Sony Cyber-shot DSC T77 digital camera review

3 out of 5
£249

For

Good image quality, metering, styling, build

Against

No optical viewfinder, slow and convoluted touchscreen-activated menus, image noise at higher ISOs, battery life, low light AF, slide down on/off lens cover

As ultra-compacts come the Sony Cyber-shot DSC T77 a supremely pocketable at a mere 15mms thin and the slim-line design is offset nicely by a well made body that’s dominated on the back by the large 3-inch colour touch-sensitive screen. On the front, the slide down on/off and lens protector dominates.

However, that thinness makes using that slide down control a bit of a fiddle since the camera can easily slip from your grasp unless you do it two handed. Thankfully a simple on/off button is provided but you still must slide the protective front down to take a picture. A slim-line shutter buttons sits alongside a tiny lens zoom (and the on/off button) switch that’s even fiddlier to use than the cover.

So, there are a couple of handling flaws, but the T77 also has some very clever kit on board. For a start the 10.1-megapixel sensor is backed-up by Sony’s BIONZ image processing engine and apart from rather noisy images at ISOs over 400, it works well enough at keeping colour and detail well controlled.

At ISO 800, 1600 and 3200 the pictures range from bad in terms of noise to unusable: ISO 1600 produces very noisy images with leached colour and big dollops of noise. ISO 3200 pictures are so bad that they have the appearance of an impressionist painting rather than a photograph, so numerous and blotchy are the dollops of noise: Monet would be proud!

Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom because what’s particularly impressive is the retained detail in the notoriously-difficult-to-get-right, grey skies, which have retained bags of subtle cloud detail in my shots taken on a grey day in London.

Other clever kit includes Sony’s Smile Shutter feature where, when active, the camera "watches" for a smiling face and automatically takes a snap at that point. It actually works rather well and so can help ensure everyone looks happy in the photos you take.

At least they’ll be smiling because we hit another problem that stopped me from smiling: the lamentable battery life performance. In two full charges (one overnight), the lithium-ion battery pack took a total of just 50 pictures, no video and with a modicum of flash.

I did not do a great deal of image reviewing either, as there simply wasn’t chance! The camera just flashed its battery warning at me and locked up. The battery pack is charged in the supplied charger that indicates when the battery is ready - its LED goes out when charging is complete, so there’s no mistaking that.

Okay, so far the camera is fiddly to use, has terrible high ISO noise issues and a dodgy battery. Nothing else could go wrong, could it? Well…

The T77’s interface is its large 3-inch touch-sensitive screen, a screen that performs admirably at the task of providing review and composition services whilst snapping. The display shows the view (or image in playback) to be snapped with touch-sensitive icons and controls that provide access to the main shooting options and menus.

Once the screen’s calibrated (you get to do this when you fist fire up the camera or at any time via the set-up menus), it’s surprisingly accurate even for someone with stubby fingers like mine. However, the menus themselves and the multiple levels of confirmation you need to go through to get to an adjustment is very frustrating indeed.

For instance, if you want to adjust the main camera settings, you can press the Home menu icon, then the large suitcase icon and then the Main Settings option that’s displayed. Then you must press the "OK" icon that appears to get to the adjustments.

You then choose an option, say, Beep settings (that thankfully can be turned off) and then you must press another "OK" icon. Finally, you get to a screen that allows you to set the beeps to off, shutter only or "on" where the camera beeps for everything. Trust me, you’ll want to turn that off.

Flash, ISO, Face Detection (and smile detection) self-timer and the like can all be set directly from the main screen without menus. But even in these cases, or when selecting a scene mode, you get overlaid pages of menus that can be confusing and it’s not immediately obvious how you get from one settings screen to another. In reality, you just press a lower page of settings to bring it to the front, which is quite intuitive once you realise that’s how they work.

Overall I’d say that there are so many icons on show it looks overly cluttered and while you can turn off all the screen menus and icon control options, the downside with that option is simply it leaves you a bit adrift in terms of control.

In terms of shooting performance the camera’s focusing is quite good in all but low light where it simply throws in the towel, even with the AF assist lamp doing the best it can. Image stabilisation (Sony’s optical Steady Shot feature) is good and helps you use lower ISO settings than otherwise would be wise.

White balance is excellent as is metering, which got things just about right on all my shots, so a big positive here. Exposure compensation provides a modicum of control over more challenging metering situations. Overall, then the images are very good as long as you keep the camera below ISO 800, ideally below ISO 400 whereupon colour and detail are generally very good.

Verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot T77 looks very nice and is well made but the problems, as we have seen, make the camera a bit of a handful despite its svelte lines and this has cost it dear in terms of points.

Most worrisome was the battery problem (or the camera’s use of that power) suffice to say, as long as the camera is used in good lighting at low ISOs, it’s a perfectly acceptable performer, though the handling issues and touchscreen interface can be frustrating. Outside those bounds and at higher ISOs things go quickly off the rails.