Lately, it seems as if Sony is releasing a new T-series camera every other week. The newest addition to this hip line of snapshooters is the Cyber-shot DSC-T50. Like the T30, it features a 7.2-megapixel CCD sensor, optical image stabilisation, a 3x optical, 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent), f/3.5-to-f/4.3 zoom lens, and sensitivity of as high as ISO 1,000.
However, instead of the T30's 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen, the DSC-T50 includes a 76mm (3-inch) touchscreen LCD. This touchscreen is the only major difference between the two models, and since Sony has priced them much the same, it looks as though you'll be able to choose whether you want a touchscreen or not.
Pricing the T30 and T50 identically is probably the best thing Sony could've done. As we've seen with the touchscreens on Sony's camcorders, not everyone likes the interface. In general, we find it somewhat clunky and cramped, especially on screens smaller than 76mm. The worst part is that touchscreens often aren't as responsive as hard buttons tend to be. We often ended up pressing the virtual touchscreen buttons multiple times before they worked.
Sony includes a stylus, which helps a lot, but it doesn't tuck into the camera body. Instead, you're supposed to attach it to the camera's strap, and we doubt many people will actually do that. Beyond the stylus, our best advice is to keep your fingernails long enough to use them when navigating the camera's menus. The screen is more responsive to fingernails than to softer fingertips.
The menus themselves could also do with some refinement. For instance, the first screen you come to includes seven choices -- shooting mode, flash mode, focus mode, resolution, exposure compensation, timer on/off, and macro/magnifying glass on/off -- as well as a menu button. That menu button leads you to a second level of menus, which lets you adjust other settings, such as ISO, white balance, colour mode, metering mode, JPEG quality and others, and also has a button to lead you to the Setup menu, where you can adjust even more settings. This means you have to toggle past the main menu page every time you want to change the ISO, and you have to navigate past two pages just to format a memory card or turn the red-eye reduction preflash burst on or off.
As much as we've harped on about the touchscreen, these issues may not matter as much to you if you don't change your camera's settings. If you're the type to set your camera up once, leave everything on auto and just press the shutter release, then the sleek, sparse design offered by the touchscreen -- there are a grand total of two buttons and a zoom rocker on the back -- will probably be very appealing to you. However, given the amount of empty space, it would've made much more sense for Sony to include a few buttons next to the LCD to simplify the menu system. For instance, just including dedicated buttons for direct access to the three levels of menus would have made the camera much more usable.
The rest of the camera's features and functions are essentially the same as the T30's. In other words, we like it. You won't find manual exposure controls, but those are rare in a pocket camera like this, anyway. If Sony had added aperture- and shutter-priority modes instead of a touchscreen, they would have set themselves apart from the pack in a more meaningful way.
Our only real gripe would be that the 3x optical zoom lens only opens as wide as an equivalent of 38mm. With so many pocket cameras offering 28mm lenses, and given that Sony hasn't widened the zoom range since the T-series was instituted, it's definitely time for a change, and that change should also include a faster lens. At its widest angle of view, the aperture is f/3.5, while an f/2.8 lens would be better suited to low-light shooting, such as at museums, nightclubs and indoor parties.
Speaking of low light, the DSC-T50 managed to keep noise down to usable levels, even at its top sensitivity setting of ISO 1,000. At ISO 80 and ISO 100, noise was practically nonexistent. At ISO 200, it began to creep in, but without taking away much detail. At ISO 400, it's slightly more noticeable and eats up some finer details -- for example, the hash marks on the tape measure in our test scene were blurry but still distinguishable from one another when viewed at 100 per cent. At ISO 800, those same hash marks blurred together and noise was very visible, and we saw only a minor increase when we boosted it to ISO 1,000. While not as desirable as images shot at lower ISOs, even at this camera's top ISO settings, the images should be suitable for 100x150mm prints as well as monitor viewing at less than full size.
In other aspects, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50's images were similarly pleasing. We witnessed images with well-saturated, accurate-looking colours and plenty of image detail at lower ISOs. The automatic white balance turned in warm results with our lab's tungsten hot lights, but the tungsten preset stepped in to save the day with much more neutral results. In actual daylight, the auto white balance served up nice, neutral colours.
Performance was fast. The time from pressing the power button to capturing its first image took 1.5 seconds, and the shot-to-shot time between subsequent images was also 1.5 seconds without flash, jumping slightly to 2.1 seconds with the flash turned on. The shutter lag measured 0.5 seconds in our high-contrast test and 1.5 seconds in low-contrast conditions. Continuous shooting clocked in with 1.3fps when capturing VGA-size JPEGs, and 1.4fps when capturing 7.2-megapixel JPEGs.
If you like its touchscreen interface, then Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T50 is a great choice in a pocket camera. If you'd rather stick with time-honoured, old-fashioned controls, then Sony's DSC-T30 offers everything this camera does and is just as excellent a choice. We suggest you go to a shop and try this camera alongside the T30 before buying, if possible, though both can produce beautiful images, especially in decent lighting conditions.
Additional editing by Nick Hide