Equipped with a Carl Zeiss 3X optical zoom lens that never protrudes from the camera body, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T7 powers on when you slide the built-in rectangular lens cover down. You have to take care not to accidentally open the cover, however--another reason a case is a good idea.
The control layout works well, although photographers with larger hands may find it difficult to hold and operate the camera. And those with less than acute eyesight may have trouble identifying the tiny icons that accompany each control.
Given its small size and its generous 2.5-inch LCD, there's no room for an optical viewfinder on the T7. The LCD is bright and usable as a viewfinder in conditions other than direct sunlight, and it displays a clear and easy-to-navigate menu system.
The memory card and battery slots are well disguised at the bottom and side of the camera, respectively. If you keep your fingernails short, you might find both slot covers difficult to open, and it takes extra effort to eject the card and the battery.
Too slim to incorporate a standard tripod mount, the Cyber Shot DSC-T7 comes with a stand that has one. You just place the camera in the stand, lock it in, and attach the stand to your tripod. The stand also holds the camera at a good viewing angle when sitting on a tabletop or a desk--handy for viewing slide shows on the large LCD. Squarely aimed at the snapshot set, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T7 is easy to use right out of the box on Auto. Shooting in one of the 10 scene modes is equally effortless. Typical options such as Landscape, Beach, Snow, High-Speed Shutter, and Fireworks are complemented by the less common Candle, Soft Snap (for soft focus), and Magnifying Glass, which allows macro focus as close as 0.39 inch. The 3X zoom lens has a range of 38mm to 114mm (35mm-camera equivalent), which makes it less than ideal for shooting a lot of people in a tight space or for other subjects that would benefit from a wider angle of view.
In Program mode, you have access to exposure compensation; white-balance presets; adjustments to sharpness, contrast, and saturation; and three metering options. Burst mode, exposure bracketing, and multiburst mode--with selectable intervals--are also available, as are color effects, including black-and-white and sepia. Light sensitivity can be set to automatic or selected from ISO 64 to ISO 400.
Your focus-mode options include spot, center, and multipoint autofocus, along with a limited manual focus. In addition to Single AF, you can choose Monitor AF, which automatically focuses before you press the shutter button halfway. Although this taxes the tiny battery, we found it more effective when shooting moving subjects.
You can select from five file-size options and two compression settings. When you have a Memory Stick Duo Pro installed, this camera also captures 640x480 video with sound at a smooth 30fps. Using a plain Memory Stick Duo card limits you to the Standard video mode, whose frame rate drops to a jerky 16.6fps, as well as a Video Mail option that cuts the resolution to 160x112 at 8.3fps. Our Standard mode test movie was good but not exceptional, and it looked a little noisy when viewed on a computer monitor.
If you spend time in or around the water, check out the Sony's nifty-looking sport jacket (a.k.a. waterproof housing) for the Cyber Shot DSC-T7. You can't take it scuba diving, but it's depth rated for up to 9.8 feet. The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T7 performed quite well. It took us less than 1.5 seconds to slide the lens cover open and take the first shot. Shot-to-shot times were good, too, at about 1.2 seconds, or 1.6 seconds with flash.
Burst mode allowed us to capture as many as nine full-resolution frames at 1.5 frames per second. At low resolution and high compression, frames per second were a nanosecond slower, but the camera captured 15 images. While we liked the speed, we were a little disappointed at the 15-image maximum at low resolution.
Equipped with an autofocus illuminator lamp, the T7 handled low-light conditions well, with minimal shutter lag. Our only gripe is that there's little wiggle room between pressing the shutter button halfway to lock in focus and actually releasing the shutter.
The internal zoom lens moved smoothly and silently through its eight steps. Turning the digital zoom on requires a trip to the setup menu, however. Although Sony claims its Smart Zoom avoids the degradation caused by other digital zooms, we still recommend sticking with the optical zoom.
The biggest disappointment in performance is the built-in flash. With a reach of only 5.25 feet, it rarely requires toning down. Increasing the intensity level didn't help much in our efforts to cast a brighter light; you'll need to be relatively close to your low-light subjects. With few exceptions, our test shots from the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T7 were mediocre. Its slow f/3.5 lens and problems handling high-contrast scenes regardless of metering mode left us with blown highlights and dark shadows. And unless we manually set light sensitivity to ISO 64 or 100, our photos were plagued by extreme image noise. Even at their best, most images were not as sharp or detailed as we had hoped they would be. Although we noticed little purple fringing, yellow flowers gave off an otherworldly glow around the edges.
Indoor shots, even with flash and the appropriate white-balance setting, were warm, with golden backgrounds. Auto white balance worked better outdoors, and colors were generally accurate, though not highly saturated.