Review: Sony Cybershot DSC T7 compared to Nikon Coolpix S3

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Review: Sony Cybershot DSC T7 compared to Nikon Coolpix S3

side-by-side digital camera review
Sony Cybershot DSC H1 front
Canon Powershot S2 IS front
Sony Cybershot T7 review
Nikon Coolpix S3 review
Ultra compact (4.7 oz)
Ultra compact (4.9 oz)
38-114mm, 1:3.5-4.4
35-105mm, 1:3.0-5.4
1.3 fps (max 9 frames)
Motor drive
1.5 fps (max 12 frames)
2.5 inch
2.5 inch
The Sony T7 has a striking appearance. It is not only slightly bigger than a credit card, what's even more stunning, is its thickness of only 0.55 inch overall and only 0.4 inch without the lens cover. Combined with a nice matte silver finish the camera has a high design-level and looks very solid.
The Coolpix S3 is only a bit smaller than the Sony T7, but it's a lot thicker (0.78 inch). The S3 body's design is more straightforward than the T7 and looks very similar to most of its competitors. The camera has a nice silver body and looks solid; the body is also available in black.
Although the camera is very small, there is enough room on the back for the 4-way controller and the menu-button. They are situated left from the LCD-screen, as on all other cameras they are on the right. It makes the Sony very easy to use. However the zoom lever is too small and it is very difficult to zoom accurately.
The free space of the S3 at the right of the LCD-screen is studded with buttons, switches and the 4-way controller. At first glance it seems a bit complex, but it turns out that the function of every button is very clear. The zoom lever is easy to operate with the thumb. The On/Off button is very small and hard to press because it is sunk into the body.
The covers for the memory card and the battery are very small and need careful handling, as with all other digital cameras. To connect the T7 to the computer or television, Sony has designed a tiny adapter you can click on the camera. The construction however is very fragile and is very likely to cause problems.
Caps and covers
The covers for memory card and batteries of the Coolpix S3 are relatively large, but must still be handled carefully. The camera comes with a docking station to connect it to the computer or television. It's also used to charge the batteries.
The Sony T7 has a large LCD-screen with a high resolution (2.5" and 230,000 pixels). It works well as a viewfinder and the menus and playback images are very clear and sharp. Reflection of sunlight can lower the visibility, which is the case with most LCD-screens.
Viewfinder and LCD
Just like most other ultra compacts the S3 has no optical viewfinder. The large LCD-screen therefore serves as viewfinder and does a good job. Because of the lower resolution images and menus are less clear than with the T7.
The camera has a standard optical zoom range from 38 to 114 mm (3x), which can capture the most common subjects. The zoom lens doesn't extend from the camera, but is folded inside the body. This technique is used with many ultra compact digital cameras.
The optical zoom range (3x) of the Coolpix S3 varies from 35 to 105 mm and is slightly different from the Sony T7. The zoom lens of the S3 is also a folded lens in the body, which strikes you as looking through a periscope.
Ultra compact cameras are meant for 'point-and-shoot' photography. This means that exposure and focusing are fully automatic and the user doesn't have the possibility to choose shutter speed or aperture. To control exposure you can use the Exposure compensation and several Scene modes, like Action and Sunset. The ISO-range goes from 64 to 400 and can be set manually or in Auto.
Exposure and ISO
The Coolpix is a 'point-and-shoot'-camera of the first kind. Exposure and focusing are fully automatic and there are no exposure- or focusing modes as in the Sony T7. Only the exposure compensation, white balance and sensitivity can be controlled by the user and for the rest he must depend on the performance of the Best Shot Selector, Focus Assist and the Scene-modes, such as Fireworks and Beach/Snow.
In Macro Scene mode you can capture an object of 0,5 " covering the total width of the sensor! There is hardly any barrel distortion. You need a tripod to prevent the camera from shaking and getting sharp images. To use the T7 with a tripod, you need to mount the camera in the cradle/mini-tripod that came with camera.
Nikon has a good reputation with macro-performance and the Coolpix S3 captures in the Macro scene mode a subject of 1 inch covering the width of the sensor. That's great, but not as good as the T7. Distortion is minimal and overall sharpness is good.
In continuous mode the camera isn't very fast, but the speed is enough to capture a playing child. The 'motor drive' captures 1,3 frame per second and stops after 9 frames to write the data to the memory card.
Motor drive
The continuous mode of the S3 is slightly faster than with the T7: 1.5 fps for 12 shots. After this point speed slows down, but the camera stays available for a single shot.
With the Sony T7 you can capture MPEG-movies with sound at the highest quality 640 x 480 pixels and 30 fps. During filming you cannot zoom, which diminishes its functionality.
The Coolpix S3 captures at his highest quality Quicktime movies of 640 x 480 pixels at 30 fps with sound. During filming it is possible to zoom. The length of the movie is determined by the capacity of the memory card.
Auto focus has 3 modes: Multi, Centre and Spot. You can focus manually by choosing the subject distance in the LCD-menu. Exposures is measured in 3 modes: Matrix, Center weight and Spot. sRGB is the only color space and no RAW-format is available. Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness are adjustable in the camera settings. White balance gives you 5 presets in addition to Auto WB, Available color modes are Black-and-white and Sepia.
One cannot control focus- or exposure modes. Only sRGB is available and no RAW. The Coolpix S3 lacks in-camera Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness, of which the last one is a severe drawback. The white balance has Auto, 5 presets and a manual setting. Black-and-white, Sepia, Vivid and Cyanotype (blue) are the color options. Extra features are the in-camera red-eye removal and the D-lighting option which brightens the shadows.
Although the T7 is a 'point-and-shoot'-camera, some parameters can be controlled manual, like Focus- and Exposure mode, Exposure compensation, Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness. There is no program dial, but the LCD-menu gives quick access to the most important parameters.
Shutter speed and aperture are displayed on the LCD-screen when taking a picture.
Parameter setting
As said, operation of the Coolpix is almost fully automated and one has to use the Best Shot Selector and Scene-modes to get the right parameter settings. On the LCD-screen there is no information on shutter speed or aperture and only a red hand tells you there is a chance of camera shake.
The large and high-resolution LCD-screen gives you access to a clear and easy cameramen. The next time after closing the menu it returns in the last changed parameter. So you can quickly change i.e. ISO or Exposure compensation.
The menu can be changed from text to icons and in both cases is pretty clear and easy to work with. Disadvantage is that the menu opens with the top parameter and the user has to scroll every time to change the same parameter. This takes extra time.
Operation of the camera is very easy and the camera is always ready to take a good picture. It isn't possible to save custom settings.
The Nikon S3 is equipped with all automatic features and controls but lacks the possibility for manual control, which should not be a problem for most beginners.
The latest digital cameras have hardly any start-up time or shutter delay. This is also the case with the T7, which is a very responsive camera. Focusing is fast and the camera is immediately available after taking a picture.
Startup time and shutter lag are short and similar to most other digital compacts. The camera is ready right after pressing the On/Off button. Focusing speed is above average, also in low light thanks to the AF assist light. Writing times to the memory card are very short, so the camera is always ready for the next shot.
Color and exposure:
The Sony T7 produces very nice pictures with natural colors. The Auto white balance does a good job, although sometimes the correction is a bit to blueish, which isn't annoying in many cases. Exposure is correct for 90% of the subjects and the pictures look bright and clear.
The images of the T7 show enough detail in the highest quality setting and show very little JPG-artifacts or over sharpening. You must carefully watch the shutter speed to prevent unsharpness due to camera shake.
Lens distortion:
Although the lens is very tiny and moves in the camera, the distortions are minimal. Barrel- and pincushion-distortion are noticeable, but chromatic aberration is minimal and corner sharpness is alright.
Noise at ISO 400 is a problem for most digital compact cameras and the T7 is no exception. Sony has found a good average between noise reduction and maintaining detail, but still ISO 400 is only applicable in 'emergency'-situations. At ISO 64 the images are very clean.
Image quality
Color and exposure:
The Automatic white balance has a slight problem finding and correcting the greys and all images have a yellow cast. Combined with the moderate exposure (a bit underexposed) the photos don't look very bright and clear, as you would expect from a consumer camera.
The 6 Mp sensor delivers enough detail, though over sharpening of JPG-artifacts is visible even in the best quality setting. In-camera sharpening can not be reduced. When the red hand appears in the LCD-screen one can expect unsharpness due to camera shake.
Lens distortion:
Barrel- and pincushion- distortion are average, but chromatic aberration is sometimes manifest and the corners lack sharpness. Also some vignette is visible.
The noise reduction of the Coolpix S3 is less strong and keeps more detail, but leaves a bit too much color grain. Again ISO 400 is only for 'emergencies'. At ISO 50 still a bit noise is visible in blue skies or other uniformly colored surfaces.
The Sony Cybershot T7 and the Nikon Coolpix S3 are both ultra compact digital cameras, which perform, despite their small dimensions and weight, above average. The Coolpix S3 is a real 'point-and-shoot'-camera with little manual control, but handy automatic features. The Sony T7 works mainly automatic, but gives you more control if necessary. Colors and exposure of the pictures of the Sony T7 are better than with the Nikon S3. On detail and noise the cameras perform the same. The Sony Cybershot T7 and the Nikon Coolpix S3 are both good travel partners in back pocket or handbag, with the T7 as a winner on image quality and 'looks'. But then again, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder...
Sony Cybershot DSC T7 samples Nikon S3 samples
November 3, 2005
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