCD; you'll enjoy using it.
Battery life was surprisingly good considering its small size; it captured nearly 140 shots before its capacity was spent, including the use of Steady Shot and a lot of time reviewing images and navigating the menu system. The NP-FT1 InfoLITHIUM battery is proprietary and charged out of the camera in the included BC-CS3 charger; as usual, I recommend that you obtain a spare to avoid the inevitable disappointment a dead battery can cause. The Memory Stick PRO Duo and battery are accessed behind the same door; there is a latching mechanism to prevent the battery from slipping out when the door is opened. The only issue I found with the camera's design was the placement of its lens near the top left corner of the body. It was too easily smudged by my left forefinger, which sometimes became an unwelcome addition to the images I captured. Keep a microfiber lens cleaning cloth handy to remove the inevitable smudge.
The T9 is a robust performer. From sliding open the lens cover till the first shot was captured measured an impressive 1.7 seconds; you will not miss many unposed spontaneous photo opportunities. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, measured 1/10 second when pre-focused, and lag including autofocus was an equally impressive 3/10 second; both of these times include about 1/10 second of delay in the live image on the LCD viewfinder. In single shot mode, images could be captured at a rate of 1 every 1.2 seconds without flash, and between 1.8 and 5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. Red eye flash lag measured 8/10 second, during which the LCD viewfinder goes blank.
The T9 has 2 modes of continuous image capture: Burst and Multi Burst. In Burst mode, I was able to capture 7 images at 7/10 second intervals; during the capture sequence the viewfinder briefly displayed the last captured image, helping you to follow a moving subject. It took 5 seconds to flush the buffer full of 6-megapixel Fine images onto the Memory Stick PRO Duo media. Multi burst records 16 images at a user-specified interval of 1/30, 1/15, or 1/7.5 second into a single 1-megapixel frame. It is 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 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo memory card, recording 2816 x 2112 6-megapixel JPG images in fine quality with flash off, and include viewfinder delay, photographer response time, and image capture; they are numbers you can reproduce in real-world shooting conditions.
I was pleased with the T9's outdoor shooting results. The lens produced sharp results throughout its 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom range, with a moderate amounts of barrel distortion at extreme wide-angle and pin cushioning at full telephoto. It zooms smoothly and nearly continuously throughout its 3X range; I counted 21 steps between full wide angle and full telephoto, more than enough for precise shot composition. Our outdoor test images were both well exposed and richly saturated, and had very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast areas.
Because of the limited flash range (9 feet) and 38mm wide angle focal length, you'll realize the best indoor results when shooting portraits of individuals and couples. Capturing a well-exposed flash image of even a moderately-sized room is beyond the T9's capability. Red-eye reduction flash mode was somewhat effective at close range, but using it caused the LCD to go blank for nearly one second before the exposure was made. The T9 is equipped with a focus-assist lamp which it uses automatically when needed; its low light autofocus performance is exceptional at close range. Closeup macro shots with the flash were excellent as the camera "throttles down" the flash output for nearly perfect exposures every time; the T9 would be a good choice for shooting close-up images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings. The T9 also has a "Magnifying Glass" close focusing mode that will focus as close as 1 centimeter, completely filling the frame with a small postage stamp; the short working distance makes lighting difficult, but if you need full frame images of small subjects, the T9 will accomodate. The T9 is also equipped with a tripod mount, useful both for macrophotography and to include yourself in group portraits with the selftimer.
The T9 has two features that were added to limit the motion blur that can ruin shots taken in dim lighting conditions. The extension of its sensitivity to ISO 640 allows the camera to use a shutter speed about 1/2 stop faster than at ISO 400; this helps to minimize the blur that can occur from both subject movement and camera shake. The T9's Steady Shot feature acts to reduce the effects of camera shake. I was able to get consistently blur-free shots at full telephoto at shutter speeds as low as 1/30 second, a two stop improvement over the rule of thumb 1/focal-length. This performance was especially impressive because of the relative instability of the shooting position one uses with an LCD viewfinder.
Image quality is very good. Noise is essentially absent at sensitivity settings of ISO 80 and 100. At ISO 200, you have to look hard to find noise in shadow areas, but it becomes more evident at ISO 400. Noise becomes detectable in highlight areas at ISO 640, but the overall image is more than acceptable and quite usable.
The T9 has a versatile movie mode, able to capture moving 640x480 images at 30 frames per second with sound. Be warned, however, that movies captured at this quality will consume a nearly 1.3-megabytes per second; make sure that you purchase a large capacity Memory Stick PRO Duo card if you intend to record movies in the cameras highest-quality mode. The T9 does have an in-camera movie editing function that can be used to divide your movies to a more memory-efficient size. The camera's zoom lens can be used to compose the movie before shooting, but the focal length can not be changed during recording.
Bottom line - with a 6-megapixel imager, very good image quality, small size, light weight and good-looks, the DSC-T9 is a high-quality go anywhere camera for recording your vacation travels and outdoor activities. It is less successful at capturing indoor family events because of its limited flash range, not-so-wide zoom range and marginally effective red eye reduction. With an MSRP of $449, the T9 is priced $100 more than its T5 sibling; the Steady Shot image stabilization feature alone will justify the T9's additional cost to many photographers, with the extra 1-megapixel of resolution and 1/2 stop greater sensitivity as bonuses. If you're on a budget, however, the 5-megapixel T5 remains worthy of consideration; it shares the T9's compact size, good looks and very good image quality.
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