Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500 digital camera review

If full touchscreen is your thing then you have a growing number of cameras available to you. The Cyber-shot T500 from Sony offers a full touch interface, but can it deliver your photos too?

Coming with a brushed, coloured aluminium front, and a back taken up entirely by the screen, the first thing that strikes you about the T500 is the build quality, which overall, feels reassuringly expensive. The front features a lens cover that slides down, in two segments, which looks neat, but seems to incorporate double the number of moving parts, perhaps not absolutely necessary.

As the touchscreen is the main interface for everything, buttons are kept to a minimum. The top sees the power and playback buttons, as well as the shutter button that sits amidst a small zoom level at the front and a still/video selector switch on the back.

This minimalist approach continues around the camera, with a single flap on the bottom housing a Memory Stick Pro Duo (not supplied) and the battery. A single connector resides on the bottom – you don’t get the normal Mini-USB or AV connections you’d expect on a camera of this type. Instead you’ll find a docking station in the box, which features an HDMI, AV out, Mini-USB and power connector. The USB and AV cables are provided, but the HDMI is missing, which at this price seems mean.

You'll need to use the dock to get the images out of the camera, unless you have the right flavour of card reader on your PC, which can be a pain for those on the move who want to travel light.

The lens is generally pretty good, with some barrel distortion at the widest angle, you also get a 5x optical zoom and image stabilisation included. The lens location can be a problem, as in the top left-hand corner it is easy to put your finger over it whilst gripping the camera.

Control of the camera through that 3.5-inch 16:9 touchscreen (230,400 dots) is relatively straightforward and certainly poses no problems. Almost all icons can be touched, but the main touch areas will be in the corners and down the left- and right-hand sides, allowing you to select the main options – capture resolution, self-timer and shooting mode on the left, and flash and macro modes on the right, giving you most of the controls you’ll need in normal shooting.

You can venture into the scene modes if you prefer, giving you the normal selections of High ISO (up to 3200), Twilight and so on. A program mode gives you a little more creative control, allowing you to shoot with the exposure and aperture set automatically and leaving you to change the other settings to your requirements. These settings are worth getting to know because the Auto mode is something of a double-edged sword.

Outdoors the Auto mode fairs rather well, but then this is to be expected. Indoors or in low light things are not so simple, thanks to some clever flash and ISO control. Indoors, on a normal day when most cameras will deploy the flash, the T500 tries not to, instead increasing the sensitivity. This does mean that you don’t get the common blowout from the flash firing, but it does mean you end up with a lot of image noise.

This is because the camera jumps the ISO up, which does capture your image, often shake free and fairly sharp, but does mean that you’ll get mottled shadows: shadows turn speckled and this is a far too common occurrence and mars the overall performance of the camera, especially if you want to view your images in a large format, such as on your TV.

Outdoors things are much more pleasant, with shadows respected much more with ISO kept on a tight leash. Focusing is good overall and rarely a problem, as you can touch a spot on the screen and have the camera focus on that point. Face detection is also present, including a face focus mode, although the face detection really struggles and rarely finds the face until it is filling the frame. The macro mode, however is a different story. Close focus from about 1cm means that detailed close-up shots are a breeze.

With this camera featuring a 10.1-megapixel sensor, the native aspect ratio is 4:3 which doesn’t match most TVs. We like the fact that you can, with a few presses, switch to a different resolution and it tells you the aspect ratio too, so a drop down to 7MP will give you 16:9 - perfect for your widescreen TV.

This is no small point either, because the enclosed dock makes it a great camera for pairing up with your TV. Simply connect the HDMI and away you go. If you have a compatible TV then you’ll be able to control your images from the TV remote. Viewing on a TV does reveal many of the imaging problems that this camera harbours, but that aside, it is a nice way to view and share those images and we found ourselves using it heavily whilst testing the camera. It also plays into the hands of the camera’s other headline feature: 720p video capture.

It is worth considering that 720p is only a number: it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get super quality video. Whilst you can still get a good detailed video, as soon as you start moving the camera things go awry. It captures in MPEG4 H.264, so file sizes aren’t really offensive, but at the highest settings you’ll fill a 1GB card in 12 minutes.

To get the very best results you need to be in plenty of light and try to keep the camera still as judder appears very quickly once you start moving: this won’t perform well for those wanting to capture passing riders at the Tour De France, but for your kids singing in a garden it does well. Sound capture is actually fairly impressive, recording in stereo without many of the problems that normally blight video on such cameras.

Verdict

We got about 100 shots from the camera before being met with the first flat battery. At times you’ll find you get less, especially if you are taking pictures, showing them off, or standing waiting for the right moment with the camera on. Filming full quality video, we found that about 20 minutes (filmed in 3 bursts) got through half the battery.

This is a concern, because you probably wouldn’t make it through your average wedding without changing the battery. Stupidly, the docking station doesn’t charge the battery either, even with USB connected, which is really irritating, as the camera will stay on when docked and just run itself into the ground.

There is plenty packed into the T500 to get involved with, but the camera really revolves around several factors, the touchscreen being the main one. On the whole we found it responsive and easy to use with easy access to all the settings, but for the more advanced setting you will have to dig them out.

Imaging is something of a mixed bag, with noise a real problem unless you take back control from the camera. That said, feed it light and you’ll get the results you want without too many problems. Focusing is a pleasure and easy to touch focus on the fly. Indoors you need to take care to capture the image you want.

If you want to record regular video diaries for viewing on a large screen, then the T500 works nicely without needing a dedicated camcorder.

Overall a nice compact camera, but with limitations that need to be considered.