Like previous T-series cameras, the T7 uses a folded optics zoom lens. The zoom is mounted vertically in the camera, with a prism at the top to turn the light through 90 degrees. This means Sony can provide a 3x optical zoom within the body of the camera, rather than via a protruding lens.
The zoom range of 38 to 114mm (35mm equivalent) means the T7 isn't great for wide-angle shots of interiors or big groups of people, but does let you get close to more distant subjects. If you're interested in close-ups, the macro mode lets you get to within 80mm of small subjects, or you can switch to magnifying glass mode to get as close as 10mm. In this mode, a 5p coin can more than fill the frame.
Given that the T7 has buttons for all the main options (shooting mode, flash, macro, self timer, quick review, image size and delete), we suspect many users will never access the menus. If you get the urge to tinker, you can apply exposure compensation (±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps), change the focus mode (multi, centre, spot or a choice of five preset distances), or change the metering (multi, centre or spot). You can adjust white balance, although you can't set it manually, and fine-tune the saturation, contrast, brightness and flash level. On the downside, the menus are cryptic, with small icons that can be difficult to work out. We've seen friendlier efforts elsewhere, notably on the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z57.
Compared to ultracompact cameras such as the EX-Z57 and the Pentax Optio S5n, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T7 offers only a handful of scene modes: Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Soft snap, Landscape, High-speed shutter (for sport), Beach, Snow and Fireworks. Considering that four of these modes work best when the camera is mounted on a tripod, which involves having both the stand and a tripod to hand, we doubt you'll use them much. The range of special effects is even more limited: just B&W and Sepia.
Where the T7 does match the competition is with its Burst, Multi Burst and Movie modes. Burst mode records anywhere from 9 to 100 images in succession, depending on the image size, when you hold down the shutter button. Multi Burst records 16 small images in as little as half a second, then tiles them into a single frame. If you time it right, it's useful for analysing motion -- and a fun way to make montages. Finally, in Movie mode you can record VGA (640x480-pixel) video at 30fps. Having the speaker on the back means that if you turn the volume up, you can actually hear your audio.
We were initially sceptical about the folded optics lens, but images from the T7 were generally sharp and correctly exposed, with accurate colours. It sometimes overexposed brighter subjects and we occasionally felt the need to use exposure compensation. There was some barrel distortion at the wider end of the lens, but that's normal for small cameras, and there was little or no purple fringing on backlit subjects. Skin tones were well-balanced and natural.
The flash reaches 2 to 3m. It's adequate for taking portraits at night, but it won't enable you to light up a large room.
The macro and magnifying glass modes enable you to take interesting close-ups and can be great fun. Being able to use the flash in macro mode is a bonus, although you'll usually get better results with an alternative light source, such as a halogen desk lamp. Holding the camera steady can also be a problem.
Sony claims the battery is good for around 150 still images. We managed to capture over 300 in quick succession, with flash, and still had plenty of juice remaining. In real life you won't do that well, because you'll spend more time framing images and reviewing your shots, with the big screen draining juice out of the battery every minute. Nevertheless, Sony's figures seem credible.
Additional editing by Nick Hide