Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 Review
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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 is an all-action slim-line digital compact camera that boasts a number of interesting features, The TFI offers a 16.1 megapixel Super HAD CCD sensor, 4x optical zoom lens, Optical SteadyShot, 720p HD video, 2.7 inch LCD screen, Beauty Effect mode, 360° Sweep Panorama, and an Advanced Flash. On top of that it's also water, freeze, dust and shock proof. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 costs around £180 / $200 and is available in Red, Blue or Black.
Ease of Use
Not all waterproof or ‘toughened’ cameras are created equal. Whilst in the past we’ve happily used a Pentax ‘WG’ model in the pool on a week’s holiday with minimal moisture ingress, we’ve also killed off a Fujifilm Finepix ‘WP’ after dipping it for just a few seconds in the local pond, water sloshing about behind the glass of the LCD screen like some executive desk toy. So how will Sony’s cute rather than rugged looking 16 megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 fare? Is this the one we should confidently pack with our holiday gear for fun in the pool or on the ski slopes, or should it be left in the drawer with last year’s trunks that can no longer accommodate our swelling bellies?
Though the TF1 looks like it might cry digital tears if we were to treat it roughly, the headline specification ticks the usual boxes. It’s purportedly waterproofed to a depth of 10 metres for up to one hour at a time, plus dust, shock (from heights of 1.5 metres onto 5cm thick plywood) and freeze proofed into the bargain.
Within its slender palm-sized chassis Sony has also crammed in a 16.1 effective megapixel 1/2.3-inch ‘Super HAD’ CCD sensor, 2.7-inch back plate LCD with 460k dot resolution, plus a 4x optical zoom lens with internally stacked mechanism starting out at a wide 25mm equivalent in 35mm terms and going up to 100mm at the telephoto end. This ensures that at no point does lens protrude from the body – and in doing so the camera come to harm if dropped. Maximum close up is a very respectable 1cm and photos and video are committed to a choice of removable microSD card or Memory Stick Micro. We’re not big fans. There was surely room for a full sized SD card but no Sony has opted for the fiddly and unlovable microSD, which, oddly, seems to slot into place in the camera whichever way it’s facing. As a result it’s worth double-checking whether you’re shooting to card or the fall back of the small internal memory – with room for just six full resolution photos – before you start snapping away in earnest.
With card and rechargeable lithium ion battery inserted, and charged within the camera as is increasingly the way with compact snapshots, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 weighs all of a shirt pocket or shorts friendly 159g. Yet the build feels reassuringly solid nonetheless. Overall dimensions are 102.4x62x22.7mm, so just slightly longer and higher than a business card and a mere finger’s width in depth. Battery life is good for around 200 shots, which is so-so. Just enough to take a selection of images for this review over an afternoon, but any less and we would have been complaining.
Since there’s not much of the actual TF1 to get a grip on, camera shake could be an issue – though as we bore this in mind it didn’t prove to be the case in practice – so its maker has provided optical ‘SteadyShot’ image stabilization, along with a built-in flash that’s sufficiently far from the edge of the camera to avoid fingertips partially obscuring it. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the actual lens, so it’s worth watching out for the occasional fingertip straying in front.
In terms of how viable the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 might be for low light shooting, the manually selectable light sensitivity settings here run from the standard ISO100 to a conservative ISO3200. In-camera fripperies like a beauty effect mode plus 1280x720 pixels HD video with mono sound – rather than Full HD 1920x1080 pixels – also feature, with the camera itself costing £179 via Sony UK’s website but currently £15 cheaper online elsewhere. Fortunately the zoom can be deployed for video as well as stills, though the built-in microphone inevitably picks up handling noise, and also unsurprisingly wind noise shooting outdoors.
It tells you something about the market this camera is pitched at when effects are flagged up so heavily in the Sony’s spec and accompanying blurb. Also thrown into the mix are the likes of toy camera, ‘pop’ [art] colour, partial colour and high key and the ubiquitous 2D self-stitching pan-and-shoot ‘sweep’ panorama mode ubiquitous across Sony compacts that has a setting for underwater operation as well.
Otherwise there’s nothing especially flash (pardon the pun) about this particular camera; with a continuous shooting speed of – wait for it – 1fps, it’s point and shoot all the way – which is arguably just exactly what is required from a camera you’ll be able to mess about in the pool or on the ski slopes with.
Rather worryingly, at the outset the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 comes with a caveat from its manufacturer: ’Depending on use conditions and circumstances, no guarantee is made regarding damage to, malfunction of, or waterproof performance of this camera. Battery life may [also] decrease at low temperatures.’ We can stomach the latter, sure, but a waterproof camera that might not actually be that waterproof? About as much use as the proverbial chocolate teapot, surely?
We had the eye catching crimson/red version of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 in for review. As we’ve established, from the front the TF1 looks, well, not particularly tough. Apart from a thin raised rubber strip running down the left hand side of the faceplate providing a possible purchase point for wet fingers, the camera resembles any other non waterproofed point and shoot with a budget price tag.
This Sony is not without style, sure, but it hides its inherent qualities rather than making a feature of them. So it omits the industrial faceplate screws of an Olympus ‘TG’ Tough or in-your-face stripes and bumpers of a Pentax WG model, which makes that rival series look like it might bounce back up into your grasp should you drop it. The TF1 is clearly about subtlety rather than sensationalism, and so should attract those who favour a less self-consciously butch approach.
The other features of the TF1’s faceplate are a tiny porthole housing the self-timer/AF illuminator lamp, located left of the internally stacked zoom lens, plus the aforementioned integral flash situated above and to the left of this again, the flash here formed of the standard narrow lozenge shape.
The top of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 features a strip of what feels like a very thin layer of rubber, which continues down the left hand side of the camera when viewed from the back, and then loops around beneath. Set into the portion of this that forms the top plate are a small raised zoom lever with a ridged edge – useful for wet fingers but too small to be readily operated if wearing gloves. Along from this a mirrored shutter release button, the largest control on the camera, but again it’s not ideal for slippery digits.
Immediately alongside the shutter release button we find a smaller on/off button. Give this a jab and within two to three seconds the camera is ready for action, rear plate LCD blinking into life and displaying the image before the lens in all its 460k dot ‘glory’. Give the shutter release button a half squeeze and the camera determines focus and exposure in a second or so, though under artificial light it takes slightly longer to decide what the subject is. Press down fully to take a 16 megapixel shot and this is written to card in three seconds. Whilst none of these timings are lightning fast, they’re nonetheless commensurate with a camera in the TF1’s class.
Also on the top plate are an indicator lamp and a built-in mono microphone, the speaker for which is at the camera’s left hand side when it’s viewed from the back.
Moving to the rear of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1, and top right is a button that with each alternate press takes the user through the camera’s three different shooting modes – be they regular (and reliable) intelligent auto or program auto capture, the aforementioned sweep panorama mode, or the third option in the sequence – the video mode. Give this a press to implement the mode you want and then select the ‘menu’ button bottom of the camera’s backplate to drill into the options available.
In the shooting modes we are presented with a Canon-like black toolbar down the left hand side of the screen. Tab down the icons to alight on them and the options for each extend out across the screen to the right. For example, as well as intelligent auto and program auto, there are further options including picture effect – which provides the toy camera, pop colour, partial colour and soft high key options, whilst a further tab to the right alights upon a selection of scene modes.
Here these comprise a modest 11-strong selection of portrait and landscape flattering options – including both night portrait and night scenes – as well as dedicated settings for pets, the beach and underwater.
Next option down on the toolbar is for dipping into ‘easy’ mode which enlarges the on-screen font sizes as well as paring back the options available to the user. Next up is a means of choosing still image sizes, which here range from the full 16 megapixels in 4:3 ratio, down to a widescreen 16:9 ratio option at two megapixels.
The fourth option down on the toolbar is the macro shooting option, with close ups of 1cm offered here, whilst the fifth option is for the drive modes – with the straightforward ability to flick between single shot capture and 1fps continuous capture.
Next up is exposure compensation, which runs between a modest -/+ 2EV, and following that ISO sensitivity, offering up ISO auto and then incremental options from ISO100 to top whack ISO3200. The setting which follows on from this is for manual control of white balance, and, after this, we have the offer of either multi zone or centre weighted AF. Likewise metering options here are multi zone, centre or spot. Indicating what this camera is probably going to be used for in the main, smile shutter, smile detection and face detection modes also feature prominently here.
Rather more interesting perhaps are three dynamic range optimization settings – either off, standard or ‘plus’, the last being the ‘strongest’ of the three in terms of balancing out light and shadow detail in the image. An in-camera guide and the set up folder are the final two options on the list. In set up we find the usual ‘suspects’, such as the ability to leave the AF illuminator set to ‘auto’ or turn it off entirely, as well as call up a nine-zone grid on-screen for practicing our rule of thirds. The remaining settings govern sound, formatting the card in use along with the ability to set date and time – all pretty standard stuff which we’d expect to find on any digital snapshot.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
In terms of the next shooting setting via the same mode button top right of the backplate, we are provided with several options for shooting Sony’s sweep panorama, including the ability to pan from left to right or vice versa, or from top to bottom or bottom to top. To these can be added picture effects whilst, fittingly, there’s also a dedicated underwater mode for this camera. As if this wasn’t enough, the shooting options break down still further, with the ability to switch from a standard to a wide to a 360° panorama as the fancy takes us. Again, capture is as easy as pressing the shutter release and panning slowly in the direction of the arrow we’re provided with on screen, at which point the panorama gradually ‘builds’ before us.
Press the shooting mode button again to access movie mode and we’re allowed access to the picture effects once again, as well as another dedicated underwater mode. Once again, the video capture options range from 1280x720 pixels, through 640x480 pixels, down to QVGA 320x240 pixels, dependent on your imagined end use.
Left of this button on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1's back is the self-explanatory playback button, and below this a multi-direction control pad or disc, with arrows pointing north, south, east and west. Whilst the ones pointing north and south are unmarked, the ‘west’ arrow accesses the self timer options (off, two seconds or 10 seconds), whilst the ‘east’ arrow points us in the direction of the flash controls. The flash settings are a rather basic auto flash, flash on, slow sync or flash off. There’s no red eye reduction setting here.
The final button at the bottom right hand edge of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-FT1’s backplate acts as a delete function when in playback mode, or another means of calling up the camera’s in-built guide when alternatively in capture mode.
Whilst the left hand side of the camera, when viewed from the back, features a built-in speaker, the right hand provides a lug for attaching a wrist strap.
The bottom of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TF1 meanwhile features a compartment for both battery and media card protected by a thick ‘door’ with chunky lock in order to try and prevent any ingress of moisture when in action. The use of this chunky cover, which also protects a tiny USB port, has resulted in the screw thread for attaching a tripod being located slightly off centre at the camera’s base. Happily the TF1 survived the dunking we gave it and passed the unscientific test of being held tap. When we looked into the battery compartment afterwards there were a few very thin beads of moisture; however that might have been difficult to spot unless you were actively looking for them.
Whilst the TF1 may seem like nothing much very special on the ‘fascia’ of it, how do its images measure up? Do they reveal the camera punching above its weight or literally sinking when it tries to, um, swim? Click forward to our next section to find out…