Sony Cybershot T300 Concise Review
The T300 has seven White Balance presets (Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent Light 1, 2 and 3, Incandescent and Flash), in addition to its automatic mode. It doesn't have any option to set your own white balance, based on the actual lighting conditions, however, so the accuracy of these presets becomes even more important. Especially because, although the T300's color representation changes when the White Balance is altered, the LCD screen isn't even nearly color-accurate. So it's easy to choose the preset that looks closest on the LCD, only to find all your pictures have heavy blue, green or amber casts when you view them on your computer.
|Auto White Balance||Fluo Preset||Auto White Balance||Incandescent preset|
|Fluorescent light - Auto white balance average,
Fluo 1 (best performing) white balance average
|Incandescent light - Auto white balance average,
Preset white balance average
The T300's built-in flash has a quoted operating range of up to 7.2m at ISO3200, or 3.5m at Auto ISO. These figures look pretty respectable but that's more than can be said for the results. A combination of a relatively slow lens and a fairly underpowered flash essentially rules out the use of flash below ISO400 unless you want to stand right in the faces of your subjects. This effect can be seen in our test shot - the flash isn't powerful enough to reach our subject, resulting in slight underexposure. This shot was taken at a range of less than 2 meters.
|Skin tone -
Rather red color shift and slight underexposure
Good tone, good exposure.
The T300 is one of the first cameras to apply Sony's latest approach to Macro, which provides access to macro focusing at all times. Basically, the standard focusing mode will attempt to focus in the close-up range if it fails to find anything in its normal focusing range first. Conversely, if it doesn't find any nearby objects to focus on while in macro mode, it will then hunt through the normal focus range. Finally there's a super-close-up that is really quite impressive. With a minimum focusing distance of 1cm You can pretty much press the camera up to an object and it'll still manage to focus and deliver a 20 x 15mm area.
|This shot taken at around 1cm from our test chart. It's worth clicking on, just to see the kind of detail, (including sinister yellow machine identification dots?), that are visible in our chart.|
The Sony T300 can record movies at three quality levels - 640 x 480 at 30fps, 640 x 480 at 25 fps or 320 x 240 at 25 fps. Although the T300 can output still images to an HD television, it can't record HD or even 16:9 video.
Overall quality is pretty good, with movies running smoothly and showing few compression artifacts. The MPEG files are relatively large - at the best quality setting (640x480 / 30fps) you're burning around 1.4MB every second.
The optical zoom locks in position once you're pressed the record button, but you can continue to use digital zoom throughout. The camera's image stabilization continues while recording which, while not as good as strapping yourself into a Steadicam, will stop your friends thinking you've taken to videoing minor Earthquakes, every time you record things at the long end of the zoom.
Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)
The increase in resolution over the best 8 megapixel cameras is marginal, looking at our resolution chart - and this is the test that usually shows the biggest difference between sensor resolution. The results are also far from 'clean', showing rather unpleasant artifacts and obvious sharpening.
|Click here for the full resolution test chart||
resolution 1950 LPH
resolution 1900 LPH
Dynamic range optimization
In spite of its anything-but-a-camera looks, the T300 shares most of its features with Sony's range-topping compact, the W300. In fact the features list also stretches to include versions of the functions that appear on the company's DSLRs. This includes Dynamic Range Optimization - a post-processing option that brightens the shadow regions of the image to give a more balanced image in high contrast situations.
The metering doesn't change to retain bright areas of the image, but tends to do a good job in this respect anyway. Processing slows the camera down considerably but the results are pretty good and, because they are produced internally using the raw data, almost certainly better than you could get by post-processing a jpeg from the camera.
Another uncommon feature that appears on the T300 is the ability to apply an unsharp mask to images. Unsharp masking was a technique used in film processing to emphasize the edges of slightly soft images and the digital equivalent does much the same thing. At a whole-image level, the results of this sharpening can be beneficial, giving a much sharper, punchier looking image if it is viewed on screen or a small print. Zoom in or print at larger sizes and the limitations become apparent - it exaggerates the flaws in the T300's image quality. A nice feature but needs to be used carefully.
With in-camera unsharp mask applied
Distortion and other image quality issues
The tiny 5x zoom squeezed into the T300 does have certain disadvantages. At the wide end of the zoom there's -1.0% barrel distortion (click here for test chart) - which isn't bad, all things considered, though you wouldn't want to be using it for stealing blueprints. Rather noticeable (1.2%) distortion at all at telephoto end (click here for test chart), can make scenes with lots of parallel lines look a bit odd.
The T300 is a very small camera with a very small lens and a very small sensor. And that's always going to mean compromises. The T300's metering tends to concentrate on retaining highlights, even if that sometimes involves under-exposing the rest of the scene. This works fairly well with the camera's dynamic range optimization and is a fairly reasonable way of coping with the limited dynamic range that small sensors offer. In addition, the usual suspects of purple fringeing and chromatic aberration are present. Again, this is no great surprise on a camera with a small sensor and is no worse than you'd see in competing cameras. None of these is particularly remarkable.
Noise reduction smearing
The biggest problem we saw repeatedly with the T300 (and which was also visible on the Ricoh R8 that appears to share the same sensor), is loss of detail to noise reduction. Even at its lowest sensitivity setting, the T300 is having to apply noise reduction - with really rather unpleasant results. Grass, leaves and anything with a fine, repetitive pattern are smeared to a smooth, unnatural sludge.
|35mm equiv., F2.8, ISO 80||100% crop|
Just to check that this made a real-world difference, we produced some A3 prints from this images. The results are tolerable from a distance but don't stand up to scrutiny if studied at arm's length or closer. This means the T300 should be fine for small, family album prints, but its output won't tolerate much cropping or blowing-up. This is true even at the lowest ISO settings and needs to be borne in the mind of anyone thinking that the 'extra megapixels' might come in useful - if they don't allow you to blow up your images or crop in to create a better composition, then what benefit do they bring, for anyone other than the manufacturers of the larger hard drives required to store the larger images?
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