Although the T500 is very similar to the T700, it can’t quite match that models fast performance. It’s a little slower to start up, taking around two and a half seconds, although it does shut down almost instantly. In single-shot mode the shot-to-shot cycle time is a fraction over two seconds, which is respectable but not exactly fast, while in continuous shooting mode it can manage a shot every 0.6 seconds, which is pretty quick by any standard.
The autofocus is also identical to that of the T700, an advanced nine-point system which is both fast and accurate, with a very effective face detection system that can distinguish between adults and children. The AF works well in low light, with a good focus assist lamp for really dark conditions, although it automatically switches to wide-area AF in low light which isn’t as good at coping with moving subjects.
The T500 has Sony’s Optical Steady Shot image stabilisation, but I’ve seen more effective systems. I found camera-shake blurring on some shots taken at shutter speeds as high as 1/40th of a second.
The built-in flash seems to be a different unit to the T700, and unfortunately it isn’t as good. The claimed 3.5m maximum range is rather optimistic, frame coverage is poor at wide angle and it is also very prone to red-eye, although this can be corrected later in playback mode.
In terms of final image quality, the T500 performs well under most situations, but it is not without a few problems. The lens is nice and sharp, and the level of recorded detail is excellent, but it does suffer from both barrel distortion at the wide end and quite significant pincushion distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Dynamic range is better than most ultra-compacts, with a good balance between shadow and highlight detail in high contrast shots, and colour reproduction is also very good, but the real problem is image noise. Shots at the lowest ISO settings are relatively good, but noise appears at 200 ISO and gets progressively worse as sensitivity is increased. Shots taken at 400 ISO are useable, with good colour balance and detail, but beyond that the image quality deteriorates rapidly and shots taken at 1600 and 3200 ISO are extremely poor.
The Sony T500 it is an extremely well-made and attractively styled ultra-compact snapshot camera with good handling, superior performance and some useful features. The HD video mode with stereo sound is superb, and the touch screen interface is one of the best on the market. Image quality is good under most normal situations, although it does suffer badly from high-ISO image noise, and its hefty price tag will limit its appeal in these straitened times.