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Scott's Column
Sony DSC-T9 Digital Camera, Son's New Laptop

September 1, 2006
By Scott Lewis

This month I am going to "review" the Sony DSC-T9 digital camera. My son also got his first laptop. He is paying for half of it out of his allowance. Let's see what an 11 year old needs.

Gaming

Well, as luck would have it I have not yet had time to play Max Payne. My youngest son got Star Wars Battlefront II and I bought Need For Speed Most Wanted. I have installed Max Payne and gone through the tutorial about 4 times. I like the game play and using the "Bullet Time" feature. But I have not wanted to get too deep into a plot yet.

Battlefront II (BF2) isn't much for me, not that the game itself is bad. Quite the opposite. It plays well, and my kids love it. It even runs well on my son's new laptop. It's just that after playing Jedi Knights Jedi Academy to the very end... twice (once good and once dark)... I'm not ready to get that far into the Star Wars universe again. I was testing Far Cry under Windows Vista and almost started playing it all over again. It would have been more fun than another Star Wars game.

I am really liking Need for Speed Most Wanted. The hazy look of the "world" is cool. Obviously gameplay is much like Need for Speed Underground. In career mode you have your car taken as part of an illegal street race (you were sabotaged) and you have to work your way up the "black list" to the top to take on the guy that has been using your car to be the top man.

You can easily play the game without paying any attention to the plot. This is a game about racing. NFSNW does not pretend to be an authentic racing simulation. Although you are definitely rewarded for driving a clean line, you can win by crashing into almost anything. Light poles, boxes, even gas pumps (if you crash into a gas pump the entire gas station will blow up). The biggest thing that is a huge improvement over NFSU is the inclusion of cops to chase you. Also they did away with the drifting in NFSU which was poorly implimented if you ask me.

Mixed in with driving specific racing events are "bounty" events. At the end of the race events you are left to "free roam." During free roam you can get into chases with the cops and earn bounty points. You need to earn certain bounty points as well as win the races to continue your way up the black list. You will have to use the free roaming to get to the garage to buy upgrade, or to go to the place to buy additional cars. However, even though you can drive your way back to your "safe house" you can exit free roam and be transported back to the safe house. You enter race events and other things from the safe house.

Overall I am hooked. I plan to play this one to the end in career mode, as well as play plenty of the "Challenge" races. The challenge races are quick races with specific goals... such as evade the police for 5 minutes. This is the best way to get into a quick race against the cops.

For $20 it was well worth the price.

New Laptop... For My Son

For long time readers you are aware that we have two laptops in the house. I use my wife's old laptop. It has an overheating problem that requires me to slow the CPU down to the minimum to keep it from shutting down on its own. My wife's current laptop is doing fine, except the power adapter was chewed up by one of the animals and the replacement it not as good. It is a generic one with a tip for her laptop. The tip fits way too tightly in the laptop, and the cord separates from the tip from its own weight.

But that is not the point. My son got his own laptop. He is entering middle school (Junior High to those of you back east), and it seemed reasonable. He is paying for half of it himself. We got him a Dell E1505. Here are the major specs:

Intel Core Duo processor T2400 (1.83GHz/667MHz/2MB)
15.4 Inch TrueLife Wide-screen WXGA
1GB, DDR2, 533MHz 2 Dimm
256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1400
100GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
8X DVD+/-RW Drive 

I mainly wanted to make sure he got a decent video card and the 1 GB of memory. Both were upgrades from what my son picked out. I must have chosen well, because Battlefront II runs just fine on the laptop. BF2 even supports the 1280 x 800 native resolution of the 15.4 inch wide screen.

When we were ordering his laptop I was half temped to get one for myself. I thought about getting the E1505 with its top video card (256MB nVidia GeForce Go 7300 TurboCache) and the top Core Duo processor (T2500 - 2GHz/667MHz/2MB). It would have cost me about $150 more. Then I started thinking it was a frivolous expense. But the bug was suddenly there.

Dell was offering 18 months no interest on its XPS line of computers. I looked at the XPS M1210, but its best video card option was a 256MB nVidia GeForce Go 7400 TurboCache. This was barely better than the video card available in the E1505. Plus I don't think the web site building and programming I do on a computer would work on a 12" screen. I did a little digging on the internet and the XPS M1710 gets great reviews. I starting thinking about it real hard. The base video card in the M1710 is a 256MB nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS. Now we're talking serious video. This should smoke my desktop with its GeForce 6600 GT. This video card is also available on Dell's "regular" 17" laptop, the E1705. If you are willing to give up a couple of extras you can get the same video on a E1705 for a few hundred less than the XPS M1710.

CompUSA was having a deal on a Toshiba Satellite P105-S9312, which would save even more off the E1705, equally configured... plus CompUSA was offering a $150 rebate on the Toshiba... sweetening the pot even more. Of course, then I read CNet's July 19th Digital Dispatch which had a listing for the Top 5: Gaming laptops and the Dell XPS M1710 And Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 are 1st and 2nd on the list, respectively. The P105-S9312 is an upgrade to the S921, with more memory, faster processor, bigger hard drive, but the same 7900 GS graphics card. Cool!

This is sooooo tempting. Maybe I should wait for Windows Vista to come preloaded on a laptop. I know, I have access to my MSDN copy of Windows Vista, but the manufacturers will have worked out any bugs in drivers (hopefully) when they preinstall Vista. Plus, sometimes it is not always easy to setup all the little things in a laptop, such as those touch pads and wireless adapters, to work as well as the factory does.

I am sooooo torn. What should I do?

Sony DSC-T9 Digital Camera

As promised, this month I want to cover my new Sony DSC-T9 camera. Those of you that read my stuff regularly know I don't pull too many punches. That's one of the reasons I waited a month to publish my review of this camera. I bought it on July 4th, and could have "reviewed" it for my August column. I wanted to get plenty of time with the camera and test as many of the "advanced" features as possible before reporting to you.

I won't be pulling any punches here. I hope I am not just rehashing what others have said about this camera. If you want the typical review you can read any of these:

Sony DSC-T9 on Digital Camera Resourse Page  
Sony DSC-T9 on PC Magazine  
Sony DSC-T9 on CNet  
Sony DSC-T9 on Steve's Digicams  
Sony DSC-T9 on The Imaging Resource  
Sony DSC-T9 on Digital Trends  

Some of the reviews above are better than others. I especially like the reviews by Digital Camera Resource Page and Steve's Digicams because of the number of pictures they show you that were taken with the camera. CNet and PC Magazine (who's opinions I value) don't include any actual samples images they take with a camera. At best they give you scaled down images within the text of the articles. If you really want to know what a camera is good for check out these sites:

Digital Camera Resource Page
Nice one page reviews. He spends a lot of time on all the functions of the camera to almost sound like the manufacturer, but his opinion is already slipping into the content when doing so. I find that refreshing. However, he sometimes gets too detailed and I skip down to the conclusions... which are excellent. I like that he has sample images as well as sample movies for you to look at. He also links to other reviews so you don't have to take just his opinion.

Megapixel.net
Again, they have a gallery of images they took with the actual camera. I like their "Our Opinion" page and the breakdown of image quality and functionality in a chart with a numerical rating. Unfortunately they have not reviewed the T9, but they gave the T7 a decent review and the T9 replaces the T7 and is better. So it should fair better than the T7.

Steve's Digicams
I am not thrilled with the format of his web site. You have to page through his reviews, and they seem like a rehash of everything from the manufacturer. That is until his conclusion page which is all you need to read. He is pretty blunt and he has some decent sample pictures that you can inspect and even print yourself.

The Review

Let's get on with my review of the Sony DSC-T9. Overall I am impressed with the camera. I didn't think I would be this impressed when we bought it. My main concern at purchase time was that the camera would seem to gimmicky and cheap. I was also worried that I might be giving up too many features for the small point and shoot form factor.

I was pleasantly surprised with the Sony. Since the camera we sampled in the store was attached to a rather chunky mount (on a cable so you can't steal it) it was hard to really know if this was going to be a solid feeling camera. Rest assured the T9 is solid in the hands. I read some of the above reviews after after buying the camera... just to make sure I knew what I was in for and to know as soon as possible any weaknesses it had. Some reviews complained about the front lens cover. It is half the camera. It feels quite solid to me, and it has never opened accidentally. I like it, but am still cautious that it might be delicate enough to break off someday.

Scene Modes

I have found the menu system to be a pain to use. And I have been using it a lot. I have tried to make use of the features that would most effect me. Since the camera has no manual modes such and aperture priority (my personal favorite) or shutter priority, I have to deal with the scene modes. Unfortunately this is where the camera does take a hit. With most cameras that have a lot of scene modes you can trust there will be a standard "portrait" mode. Usually the portrait mode uses a wide aperture (lower number) to get the blurred background I like so much when I use the aperture priority of a manual camera. There is no standard portrait mode on the T9.

I plaid around with the various modes taking the same picture. Here are the results of taking a picture of a a drink shaker in my kitchen and my brother-in-law's fence next door. I took a picture in each scene mode except fireworks, which would wash out the image in massive overexposure.

 

DSC00477.JPG (2321847 bytes) Auto DSC00487.JPG (2559320 bytes)
DSC00478.JPG (2249852 bytes) Twilight DSC00488.JPG (2662924 bytes)
DSC00479.JPG (2096510 bytes) Twilight Portrait DSC00489.JPG (2940270 bytes)
DSC00480.JPG (2238445 bytes) Candle DSC00490.JPG (2926227 bytes)
DSC00481.JPG (2025398 bytes) Soft Snap DSC00491.JPG (2956634 bytes)
DSC00483.JPG (2173065 bytes) Landscape DSC00492.JPG (2764062 bytes)
DSC00484.JPG (2312855 bytes) High Speed Shutter DSC00493.JPG (2887503 bytes)
DSC00485.JPG (2196896 bytes) Beach DSC00494.JPG (2783928 bytes)
DSC00486.JPG (2145401 bytes) Snow DSC00495.JPG (2679179 bytes)

 

The High Speed Shutter setting should be similar to a wide aperture setting, but... it clearly needs a lot more light than I had in my kitchen for the drink shaker test. The landscape shot of the shaker made the background clear... even though I was focused on the shaker. Non of the shaker images gave a pronounced blur to the background. The background just looks a little out of focus. So I felt it necessary to head outdoors and use a sample that should show if I can get the equivalent of aperture priority with one of the scene modes.

The fence should show a dramatic reduction of focus quickly behind the points that were supposed to be in focus. Clearly Twilight, Twilight Portrait and Candle modes don't work here. In fact, for the fence shot the Auto setting provided the closest thing to the effect I want. All the others you can read the letters on the bags of mulch in the background. In the end there is no equivalent to aperture priority with the Sony DSC-T9. 

Fast Shooting

If you're looking for a really good point and shoot camera, that is so quick to pull out and snap a picture in a hurry then this is your camera. I do not have the ability to clock it, but I can turn it on and take a fast picture in about 2 seconds. That's fast. And shot to shot times are pretty quick with the only issue being the wait for the preview to end. The preview is an option that can be turning off if you know you don't need it. Shutter delay is so low that I don't even notice it. However, I will concede that if I had a camera with a shorter delay I would probably notice. The T9 has the shortest delay of any digital camera I have played with.

Wide Angle and Zoom

I hate 3X zoom. I would much rather a 5X zoom, with 1X going in either direction. The lens on the T9 goes from 38-114mm. I would much rather something in the range of 28-140mm. Just a little more telephoto for when I am on the bleachers at my niece's baseball games, and just a little more wide angle to actually feel like a wide angle. At 38mm it feels like you were able to move back further. I like the "special effect" you get with really wide angle lenses. I am sure that is far too much to ask for in a general purpose lens. When I get a Digital SLR camera I am going to get a real wide angle lens.

That being said the 3X zoom lens on this camera is outstanding since it is completely done insides the body of the camera. I love that. O.K. So I don't have more zoom when I need it. That is the compromise of an ultra-compact camera. Certainly within the realm of 3X zoom this one is top notch. Below are a couple of pictures showing the two extremes of the zoom range.

DSC00496.JPG (741621 bytes) Wide Angle DSC00498.JPG (906727 bytes)
DSC00497.JPG (788079 bytes) 3X Zoom DSC00499.JPG (881220 bytes)


I didn't crop these shots in anyway... or even correct for my not holding the camera straight in the wide angle door shot. You can see a minor curving of the lines in the wide angle shots. It is harder to detect, but the lines bow inward on the 3X zoom range. If you weren't looking at straight lines I doubt you would notice this in regular usage.

Handling

When I first started using the camera it felt very natural. Your right thumb lands right below the zoom rocker switch where they have some "Braille" like bumps. The lens cover doubling as a power switch is awesome. I read that others had a problem with the lens being located in the top right corner (when viewing the camera from the front). I thought it was odd that people complained about that. But sure enough I see my fingers slipping into the scene from time to time.

Software

I hate the software that comes with the Sony camera. But it did include one neat feature. When you connect the camera to the computer it starts up the software and counts down from 5 and then it will automatically copy the images to a default directory on your computer. Unfortunately the software sucks, and it creates date stamped folders with subfolders to hold the images. The first time I uploaded images one day it created a folder named 06_07_07_01. That is YY_MM_DD_NN where NN is the instance. I wanted to see what happened and uploaded images again and it put them in a folder named 06_07_07_02. This makes it more difficult to organize pictures in the long run. I quickly disabled the software and I use Explorer to copy the images from the camera. The camera shows up as just another drive letter on my computer. I navigate the folder structure on the camera's memory, highlight all the images and copy them to a folder on my computer. Simple enough.

I am planning on looking at photo "album" software. I have downloaded and installed the applications:

Kodak Easyshare
Corel Photo Album 6 (formerly from Jasc, the makers of Paint Shop Pro)
Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition 3.0
Picasa 2
Photoshop Elements 3.0
Preclick Gold Photo Organizer
Microsoft Max

I plan on reporting on them soon. I'll let you know.

Manual Controls

The Sony T9 is a point and shoot camera. Although it has some manual controls, they are limited. I was taking pictures of my car in the early morning and needed to test bracketing the exposure. The T9 has an auto bracket feature. You set the "base" exposure, and you set the amount (+/-) to expose the image and the camera will take three successive pictures in a row. So, let's say you want to bracket a shot at +/-0.7 expose. The camera will take a picture at -0.7 then 0.0 then +0.7 exposure. For some reason every time I did this it seemed that only two exposures were present. When I reviewed the images two of them always looked alike, almost like no exposure compensation occurred. However, the menu system on the camera remembers where it's at (the one really good thing about the menu). So I can set the menu on exposure setting and I can manually flip through as many exposures as I want. This is not as fast as an auto exposure, but it worked extremely well when I was taking pictures of my car.

DSC00305.JPG (2533689 bytes)
-1.0
DSC00306.JPG (2532311 bytes)
-0.7
DSC00307.JPG (2592430 bytes)
-0.3
DSC00308.JPG (2579684 bytes)
0
DSC00309.JPG (2604189 bytes)
+0.3
DSC00310.JPG (2847299 bytes)
+0.7
DSC00311.JPG (2664308 bytes)
+1.0


I really enjoyed playing with the exposure adjustments. I have done it a lot when taking pictures of my new car early in the morning or late in the day.

Burst Mode

I have played around with the burst mode and it is adequate. I haven't had the chance to use it in a real situation, so I won't tell you for sure this works well. It seemed reasonable when I was playing, but I will have to wait for the chance to need it to know for sure.

Video

Yes... many digital cameras can take video. The T9 is no exception. I do not know all the details of this, but what I do know is that it will capture a 640x480 (VGA) movie clip at 30 fps until the memory card is full. With a 2GB memory card we should be able to do fine. My son is really going to like this when he finally tries to film his own Star Wars movie. I haven't done anything worthwhile with it yet, but I did take a couple of movies at a recent baseball game. 


Click the image or this line to watch the movie (mascot.mpg 15.6MB) 


Fireworks

Oh, and I used the Fireworks setting to take some pictures of the fireworks at the end of the baseball game. This worked well. It was mostly a matter of my being able to keep still enough. I assume the fireworks setting could also be used for really dark scenes, such as night time skyline shots.

DSC00269.JPG (2261251 bytes) DSC00273.JPG (2409816 bytes) DSC00281.JPG (2225211 bytes) DSC00285.JPG (2106852 bytes) DSC00291.JPG (2210916 bytes)

 

Overview

I really like the Sony DSC-T9. It is very easy to use, fast to take pictures and small enough to carry everywhere. So we can and do use it a lot. Maybe we will just end up with a lot of pictures we won't care about, but we really enjoy having the knowledge that we have a good camera with us all the time.

I wish I could think of some really great superlatives to throw out there, but it all seems to be a waist of time. The camera is great. Its lack of manual controls is more than made up for with wonderful picture quality and super ease of use... when in "auto" mode. If you want the best point and shoot camera out there this should be in the top 2 or 3 cameras on your list.

Conclusion

I downloaded the latest version of Windows Vista (build 5472). I won't put a lot of words into it, but I will report on it next month. I mainly plan to test what didn't work in Beta 2 (build 5380) to see if those items were improved. Stay tuned. I also downloaded and started playing with Ubuntu Linux. My Operations Manager at work loves it, and is always finding ways to say how good it is. I think I will try to find out for myself, though I doubt I will ever give up on Windows because of the library of games I have that will run on it.

I created my first application in Flash. I wanted to talk about that this month, but the camera review took too long. I wrote a version of hangman for my wife to use in her class with her students. I'll report on that next month and even put a version of it on my site. We'll see how that goes.

That's it for this month. Tune in next month and see if I eventually get a laptop of my very own.

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