In the midst of all the excitement of the Sony Alpha A55 and it’s Translucent Mirror technology, there seems to be little attention being paid to it’s more traditional counter part, the Alpha A580. Since this camera accompanied us to Photokina as well, we thought it time to give it a chance in the spotlight, even if its a little bit late.
I tend to tackle this first in a review as for me it is the most critical part of the camera. The ease of use, whether the camera fits well in the hand etc have become almost more important than anything else. Even if a camera has brilliant image quality, if I cant bring myself to hold it and use it then I am not going to shoot with it.
Compared to the Sony Alpha SLT-A55 the A580 is a larger beast and is styled on much the same lines as the A550 was. A comfortable camera to hold and with the option of an additional a battery pack / vertical grip, one can’t help but feel that this camera is aimed more at serious stills orientated shooters than the A55. While it is not going to offer the same build confidence that the A700 did, it is a much more comfortable camera to hold and use for extended periods of time than the smaller body Alphas are.
Oh, before I forget, it is really nice to see the return of the Depth of Field Preview button as well.
The A580 changes little in terms of performance when compared to its predecessor the A550. Autofocus is quick and responsive particularly when using the SSM motor found in the Zeiss and G-series lenses.
Metering is good and the Auto White Balance does fairly well expect -as seems to still be the case with so many cameras – in Tungsten light conditions. The Quick AF Live View continues to be exceptional – though the SLT-A55 does offer you a higher resolution preview image and 10 frames per second (thanks to the translucent mirror) compared to the 4fps on the A580.
Of course the most important change (for some) in terms of features for the A580 versus its predecessor the A550 is the inclusion of 1080 AVCHD video which is fantastic, though it lacks autofocus altogether yet alone the great AF of the A33 and A55. As with the A55, the A580 is prone to overheating in video when keeping the Steady Shot active and in our brief time testing it the camera over heated just shy of 10mins (that was in a rather hot Victoria Falls I might add).
The A580 shares the same 16mp Exmor CMOS sensor found in the A55 and from a user perspective the camera performed well. As we have not had any other 16mp cameras to do comparison reviews against (say the Nikon D7000 for example) I cannot comment on the noise levels against the competition. What I can say is that there are no images that I took with this camera where I found myself disappointed by the level of noise. Certainly I get the sense that it has the edge over the A550.
The only concern I have with this camera is the 18-55mm that came with it for review. While it is not the worst standard lens out there, I would much rather take the A580 body only and splash on the 16-80mm Zeiss. When shooting video in particular, the 18-55mm lacks the smooth zoom operation needed to get a fluid zoom in or out of a scene.
So the question that many may be asking now is which would one buy, the A580 or the A55? That depends on your intended use. For those who want an optical viewfinder the A580 is for you right away. I think its the ideal camera for someone whose main aim is shooting stills and who prefers a bigger camera in their hands.
In terms of performance it cannot be faulted (if you can go without AF Video and 10 frames per second) and my only suggestion to improve on it would be for the LCD screen to get the tilt and swivel movements of the A55. All in all, I think I enjoyed using the A580 as much if not a little more even than the A55, though that may just be me personally.