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Sony CyberShot DSC-T700
10.1MP | 35-140mm (4X) ZOOM | $380

The T700 is the latest in a long line of Sony card-style cameras and, in common with its most recent T200 and T300 models, it features a touch-screen user interface. The T700 is smaller than either of its immediate forebears and is the first compact we've encountered to offer a high resolution 921,000 dot display (similar to that which is starting to become standard on mid-level DSLRs). Those dots may be spread slightly thinner over a 16:9 aspect ratio screen, but the effect is still more resolution devoted to image display and replay than its rivals. In addition to its minimalism and touch-screen wizardry, the T700 aims to be a photo album that you can take with you. To this end, the camera contains an astonishing 4GB of memory (which, along with the high-res screen, probably helps to explain the high price). It also boasts optical image stabilization and an automatic scene selection mode that assesses what you're taking a photo of and uses the appropriate scene mode (from a selection of eight).

  • 10.1 effective Megapixels
  • 35-140mm equiv lens with 4x Optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
  • 3.5-inch Touch screen LCD with 921,000 dot resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Face Recognition of up to 15 faces, Anti-blink function and D-Range Optimizer
  • 9-Point Autofocus and Semi Manual Focus
  • 21 scene modes including Easy Shooting Mode
  • Faster BIONZ processor
  • HD output
  • In-Camera Retouching
  • 4GB internal memory
  • Available in silver, gray, red, pink and gold
  • Optional Accessories available

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Overview

The T700 is one of the thinner cameras in this test, despite the fact that there are even slimmer models in Sony's current lineup. The already subtle DSC-T300 has gone on a diet, had extraneous fat and flourishes removed to produce the distinctly low-key T700. There's almost nothing to the thing - the front is silver and the back is black and that's about it. But the key word there is almost. Sony has retained four external controls, including a zoom lever, that makes the camera much faster to use than the Nikon S60. It has also added a super-subtle thumb grip to the right-hand edge of the camera, providing somewhere less slippery to hold the camera than a thumb against the touch-screen. But placing the lens so near the corner of the camera makes it rather too easy to inadventantly include the sinister shadow of your finger in your otherwise carefully-composed shots.

As for that screen, what a screen it is! Like the Nikon S60, the T700 doesn't always use its display to optimal effect because the aspect ratio is wider than its imaging sensor (16:9, rather than 4:3, which means that up to 25% of the screen is taken up by things other than the image). However the T700's dramatically higher resolution means it is still producing more detail in the 'image' regions than any other camera in this group can match. The touch-screen seems slightly more responsive than the Nikon's, but there are still more 'do something when I press you!' moments than you'd ideally want.

Unfortunately (and inexplicably for a camera aimed clearly at the premium end of the market) the user interface hasn't been redesigned to match the high resolution screen. This means that the menus and especially the icons look pixelated, and have obviously (and clumsily) been up-sized from a lower resolution. This even extends to the live preview, which is at a lower resolution than the screen (to actually view the image using all that the screen can offer you need to go into playback mode). After using recent SLRs with similar displays we were looking forward to trying the T700 - and what a disappointment to discover that the camera's processor can't actually output video at a high enough resolution to take advantage of all those screen pixels. You want to see a true high resolution interface? Pick up an iPhone. This looks like a bad photocopy in comparison. If you've ever tried to run an LCD monitor at a lower resolution you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Frankly, it's a disappointment, and out of keeping with the camera's premium design philosophy.

As part of its portable photo album bent, the T700 has a slew of tools to help you arrange, file and recall your saved images. The accompanying software even has an option to pull files from the camera, resize them to the resolution of the camera's screen, then upload them back again so that they take as little memory as possible. It's an interesting idea (and one that works much more effectively if you're using it in collaboration with a home computer) that at least makes an attempt to set the camera apart from everything else on the market.

Key Features

The T700 isn't the slimmest camera in this test, or even its own manufacturer's lineup (the T77 is yet-more wafer-like). But it's still fairly slight. it certainly puts the other touch-screen cameras (Nikon's S60), to shame.
The T700 is undeniably minimalist, both in terms of styling and the level of external control. But the point is that the exterior features have been taken no further than the minimum needed to control the camera. For instance, Sony has remembered to include a zoom lever (take note, Nikon designers).
And what's this? It's an improvement over its predecessor: a subtle but effective thumb grip.

The edges of the screen tend to accommodate the shooting settings - unless you're using the 16:9 shooting mode that uses a smaller area of the imaging sensor.

Pressing any of the icons on the black panels produces a list of the options for that setting.

Pressing the menu button brings up a sub-menu that gives access to the key shooting settings. (And quite a few other options).
Pressing the Home 'button' brings up a rather complicated menu from which you select the menu you want to access. It's not a great way of doing things but, as with all user interfaces, you can learn it if you want to.
The menus themselves look like this - there are only a few options per page because they have to be large enough to be easily selected on the screen (this one runs to six pages).
In keeping with the 'photo album' concept, images can be searched by date taken, by folder or by tags (events or favorites). It's not the easiest system to use but a little practice would no doubt help.

Image quality and performance

The T700 has probably the fastest focus here, and it stays fast even in relatively low light. Overall speed of operation is also very generally very good, with shot to shot times, flash recycling and shutter lag some of the quickest in the group. Startup and (especially) switching to playback mode are the only flies in the ointment, both being somewhat on the slow side for a camera in this class.

Image quality is the usual mixed bag, but is a lot better than we expected from a camera obviously designed by deciding how thick it was going to be, fitting the biggest screen possible and working backwards from there. The lens is actually very good; far better than most folded zooms, and the camera produces sharp results at all zoom settings. The auto white balance is excellent and the colors, though a bit vivid for our tastes, are actually pretty realistic. The high saturation and high contrast does mean that we saw some highlight and color clipping on very bright days, but it's not a big issue.

We saw some purple fringing in our test shots (most taken in fairly dismal weather), and on further testing found that when shooting against the light (for example trees in front of a bright sky) purple fringing could actually be quite a problem. We also saw a few metering issues, with over or under exposure far from rare. On a more positive note flash exposure is excellent and flash shots have a nice, flattering warm tone. Be aware, though, that the flash is woefully weak and won't reach far at all unless you go right up the ISO range. High ISO performance is roughly in the middle of the group, with heavy noise reduction keeping thing clean without removing every semblance of detail.

At a pixel level the T700's shortcomings are obvious; smearing of low contrast detail at base ISO, over sharpening, a bit of noise in the shadows. But there's lots of detail across the frame and the output is a lot crisper than most of the cameras here. Color is pretty good too; vivid without being too vivid, and aside from some highlight clipping and purple fringing the output is better than we expected.

Summary

The Sony T700 is possibly the most stylish compact camera on the market today (if your idea of stylish lies in minimalism, of course), and it shares the tactile appeal of the Casio S10, as well as its ultra slim profile that's ideal for slipping into a jacket pocket. It's pretty fast, the image quality is generally pretty good and the fact you get 4 GB of storage is a real bonus if you're the 'let me show you a few pictures of the kids' type. The low resolution user interface and live preview image make the superb screen seem like an afterthought bolted on at the last minute (though in playback mode you do get to see all that glorious resolution), and it's hard to avoid the impression that the T700 was rushed out when you see some of the awful icons.

Overall though this is a hard camera to hate; the touch screen works a lot better than that on the Nikon S60 and Sony has sensibly kept the zoom lever intact. Crucially it focuses quickly even in low light, and takes flattering flash photos (as long as you don't try to get too far away from the subject - more than about 10 feet and the flash can't cope), so it's perfect for social snapping in low light. Ultimately the price is hard to justify (given that a 4 GB Memory Stick would cost you no more than $20), but that never stopped people paying over the odds for a 'cool' product before, did it? (Sony and Apple would be dead by now otherwise!)

  • We like: Super slim styling, big, high res screen, good image quality (sharpness, color) and excellent flash performance, fast focus, built in memory/album function
  • We don't like: Low resolution user interface (doesn't match screen res) and live preview, hard to hold steady (and to avoid 'finger over the lens' syndrome', occasional highlight clipping/exposure problems/purple fringing, price
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