Sony DSLR Alpha 55

    leadpic_Sony-A55

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    Sony DSLR Alpha 55

      In summary

      A capable and compact DSLR camera with some interesting and useful shooting modes and Full HD video recording.In Sony's about-to-be-released 16.2-megapixel SLT-A55V (which will be known as the A55) DSLR camera, the traditional SLR mirror is replaced with a semi-transparent pellicle mirror that is fixed in place instead of flipping up and down with each exposure. This Translucent Mirror Technology (TMT) technology underpins the new camera's fast TTL focusing and high burst speeds and makes the new models smaller and lighter than previous models in the Alpha. . . [more]

      Full review

      leadpic_Sony-A55

      In Sony's about-to-be-released 16.2-megapixel SLT-A55V (which will be known as the α55) DSLR camera, the traditional SLR mirror is replaced with a semi-transparent pellicle mirror that is fixed in place instead of flipping up and down with each exposure. This Translucent Mirror Technology (TMT) technology underpins the new camera's fast TTL focusing and high burst speeds and makes the new models smaller and lighter than previous models in the Alpha.

      Pellicle mirrors were first used by Canon in its revolutionary Pellix SLR, which was released in 1965. So they're not really new. The pellicle mirror splits the light from the lens into two separate beams, one passing to the recording medium (sensor) and the other to the viewing system. However, whereas this technology was abandoned by Canon as a result of criticism that the viewfinder image was too dark, Sony has replaced the optical finder with an EVF (electronic viewfinder), which enables the image to be amplified.

      Sony_A55_TMT-mirror-system

      The Translucent Mirror Technology (TMT) pellicle mirror system in the Sony α55. (Source: Sony.)
      Although the EVF on the α55 has above-average specifications (it's a 1.2 cm colour display with 1,440K dots and covers the full field of view of the image sensor) it has a few disadvantages. It doesn't appear as bright as a typical optical finder and you're always conscious of the granular quality of the EVF image. However, neither would be a valid reason to consider the camera more difficult to use than a DSLR with an optical finder. (In fact, it's better than some cameras we've reviewed.)

      One of the advantages of the EVF is that it displays the same information as you can see on the monitor. It also reproduces almost the same dynamic range as the sensor records, which means you can judge exposures more accurately with it than you can with optical finders.

      It also lets you check recorded shots without having to remove the camera from your eye by simply pressing the Play button. You can also record video while looking through the finder, instead of being stuck with Live View on the LCD, as on most DSLRs.

      Another benefit of the TMT system is that it minimises blackout time due to mirror bounce when a shot is taken. Taking advantage of the reduced mirror bounce, Sony has equipped the α55 with a couple of multi-frame shooting modes from its recent compact cameras. These are outlined in the recording Modes section below.

      Build and Ergonomics
      The body of the α55 is made mostly of black polycarbonate which is both light and relatively robust. It feels solid in the hands, albeit a little plasticky. With fairly conventional SLR styling, the α55 has nicely rounded contours and is well built for its price tag.

      It's the lightest Sony has made to date and 197 grams lighter than the original Alpha 100 model that launched Sony's DSLR line-up four years ago. Compared with the current entry-level A390 model, the α55 has a weight advantage of 56 grams and is roughly 10% smaller in volume.

      Sony_A55_FRONT_flash-up

      Front view of the new Sony α55 with the pop-up flash raised. (Source: Sony.)
      The grip is large enough to suit users with average-sized hands but should still be comfortable for more petite users. Most of it carries a rubber-like cladding that adds handling security - particularly when you wish to shoot one-handed.

      At the top of the grip is the single control dial that is used for changing settings like lens apertures and shutter speeds in the P, A S and M modes. Below it - and inset into the grip - is a sensor for the wireless remote control and the self-timer lamp. The shutter button with surrounding on/off lever switch sits atop the front of the grip.

      The lens mounts onto a metal plate with the characteristic ‘cinnabar' orange ring around it. A release button is located on its left hand side and a small depth-of-field preview button on the lower right. Slightly below the release button and around a corner is a slider switch for swapping between auto and manual focusing.

      The pop-up flash sits above the lens mount. When the camera is in the auto or certain Scene modes, it pops up when light levels are low or backlighting is detected (but you can't select slow synch, rear synch or wireless modes). In the P, A S and M modes the flash off and autoflash settings are unavailable and the flash must be raised manually via a button near the front of the housing. The flash has a Guide Number of 10 (metres/ISO100) can cover lenses as wide as 18mm.

      Its recycling time is approximately four seconds and flash metering is achieved by an ADI flash/ pre-flash TTL system. Flash modes include auto, fill-in, rear-synch, slow-synch, high-speed synch and red-eye reduction. Flash exposure compensation of +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV or 2/3 EV steps is available, along with flash bracketing across three frames in 1/3 EV or 2/3 EV steps. Sony's Alpha system accessory flash units can be fitted via the hot-shoe.
      Working across the top-panel from the left hand side we find a mode dial that carries settings for the mandatory Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE and Manual modes plus two Auto modes, a flash-off mode and a Scene Selection setting with eight illustrated pre-sets.

      Sony_A55_TOP_no-lens

      Top view of the α55 showing the key controls. (Source: Sony.)

      Sony's Sweep Panorama function is available via this dial, with both wide and standard settings and 3D Panorama available. There's also a new multi-shot mode that records at10 frames/second. In this mode, the buffer memory in the A55 will hold up to 35 Large/Fine JPEG frames or 20 RAW or RAW+JPEG files.

      The Menu button is located just behind the mode dial and accesses a standard system of pages, each containing settings for shooting, replaying images and video clips, managing recording media and setting up camera functions. The design of this menu is similar to Sony's other DSLRs and it's faster and easier to use than the menus in Sony's NEX cameras.

      The viewfinder housing merges into the flash housing, which is topped by an accessory hot-shoe. A six-hole microphone grille is located on its left hand side. To the right of the flash housing lies a cluster of five ‘hot' buttons, which access the Finder/LCD switch, D-Range Optimiser settings (outlined below), Movie recording (start/stop), exposure compensation and AEL controls.

      The EV compensation and AEL buttons control playback zoom and index view functions, respectively, in playback mode. A sensor below the finder eyepiece detects when the camera is raised to the eye and automatically switches the LCD monitor off. A tiny ridged dial inset into the right side of the viewfinder provides dioptre adjustment. A removable rubber surround helps to exclude stray light.

      Two thirds of the rear panel is covered by the adjustable 3-inch Xtra Fine TFT LCD monitor, which is hinged at the base plate and adjustable through 270 degrees. It can be reversed onto the back of the camera or rotated to protect the screen when the camera is not in use, although this makes it vulnerable to fingermarking and smearing. This screen has a resolution of 921,600 dots, which is VGA quality. Its brightness is adjustable via the menu.

      Sony_A55_BACK_LCD-reversed

      Rear view of the α55 with the LCD monitor reversed onto the camera body. (Source: Sony.)
      To the right of the monitor is a conventional arrow pad with a central button that doubles as an OK and instant AF switch. Pressing the upper edge of the arrow pad opens the Display sub-menu. The right side takes you to the White Balance settings while the lower edge opens the ISO sub-menu. Drive modes are set via the left hand edge.

      Above the arrow pad sits the Function (Fn) button, which provides quick access to key camera settings. Pressing it calls up a screen with icons for functions like drive, flash, AF area, metering, ISO, white balance, bracketing and Creative Style adjustments. Buttons below the arrow pad access the play and delete functions.

      The battery and memory card share a compartment in the base panel in much the same fashion as a compact digicam. It's not our favourite option for an SLR camera but appears to have been a consequence of the smaller body design. Like most recent Sony cameras, the α55 can use both Memory Stick PRO Duo and Secure Digital cards as recording media. But you can't fit both types together as there's only one card slot. However, you can take advantage of the new SDHC and SDXC or Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo cards. (Standard Memory Stick and Memory Stick Duo cards cannot be used.)

      A metal-lined tripod socket is located centrally in the base panel, aligned with the optical axis of the lens mount. Three connection ports are located behind lift-up covers on the left hand side of the camera body. The larger (hard plastic) cover protects the USB and HDMI ports while the smaller (rubber) ports cover microphone and remote control terminals.

      The α55 is one of an increasing number of cameras with built-in GPS receivers, which are used for geotagging shots so users can locate precisely where they were taken. Like all GPS receivers, it relies on collecting data from satellites so it can't work in places where it's not exposed to the sky, such as inside buildings, under dense foliage or between tall buildings - or anywhere it could pick up interference from strong radio signals or magnetic fields.

      The camera's default setting is for GPS logging to be on but users can opt to switch it off, although it uses very little power so there's really no reason to do so. The location data is stored in the image metadata and accessible in the supplied software - and any other applications capable of a full metadata display.

      The review camera - a late pre-production unit - was supplied to us about a week ahead of its worldwide unveiling and just before we left on a two-week holiday in Western Australia. Sony provided the camera body with the standard 18-55mm kit lens plus a 75-300mm zoom lens. Most of the sample images shown below have come from this trip - although we have also included our standard set to test shots for comparison with other cameras.

      While we don't usually run Imatest tests on pre-production cameras, we've done so with the α55 on the basis of photographs shot during our trip, which we considered good enough for the camera to undergo rigorous objective testing. If Sony Australia provides a production model after the camera is released, the Imatest graphs will be updated to reflect the production model's performance.

      Focusing and Exposure
      Sony has developed a new autofocusing system for the latest DSLR models. It has 15 AF points, three of them with cross-type sensors. The standard AF-S, AF-C and AF-A (automatic switching between the two) modes are provided, with the latter being the default for most of the Scene Selection modes.

      Three focus area settings are available: Wide, Spot and Local, the latter supporting focus area selection from the 15-point array. In all modes, the AF point(s) where focus is confirmed glow green. Face detection is also provided by default and Smile Shutter shooting (where the shutter fires when a smile is detected) is available via the Fn menu.

      Manual focusing is also supported with separate switches on the camera body and lens to cover all options. A focus magnifier setting that enlarges the image by up to 15x is also provided in the camera's menu.

      Although not the most sophisticated system currently provided, the α55's AF system is fast enough to deliver good results with moving subjects, particularly when shooting in the 10 fps high-speed burst mode, where we obtained some impressive results. It works best with subjects that remain at the same distance from the camera and those moving towards it. (It's not so good with subjects moving parallel to the camera, particularly when their speed is fast.)

      Exposure metering is via a 1200-zone evaluative system with multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot metering modes. In addition, exposure compensation is readily available via the hot button right of the Movie button. The α55 also supports AE bracketing across three frames in 1/3 or 2/3 EV steps. A small brightness histogram (similar to those in compact digicams) can be overlaid on the screen as a pre-capture reference.

      The α55 also provides an interesting ‘Digital Level Gauge' in its display options. This indicates whether the camera is being held level in both the horizontal and front-back directions and is useful for keeping horizons straight and preventing tilt-based distortions. Offsets as small as one degree can be detected with this system.
      Sensor and Image Processing
      The α55's EXMOR CMOS sensor measures 23.5 x 15.6mm and has 16.7 million photosites with an effective output resolution of 16.2 megapixels. It's coupled to the latest BIONZ image processor, which underpins all camera functions. As in other Sony DSLRs, the low-pass filter in front of the sensor is coated with a dust-repelling layer and the filter is vibrated each time the camera is turned on or off.

      The α55 also comes with Sony's sensor-shift image stabilisation system which, although marginally less effective than lens-based stabilisers, enables users to fit cheaper lenses to the camera and has the advantage of working with all lenses.

      The image processor supports sensitivity settings up to ISO 12,800 without requiring a reduction in image sizes. It also plays an important role in the camera's novel high-speed recording modes (see below).

      Interestingly, for a camera with fast burst speeds and very high sensitivity settings, the α55 provides little in the way of noise-reduction processing. Long exposure NR can only be switched on and off, while the only settings for high ISO NR are ‘auto' and ‘weak'. This won't be a problem for photographers who edit their shots post-capture - particularly those who shoot raw files. JPEG-only shooters may prefer more in-camera tweaking facilities.

      The α55 includes Sony's Sweep Panorama function, with both wide and standard settings. As in Sony's Cyber-shots (where this function first appeared) it works by recording a rapid sequence of frames (seemingly using the movie settings) as the photographer sweeps the camera across a scene. These are combined in the camera to produce a JPEG image. This function is available in both standard and 3D Panorama options, the latter for creating images that will be viewed on 3D TV sets.

      Like other Sony DSLRs, the α55 records images as JPEG or ARW.RAW files. Two compression levels are provided for the former, while the latter can be captured with or without a JPEG file. Raw files are compressed losslessly and the image is fixed at 4912 x 3264 pixels.

      Two aspect ratios are selectable via the menu system: the normal 3:2 or widescreen 16:9. When raw files are recorded in widescreen mode, the longer sides of the image are cropped but the file size remains at 4912 x 3264 pixels (3:2 aspect ratio) with the cropped areas shown in black. Typical image sizes for all still capture modes are shown in the table below.

      Image size

      Pixels

      Aspect ratio

      Approx. File size

      Fine

      Standard

      Raw

      4912 x 3264

      3:2

      18.2MB

      n.a.

      RAW+JPEG

      4912 x 3264

      25.9MB

      n.a.

      L: 16M

      4912 x 3264

      3:2

      7.3MB

      5.4MB

      M: 8.4M

      3568 x 2368

      4.9MB

      3.2MB

      S: 4M

      2448 x 1624

      3.0MB

      2.5MB

      L: 14M

      4912 x 2760

      16:9

      6.8MB

      4.7MB

      M: 7.1M

      3568 x 2000

      4.2MB

      3.5MB

      S: 3.4M

      2448 x 1376

      2.9MB

      2.6MB

      Panorama (max. size, Standard mode, Horizontal)

      8192 x 1856

      4.4:1 (approx.)

      7.5MB

      Panorama (max. size, Standard mode, Vertical)

      3872 x 2160

      1.8:1 (approx.)

      4.5MB

      Panorama (max. size, Wide mode, Horizontal)

      12,416 x 1856

      6.7:1 (approx.)

      8.3MB

      Panorama (max. size, Wide mode, Vertical)

      5536 x 2160

      2.56:1 (approx.)

      4.9MB

      Like most modern interchangeable-lens cameras, the α55 can record video clips and provides three resolution settings: 1920 x 1080 pixels; 1440 x 1080 pixels and 640 x 480 pixels. The increasingly popular AVCHD format is used for the Full HD clips, which are interlaced.

      These clips recorded at 29.97 frames/second (which is virtually 30 fps, the rate supported by most playback devices. Progressive scanning is used for other resolutions, which are recorded in MP4 format at 30 frames/second. Typical recording times for a 4GB memory card are shown in the table below.

      Format

      Resolution

      Frame rate

      Recording time on 4GB memory card

      AVCHD

      1920 x 1080 pixels

      17 Mbps

      28 minutes, 30 seconds

      MP4

      1440 x 1080 pixels

      12Mbps

      41 minutes, 40 seconds

      640 x 480 pixels

      3Mbps

      2 hours, 31 minutes, 10 seconds

      The new TMT viewing system enables phase-detection AF in movie mode, with focus readjustment while clips are recorded. While this feature is sure to be appreciated by parents who wish to take videos of children playing sport, it requires the lens to be set at maximum aperture - which may not provide the correct exposure levels in very bright conditions. It also eliminates one of the main advantages of shooting video with a DSLR: the ability to control depth-of-field through aperture selection.

      Recording Modes
      The Sweep Panorama function on the α55 is essentially the same as Sony provides on its Cyber-shot digicams. Users simply select this setting on the mode dial and use the camera's Menu to decide between Standard or Wide sizes and the direction of the sweep (right to left or vice versa or up/down or vice versa). This mode works best with wide-angle lenses because a fair bit of cropping is needed to produce the end result.

      Roughly one quarter of the screen at the starting end of the sweep is greyed out to aid shot composition. (This area is not recorded). The camera will post an error message if the sweep is too fast, too slow or uneven - and nothing will be recorded. If you release the shutter before the camera has covered the pre-set area, the end of the pan will be black and the image is truncated.

      The menu also provides a 3D Sweep Panorama mode for capturing pans that will be displayed on 3D compatible TV sets. In this mode, the camera records multiple images, displaced to create stereo pairs. These are integrated to produce a 3D image with a vertical resolution of 1080 pixels. Each 3D image consists of a JPEG file and an MPO file, which are stored separately. Both are required for image playback.

      The 3D Sweep Panorama function was disabled in the camera provided for our review so we can't comment on it aside from providing the options available in the table below.

      Image size

      Pixels

      Aspect ratio

      3D Panorama, Horizontal

      1920 x 1080

      16:9

      3D Panorama, Standard

      4912 x 1080

      4.55:1 (approx.)

      3D Panorama, Wide

      7152 x 1080

      6.62:1 (approx.)

      In addition to the Sweep Panorama and 10 fps burst modes, the α55 includes a couple of functions that have been ported across from Sony's DSLR and Cyber-shot cameras. These have been developed and improved for the new DSLR models.

      Arguably the most useful of these modes is the D-Range Optimiser, which is the same as in the A500 model and offers five levels of processing for brightening darker areas in images (such as backlit shots) without affecting correctly-exposed highlight areas. It works by dividing the image into small zones, which are individually analysed and processed to reduce contrasts between the subject and the background.

      This processing only works on JPEG images; if you shoot RAW+JPEG, only the latter will be processed. Manual control of DRO processing is only available in the P, A S and M modes. The camera defaults to auto with the all scene pre-sets except the Sunset, Night View, Night Portrait and Handheld Twilight modes where it is disabled.

      DRO processing can be switched off or users can select an HDR Auto mode that captures three shots with different exposure levels and combines them in the camera to produce an image with an extended dynamic range. Two images are recorded to the memory card: one with the correct exposure plus an overlaid image.

      There's also a multi-frame mode for noise-reduction, which is similar to the Hand-held Twilight modes on the latest Cyber-shots and can be particularly useful with high ISO settings. In addition, the α55 provides Sony's Creative Styles processing adjustments, with options for setting Standard, Vivid, Sepia and Monochrome adjustments. These settings only work with JPEG files so if you've selected RAW+JPEG, only the latter will be changed - and the change is permanent. Creative Styles adjustments are also included in the raw file processing options provided by the supplied software.

      In addition to the 10 fps burst mode accessed via the mode dial, Sony also provides two continuous shooting settings in the α55's Drive sub-menu. The Hi setting can record at up to six frames/second, while the Lo setting has a frame rate of three frames/second. In both cases, the maximum burst capacity is 28 JPEGs or 19 ARW.RAW (or RAW+JPEG) files.

      Playback and Software
      The α55 provides a standard suite of playback modes for still images and video clips, including index and slideshow options. We've covered these in our review of the DSLR-A550 and the α55 only varies in the amount of playback enlargement (6x to 11.8x) and its ability to support scrolled viewing of panorama shots and HD video playback. You can only view GPS data when shots are uploaded to a computer.

      The supplied software disk contains the latest versions of Sony's standard software applications: Image Data Converter SR, and Image Data Lightbox SR and Picture Motion Browser. We've already covered these applications in our review of the Sony DSLR A900 but have provided a couple of screen grabs for quick reference.

      A55_PMB-Calendar

      The Calendar view in Picture Motion Browser (PMB).

      A55-PMB-2

      The basic editing window in PMB.

      Picture Motion Browser 5.3 was not included with the review camera and the previous version of the software couldn't recognise the video files. However, we were able to play them back with Media Player Classic - Homecinema, a free audio and video player for Windows that's available from http://mpc-hc.sourceforge.net/.

      The version of PMB we had was also able to display Map View, which showed a thumbnail image of the selected shot superimposed on a map of the location in which the shot was taken. The standard Google Earth options of Map, Satellite and Hybrid views are also available.

      A55_Map-View

      The Map View option in the PMB display.

      A55_Hybrid-View

      The Hybrid View combines map with satellite image.

      The Kit Lenses
      We've already covered the SAL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens in our review of the DSLR-A380. Relatively compact and light weight, this lens is also comparatively slow - although fairly typical of cheaper standard zooms. We used this lens for our standard range of Imatest tests on the review camera so we've included the resolution vs aperture and focal length and chromatic aberration graphs below.

      A55-Res-vs-FLgraph
      A55-CA-graph

      The SAL75300 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens is designed to complement the standard 18-70mm kit lens so we had a gap in our focal length range when it was partnered with the 18-5mm zoom. This didn't really matter as between them the two lenses provided covered most of the subjects we wanted to photograph. A review of this lens is published separately here.

      In Use
      Overall, we found the α55 a pleasure to use. The compact and lightweight body (and lenses) made this camera a great choice for bushwalking and its ergonomic design placed all key controls within easy reach. The adjustable monitor made it easy to shoot with the camera at ‘bird's eye' and ‘worm's eye' positions and enables us to obtain pictures that would otherwise have been difficult to shoot.

      We had a lot of fun with the Sweep Panorama and 10 fps burst modes and, although you can't guarantee 100% success with either all of the time, they're well worth using and deliver some worthwhile results. The built-in GPS tagging function is also handy when you come to sorting out holiday photos and deciding where particular shots were taken

      During our two-week holiday, we swapped between the supplied lenses fairly constantly to meet the demands of the subjects we photographed. The dust reduction system in the camera handled this type of usage well for the first week but, after that, we found sequences of shots that were dust affected. This suggests there's a gap between the pellicle mirror and the low-pass filter that covers the sensor chip.

      Only one speck of dust was located - and it was dislodged after a day or two by the automatic vibration system. The user manual provides simple instructions for cleaning the sensor, should the need arise.

      A55_DSC1745_dust

      Dust on the sensor caused the blemish circled in red.

      We had to push the brightness of the LCD monitor up to its maximum to make it deliver optimal viewing quality for shot composition and playback. Only at this point did the quality meet expectations for the monitor's resolution.

      The EVF was large enough for comfortable viewing and accurately reproduced the monitor view for both shooting and playback. Its refresh rate was fast enough to provide smooth viewing when using the Sweep Panorama modes - and also for tracking moving subjects when shooting both stills and video clips. The eye-detection sensor, which is used to switch between the LCD and EVF as you raise the camera to your eye, clicks in quickly enough to make this switch almost seamless.

      Performance
      At the default setting, JPEG images straight from the camera appeared slightly flat and colours were slightly warm. Since the review unit was a late pre-production camera, these problems are likely to be corrected by the time this model hits the market. However, since both problems are easy to correct with even basic editing software, we don't consider either a major issue. The illustrations below show the differences between unedited and edited versions of an image.

      A55_DSC0995-unedited

      A Sweep Panorama JPEG straight from the camera.

      A55_DSC0995_edited

      The same image after minor colour and contrast adjustments in Picture Motion Browser.

      Working on ARW.RAW files in the latest version of Photoshop (which is now compatible, thanks to the recent release of Camera Raw 6.2) we ended up with a large number of shots that were printable up to A3+ and quite impressive when printed. JPEG files also delivered some excellent prints after fairly minimal editing.

      We were pleasantly surprised by the speed and accuracy of the autofocusing system - particularly in the high-speed burst mode, where it was able to keep track with most moving subjects - as long as the motion wasn't too fast. (Really rapid local movements were often blurred in shots.) However, the Spot AF setting was prone to hunting in dim lighting and with low-contrast subjects

      The Sweep Panorama function was also interesting, particularly when we photographed scenery with few (or no) moving components. It was less successful with moving subjects, such as waves breaking on beaches - although, even here, its performance was impressive when you consider the difficulties involved in capturing and combining such a sequence. The illustrations below show successful and less successful examples of this function.

      A55_DSC1115_good-sweep

      A successful panorama sweep with a difficult-to-capture subject.

      A55_DSC1116_poor-sweep

      The same scene, this time showing a less successful combination of shots.

      Imatest showed the review camera to be capable of higher resolution than expected when ARW/RAW files were processed with Adobe Camera Raw 6.2. Resolution was roughly 15% lower when the same files were processed with the supplied Image Data Converter SR software.

      JPEG files were close to expectations in our Imatest tests, although roughly 8% lower in resolution, on average, than the raw files. Resolution with both file types declined gradually at sensitivity was increased, as shown in the graph below.

      A55-Res-vs-ISO-graph

      Auto white balance performance was similar to most other cameras we've reviewed. Shots taken under incandescent lighting retained the original warm cast, while shots taken with fluorescent lighting were close to cast-free. For both lighting types, the pre-sets slightly over-corrected colours but the manual measurement system delivered a neutral colour balance.

      Plenty of in-camera adjustments are provided for tweaking images as you shoot and white balance bracketing across three shots is available for dealing with tricky lighting. Two levels of WB bracketing are available. When Lo is selected, the colour is shifted by 10 mired, while the Hi setting changes the colour balance by 20 mired.

      Video quality was in line with the quality of the stills for both the AVCHD Full HD clips and the two MP4 settings. Although the AF system showed an above-average ability to track moving subjects, we found a few situations where it focused on the background instead of the subject. However, these occurred mostly when shooting fast-moving subjects.

      Shooting movies tends to narrow the field of view. Dynamic range adjustment appears to be disabled and clips are shot with the white balance, exposure compensation, metering mode, AF area setting and Creative Style processing that were in place before the Movie button was pressed. You can adjust exposures with the exposure compensation button while shooting.

      Because the camera sets shutter speeds and apertures automatically in movie mode, we found there were times when the depth-of-field in clips was narrower than we'd like - and other times when it was too wide. The only way around this was to pre-set the aperture and use manual focusing.

      Audio quality was also good, although some noise from the focusing motors of the two lenses we used was picked up in the soundtracks. Wind noise was also picked up in most outdoor recordings. However, the soundtracks in most clips had reasonably good stereo presence and were acceptably clear and crisp.

      The ‘rolling shutter' distortion found in video clips from most large-sensor camera was also seen in clips of moving subjects, most noticeably during pans that were too fast. With properly-paced pans, this problem was almost undetectable.

      The review camera powered up in just under a second and shot-to-shot intervals averaged just over 0.5 seconds. We measured an average capture lag of just under 0.1 seconds when the monitor was used for shot composition but this was eliminated by pre-focusing. It took 2.1 seconds, on average, to process a JPEG file, 3.5 seconds for each ARW.RAW file and 5.4 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.

      For our burst capture timing tests we used a 4GB Verbatim Premium Class 6 SDHC card. In the Hi-speed burst mode, we recorded a burst of 11 Large/Fine JPEG frames in 1.7 seconds, which equates to just under 6.4 frames/second. It took 9.1 seconds to process this burst.

      Changing to raw file capture, we recorded a burst of 10 shots in 1.5 seconds, which is equivalent to just over 6.6 fps. It took 17.8 seconds to process this burst. For RAW+JPEG recording, 10 pairs were captured in 1.6 seconds in 0.9 seconds (equivalent to 6.25 fps). It took almost one minute to process this burst - which is much longer than average.

      Regardless of the resolution/quality setting, the Lo-speed burst mode recorded 10 frames in three seconds, which equates to roughly three frames/second. Processing times were marginally shorter than those for the high-speed burst mode.

      The α55 - and its ‘sister' model, the α33 are due to go on sale in mid-September and will be offered in as body-only or in single- and twin-lens kits. The latter consist of the 18-55mm we used for this review plus the SAL552002 55-200mm lens. Also on offer are three new prime lenses: the Carl Zeiss SAL24F20Z 24mm f/2 (RRP $1999), the SAL85F28 85mm f/2.8 (RRP $399) and the SAL35F18 35mm f/1.8 (RRP $399). Details will be posted on the Sony Australia website when products are available.

      Buy this camera if:
      - You're looking for a capable, lightweight DSLR that can shoot high-resolution stills and Full HD video clips.
      - You're prepared to shoot and edit both JPEG and ARW.RAW images.
      - You could utilise some of the multi-frame and high-speed shooting modes.
      - You want body-integrated image stabilisation that works with all lenses.

      Don't buy this camera if:
      - You're a point-and press photographer who isn't prepared to explore the camera's full capabilities.
      - You require low noise levels at the top ISO settings.
      - You don't like electronic viewfinders.

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      JPEG images

      A55_DSC2344_colorerror_JPG
      A55_DSC2344_colors_JPG
      A55_DSC2344_YL76_ca_JPG
      A55_DSC2344_YAR29_cpp_JPG
      A55_DSC2344_YL76_cpp_JPG

      AWR.RAW images converted in Photoshop CS5 with Adobe Camera Raw

      A55_DSC2344_colorerror_RAW
      A55_DSC2344_colors_RAW
      A55_DSC2344_YL76_ca_RAW
      A55_DSC2344_YAR29_cpp_RAW
      A55_DSC2344_YL76_cpp_RAW

      SAMPLE IMAGES

      A55_DSC2380_AWB-tung

      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

      A55_DSC2384_AWB-fluoro

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

      A55_DSC2125_18mm

      SAL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens; 18mm focal length, 1/250 second at f/10; ISO100.

      A55_DSC2126_55mm

      SAL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens; 55mm focal length, 1/350 second at f/10; ISO100.

      A55_DSC2363_night-ISO100

      30-second exposure at ISO 100; 28mm focal length, f/5.6.

      A55_DSC2367_night-ISO1600

      8-second exposure at ISO 1600; 28mm focal length, f/10.

      A55_DSC2370_night-ISO12800

      3.2-second exposure at ISO 12,800; 28mm focal length, f/18.

      A55_DSC2371_Flash-ISO100

      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/9; ISO100.

      A55_DSC2375_Flash-ISO1600

      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/9; ISO1600.

      A55_DSC2378_Flash_ISO12800

      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/9; ISO12,800.

      A55_DSC1633_ISO400

      After sunset; 18mm focal length, 1/8 second at f/6.3; ISO 400.

      A55_DSC1634_ISO1600

      After sunset; 18mm focal length, 1/15 second at f/9; ISO 1600.

      A55_DSC1635_ISO6400

      After sunset; 18mm focal length, 1/40 second at f/11; ISO 6400.

      A55_DSC1636_ISO12800

      After sunset; 18mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/11; ISO 12,800.

      A55_DSC1452_DRO

      With the D-Range Optimiser set to Level 5; 18mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/14; ISO 200.

      A55_DSC1453_noDRO

      With the D-Range Optimiser switched off; 18mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/14; ISO 200.

      A55_DSC0814-FranklandR

      55mm focal length, 1/25 second at f/14; ISO 100.

      A55_DSC0821-FranklandR

      24mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/11; ISO 100.

      A55_DSC0548_ISO12800

      26mm focal length, 1/50 second at f/4.5; ISO 12,800.

      A55_DSC0589_ISO1600

      18mm focal length, 1/8 second at f/3.5; ISO 12,800.

      A55_DSC1649_ISO800

      28mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/10; ISO 800.

      A55_10-fps-burst

      Nine consecutive frames from the 10 frames/second mode, showing a moving subject.

      A55_HD-video-clip

      Still frame from 1920 x 1080 pixel HD video clip.

      A55_1440-x1080-video-clip

      Still frame from 1440 x 1080 pixel video clip.

      A55_VGA-video-clip

      Still frame from VGA video clip.

      Additional sample images can be found in our review of the SAL75300 zoom lens.

       

      Specifications

      leadpic_Sony-A55

      Image sensor: 23.5 x 15.6 EXMOR CMOS sernsor with 16.7 million photosites (16.2 megapixels effective)
      Lens mount: Sony A-mount (compatible with Minolta A-type bayonet mount)
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: Stills - RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.21), Fine & Standard compression; Movies - AVCHD at approx. 17 Mbps/MP4 at 3-12 Mbps
      Image Sizes: Stills - 3:2 aspect: 4912 x 3264, 3568 x 2368, 2448 x 1624; 16:9 aspect: 4912 x 2760, 3568 x 2000, 2448 x 1376; Std Panorama: 8192 x 1856 (H), 3872 x 2160 (V); Wide Panorama: Horizontal - 12,416 x 1856 (H), 5536 x 2160 (V); 3D Panorama Max. 7152 x 1080; Movies: 1920 x 1080; 1440 x 1080, 640 x 480 all at 29.97 fps
      Image Stabilisation: Body integrated image sensor shift Super Steady Shot
      Dust removal: Charge-protection coating on low-pass filter plus image sensor shift mechanism
      Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 second plus Bulb; X-synch at 1/60 second
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Exposure bracketing: 3 frames in 1/3 or 2/3 EV steps
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
      Focus system: TTL phase-detection AF via CCD line sensors; 15 points (3 cross type)
      Focus modes: Single-shot, Auto, Continuous AF; Direct manual focus, Manual focus; wide, spot and local modes
      Exposure metering: 1200-zone evaluative metering with multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot modes
      Shooting modes: Auto, iAuto, P, A, S, M, Scene Selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night View, Hand-held twilight), Sweep Panorama, Anti Motion Blur
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12,800
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, Kelvin temperature setting, Custom
      Flash: Auto pop-up; GN 10 (m/ISO100); range 1.0 to 3.6 m at ISO 100, f/2.8
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps plus flash bracketing
      Sequence shooting: Max.10 frames/second up to 28 frames (JPEG/Fine) or 19 RAW/RAW+JPEG frames
      Storage Media: Single slot that accepts SD/SDHCSDXC or Memory Stick Pro Duo cards
      Viewfinder: 1.2 cm colour EVF with 1,440K dots and 100% FOV; -4.0 to +4.0 dpt adjustment, 19mm eye relief
      LCD monitor: Adjustable 16:9 aspect ratio 3-inch TFT Xtra FineLCD with 921,600 dots, 100% FOV
      Live View modes: Quick AF, Focus Check, Contrast AF
      Video Capture: Yes, 1920 x 1080; 1440 x 1080,1280 x 720, 640 x 480 all at 29.97 fps
      Data LCD: No
      Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini), Mic. terminal, remote controller, Bravia synch
      Power supply: NP-FW50 InfoLithium battery, CPIA rated for approx. 370 shots with EVF or 430 shots with LCD and no flash
      Other features: Built-in GPS receiver, Help guide
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 124.4 x 92 x 84.7 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 441 grams (body only without battery and card)

       

      Retailers

       

      CamBuy

       

      www.cambuy.com.au
      Digital cameras, lenses and accessories with 100% genuine Australian manufacturer's warranties.
      Ph: (02) 9029 2219

      Camera House

       

      CH_Logo120

      www.camerahouse.com.au
      Ph: 133 686
      The largest speciality photographic retail chain in Australia.

      Camera Pro

       

      www.camerapro.net.au
      CameraPro Pty Ltd
      Suite 607, 180 Queen St, Brisbane 4000
      Tel: 07 3333 2900
      Australian owned and run company based in Brisbane.

      Camerasdirect

       

      CamerasDirect133

      www.camerasdirect.com.au
      Retailer of digital camera equipment and more.
      Secure online shopping and delivery across Australia.
      Ph: 1300 727 056

      Camerastore.com.au

      Camerastore.com.au
      Ph: 1800 155 067

      Camera-Warehouse

       

      camera-warehouse120

      www.camera-warehouse.com.au
      Comprehensive range of digital cameras and accessories online (www.camera-warehouse.com.au) and an online print service (www.royalexpress.com.au).

      Digital Camera Warehouse

       

      www.digitalcamerawarehouse.com.au
      174 Canterbury Road 367 High Street
      Canterbury Northcote
      NSW 2193 VIC 3070
      Ph: 1300 365 220

      Electronics Warehouse

       

      www.electronicswarehouse.com.au
      1300 801 885
      Australian retailer of Vapex rechargeable batteries offering factory direct prices and fast, free shipping Australia wide.

      Greg Smith's Photo Accessories

       

      www.dvdreamtime.com.au
      1800 50 80 82
      Big range of photographic accessories, Australia-wide shipping.

      Paxtons

       

      www.paxtons.com.au
      285 George St
      Sydney NSW 2000
      Ph: (02) 9299 2999

      Photographic Equipment & Supplies - Retail & Repairs. Click here for list of stores.

      Ted's Cameras

       

      Teds-Logo120

      www.teds.com.au

      1800 186 895
      Big range of cameras and photographic products with stores in most states and online.

      Rating

       

      PR-EdChoice-web-100

      RRP: $1,249 (body only); $1,399 (single-lens kit); $1,699 (twin lens kit with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.8
      • Image quality: 9.0
      • OVERALL: 9.0

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