The Cyber-shot DSC-T900 is Sony's top-of-the-range T-series camera, a dazzling blend of technology, miniaturisation and multimedia. And so it should be at an average street price of £320. For that though, you get 12-megapixel stills, high-definition movies and one of the biggest, highest-resolution LCD displays ever seen on a camera.
Let's start with that 89mm (3.5-inch) LCD. Frankly, you can't miss it. It takes up pretty much the whole of the back of the camera, leaving no space for any controls. Not that the T900 needs any, because its touchscreen interface takes care of practically every adjustment. It works pretty well too, responding to a light press from your thumb with only the occasional hesitancy or vagueness. You'll need the manual now and again in the early days, but much of the time you can figure out where stuff is simply with a little trial and error.
The only other controls on this camera are power and playback buttons on the top and a shutter release with two levers around it. The front lever controls the zoom, while the rear lever switches between the still and movie modes.
At this price, the results had better be good -- and they are. For the sake of compactness, the T900 uses a miniaturised 'folded' lens that doesn't extend from the body. Such lenses are often slightly iffy on the optical side, but this one isn't. It's good and sharp, with not much distortion or colour fringing. It softens up slightly at the far end of its 4x zoom range, but this is common in compacts anyway.
If the stills are good, the movies are even better. They're not at a 'Full HD' resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, but the T900's 1,280x720-pixel movies are still very crisp and clear. You get stereo sound -- as long as you don't put your finger over the right-hand mic orifice -- and the ability to zoom in and out as you film. The autofocus keeps up well during filming too.
The icing on the cake is the playback quality on the 920,000-pixel LCD. You can play your movies back on your Sony Bravia TV -- once you've bought the optional cable -- but they look pretty damned good just played back on the camera.
Automatic scene recognition and fancy face-detection modes are de rigeur on any hi-tech compact, but the T900 doesn't rely on gadgets like these for its appeal.
There are a couple of design issues, however. One is the sliding front lens cover. It's no good trying to start the camera up with the power button because it's the lens cover that does it. You get used to that soon enough, but it's only after the loss of a couple of fingernails that you realise there's a knack to getting the damned thing open. With your right thumb on the baseplate and three fingers flat against the lens cover, a combination of gentle pressure and downward movement does the trick.
Then there's the interface. Why, when they've got 920,000 pixels to play with, did the designers settle for fuzzy, low-resolution icons? It's like finding your new Ferrari's got vinyl seats.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900 is expensive, but you can see where the money's gone. It's a classy piece of kit that produces good-quality stills and great HD movies. The touchscreen interface works well and the LCD is excellent. If you've got the cash, the T900's certainly got the style.
Edited by Charles Kloet