The Sony T900 boasts a 12MP sensor, HD video recording and a range of impressive features. But with the lifestyle compact market already fairly saturated, does it bring anything new to the table? The What Digital Camera Sony T900 review investigates...
Sony T900 review – Features
Much like Canon’s IXUS series, Sony’s T range of compacts has offered a more sleek and contemporary alternative to its control-driven peers, with the flagship T900 perfectly underlining this concept. It continues the T-series style of a slim body and sliding lens cover, and underneath it all lies an impressive array of functionality.
The Sony T900 may feature a fairly standard 12MP sensor – undoubtedly sufficient for most – though turning the model around reveals an impressive 3.5in touchscreen LCD screen. Not just that, but with 921k dots to play with it’s among the best currently available on a compact.
With both Face and Smile detection, the T900 recognises when people are in the frame, as well as when to take the photo. Building on this, motion detection keeps the subject tracked when moving, while the Intelligent Scene Recognition system analyses scenes for detail, to determine what settings to use for each shot. And, as we may expect from Sony, HD video capture has also been provided, at 720p with a 30fps capture rate and stereo sound.
Among the more standard specifications is a 4x optical zoom lens, with an equivalent range of 35-140mm. This has been complemented with Optical Super SteadyShot image stabilisation for the prevention of camera shake, and a sensitivity range stretching to ISO 3200. There are no manual controls, though the Intelligent Auto, Program and a handful of scene presets should cover all eventualities. There’s also Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimiser on hand to help adjust the detail captured in darker and lighter extremeties.
Sony T900 review – Design
The Sony T900’s body is just over 16mm thick, and thanks to the touchscreen interface is largely free from controls. There’s just a zoom rocker and mode switch, together with playback and power buttons beside these. The camera’s slim profile doesn’t allow it any connective ports, save for one which fits onto the supplied dock – from here you can transfer images via USB or to HDMI monitors through the relevant interface.
Sony T900 review – Performance
Sliding the lens cover down powers up the camera, which is done at a reasonable but unremarkable pace. Should you be using its full 12MP resolution, the aspect ratio only fills the central part of the frame, though switching to the 16:9 widescreen setting allows the full screen to be used, at a reduced resolution of 9MP. At default the sides are lined with controls, such as for flash, smile detection and so on, but if you’ve adjusted all your settings to how you want them you can deactivate this display for a clearer view.
The camera has a couple of nice touches, such as the AF tap function which allows you to press the screen at a point where you would like it to focus. The Face Detection also works impressively well, and during the test even managed to recognise subjects wearing sunglasses. Sadly the same can’t be said for the Smile Detection, which even at its highest sensitivity is nowhere near as sensitive. Otherwise, focusing is quickly acquired by the camera, even when the camera needs to first move from one end of the focusing range to the other.
Now that we’ve seen a fair few DSLRs with LCD resolutions of 920,000 dots, it’s nice to see models like the T900 following suit. It should be noted, however, that while the touchscreen is in operation the resolution offers little, if any, advantage of models with 230,000dot screens. It only really shows its advantage when either reviewing images or using the movie mode.
On that latter subject, the movie mode is also quite capable, and that you can zoom optically while recording is useful, too. Videos, and images, relayed to a 19in HD television show very good detail, though it’s a shame that whenever you want to connect the camera to anything you need the dock with you. Using the movie mode also eats up battery life, which otherwise isn’t that great either.
Another minor annoyance comes when selecting functions, where half your time is spent pressing ‘OK’ just to confirm that you want to change something. The slight lack of sensitivity can also be mildly frustrating when going through the menu system, although this is understandable on a camera such as the T900 where making the screen any more sensitive would lead to a lot of unwanted keying errors. Buttons are generally large enough to press, though, meaning that I didn’t find myself accidentally selecting too many unwanted options.
Sony T900 review – Image Quality
The T900 camera can generally be relied upon to expose correctly, with flash exposures balancing foreground illumination well against backlit scenarios, though now and again it does have a tendency to underexpose the odd image. It’s only really when you look at images at 100% that you begin to see the camera’s weaknesses, most visible of which being noise, which even at ISO 80 gives images a rough texture. While this does have the tendency to compromise finer details, it’s pleasantly free from chroma noise.
The issues associated with getting a small, folded zoom lens into such a slim camera also show themselves, with barrelling noticeable at the wide end of the lens, softness towards edges and corners, and traces of chromatic aberration towards the edges of the frame. JPEGs also benefit from some considerable sharpening as they can be quite soft, though there’s no way to adjust this in-camera.
There's no doubting that £300 can get you a camera with better image quality than the T900, but then this isn't a camera the enthusiast is realistically going to consider. Having said this, I can think of far worse cameras under the 'lifestyle' umbrella, and if it's just for slipping in your shirt pocket and taking with you on a night out, there's no reason why you shouldn't consider the T900. What it lacks in image quality it makes up in useful features and a great user experience.