Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on July 15 2009

I’ve just reviewed the Sony Cyber-shot T90, a slim, ultra-compact camera with 12 megapixels of resolution, a 4X stabilized zoom lens and 3 inch touchscreen LCD. I’ve also put up the Sony Cyber-Shot T90 photo gallery, containing full-sized photos taken straight out of the camera. Click the link for the full review.

DPInterface Sony Cyber-Shot T90 Review

Brad Soo – July 15th, 2009

Hot on the heels of the Sony T77 and T700 pair of 2008 is the brand new Sony Cyber-shot T90. Packing 12 megapixels and a 4X optical zoom lens in its thin shell (less than an inch thick), the Sony Cyber-shot T90 is one of the slimmest cameras in the market. In addition to having a stylish design, there’s a 3 inch touchscreen and loads of fancy bells and whistles on the camera.

The camera also has a higher-end sibling called the Cyber-shot T900, which features a larger 3.5 inch touchscreen, HD movie mode with stereo sound and 4 GB of internal memory.

Anyway, ready to find out about this ultra-thin camera? Read on for more.

Size and Weight

(159.9) 87.0 x 54.5 x 18.4 mm (115 g) – Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH
(172.8) 97.1 x 59.4 x 16.3 mm (121 g) – Casio Exilim FS10
(175.2) 90.5 x 59.0 x 25.7 mm (117 g) – Fujifilm FinePix Z30
(166.0) 90.0 x 53.0 x 23.0 mm (120 g) – Nikon Coolpix S620
(173.1) 97.0 x 54.4 x 21.7 mm (117 g) – Panasonic Lumix FS7
(176.7) 97.0 x 57.9 x 21.8 mm (126 g) – Panasonic Lumix FS25
(172.5) 97.0 x 54.0 x 21.5 mm (110 g) – Pentax Optio P70
(167.7) 94.0 x 55.9 x 17.8 mm (121 g) – Samsung TL100
(165.8) 93.6 x 57.2 x 15.0 mm (128 g) – Sony Cyber-shot T90
(172.0) 97.9 x 57.8 x 16.3 mm (124 g) – Sony Cyber-shot T900
All the weight figures above show when the camera is empty without a battery or memory card

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 is possibly the slimmest camera of 2009, being just 15 mm thin. The T90 is definitely the smallest digital camera in the ultra-compact class and it can slip into both shirt and pants pockets as well as most handbags.

Camera box contents

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 comes with a decent bundle:

  • NP-BD1 Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • Paint pen AKA touchscreen stylus
  • USB and A/V Out cables
  • Camera software CD (Picture Motion Browser)
  • User’s manual

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 comes with a paltry 11 MB of internal memory (which holds only ONE photo at full resolution) and doesn’t include any memory card in the box. The camera takes Memory Stick Duo cards (and its variations like PRO Duo) and I would suggest starting out with a 2 GB or 4 GB card.

210 shots – Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH aka Digital IXUS 100
200 shots – Fujifilm FinePix Z30
250 shots – Nikon Coolpix S620
360 shots – Panasonic Lumix FS7
330 shots – Panasonic Lumix FS25
200 shots – Pentax Optio P70
200 shots – Samsung TL100
220 shots – Sony Cyber-shot T90
200 shots – Sony Cyber-shot T900
All the cameras above are rated with rechargeable batteries with LCD on according to CIPA Standard

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 uses the same NP-BD1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery as the T900 and manages to get 220 shots per charge. That’s 10% more than what you’ll get with the T900 but still below average, considering many of 2008’s cameras were getting over 250 to 300 shots per charge.

Accessories

Unsurprisingly, the Sony Cyber-shot T90 shares the same accessories range as its sibling, the T900.Accessories available include an AC adapter, HDMI connectivity cable (for your high-definition TV), various camera cases and external GPS dongle for geo-tagging the location coordinates of your photos.


Camera Tour

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 looks 99% identical to the camera before it save for a few tiny aesthetic changes. With the exception of the bottom compartment door, the camera is nicely built and feels solid in hand – there are a couple of metal elements around such as the metal tripod mount and lens cover.

Unfortunately, ergonomics has never really been one of the strong points of Sony’s T-series digital cameras. The Sony Cyber-shot T90 is no different; its big screen leaves little space for your hands to hold the camera and there’s no grip or textured area anywhere on the camera. The touchscreen isn’t responsive to light touches, only hard presses, and the camera’s interface itself isn’t very user friendly (the “lovely” Home menu is still here and confusing as ever). And finally, the camera’s zoom controller is too tiny… and I do mean TINY, it’s very likely that you’ll have to operate it with the tip of your finger/fingernail.

The T90 may not be very ergonomic to use, but you can’t deny it is stylish. And as if its looks can’t get any better, the Sony Cyber-shot T90 comes in your choice of five colors: silver, black, bronze, baby blue and pink.

If you’ve read my reviews or tried any of the previous T-series cameras, you’ll know the big brushed metal cover over here is used for lens protection and doubles as a power switch – Slide the cover down to turn the camera on, slide it up to turn off.

The Cyber-shot T90 sports the same 35 – 140 mm equivalent; 4X optical zoom lens used on the Sony T900, T77 and T700 cameras. The lens has an aperture range of f3.5 to f4.6 which isn’t particularly fast at the wide end but decent at telephoto. The lens operates within the camera all the time, so it never extends out of the T90. As expected, the Cyber-shot T90 comes with Sony’s optical Steady Shot system (Optical image stabilization) which helps counter the effects of camera shake.

Next to the lens are the autofocus assist/self-timer lamp and flash. Unlike the flash on the more expensive T900, the one here on the Cyber-shot T90 is quite weak. At wide-angle, it covers a range of 8 cm to 2.9 m at wide-angle and 50 cm to 2.3 m at telephoto. Below the flash is the camera’s single microphone and it records mono sound (in contrast, the T90’s sibling has a pair of stereo microphones).

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 features a nicely sized 3 inch touchscreen (with just 230,400 pixels) which takes up nearly all the real estate on its back. Visibility in low and bright light were both acceptable (but not fantastic). Responsiveness was not brilliant either – the screen doesn’t register light touches; you’ll have to really ‘press’ the on-screen icons for something to happen.

I’m not a big fan of the touchscreen interface that Sony has been using on their cameras for a few years now. It takes just too many presses to reach a specific setting in order to change it… on average, it takes three (presses) to change one setting. Then there’s the Home menu, which shouldn’t even exist in the first place since there’s nothing the normal menu can’t do that the Home menu can. So what’s the Home menu used for? Well, it’s just there to lead you round in circles and confuse you.

To the upper right of the touchscreen is the camera’s playback button. Towards the bottom right side of the LCD is a small hole – that’s the speaker for sound playback.

On the top of the Sony Cyber-shot T90, there’s a dedicated power button, shutter button and a ridiculously tiny zoom controller.

Nothing to see here, let’s move on…

At the bottom of the camera are a metal tripod mount, multi-connector port and battery/memory card compartment. The compartment is covered by a very flimsy door. The multi-connector port here is used to the bundled USB and A/V Out cables, as well as optional HDMI cable and AC adapter. The Sony Cyber-shot T90 supports USB 2.0 High-speed connectivity.

Taking pictures (Shooting mode)

Situated in three of the corners on the touchscreen are icons for entering the Home menu (upper left), Main menu (lower left) and toggle display (lower right) respectively. The screen’s edges are also lined with icons for various shooting functions:

  • Smile shutter (on/off)
  • Self-timer (Off, 2 seconds, 10 seconds)
  • Shooting mode (Auto, intelligent scene recognition, program mode, twilight, twilight portrait, backlight, backlight portrait, landscape, macro, portrait)
  • Autofocus mode (Multiple, center weighted, spot, focus preset)
  • Metering mode (Multi pattern, center weighted, spot, flexible spot) – flexible spot mode allows you to just ‘touch’ the area where you want the camera to focus
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
  • Exposure compensation (+/-2 EV in 1/3 step increments)
  • Macro mode (Off, macro on, auto macro)
  • Flash setting (Auto, on, slow sync, off)

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 tells you a lot about various camera settings: exposure information, a live histogram, five-step battery indicator and a very precise zoom indicator. The Cyber-shot T90 also features Intelligent Scene Recognition which analyzes the scene and automatically selects a mode for the occasion.

There are just a handful of image resolution settings available on the Cyber-shot T90: 12 MP, 8 MP, 5 MP, 3 MP, VGA, 3:2 or 16:9 (8.4 or 2 MP) cropped resolutions. There are no image compression options available here. If you select one of the lower image resolution settings, Smart Zoom becomes available and works by cropping photos, so you can get more apparent zoom without compromising image quality (unlike digital zoom). Using VGA resolution, you can get up to 25X total zoom.

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 shares the same menu system as its sibling, the Sony T900 as well as other T-series cameras. Let’s look through the menu pages now, two pages at a time:

  • Image resolution (size) – there are no compression options available
  • Record mode (Single-shot, burst mode, focus preset)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1,2 & 3, incandescent, flash)
  • Smile detection sensitivity (Big smile, normal smile, small smile)
  • Face detection priority (Auto, adult priority, child priority)
  • Flash power (Low, standard, high)

Focus preset is a faux-manual focus feature which allows you to select one of five preset distances to cut down the time needed for autofocus operation (0.5, 1, 3, 7 meters or infinity focus)

  • Redeye reduction (Auto, on, off)
  • Dynamic range optimization (Off, low, auto, high)
  • Color mode
  • Optical Steady Shot image stabilization (Shooting only, continuous, off)
  • Setup area (customize things like the date/time and format the memory card here)

The Dynamic Range Optimization feature works by adjusting exposure/contrast in highlight and shadow areas so the picture will have even exposure. The catch here is noticeably longer processing times when you toggle the feature on (and thus, it is unusable with burst mode).

The camera also has optical image stabilization with two modes. Shooting mode only activates the stabilization system as your photo is being taken and is more effective, while the system is always on in continuous mode to help you compose your photo with minimal shake.

Home Menu
The HOME icon brings up the notoriously confusing, downright illogical Home menu. Some items repeat the options found in the “normal” menu, some take you to the same places that the normal Menu can take you (ie Setup area) while certain items just take you absolutely nowhere (ie the “Shooting” item in the “Shooting” tab takes you back to the main display).

Face Detection
The Sony Cyber-shot T90 has an elaborate face detection system. In addition to detecting faces, the camera is able to prioritize either children or adult faces and continuously focus on faces as they move about in the scene. There’s also smile detection which, when activated, will take pictures automatically whenever the camera detects any smiling faces. You can choose from three levels of smile thresholds as well.

Macro mode
The Sony T90 has a so-so macro mode which allows you to go as close as 8 cm to your subject at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto. You can leave the camera in Auto Macro mode so the camera will automatically toggle macro on/off depending on subject distance.

Video Recording

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 has a 720p HD movie mode, which is expected from a ‘premium’ ultra-compact camera like this one. You can record 720p (1280 x 720) at 30 FPS with mono sound (for stereo sound, you’ll have to pony up for the T900). There are two quality settings available for 720p mode and a 2 GB card will hold 30 minutes of 720p ‘Fine’ (9 Mbps) video or 45 minutes of 720p ‘Standard’ (6 Mbps) video. Unfortunately, Sony imposes a software limit of just 10 minutes per movie clip – so you can have several 10 minute clips but not a single, long video clip in your memory card.

There’s a VGA (640 x 480) 30 FPS setting that records at 3 Mbps available; that’ll extend the amount of video you can fit into your memory card greatly, although the 10 minute per clip limit still remains. Both optical image stabilization and optical zoom are usable when recording video. Movies are recorded in MPEG4 format.

Video quality was quite good while audio quality was decent. Despite that, I’m not pleased with the 10 minute per clip limit that Sony has started to impose on all their Cyber-shot cameras lately.

Performance

All performance testing of the Sony Cyber-Shot T90 was performed using a 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Memory Stick PRO Duo card.

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 starts up quickly in just 1.3 seconds after you slide down the front cover. I appreciate very much that the Cyber-shot T90 focuses accurately almost all the time. Focusing in bright light typically takes a quick 0.2 to 0.5 seconds, while things in low-light can take up to 1.4 seconds.

  • Shot-to-shot speed – 1 shot every 2.1 seconds
  • Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery – 5 seconds on average

The Sony T90 has a single, full-resolution burst mode which shoots at 0.9 frames per second up to a little over 30 shots. The low frame rate is not unexpected, considering most manufacturers (if not, all) don’t seem to realize the ‘battle of the megapixels’ thing isn’t on in the age where consumer want more useful features besides resolution.

The T90’s zoom lens moves silently from wide-angle to telephoto in under 2 seconds with many precise steps in between the zoom range. With no lens to retract, the T90 shuts down instantly when you close the front sliding cover.

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 performed identically to its sibling, the T900 – good focusing and shot-to-shot speeds, and fairly snappy everywhere except in the continuous shooting department.

Image Quality

Time for image quality tests with the T90:


ISO 80 (f3.5, 1/5 sec)


ISO 200 (f3.5, 1/13 sec)


ISO 400 (f3.5, 1/25 sec)


ISO 800 (f3.5, 1/60 sec)


ISO 1600 (f3.5, 1/125 sec)


ISO 3200 (f3.5, 1/250 sec)

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 starts out clean at ISO 80, but the disappointment here comes in the form of image softness (see that very undefined line separating the two tones of blue? Now apply that to real life photos and unhappiness ensues…). Things are pretty much the same – clean but soft until ISO 400. At ISO 400, artifacts, presumably caused by noise reduction, start to become more prominent and give photos that fuzzy look you’ll see.

ISO 400 is as far as you should take things; because as soon as you step into ISO 800, the noise-artifact mix starts to kill details and anything above ISO 1600 is completely useless. The Sony Cyber-shot T90 takes a heavy-handed approach when it comes to dealing with noise: it starts with softness at lower ISO speeds, on to image artifacts as we go up and at higher ISO settings, noise gets out of control along with artifacts and softness still there.

Edge softness is noticeable too. That’s expected from a really thin camera trying to cram in a 4X stabilized zoom lens.

I noticed visible lens distortion and slight color fringing (chromatic aberration) in photos taken by the Cyber-shot T90, but their levels are not too high to be a concern. Redeye isn’t an issue either – with software based redeye removal around, one can expect the ‘redeye issue’ to dwindle down to a mere memory in a few years time (well, hopefully).

Although you might like how the Sony Cyber-shot T90 looks (as in the camera’s physical design), chances are you’ll feel the opposite about the look of the PHOTOS it produces. Over the years, we’ve seen the Sony T-series image quality rise slowly from soft, noisy photos and now, it seems things are sliding back down again; with soft, over-processed images and little detail preserved in photos.

Photo gallery

Be sure to visit the Sony Cyber-Shot T90 photo gallery for full-sized images taken with the camera.


Playback

The Sony Cyber-Shot T90 has a fancy playback mode, operated via the touchscreen of course. Photos and videos can be played back with sound, but you’ll need to use the on-screen left-right buttons to browse through them (unlike Nikon’s implementation where you can proceed to the next picture with just a swipe on the screen). Photos can be viewed as single shots, by date in calendar view, by favorites or by folder; and there’s a slideshow feature available with background music and effects too.

First off are the basic playback functions of the Sony T90, which include print marking, deletion, playback zoom, image trimming, resizing, protection and rotation. There is also a bunch of more fun, “retouch” features where you can do things like add filter effects, shapes and image stamps as well as ‘paint’ directly on photos via the stylus.

By pressing the DISPlay icon on the Cyber-shot T90, you can choose to show basic shooting details up to full exposure and shooting information with a brightness histogram (not shown here)

Conclusion

Still believing that ‘thin is still in’, the Cyber-shot T90 is an ultra-compact which is no more than two thirds of an inch thick. Launched together with the T900 (which I reviewed a while back), the Cyber-shot T90 is essentially a slightly smaller, slimmer version of its pricier sibling. Over here, you’ll still get 12 megapixels of resolution, the same 4X optical zoom lens, a smaller touchscreen (3.0 vs 3.5 inches) and 720p HD movie mode (albeit with mono sound only).

With an almost identical feature set – point-and-shoot operation, elaborate face detection system and fancy playback features – and similarities down till performance and speed, the gap between the Sony Cyber-shot T90 and the T900 is very small (with just three main differences I’ll highlight below). The unfortunate part here is that the T90 also inherits the negative aspects of its sibling, including poor ergonomics (now with a tiny zoom controller added to the mix) and the same unintuitive interface. Despite the camera’s modern design and features, its touchscreen UI is starting to show signs of age – the touch icons merely replace their physical button counterparts with no gesture (ie flick the screen to scroll) or multitouch control.

Performance is arguably the ‘best’ part of the Sony Cyber-shot T90 since the camera is speedy in all areas except continuous shooting. Next up is the 720p HD movie mode which sounds brilliant at first – optical zoom is usable while recording movies, efficient MPEG4 format and there are two selectable bit rates. But for some people, the party’s over once they hear about the 10 minute per clip restriction (which tends to come quicker than the ‘file size limit’ on other cameras) and the fact that they’ll have to shell out for the Sony T900 if they want stereo sound. It’s also difficult to hold the camera steady (given its poor ergonomics) and even more so when you’re fumbling with the miniscule zoom controller to operate the lens.

So you get a smaller touchscreen, mono audio for movie mode (instead of the T900’s stereo sound recording) and no more bundled camera dock, but pay $50 less and get 10% more battery life with the Sony Cyber-shot T90. Although its price hovers around the range of its competitors and may seem ‘affordable’; it’s product value that counts and the T90 clearly sticks to the ‘form over function’ trend of Sony’s T-series cameras. Image quality doesn’t seem to be a priority here with soft, overprocessed images that still come with noise and artifacts, as well as some edge softness.

The Sony Cyber-shot T90 is a fancy, ultra-slim camera with a touchscreen and many bells and whistles (adult/child face detection priority anyone?), but with crummy ergonomics, user interface and just tolerable image quality. If all you care about is the Sony brand name, design and/or gimmicky features, then the Cyber-shot T90 is clearly a good candidate (and I have no other words for you). For those who actually care about photographic features and image quality, take a look around at similarly priced cameras instead.

What’s hot:

  • Image quality is JUST usable, up till ISO 400
  • Slimmest camera on the market; packs a 4X zoom lens with image stabilization
  • 3 inch touchscreen LCD (though it has some issues)
  • Quick performance
  • Elaborate face/smile detection system, redeye removal
  • 720p HD movie mode recording with selectable bit rates and optical zoom
  • Fancy playback tools (ie Paint, effects and color filters)

What’s not:

  • Over-processed photos and strong noise reduction (complete with softness and artifacts)
  • No manual controls; lacks slow shutter for night shots
  • Slow burst mode
  • Poor ergonomics; LCD attracts fingerprints, not much space to hold the camera, tiny zoom controller
  • Touchscreen interface needs firm presses; too many presses to reach certain settings and no touch gestures to ease operation
  • Unintuitive and confusing dual menu system (conventional and home menus; the latter leads nowhere)
  • 10 minute per movie clip restriction; have to shell out for T900 if you want stereo sound recording

Recommended Accessories:

2 GB Memory Stick PRO Duo memory card


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One Comment

  1. rochel October 15, 2009 Reply

    hello, i;ve just got the sony t90..i just wondering if you can help me in how to use the color mode ( normal, vivid, sepia, b&w ) tnx..

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