And now, the end is near...
I've had the little Sony T300 for nearly a month now so I really need to consider giving it back. It took me a while to get used to it, but over the past few weeks we've grown quite close and I shall be sorry to part with it. Still, I've managed to squeeze a fair bit of use out of it.
As I've waxed lyrical over previously, the beauty of this camera is that it can be taken more or less anywhere and, with the exception perhaps of a naturist beach, can be secreted on your person (although a talented naturist could probably still accomplish that). As such, the Sony T300 accompanied me and my children to the park last weekend (fully clothed you'll be glad to hear).
Children move about. A lot. And very quickly. Mine are no exception. I was hoping to get a few pics of them larking about on the swings and slide; they are growing up so fast and these carefree days won't last forever. However, my experience of compact cameras and fast moving subjects hasn't always been that positive. The main gripe in the past has been shutter lag. You know the routine; you're tracking that fast moving racing car/child/bird, it reaches the ideal position on the track/garden/sky, you push the shutter button, the camera considers its options, decides it might as well fire the shutter as it currently has nothing better to do, an eternity later the camera "clicks", and you end up with a wonderful picture of an empty piece of tarmac/lawn/cloud. I had anticipated that the T300 would be much the same. I was wrong.
My first attempt was to shoot my son Reuben coming down the slide. I allowed for a bit of lag and pushed the shutter button just before he reached the right position. Unfortunately, the camera was much, much quicker than I thought it would be, firing the shutter almost instantaneously and, due to the mis-timing on my part, taking the top of Reuben's head off in the resulting photograph.
I say "unfortunately", but really it's not unfortunate at all, just unexpected. The Sony just did as it was told, when it was told to, with no dawdling, fussing or arguing. My kids could learn a lot from this camera, particularly Reuben who didn't want to have another go on the slide just because his Daddy wanted to take a photo.
No, Reuben wanted to play on the see-saw, which was far less photogenic, particularly as Reuben was on it on his own. A small boy bouncing a few inches up and down on the end of a plank does not make a great photo. However, after a minute or two of see-sawing he decided that the slide was a better game for one and gave me another chance.
This time, knowing that the Sony T300 would be poised and ready to fire as soon as I needed it to, I was able to frame a little tighter and snap the shutter at exactly the point I wanted. Brilliant.
To be completely honest, there were still a few attempts that I got wrong, but on each occasion it was because I fired the shutter too soon. This meant that at best, I gave Reuben a slight hair cut or, at worst, decapitated him completely, but this was certainly not the camera's fault. It was very much "user error". Boosted by my new-found confidence in the Sony's abilities, I tried a few more attempts at capturing the children at play. Time and time again the little Sony captured exactly the moment I was after, even when Niamh and Rebecca were swinging backwards and forwards on a giant, erm, swing. True, the auto-focus is not that quick, but you wouldn't expect it from a small, sub-£200 compact camera. To capture the hurtling children it was necessary to pre-focus on a chosen point and wait for the subject to slide/swing/fall into frame. The beauty of the camera's lack of shutter lag meant that these shots were captured more often than not.
Up close and personal
The walk home took us through a local wood and the late afternoon sun was throwing some gorgeous light through the trees. It was the sort of scene that would confuse the metering system of many cameras, compact or otherwise. I therefore wasn't expecting much as I snapped away with the Sony. However, once again the little Cybershot surprised me. Sure, it's not the greatest image in the world, or even in this review, but the Sony has done a grand job of metering the light. There's detail in the shadow and in all but the brightest of highlights. The metering is near enough spot on.
In general, the Sony has a tendency to slightly underexpose images when faced with difficult lighting, but this is infinitely preferable to over-exposure, as recovering details from shadow is a far easier task than bringing back the highlights.
As you may recall from earlier parts of this review, I was particularly enamoured with the macro capabilities of the T300. As such I was looking for close up opportunities whenever I had the camera with me, which was pretty much all the time. Niamh had been busily collecting conkers for a school project on Autumn and asked me to take some photos. Once again, the Sony was set to close up mode as I snapped a few of the 'prettier' looking nuts that Niamh picked up.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I keep saying it. But the macro really is very good and very easy to use. In fact, so easy is it, that when Niamh asked if she could take a photo of a mushroom she'd found, I had no hesitation in lending her the camera and supervising as she snapped away.
Granted, I'm biased; I like the camera and my daughter took the photo, but I think this is a pretty good attempt for a 7 year old non-photographer. And what really helped her was the huge 3" screen. I still like a viewfinder, but macro shots are much easier with a screen, and the bigger the screen, the better.
Over the next few days I continued to keep the Sony T300 with me wherever possible and, although real photographic opportunities were few and far between, I was still glad to have the camera with me, even if it was just to snap the Jack Russell puppy asleep in the pub, or a stack of sombreros in the Mexican cantina.
The Sony T300 will be returned soon, but as a go-everywhere-companion camera, like the Jack Russell, it had proven its pedigree.
Grown up time
As we only had a few days left together, I thought I'd take the Sony T300 out for dinner. To make sure she didn't get too jealous, I invited Emily to join us as well. Because the Sony is such a good looking camera it wouldn't look out of place in the pocket of a dinner suit in the most posh of dining establishments. That said, we were going to an Italian chain-restaurant and I was wearing jeans, although I had taken the almost unheard of step of ironing them.
It occurred to me that there were still a handful of functions on the T300 that I hadn't played with, such as the movie mode or slide-show option. So, while we waited for our marinated olives, I had a go. The movie mode is adequate and as you would expect from a compact digital camera. It's not brilliant, but it does record audio and given that's not the main function of this camera, it does ok.
The slide show function on the other hand, now that is special. It allows you to play all or some of the images on the memory card as a slide show accompanied by music. You can change the time and type of image transition, from the simple fade in/fade out to some fancy zoom/wipe/mosaic changeover. What's more, there are 8 different music options to play along with your slide show. Ok, so they all sound like soundtracks from a 1980s motivational video, but it's all jolly good fun. You can of course play this via your TV if you have a captive audience, or you can watch on the back of the camera.
Once I'd annoyed everyone within listening distance in the restaurant with the Sony's electro-music soundtrack, I decided to go back to the far quieter option of taking pictures. Like most cameras, the Sony offers different colour shooting options, such as black and white, sepia and vivid colour. However, like most cameras, the Sony offers few functions that couldn't be added later in any half-decent imaging software, so I had previously ignored most of these functions. But my time with the Sony T300 was rapidly running out and I was determined to get the most from the camera while I still had it. I activated the black and white mode and took a few pictures of Emily sat opposite me.
I had the flash turned off and the ISO set to auto and as a result the images I had been getting were slightly blurred and a little noisy. But in monochrome, these image defects actually add something to the image. Yes, Emily still is a little blurry (that could be the wine) and the noise is still present, but in black and white this blurring appears as a slight and flattering softening of the image, while the noise appears as nothing more than moderate grain. I mentioned in an earlier part of this review that the Sony's low light performance isn't great and I stand by that comment, but if you don't mind shooting in monochrome, its performance is dramatically improved.
Selecting the Sepia option has a similar effect. The brownish-reddish tone gives the image an 'olde worlde' feel to it, and small imperfections such as the graining caused by image noise only add to this. It's not the natural choice for all occasions, but, like the Black and White setting, the Sepia mode is certainly worth remembering for the odd nostalgic trip down silver-halide lane.
I had a chance to test the Vivid Colour option upon our return home. Snuggled up in the kid's bedroom was our cat Missimo. In fact, he wasn't just in their bedroom, he was actually in Rebecca's bed, snuggled under the duvet with his head on the pillow, fast asleep. That is one pampered cat. I took a couple of photos to show the children and explain where all the white hairs came from. Just in case Rebecca's brightly coloured and gaudy High School Musical duvet didn't come out as brightly coloured and gaudy as I wanted it too, for the second shot I set the image mode to Vivid Colour.
The difference is not staggering; the Vivid Colour just seems to darken the image ever-so-slightly and marginally boost saturation, but in this particular instance, it does seem to have given the image a little more punch. It's a setting which could also lend itself quite well to landscape or travel scenes, in addition to pampered pets in brightly-coloured-gaudy-duvet scenes.
Putting it to bed
We've said our goodbyes and the little Sony Cybershot T300 is now tucked away back in its box. It's been emotional. I wasn't entirely sure about this camera to start with. The menus and controls just didn't seem to "click" with me as easily as some cameras I've used. In hindsight, I think this was down to the touch screen function. It's not something I've used before on a camera and it's amazing how strange it feels to move away from the familiar. However, once I'd got past my technophobia, using the little stylus on the back of the camera seemed second nature and I easily prodded my way through the different menus.
The image quality is better than I might have expected for a compact camera at this price, due in large parts I'm sure to the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens the T300 uses. That said, image quality is getting better and better across the board of compact digital cameras. But where the Sony was nothing short of astounding was its macro performance. If you've missed Part 2 of this review, go back and check out the spider (readers of a nervous disposition may wish to be accompanied when viewing). I would seriously consider buying this camera on the close up performance alone. At much less than £200 you'd be getting your money's worth just from this feature, but when you take in to account all the other qualities this camera possesses, including its general image quality, portability and down-right loveliness, it becomes an almost essential must have.
So you're a semi-pro photographer? So you've got 3 SLRs and 14 lenses? So you've never bought a camera costing less than £1000? So what?! You try getting a pro-body SLR and macro lens in to your shirt pocket at a dinner event, or walking round taking snaps of a shopping mall without being lynched! Good luck!
Quite honestly, even the most discerning photographer would do well to grab one of the little Sony's while they're still around.
Christmas is coming, and I for one wouldn't be disappointed to find a Sony T300 in my stocking.