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Picture perfect

The new DSLR by Sony clicks some great frames, but is too expensive.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2011 18:56 IST
Rossi Fernandes

Sony’s SLT-A55 falls in the A-mount category and it has a viewfinder like any D-SLR, but it’s chosen an electronic one like those in superzoom cameras. If that’s the case, should you bother buying one?

Features
The A55 uses a translucent mirror that allows light to pass through it, which means the mirror need not move out of the way when a photo is to be clicked. This should technically speed up focusing and reduce noise since the mirror doesn’t have to move every time you click a photo.

Currently, there are two models in this family – the A33 and the A55. The A55 is the one we’re reviewing today. The A55 is a 16.2 MP camera that uses a standard APS-C type CMOS sensor. The ISO range spans from 100 to 12,800, which is very similar to the Sony NEX-5 we reviewed a week back. Most of the similarities end here – the A55 uses the standard A-mount, which was inherited from Minolta. This means that there’s a wider range of lenses to choose from.

The NEX cameras used a new E-mount, but it’s also interesting to note that companies such as Sigma have committed to making lenses for the new mount. The camera comes with a stock 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SAM lens kit.

The camera has a foldable LCD screen which can be turned around on its back if required. It’s used to operate the camera – both the settings and also for focusing. The screen displays colours well, perhaps a little too vibrantly. The electronic viewfinder is designed in the same way as you would find it on any other camera. The quality of the EVF as with other cameras is bad. It’s not crisp and it’s no replacement to an optical viewfinder. This is probably one of the poor points of this camera.

Good build quality
The A55 is built well and there are no loose buttons or sliders on the body. There is a rubberised grip on the back of the body and along the outside on the right side, where your palm would normally grip the camera. The lens itself doesn’t feel right – it’s mainly plastic with a narrow strip of rubberized material on the zoom ring. The focus ring feels very cheap. The lens on the NEX-5 for example felt way better. The foldable LCD has a tough hinge which shouldn’t get damaged even after rough use.

The flash unit ejection mechanism is entirely made of plastic. The controls on the A55 are positioned for easy access and using the menus isn’t difficult. One of the main buttons at the center of the main control panel is the AF button which allows for quick focusing without having to half press the shutter release button.

The electronic viewfinder is pretty quick although it’s not as good as an optical viewfinder. There is also a D-Range button, which could’ve been used for some other controls instead. There is no dedicated jog dial to control the aperture setting on this camera, so one needs a combination of a button and jog dial to do so. Feature wise, many of the other features such as the Panorama mode are also inherited from other Sony cameras.

Performance
After using the SLT-A55 for a while, it’s easy to suggest that the performance is pretty good. Images appear clear and crisp. Colours like on the NEX-5 seem a little saturated sometimes. Macro photographs turn out extremely well. The lens does not lend itself for extreme closeup shots but with a little zooming, it’s possible to get good results.

There’s visible sensor noise visible beyond ISO3200. The camera works well under lowlight conditions as well. The translucent mirror system does help a little bit in the tiny boost in focus speeds but there’s definitely no noticeable drop in noise and vibration in the operation. The software interface is quick and isn’t a lot different from the other Sony cameras.

Those used to depending on buttons entirely on a DSLR will find this slightly different.

What we like
Good image and video quality
Easy operation
Quick focusing

What we don’t
Electronic viewfinder
Expensive
Average lens build

Verdict
The Sony SLT-A55 ends up in a very awkward position. It’s a full-fledged DSLR-like camera but with an electronic viewfinder, which is isn’t what you expect from a camera that’s priced at Rs. 47,990. The translucent mirror adds makes focusing a tiny bit faster and there are fewer moving parts, but the advantages are too tiny to justify going in for it.

A lot of photography enthusiasts and professionals still swear by the optical viewfinder. Having the option to use the viewfinder but having a bad one isn’t ideal; it’s just about usable. To sum up this review, we’d just like to say that we had a much better experience with the NEX-5 and NEX-3 cameras.

Rating- ***1/2

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