Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 (silver)

Price: $320.95
The good:
Attractive design; useful feature set; fast performance.
The bad: Nearly too small; touch screen not for everyone; soft photos.
The bottom line: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 is a fun, fast ultracompact, but it's almost too tiny for its own good.
Digital camera type: Ultracompact ; Resolution: 10.1 megapixels ; Optical zoom: 4 x ; See full specs
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 is roughly the size of a closed flip phone, and its internal 4x zoom lens lets it stay that size even in use. Also, since it sports a touch-screen display with next to no physical controls, it slides into and out of a pants pocket with no effort. Its smallness, however, has an impact on usability and photo quality. It's a fairly quick camera, though, so if you can overlook its less-than-sharp photos and don't mind the touch-based interface, the T77 is one of the better ultracompact cameras around.
Typical of Sony's T-series cameras, the T77 is quite stylish and available in multiple colors: silver, black, green, pink, and brown. The camera has an elegant feel with a full metal body up front and on the sides, and nothing but screen on the back. In fact, the only physical controls are the power and shutter buttons on top and the little nub of a zoom rocker at the right corner. The only other button is a small playback mode button at the top right of the display. To take a picture you simply slide down the flat, metal lens cover and click away. You'll want to be careful of errant fingers getting in shots and touching the lens, however, as the lens is positioned at the far left, and the camera is so small it can be difficult to hold.

If having to wipe off fingerprints is a deal breaker, you'll want to skip this camera and probably all touch-screen models, for that matter. Aside from fingerprints, you might take issue with the touch screen's responsiveness. The T77 does all right with fingers, but it's better with the included stylus (or "Paint Pen" as Sony calls it) likely because you can be more precise with your taps. It clips onto the wrist strap and lets you quickly poke around the three onscreen menus (Home, Menu, and Display) along with the in-camera retouching and painting tools (you can add stamps, frames, or draw on pictures) all while keeping the screen free of fingerprints.

One of the better uses for a touch-screen display for shooting is the availability of a touch-based autofocus system. Simply tap on your subject onscreen and that's what the camera will focus on. However, the T77 occasionally struggled, requiring multiple taps to get the right subject. But, you, of course, don't need to use it, and the camera otherwise has a reasonable amount of shooting options without getting bloated and overly complicated. This includes Sony's auto scene recognition called iSCN, which picks the correct settings according to what's being shot: Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight using a Tripod, Portrait, Landscape, and Macro.

The T77 put up some impressive performance numbers for its class. Shutter lag in particular was excellent at 0.3 second in brightly lit conditions and 0.6 second in dim (a lag time we usually get in good lighting). From off to first shot takes 2.1 seconds and it's ready to take another photo in 2.2 seconds. Turning on the flash only drives that time up to 2.8 seconds. The T77 also has a good burst speed of 1.7 frames per second.

Considering how small this camera is, photo quality is respectable with very good color (though reds and whites tended to bloom), white balance, and contrast at low ISO sensitivities, though there's some visible lens distortion on the left side, which is common in this class of cameras. Photos printed up to 8x10 inches in size were fine quality, though all photos generally look soft. Viewed at 100 percent, we saw some chromatic aberration (purple fringing), and off-center elements of scenes look fuzzier as sharpness degrades quickly from the center to the sides. Noise suppression in the pictures becomes noticeable at ISO 400 and starts to seriously obscure detail at ISO 800; we don't suggest using higher settings.

The 640x480-pixel resolution video captured by the T77 is better than most video we see from ultracompact cameras. You also get full use of the optical zoom, and since it's internal, you don't hear it moving in and out while recording movies.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77 is a very good ultracompact camera. While I like Sony's touch-screen interface, it's definitely not for everyone and can easily get tedious and frustrating some users.



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