Sony is good at designing products that look both stylish and simple, and this is true of the Cyber-shot DSC-T3. Like its predecessor the Sony T1, the 5 megapixel T3 has little in common with traditional camera design so you will either love it or hate it. Gone are the optical viewfinder and bulky, protruding lens. In their place, Sony has given the camera what it describes as its best LCD panel and a 3x optical zoom lens that operates within the camera body, rather than extending out.
The 2.5 inch LCD panel takes up nearly two thirds of the back surface, which makes it easy to frame shots. Size alone does not make a good LCD. Having developed the best screens on laptops, Sony has been ploughing money into overcoming the problems of camera LCDs that fade into a useless blur in bright sunshine. For a camera without an optical viewfinder, this is essential. The T3 features Clear Photo, a new technology that uses a mirrored surface under the LCD to counter the reflective effects of bright sunlight on the surface. Sony claims this gives a 40% improvement in colour reproduction and that the LCD has higher contrast, resolution and brightness. We had neither summer sunshine or snow-covered slopes to hand to test the LCD, but we did happen to have a few hours of very bright winter sunshine. The screen performed well, much better than my Canon and better from memory than other LCDs that we have tried. Even with the sun at its strongest, right behind us, the image on the LCD remained visible in detail. Sony's Clear Photo LCD in bright sunshine is not yet on a par with the best traditional optical viewfinders for clarity of image. But then Sony is only claiming a 40% improvement, which gives plenty of room for the technology to improve and for you to have to buy another camera.
To keep the T3 compact, the camera has an interesting lens. Sony has not abandoned its love affair with Carl Zeiss, but has instead developed what it says is a unique zoom, specially equipped with a folded path optical lens system. It operates within the body of the camera. This keeps the camera very sleek: a real spy camera given its 91x60x17.8mm tiny dimensions. The aluminium lens cover operates electronically, which adds to the convenient, all in one feel of the camera.
Other features include a four-shot speed burst mode and nine scene selection modes. The Magnifying Glass mode is handy. It enables you to magnify by up to 3.3x what appears on the LCD. Sony says this is useful if you are photographing things to sell on ebay and want detailed shots. Also very handy are the onscreen indicators that show very clearly the current battery and storage levels. Battery consumption is good but you will want to upgrade the 32Mb storage. Sony's Real Imaging Processor is lightning fast: the T3 takes bursts of up to four full-resolution images at three frames per second and a single push of the power button has it ready to use in under a second.
For non-traditionalists, the T3 is everything you could wish for. It is small enough to operate with one hand and taking photos with it is much, much less obtrusive.
But the neat, compact form has its drawbacks. Firstly, we found the on/off button and in particular the shutter button, difficult to use. From behind, the shutter button is hidden and since everything about this camera is small, we were pretty useless at finding it and had to tilt the camera or peer over. All the other controls and menus were fine. Secondly, for a camera that is designed to be carried at all times, it is too heavy - 171g - and ruins the line of your trousers or shirt if you keep it in a pocket. Lastly, the LCD is gorgeous but Sony tells you not to put the camera down on its LCD side, which in practice is very hard to remember.
This product was kindly loaned to us by www.sainsburysentertainyou.co.uk