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Past Article Calendar

December 2010

Alpha 55 – in depth pros and cons

Matching quality

The question then has to be asked – does the ‘Translucent’ mirror reduce the image quality? It does reduce the light reaching the sensor, but the ISO settings of the A55 appear to be adjusted to allow for this. If you shoot 1/125th at f/16 at ISO 100 with the A55, it is similar to the same settings on the A580 (a conventional SLR with the same sensor), not half a stop darker. That means the sensor is being given a touch of extra gain, but comparison of the two cameras’ files does not show any apparent penalty.

After many tests and many images, I can only say that fitting an uncoated UV filter to a lens on the A580 would be more likely to degrade the image or cause flare marks, than using the A55 instead of the A580. The angle of the mirror does not encourage internal reflection, and when a flare patch appears from extremely strong sources in one particular region of the frame, it seems to be a result of a reflection from the AF module.

A studio test of the flare pattern. The three bands appear to be produced by a combination of the mirror and AF module’s reflective lenses, nothing to do with the mirror glass as such, and result from three lines of LEDs in the light source. The small chromatic flare patches are caused by the lens, not the camera.

The actual result of this flare pattern, caused by internal reflections. It takes extreme conditions to show it, and under the same conditions, most cameras and lenses produce some kind of flare – just not quite like this.

This flare only occurs when a very bright source is positioned slightly to the right and higher than the centre of the image. Placing the same source to the left and below, right and below, or left and above does not produce the flare. As it happens, the critical position is about where you would place the sun for a sunset shot following rule-of-thirds composition with the sun towards the right side of the shot. Many users could get this flare, but in practice a typical sunset lacks the contrast to produce it. The light source has to be much brighter relative to the exposure.

The mirror can produce a secondary or ghosted image, offset by a few pixels and lower than the actual image. This is only visible with sharply rendered point sources on a black field, like stars, or sharply focused edges of very bright areas like a window. If the image is even slightly defocused, the secondary image is not detectable; if the contrast is anything other than extreme, it is invisible. Because of the angle of the mirror (which is not 45°, but slightly flatter-on relative to the sensor plane) wider angle lenses will show the ghost towards the bottom of the shot and centre (horizontal composition) but not towards the top, because the mirror is more or less at 90° to the image forming ray bundle in this part of the image.

Here is a shot taken with the 18-55mm SAM kit lens at 45mm focal length and f/6.3, only a stop down from wide open. There’s a very bright pinpoint catchlight in the Bengal cat’s eye, and those whiskers range from perfectly sharp to slightly defocused. Will there be some image-destroying secondary catchlight? Has the contrast been wrecked by that mirror? Will this cheap lens, high resolution, and this unacceptable new design spoil the result?

You can judge for yourself. Note the chromatic effects (tiny coloured dots on the cat’s nose, aliasing on on whisker). Note also the level of sharpening used in ACR 6.3, and the level of luminance NR. See the detail in the colours of the cat’s eye. Now step back – this is a 100% screen shot not from the native size of the file, but from a 25 megapixel supersized export from ACR. This is making the A55 give me an image bigger than the Alpha 900, using a kit lens nearly wide open. This is one very sharp camera, to the point of colour moiré (I’ve emphasized this by not using any Chroma NR, and using double the normal level of sharpening).

The practical effect of these factors is less than the effect of forgetting to fit a lens hood, or buying a cheap filter instead of a high quality multicoated one. Because of the EVF system, and the depth of field preview, you can test for flare patches. This is not always possible with optical finders, as they can create apparent flare which is not present in the picture. It’s caused within the prism or mirror-prism and the eyepiece optics. The A55/33 have a relatively clean optical path, viewing the EVF display which will show any flare. If flare occurs within the eyepiece of the EVF, it won’t look like image flare. So you can shield your lens, adjust your composition, as required to avoid any unwanted effects.

In many hundreds of finished pictures, I have only ‘lost’ shots when I have deliberately tried to find extreme subjects to produce flare. It has never happened in any normal shot. The same goes for the secondary ghosted image; the only time I’ve seen it is when trying to get it. No doubt both will occasionally spoil a picture for someone – one picture in a thousand, perhaps. But the SLT design will enable, or rescue, another fifty pictures in that thousand which would have worse with a traditional SLR. I tend to judge my gear by success-rate, by how many frames are sent to the trash when editing and how many are kept. On this basis, the A55 is probably the best Alpha I’ve owned.

What I found about the image quality of the A55 is simple enough. It has an auto ISO setting from 100 to 1600. With earlier generations of Alpha, the ability to limit this range was vital. You might pick just auto 200 to 400, or 200 to 800, to ensure 1600 was never used. The A55’s ISO 1600 raw quality is so good that with just the normal amount of noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw (25 Luminance, 50 Colour, with auto detail levels) creates a grain-free, highly detailed result.

The A55 does not depart from ISO 100 in a hurry when set to Auto ISO. Shooting outdoors on a day of mixed light with very mixed subjects (from snow to dark road surfaces) the camera stuck rigidly to ISO 100 until I took an interior, which sent it straight to 1600.

After a few experiences like this, I have started to set the A55 to Auto ISO, something I do not do with any other camera apart from the NEX-5. When the A580 arrived, I realised this would perform in a similar way, and again have used Auto ISO without worries. Even when using Canon cameras with a wide auto ISO range, I’ve never encountered such clean ISO 1600 daylight results. People associate high ISO with night shooting, but actually it’s so good to be able to use something twice as fast as ‘press’ colour negative film used to be, with the same grain as ISO 100 film used to show in a finished print.

This is no exaggeration. If you are still using a camera from just a few years ago, such as the Nikon D200, Canon 40D, Sony Alpha 350 or even the excellent Alpha 700 then you have no idea just how good the latest 16 megapixel CMOS is. Raw processor improvements have made all the older cameras perform better, but these new sensors are perfectly matched to the latest Bayer conversions in software like Adobe Camera Raw 6.3 and Lightroom 3.3.

Hand-held, camera on ground, screen composition, 1/60th at f/8, ISO 6400, SAM 18-55mm.

What you get from ISO 6400 like this, without any special attempts to reduce the noise. Great crisp looking grain in a 100% clip. And where there is sharp detail, it’s very sharp.

As for the higher range still, the results remain proportionally superior. Even at ISO 6400 you can make a large print which shows no sign of excessive noise, or detail-mashing noise reduction. At 12,800 you certainly know that it’s a boosted setting. Not so long ago, 3200 would have been considered acceptable with the same level of noise and NR.

Using the A580 and A55 together for a short period, with various lenses, I felt that both cameras with the 16.2 megapixel sensor are sufficiently demanding to make the 18-55mm SAM kit lens only just adequate. But apart from a slight feeling that the A580 is set up with a slightly stronger anti aliasing filter, leading to a softer look to very fine detail, I could find no reason to prefer one camera over the other. There’s a lot of talk about the SLT design giving lower contrast. Given the huge range of contrast adjustments and picture looks I apply to images, any tiny difference in the optical contrast hardly matters. Just choosing one lens instead of another makes more difference than using the A55 instead of the A580, or any other camera.

Indeed, if you want low contrast, try the 16mm f/2.8 Sony SEL lens on the NEX-5. That’s a lens with a mere 5 elements and a light path with includes nothing but a very small amount of air. The microcontrast and overall contrast alike are lower than you’re ever likely to get from the A55 no matter what lens you fit. Do I find it a problem? No, I love it. It handles difficult light superbly and gives me an extra half stop in dynamic range. Just like old Leica lenses, it lifts the shadows for you. Contrast can always be boosted in post-processing. It’s very difficult to reduce. I remember the first time I used a Contax RTS with a 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss; I had to drop one paper grade to get the same look to my prints, and Kodachrome 64 was just too contrasty to have any shadow detail, it demanded the gentler response of Kodachrome 25.

Well, the A55 is my new Kodachrome 25 – dead sharp, but gentle with tone and colour.

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51 comments to Alpha 55 – in depth pros and cons

  • I should have thought of looking here first, of course.

    I bought a 55 as backup for my 900, and particularly for occaisonal use for production pictures for school plays (my daughter’s an English teacher, and pictures are much appreciated by the drama department).

    More recently, I’ve been trying to use it in the studio – not a big success.

    A general internet search produced little help – “of course there are 5,000 ways to do it, so I didn’t bother setting out the details”.

    The truth seems to be that it really isn’t meant for that, so I probably won’t try again.

    It’s great fun – the panoramas, the video, the speed – but it is no substitute for a 900, which (3 years on) strikes me as almost as much digital camera as one could ever reasonably need.

  • Forgot this question. Does the A55 have the ability to turn of the AF in video mode when you want to do follow focus?

    • admin

      If I can reply to both your questions Alvin, the A55 is a mixed bag because it requires very expensive lenses for the best (quiet) follow-focus AF (which Canon simply can’t do at all) and these lenses, such as the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 SSM, are two or three times the price of the body. In my own opinion the video is better than current Canon quality – it is rather sharper and finder detailed, partly because the Sony tends to use faster shutter speeds which are considered ‘not cinematic’. However for auxiliary mic/mixer sound input, nothing beats the Canon 60D or 600D with their 64-level manual control of input gain. You can of course set the lenses or the body, depending on lens type, to Manual focus and attach any kind of rig for zooming or focus; you can also use dumb lenses, such as for example the rather excellent Samyang 85mm f/1.4 manual aperture lens and old Pentax screw of similar. The great benefit of the A55 with these is that is has image stabilisation and you can do freehand takes with a fairly well-damped, stable image. The older Minolta AF lenses come in various classes, just like Canon. The worst are no worse than Canon’s worst and the best are as good as Canon’s best. Primes and top end zooms from the 1985-1990 period have a really lovely combination of contrast and colour control, created by Minolta’s coating techniques. For video this can be important, get a set of these older lenses and you won’t see a colour shift between takes if you change lens. That can not be said of either Canon or Nikon, as they never had the same attitude to matching colour-contrast transmission over a range of lenses. Nor did Minolta ten years later, they abandoned the use of coatings for this purpose and chased pure contrast and ‘good test results’ instead.

  • Glad I found this forum. I’m going to change systems in the next week as I want to get back into shooting video a well as stills. Nature shoots are my passion and so the A55 seems like a good option. I’m very interested from the photo perspective in HDR and Sweep Panoramic and so this is a plus for the Sony. However, I know that Canon (T3i) has a good track record for video and so I’m wondering 1) how the A55 compares and 2) is there a lot of glass out there that is as good as the Canon glass? I’m speaking of older AF Minolta lenses. Thanks in advance for your response!

  • sisyphus

    Hello and many thanks for an extremely informative and helpful review. The Sony A55 ticks many boxes for me but there are a couple of questions that I have not found answers for on the internet:
    1) Is it possible to use an infrared remote control from the REAR of the camera as well as from the front?
    2) How quiet is the shutter? I suspect that it noisier (and therefore more obtrusive in very quiet settings) than one on a bridge camera (like my Panasonic FZ50). But I hope I’m wrong.
    If you are able to help, that would be great.

    • admin

      The IR remote only works from the front – even indoors in a reflective environment. The shutter is louder than, for example, the Sony DSC R-1. It is quieter than the NEX because the mass of the body seems to damp what is actually exactly the same noise.

  • brummagen

    Sorry this is not a comment but a question (well 2!) Going to Focus tomorrow to make final decision on, and hopefully purchase of, new walkabout camera – either Panasonic GH2 + 14-140 plus 20/1.7 sometime in future, or A55 plus 16-80CZ, or Sigron 18-250/270 plus 35/1.8SAM

    Will the Sigron AF continuously in video mode on the A55, or do you need Sony lenses to do that?

    Do you think the 18-250/270s will balance OK on the A55 – i don’t suppose the Sigron stands will have a 55 to try, nor will the Sony stand be likely to feature Sigron lenses.

    PS – the 16-80 is my choice if I can’t overcome my prejudice aginst 15-18X zoom lenses.

    • admin

      Sorry, I was unable to respond to this fast or approve it because of a family commitment which took me away from Focus, and admin. Answer is that NO HSM-type lenses other than Sony/Minolta can be used for video on the A55 at all. The camera thinks they can be used with Contrast Detect AF, but in fact they can not, and hunt constantly. There is no way of forcing Phase Detect AF with these non-Sony lenses, and they do not comply to strict SSM/SAM specs. But the 16-80mm can of course be used and so can older mechanical-drive (body drive) Sigma/Tamron zooms.

  • german

    Thank you very much David. Despite the fact that A55 has a newer sensor than A33 after seeing samples images of both models in low light they´ve seemed to have pretty much the same performance, but I´m going to take a closer look to know if it worths to spend more money for an A55.

  • german

    Hello David, your review was very much.
    I’ve been looking for a new camera for a while (my first DSLR) and after reading review after review I was convinced that my next camera would be a Nikon D5000 (perhaps a D3100) until I’ve found the Sony A33/55 because it has everything I’ve wanted including great video capabilities. But since it is a major investment for me in a camera, I want to be sure it will please me for a long time. The big question is: Is the image quality the same in both models? I feel that Nikon D5000/3100 have better images and low light performance and they feel more like a DSLR than Sony A33/55 (I’m talking only in terms of image) and after reading your review of A580 I want to know if you perceived a difference of image with it too. Thanks, your feedback will be greatly appreciated.

    • admin

      There is no real difference between the A55 and A580 image quality. The A33 is significantly lower with worse high ISO performance. Your choice of lens will make more difference to quality, with the A55 and A580, than any difference in the performance of the two body types. Both are significantly better than the Nikon D5000; I’ve not tested the D3100, so can not comment on that.

  • nt2ezbnshort

    Thanks again for the advise David. My Alpha 55vl just arrived and I am looking forward to the new adventure ahead. Iam sure we will be takling more later about the a55.

  • admin

    I think anyone would tell you that the 16-80mm will secure many more shots for you, in all kinds of circumstances, than the 50mm f/1.4 alone. I would buy the 16-80mm and keep an eye open for a clean used 50mm f/1.7 Minolta AF (or indeed f/1.4, it’s surprising how cheaply you can find one if you wait and watch).

  • nt2ezbnshort

    Hey David,
    Me again the rookie, I was looking at purchasing the sony 50mm f/1.4, but is it worth the money?

    I was looking at the CZ 16-80mm which in your opinion would be a better choice? Or would you advise me to use another make of lense?

  • nt2ezbnshort

    Hi David,
    I am a rookie and trying to absorb as much info as possible. My question for you is what filter should I use on the kit lense? I was worried about binding in using a cheep filter, but there are so many to choose from what would you recommend?

    • admin

      The kit lenses – 18-55mm, 16-105mm, 18-200mm, 18-250mm – are all very high resolution at their best. So it does not pay to add a cheap filter, especially if you have the 18-200mm or 18-250mm, where any poor quality in the filter can really wreck sharpness at the long end. The best filters are those with brass mounts, not steel or aluminium, as brass is softer and does not tend to stick when tightened. The worst are those with plastic rims. But well-made alloy mounts are perfectly OK. The Sony T* Zeiss filter protectors are perfect for the job, so are Hoya Pro Digital, and so are Rodenstock, Heliopan, B+W and the top grade Marumi. I do not advise Kenko (I bought one, as they are made by Hoya, and it’s very poor quality for the cheaper price), cheaper Marumi, ‘rebranded’, and only the professional grade of Tiffen is good quality. All resin and plastic type filters should be avoided.

  • admin

    I have never been able to find a Tamron 24-135mm. I got hold of three different Tokina 24-200mms and kept the best, which I am selling now because in the end I have not used it much. I was surprised that the Tokina is better at 24mm than the Minolta/Sony 24-105mm. The Tamron, with its shorter range, could be good – agreed.

  • David, did you consider testing the Tamron 24-135 with your A900? According to a review on “dyxum” site, this combo may outperform the A55 with 16-80.

  • Rob Brydon

    Thoroughly enjoying using my A55 after just a few days. It’s so good to see that full screen EVF for a change. I have no idea why but a large majority of my macro shots are keepers compared to the A550. The DOF preview is an absolute revelation. F/26 and bright. Stunning and I am able to make critical focus adjustments in the EVF.
    I was worried how the EVF would fare but your appraisal along with that of Tony Bridge, convinced me.
    Excellent review…cheers from New Zealand..8-)

  • Thanks, David.
    The lack of full time SS is unfortunate.

    Well, then I have two enhancement requests (or call them wishes for the new SLT model):
    – full time SS (switchable on/off)
    – a kind of real-time flash exposure metering to work as OTF metering in film cameras

  • David, I have two short questions regarding the A55 (sorry if I overlooked that info, but I think it wasn’t there):
    1) Does the grip warm up excessively (as it is the case with A2)?
    2) Do you see the effect of image stabilization in the viewfinder? A2 used to have a menu switch telling to engage AS on half-press, and if you choose it then AS works during focusing.

    • admin

      No the grip does not warm up, but the area behind the folding screen can become warm (sensor heatsink, I would guess). You can not enable full time SS, it is only operative during exposure. Of course it does work full time during movie shooting.

  • Thanks for the excellent review. I thought the studio flash/lack of gain control for the viewfinder and LCD was going to be a killer issue for some of my work, but I have a workaround when using either wireless trigger or a non-Sony flash, mounted in either case on a third party hot shoe converter. Pop-up the internal flash, fit the shoe, attach the wireless trigger or flash on the shoe, cover the internal camera flash. This fools the camera into thinking you are using a recognised flash, and the screens brighten accordingly. The camera flash has to be raised first with my adapter as it obstructs the macheanism, but there is just clearance between the adapter and camera flash when the flash is rasied. It is easy to devise a cover for the internal flash if needed (I don’t want it to cause reflections). It isn’t an ideal solution, and may not meet everyone’s requirements. A means of setting the gain mode would be much better.

  • vista

    I’m glad to hear that because it’s very important comparison.

  • jfirneno

    Thanks for that very informative review. I noticed that you have worked with the A580 closely and I wondered if you had a chance to compare the raw noise performance in low light at High ISO (1600 to 6400)of the A580 to the A850. I haven’t seen a direct comparison but from some files I’ve seen they appeared about equal (which was disappointing to me as someone looking for an indoor alternative to my A850). Anyway thanks in advance for any insight you may have.


    • admin

      I can only speak for the Alpha 900, I’ve not used the 850. I would go for the 16 megapixel APS-C sensor between 1600 and 6400, I think, if that was a reason for buying a camera. The 900/850 is very acceptable with the latest LR/ACR raw processing, but the 580 has the twilight shot function, and I would say on balance it’s better. For really low light work, the A55 is preferable despite the light loss. You can see, compose and focus images using the A55 in conditions where you can’t even tell what you are looking at through the A580 (or the 900/850). That is one benefit of the EVF – it’s pretty amazing in near darkness, and a major improvement over optical finders by dim room light, street light etc.

  • admin

    The high speed burst rate does actually push the shutter speeds right up – it is configured for action. It uses Auto ISO and a program which goes like this: longest shutter speed 1/500th, at widest lens aperture, and lowest ISO. If light is better, it will stay at ISO 100 and boost first of all the shutter speed, then start closing down the lens once the shutter is at 1/1000th or shorter. Birds in flight in sunshine with 70-300mm G SSM – actual example, camera gave me 1/1250 at f/8 at ISO 100, I had -1 set on exposure to hold highlight detail in flying swans against blue sky.\

    The framerate using the normal Hi setting (menu set, not mode dial) is around 6fps – that’s not ‘extremely slow’, even without 10fps option it’s class leading, the fastest rate you can get in any DSLR at this price level.

  • jattie

    I’ve played around with an A55 in a shop and tested the high speeds burst with manual controls. The framerate was extremely slow. The only way I could get the rate up was to switch to the dedicated setting on the dial, but then I have no control over shutter speed or aperture.

    Does this mean I can not get a hight frame rate capturing high speed action in settings I prefer, like freezing a birds wings in flight and at high end shutter speeds of my choice.

  • SteveGJ

    Very nice review which actually gives a real idea of what the camera is like to use. Hopefully Sony can produce a firmware fix for the flash issue. It surely can’t be difficult to have a menu option.

    It seems evidence to me that one day the use of the EVF will be the norm. I recall getting into a debate with a purist that insisted the OVF was the purer image because if followed the optical path. However, that’s surely not true, at least not in principle, an OVF inevitably forces a different optical path for the viewer. There is also the issue that the eye adapts to light independently to the way the sensor behaves so you could get a wholly different impression of the captured image. To me, the EVF is, ultimately, the purer path because only that can represent what the sensor is “seeing” through the optical path. Nobody ever actually sees an image from a DSLR that isn’t processed in some way. There is no equivalent to viewing a colour reversal film through a loupe. I’d quite accept that no current EVF will look like an optical viewfinder, and probably never will. But what it can do is look more like the image to be captured. Then there is the ability to add more information, truly show a 100% view, represent other aspect ratios, show clipping plus the side benefit of reduced mechanical complexity will surely win out. There is a lots more to capturing the an image than an uninterrupted optical path for the eye.

    There may be technically more elegant ways of implementing phase detection AF that a pellicle mirror of course – there are those experimenting with this in the main sensor, but for now this appears to work with only slight downsides.

    Personally I would like to see an FF available with an EVF, but that might be considered a step too far, especially as it will ineviably be a niche product and may not appeal to its market segment (who seem, to me, to value different things to the larger market). There will also be issue of refresh rates on a (rumoured) 30MP camera. However, the problems of mirror movement on an FF camera are magnified by the larger scale which inevitably makes the camera bulkier and heavier than than the SLT approach. My feeling is that an FF SLT camera could be built which wasn’t much bigger than the A55 (although a bigger battery, support for CF and a bigger EVF would increase the size).

    Certainly I will be looking out for an SLT replacement for my A700 at some point.

  • admin

    You must not use the body AF/MF switch with SAM lenses, it’s OK to do so with SSM. But using the body switch with SAM does not disengage the motor, so when you try to turn the manual focus ring, you reverse-operate the gears and micromotor. The lens AF-MF switch disengages the motor, making it safe to use the manual focus setting. These lenses all come with the clear warning, but of course, users may forget. However, you would need to be very heavy handed not to realise something was wrong – you can’t turn the focus collar easily against the resistance.

  • Earlier, David Kilpatrick wrote, “… Using the body AF switch would risk damage to SAM lenses …”


    I’m surprised to learn that operating the camera controls could damage it’s own lenses — could please you explain a little bit more on this?


    Peter Blaise

  • jattie

    Thanks for the update. It is a bit dissapointing, but I intend to keep my A200 in any case, however, if one could overcome that issue the A55 would’ve been perfect!

    Thanks again.

  • admin

    Jattie – the A200 has a setting where the EVF can be either auto gain (viewing priority) or reflect the exposure (exposure priority) so you can set manual exposure or judge the result of +/- over-ride. The auto gain setting is used for studio flash, and allows you to view properly with modelling lights.

    The A55 does not have this, only Exposure ‘simulation’ unless the built in flash is popped up, or a Sony/Min dedicated flash is fitted and active. Use Manual, and you get a dark viewfinder. To signal the camera to brighten the finder (auto gain) a 5v ‘flash ready’ polarity is needed via the iISO hotshoe, and no flash trigger has yet been made which does this.

    My solution is an old Minolta 5200i flashgun set to 1/32nd power, used as a flash slave trigger, bounced upwards. But even Sony’s own sync cable adaptor does not signal flash ready to the camera, it leaves the finder dark.

  • admin

    I know the Canon CAN be turned off but it doesn’t have an auto function for off. The Nikon and Sony screens turn off at about 2 degrees away from ‘reversed’ position even if you are shooting video. The 60D screen remains active. The Sony continues to film movies if the screen is stowed, so does the Canon, but at least the glow from the reversed screen warns you the camera is active; the A55 can keep filming with no visible sign the camera is operating other than the On/Off switch and the lens autofocusing if focus changes. This contrasts with many camdcorders, like my Sanyo Xacti, where closing the screen away also ends filming.

    The 60D also has the orientation switch and sensors slightly differently set up; it’s the only camera I have ever used with an articulated screen that has presented me with an upside-down image quite easily. After this happened, I did a bit of twisting the A55 screen to see whether I could get an upside-down image – it is possible, but less likely to happen. The 60D also gave me a few instances of wrong image file orientation when the camera was held vertically, and aimed upwards at a tree – this one for example: // – and the issue may be a result of how the camera’s orientation sensor, and the screen’s angle sensing switches, work. I just know the Sony design is less prone to unexpected orientation errors.

  • jattie

    I am delighted with the article, my only concern would be the flash and studion system comments and would love to have them clarified. I have an A200 and I use that with a hot shoe adapter for studio work, either with a sync cord or remote.

    I also have a remote trigger kit for a flash, are you saying that these will not work on the A55 even thou they work on the A200?

  • bakubo

    admin wrote:

    “Fortunately, it’s not like the Canon EOS 60D screen which can stay lit up and active when folded to face the camera! The Sony one turns itself off, something Canon forget to think of.”

    Actually, the 60D screen can be turned off and that is in fact how I have mine set so no matter which way the screen is turned it will be off and won’t come on unless you want it to.

  • vista

    yea but who wants to change his favorite beercan or Sonnar 16-80 🙂
    shutter button is useless during video recording so it would be great and comfortable to use it as AF holder 🙂

  • admin

    I know you didn’t, I did. Using the body AF switch would risk damage to SAM lenses. Using on-lens AF switching, especially something like the switch on the Sigma 18-250mm OS HSM, would be no risk at all. Or buy a lens with an AF hold button, there are plenty of old Minolta ones around with that feature, as well as new SSM designs. It’s just not present in a few lenses where it would be useful to have it.

  • vista

    I didn’t mean AF/MF switch (it’s probably dangerous to AF mechanism).
    Some lenses have special AF hold button and it works. Afterword this workaround option reduce amount of usable glasses and this not right way of improvement. I’m sure Sony’ll keep us believe and the new firmware is comming soon to fix this issue 🙂

  • admin

    It is possible, but a bit crude mechanically, to use the AF/MF switch on the body or on SAM lenses – you can operate it during video, and return to AF afterwards, without interrupting video. But it is not a light or smooth action.

  • vista

    You should know that there is a workaround though.
    Some Sony lenses have an AF hold button.
    If you press this while recording, the camera will not adjust the AF.

    But there are so many great lenses without this option so why should we abandon them?

    Great CZ1680, DT16105, KM beercans and many many others.

    I think it’s simple firmware update to connect this function to body and the positive is that Sony is one of those who really listen to the comments of its customers 🙂

  • admin

    I think your very long comment explains why I have not tried to cover aspects of video, beyond a few basics. Video is important to me, but not for the purpose of using the A55 primarily as a video camera. The PDAF system can track action better than almost any other DSLR video system. The CDAF of the NEX and the A560/580 models responds gently, so a brief appearance of some foreground object doesn’t trigger a focus shift. I will be looking at the choices between the three systems offered by Sony very shortly, including a breakdown of the still, live view and video focusing modes and compatibilities. But I’m not likely to write a report about the video, as I have not used the function enough to have a clear overview of its merits.

  • vista

    Thanks for nice and essential review. But there’s big ommision – You didn’t mention abot video mode which is one of the biggest and promoted feature. SLT was designed exactly to give us good working AF during video recording. So how it works?

    As for the lack of focus lock during video recording…

    this’s a biggest omission from the manufacturer, and it seems that if you can control the exposure is probably simple to implement this function – i mean ON/OFF AF function during one video scene.

    It could be connected with main shutter button (or any other) which are useless during video recording.

    Why? What for?
    Because it happens very often that works in continuous AF becomes, a problem. How it could be?
    For example, when an object crosses for a while this line between us to focus point a camera sharpening immediately tries to sharpen, losing correct character/object in the scene.

    how does it compare to reality?
    we’re shooting a child on a longer focal length and for a moment something cuts us – some staff located closer to the elements (branches, fencing) or someone / something (other person/car) crosses the scene –> focus’s moving back and again to sharpen crossing object and back to the right scene composition – this is really annoying and does not look good.

    Another example – we are shooting some bird on a branch. Autotracking mode once focusing on the lovely bird, and once the little leaf literally steals the focus point, and again bird, little branch, bird… – you can go crazy!
    Somebody may ask – So why don’t you use MF with that bird?
    My answer- have you ever try to catch, a bird with lovely bokeh by MF? With AF locking control it could be really nice and easily to do!
    One thing you need is AF lock function!

    Another thing is that – the current situation practically requires continuous maintenance of the object in the focus point – it results in a continuous cropping on an item/person, most centrally (although we may change focus point location but it’s still continous operation).
    so you can change the location of AF point but the operation is inadequate to the situation when cameraman wants to control the scene.

    For example if you focus at the child’s face and wants to place it at the right edge of frame,
    all that crazy tracking AF will immediately sharpen the background whenever I’ll try to shot like that.
    Changing AF location is too time-consuming and inefficient in this sense.

    If there will be control over AF lock I could use it by the one click and easily unlock it the same way when I decide that I want to make, a smooth transition with focus/scene layers.

    Such a simple thing but very necessary 🙂

    Possibility of those transitions in MF mode has nothing to do with the described functionality because it could be changed (AF/MF) before recording starts and permanently disables AF operation – and here I discuss the situation in which I wanna enjoy its benefits but under simple control (on/off AF) in one scene (without cuts).

    If they are here some Sony employees, and certainly know where to give such suggestions to be taken seriously or at least have a chance, because normal user does not have access to such (internal) information channels, please help to realize this idea of AF LOCK FUNCTION (maybe with next firmware update).

    And what simple user can do?

    Believe that anything you can imagine, you can make real – it’s from 🙂

    Here some user opinion from dpreview forum:

    I absolutely agree – there are TOO MANY cases when AF lock would be EXTREMELY useful!
    Sony promotes A33/A55 video mode with continuous AF as a KEY feature. A breakthrough that distinguishes them form ANY OTHER dSLR on the market.
    I personally bought A33 just for that. After two month of using it, I practically stopped using AF completely – due to the exact problems vista77 described. In other words, the KEY feature turned out to be quite useless.
    If Sony cares about the feedback from customers, I agree this AF lock feature should be #1 in the firmware upgrade. I find it much more important than Aperture control in video mode (auto) – this one should be #2 on the list.
    I suggest to list the ideas how this AF lock might be implemented:
    1) DOF preview button – toggles between AF/MF
    2) AE lock button is programmable via main menu – either it can be set to AE lock, or to AF lock (e.g. my compact Panasonic LX3 has just that)
    3) Combination
    a) quick pressing & releasing of button A toggles between AF/MF mode
    b) while in MF mode, pressing button B activates AF mode, releasing button B returns back to MF mode. It would be very useful to achieve focus-shifting effects.
    Please keep the AF lock ideas coming, as well as ideas how let Sony know about them.

    So please Sony – Just make.believe your users!

  • admin

    I did not encounter many problems with shooting action, and following fairly rapid random movement, because I shoot in short bursts – four, six, two or however many frames are needed for the peak action. I simply never have held the shutter down on any camera and fired off 20 frames or whatever. I don’t necessarily even look through the camera at the action, and when I do, years of experience have taught me to keep my left eye open. This was one of the first things I learned; to see with both eyes, even if the subject is quite different in scale through my camera eye.

    An ND filter would improve the EVF contrast problem, but not the lack of visible detail. The camera has Smile Shutter which I entirely ignore in my review (ditto Face Detection) as I don’t need anything to trigger picture for me that way, or decide my focus points. But maybe it’s needed as the EVF does make seeing precise expressions pretty difficult. Again, I do not advise using an EVF with your left eye closed.

    As for size, size is what it is. You buy FOR the size not despite. I never heard anyone complain that a Hi-Matic 7S II was too small and should really, please, be resized to the same dimensions as a Yashica Electro 35 – the world was delighted to see the bulk of such cameras reduced, as Olympus and Ricoh also found out with the sales of their 35mm compacts. What changes? There are plenty of big cameras around. I got a lovely quote from a Canon 350D owner who wanted to upgrade. The 550D seemed like the best choice, but they wanted the 60D. Why? ‘The 550D isn’t any bigger than my 350D. If I am going to upgrade, I want a bigger camera…’ Obviously an A55 would not satisfy this buyer!

  • vbpholaw


    I’ll add my thanks to you for taking the time to provide such a detailed write-up. One thing I felt was missing from the review, however, was a greater analysis of the EVF’s performance, particularly in continuous shooting mode. I know there was the football (soccer photo here in the U.S.) with the short text saying you got good results), but given the “controversy” over the suitability of the EVF going forward in all of Sony’s DSLRs (except perhaps a next generation FF camera, assuming there is one), I was hoping for a greater discussion. For example, in high speed continuous shooting, how easy or difficult was it to track erratically moving subjects given the delay inherent in the EVF (my experience trying to track skate boarders at close range in a half-pipe set-up that Sony had at the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC was not a good one)? What was your general experience in tracking moving subjects? Did the subject’s speed make any difference. Also, regarding other aspects of EVF performance, you did note the difficulty it has in high contrast situations, and noted in along with a sample photo that the sky was all white in the EVF. How might that affect the ability to use the camera with split neutral density filters? How might the lack of detail in shadow areas affect shooting if those areas are an important element in the photo, from a compositional or timing perspective (e.g., if you are waiting for that “decisive moment” to occur in the shadow areas, such as people smiling at an event)?

    Let me also add a note about your comments about the camera’s size. I don’t generally disagree with you (though I felt the A55 was too small for me to use comfortably). However, the more exterior controls a camera has, particularly in the form of small buttons, the smaller the camera’s size the less distance there usually is between those buttons, which can make for more difficult operation of the camera. You already noted the possibility of accidentally turning off the camera when trying to use the front control dial (a problem I have experienced when shooting with some Nikon cameras). Similarly, when you have lots of controls placed close together on the back of the camera because there is less real estate, the greater the possibility of accidentally engaging the wrong control. Of course, camera size and general ergonomics is a very personal matter for each photographer, so what works well for one might not work so well for another. Thus the importance of actually trying a camera before making a buying decision. It also can make a difference for a camera intended (by the user) for occasional use (such as a traveler going “light” or for a carry around anytime camera) compared to heavier use as a “full time” camera.

    Thanks again for your time and the thorough review (save the EVF issues discussed above).

  • admin

    I do not use a screen protector, I just turn the screen round. I only use the rear screen when needed and fold it away again immediately. Fortunately, it’s not like the Canon EOS 60D screen which can stay lit up and active when folded to face the camera! The Sony one turns itself off, something Canon forget to think of.

  • Bengeo

    Do you use a screen protector with it? I guess a clip on one won’t fit … Andy

  • stratokaster

    David, thanks for a great write-up — it sums SLT’s advantages and disadvantages very nicely. Overall, there are some downsides to these cameras (I was forced to buy an old Minolta 5200i Program Flash and to use it to trigger my small studio strobes), but their advantages outweigh their disadvantages – at least in my eyes. Also Sony now has a brilliant lineup of cheap but very good (and very lightweight!) primes – I believe that A33/A55 with Sony 35/1.8 and 85/2.8 lenses is a very good, compact and unobtrusive combination for street shooting and low-light work.

  • Thanks for the review. When Epson announced they were working on high resolution viewfinder displays a couple of years ago, I knew that sooner or later Sony would crack the digital viewfinder problem and I would get something to replace my brilliant but outdated Olympus C8080. At last we have what appears to be a true digital system camera that is more than just a modified 35mm SLR. Anyone want to buy an A200?

  • admin

    I’ve corrected an error which attributed the contrast detect AF of the 580 and 560 to the 55 and 33 in the original draft. I’ve been using the 580 alongside the 55 (review soon) and this article has been worked on over a period of a week, with lots of deletions and changes. Also, on dPreview a comment was made that the GPS was not as good as I say. I have amended this to make it clear that I compare it here with the Sony SDK GPS-CS1 (the original Sony separate GPS module). I’m sure some Garmin and other GPS trackers are better. But they are not built in to the camera and they do not embed GPS data in real time – David

  • thanks for the detailed overview – original take as usual!