As for the Movie mode, which will be a reason buy this model, it’s almost added with apologies. The microphone is not mono as some reports have stated, but is closer to the NEX design than the A55/33 stereo mic with its wide separation. A 3.5mm jack for external sound is fitted (keeping the specification above that of price bracket rivals). The Movie button is dedicated and activates no matter what other mode you are in at the time, and this puts the camera way ahead of the Canon 60D with its tiresome one-way mode dial that needs to be turned all the way to the movie symbol before you can shoot. That, of course, is a recipe for losing you any kind of quick access to events which happen suddenly. At least with the 580/560 you can press that red Movie button and about a second later you are recording video.
Sony don’t care what position this mode dial is in, you can shoot movies instantly at any time unlike certain other cameras on the market. One half of the stereo mic, mounted in front of the intelligent accessory shoe, can be seen here
It is a dumb movie mode, putting its own auto-selection of ISO and aperture beyond the control of the user. Quality is at the upper end of the scale for 1080p DSLRs if you use AVCHD (tiresome directory structure, like a DVD, and a format you can’t just upload to YouTube from the memory card) and a bit worse if you use MPEG4 (simple directory structure, plays or uploads directly on almost any device).
I found the far left positioning of the Movie button made it hard to press (the +/- override button is the one which naturally falls under the finger) and in very cold weather it proved even harder wearing gloves. But at least I never shot movies by mistake, something which has happened to me with the Nikon D5000. What did happen was that my press to end the movie failed to register. With many DSLRs, pushing the shutter button will either end your movie and capture a still shot, or interrupt the movie for a still. No so with Sony. Pushing the shutter button during movie shooting does nothing at all – no still shot, no end to movie, no refocusing. To cancel movie shooting you must get to the red button again, or switch the camera off. I found the movie button needed a shift of hand position from my most stable grip, so the beginning and end of every movie clip had movement as I changed my hand position to use the button.
Here is a 3 minute 40 second video made using the Alpha 580 with Sigma 18-250mm OS zoom. Most of the longer focal length shots have been discarded because of the way the stabilisation affected them during panning, and in some cases for static shots arounfd 200-250mm. I’ve left one in (1:50 to 2:00 minutes into the video) and you can see this effect, without allowing it to spoil the video too much. The video is also full 1080p on YouTube.
The Steady Shot image stabilisation inside the camera works well for movies, limiting the clip length to 14 minutes or so instead of the maximum 29 minutes 30 seconds which applies with SS turned off. I therefore used a Sigma 18-250mm OS lens for some of my first movie shooting. This was a mistake, as the OS produced ripple and jelly effects from the interlaced 1080p/50i capture at longer focal lengths. Clips shot around 100-250mm, with or without a monopod, were unwatchable and could not be fixed using iMovie Stabilisation analysis. Tests using the 70-300mm SSM lens between 200 and 300mm, with in-body SS, were free from this effect and surprisingly stable even when hand-held. So, don’t think that in-lens OS will be your solution to longer clip lengths before overheating shuts the system down. It doesn’t agree with the movie mode, in contrast to SS which works well.