Photokina Report: Review of Sony Alpha SLT-A55

As you will have noted, we were @photokina 2010 with Sony Alpha which entailed not only giving the best exposure we could to Sony’s latest products but more importantly, using the latest Sony products and putting them through their paces. If you have read our earlier post about what gear we took then you will know what our first impressions were. If not, here is the list.

  • Sony Alpha SLT-A55
  • Sony Alpha DSLR-A580
  • Sony Alpha DSLR-A850
  • Sony SAL35F18 – new
  • Sony SAL85F28 – new
  • Sony SAL1118
  • Sony SAL18250

In addition to this we took one or two other lenses, flashes etc. So how did the new Alpha A55 shape up?

Handling

Sony seem to be very keen on keeping their entry to mid range cameras as compact as possibly. While this approach has benefits from a weight perspective one cannot help but feel that the camera is still a tad too small in the hands. The lack of a battery pack for the A33 and A55 means that there is a limit to what you can do to improve the handling from a size point of view.

What Sony have done is improve the handling in terms of the controls. In the past you would have seen that we were very critical of the lack of direct controls on the Alpha A290 and A390. The A55 has improved the need to access the menu as frequently though it is still not where we would like to see it being.

Performance

The Alpha SLT-A55’s party piece is Sony’s new Translucent mirror technology. This in essence means that unlike the mirror in most DSLR cameras which flips out of the way during exposure, the A55 and A33’s mirror allows light to pass through it while still reflecting enough light into the prism where the cameras controls your autofocus system.

The benefit of this system is two fold. Fist you have continuous autofocus at 10 frames per second when shooting stills. There is not another camera in this class that offers that facility. The second benefit is to be found when shooting video where the autofocus is fast and continually tracks a scene. Here is an example we did a little while ago.

Speaking of video, both the A55 and A33 shoot 1080 HD video in AVCHD format. Note that this review is based on a sample unit and as I make the next statement. We did experience over heating on the A55 when shooting video over 5 minutes in length. While we hope that this is going to be fixed in production units, the first reports on sites like Engadget is not favourable.

One draw back with the new Translucent Mirror Technology currently is that these cameras do not have an optical view finder, but rather put a low res LCD in the place creating and EVF (Electronic View Finder) that is not comfortable for a traditional DSLR shooter. That said, the Live View is so good that I seldom use the EVF opting rather for the LCD Display on the back even in bright sunlight.

Image Quality

The A55 is features a 16mp Exmor CMOS sensor which performs well with images crisp and noise in acceptable standards. We find with each new camera and sensor Sony seem to be improving their cameras’ lowlight abilities. Also in this camera is a mode found in most of their Cyber-shot compacts which shoots and combines multiple exposures to reduce noise.

Another great feature – so long as your scene is relatively static – is the Sweep Panoramic which allows for in camera panoramic images of fantastic quality.

View the A55 Gallery below for some sample images.

Conclusion

What is the verdict? This is a tough one. As a fist time camera well worth consideration. As a second body to shoot video, also spare it a thought. All in all it was a great camera to travel with and I enjoyed the ability to shoot simple, easy to use videos as well as stills. It wont replace my Alpha A850 by any means though.

This is an exciting time in the history of the DSLR, the Translucent Mirror is a great step forward and will more than likely go down in history as a pinnacle point in camera design.

1 thought on “Photokina Report: Review of Sony Alpha SLT-A55”

Comments are closed.