Sony SLT-A57


    Photo Review 8.8
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    Sony SLT-A57

      Full review

      Positioned one step above the recently-announced entry-level SLT-A37, Sony's new SLT-A57 replaces the popular SLT-A55 model, offering some worthwhile new features without changing effective sensor resolution. As in previous models, the Translucent Mirror Technology design allows full-time continuous AF during both still and video shooting as well as fast burst capture speeds and the new camera has a generous buffer capacity to take advantage of this capability.

      Angled front view of the SLT-A57 fitted with the SAL1855 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens. (Source: Sony.)

      The body of the A57 resembles the SLT-A65 we reviewed in October, 2011. Made from polycarbonate resin (plastic), it has the same dimensions as the A65's but isseven grams lighter.

      Where the A65 has the same 24.3-megapixel sensor as the flagship A77 model, the A57 sports a 16.1 megapixel chip, which accounts for the $400 difference in their price tags. The main differences between the two models are shown in the table below.

       

      SLT-A57

      SLT-A65

      Sensor resolution

      16.1 megapixels

      24.3-megapixels

      Max. burst speed

      12 fps

      10 fps

      Buffer capacity

      29 Extra Fine JPEG; 21 ARW.RAW

      18 Extra Fine JPEG; 13 ARW.RAW

      ISO expansion

      No

      Yes, to ISO 25600

      Digital zoom

      up to 4x

      No

      Built-in Flash

      Auto pop-up, GN1 (in metres at ISO 100), FOV coverage up to 18mm; +/- 3EV compensation

      Auto pop-up, GN10 (in metres at ISO 100), FOV coverage up to 18mm;+/- 2EV compensation

      Creative Style Settings

      Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn leaves, Black & White, Sepia

      Standard, Vivid, Portrait , Landscape, Sunset, Black & White

       

      Battery capacity

      Approx. 550 shots with EVF; Approx. 590 shots with LCD

      Approx. 510 shots with EVF; Approx. 560 shots with LCD

      Body dimensions (wxhxd)

      132.1 x 97.5 x 80.7 mm

      Weight - body only

      Approx. 539 grams

      Approx. 543 grams

      RRP (body only)

      $799

      $1199

      Build and Ergonomics
      The body of the A57 is identical in size to the A65 and only marginally lighter, probably because it lacks the built-in GPS module, which was provided in the A65. Otherwise, the control layout is identical to the A65's, although the zoom button, which formerly carried an icon, is now labelled 'zoom'.

       
      Front view of the SLT-A57 with no lens. (Source: Sony.)  

      The viewfinder on the A57 is slightly smaller than the A57's but still larger than the optical finders on most similarly-priced DSLRs. It has a high-resolution display (1,440,000 dots) and covers the full field of view of the sensor, thanks to a new optical design.

      With a 50mm lens at infinity, the EVF provides approximately 0.97x magnification. Dioptre adjustment from -4.0 to +3.0 dpt is available and users can choose from five display modes and select a grid line display.

      Rear views of the SLT-A57 showing the adjustable LCD monitor. (Source: Sony.) 

      Top view of the SLT-A57 with no lens. (Source: Sony.)  

      Aside from these features, our coverage of the build and ergonomics of the A65 applies equally to the A57. The camera is supplied with the NP-FM500H rechargeable battery, BC-VM10A battery charger, power and USB cables, body cap, shoulder strap, printed instruction manual and CD containing application software and a handbook in PDF format.

      Sony is offering the A57 in two kits, one with the DT 18-55mm zoom lens and the other with the DT 18-55 and DT 55-200mm lenses. Our testing was carried out with the Sony DT 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens, which is reviewed separately. Interestingly, this lens is not offered with the camera on Sony's Australian website, which we feel represents a missed opportunity as it's an excellent combination for travellers.

      What's New?
      The A57 introduces a number of new features to help novice users obtain better pictures. A new Auto Portrait Framing function uses face detection technology and rule-of-thirdscomposition to automatically crop the frame to create well-balanced portraits. Face detection establishes where the subject's eyes are in the frame and cropping positions them one third of the way down the frame.

      A preview of the framing is displayed on the LCD monitor to show you where the frame is cropped. The cropped image is up-scaled by interpolation to the specified resolution and saved as a new file in addition to the original.

      The Clear Image Zoom function introduced in Sony's recent Cyber-shots has been ported across to the A57.  An improvement on the normal digital zoom function, it uses Sony’s proprietary 'By Pixel Super Resolution Technology', which upscales the image by interpolation, enlarging the image  an additional 2x.
       
       

      How Clear Image Zoom works. (Source: Sony.)

      This technology analyses each pixel in the cropped image in relation to adjacent pixels and then determines the type of image using a Sony-developed database. Image processing is optimised accordingly to ensure cropped images maintain high resolution.

      The normal digital zoom function is also available, providing a higher magnification than Clear Image Zoom. This setting can be used for both still shots and movies and it can be combined with Clear Image Zoom for greater magnification. Examples can be found in the SAMPLES section, below.

      The Superior Auto setting uses scene recognition to identify different types of subjects. The built-in program can recognise 12 different scene types: Portrait, Backlit Portrait, Night Portrait, Landscape,Hand-held Twilight, Night Scene, Tripod Night Scene, Backlight, Macro, Spotlight, Low Brightness and Baby.

      Most of these scene types are included in the SCN (Scene Selection) mode selected via the mode dial. This mode adds Sports Action and Sunset to the Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Scene, Hand-held Twilight and Night Portrait selectable settings.

      A new Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE mode has been added to the Continuous Advance Priority AE modes. In this mode, the camera records images continuously at up to 12 frames/second (fps),  cropping the centre of the image area to provide a 1.4x magnification boost. The image size can be set to M or S in this mode.

      Movie recording capabilities are significantly improved. The SLT-A57 can record Full HD resolution movies with frame rates of both 50p (progressive) for smooth, blur-free action and 25p for a cinematic look. The availability of the camera's P/A/S/M shooting modes give users full control over movie making.
       Other professional features include Shot Result Preview and shading and aberration compensation to minimise lateral chromatic aberrations and lens distortion. Users can choose from a selection of high-resolution information displays with a wide viewing-angle; among them a digital level gauge and framing grid. The same information can be displayed in the Tru-Finder and on the angle-adjustable 7.5 cm (3.0-type) Xtra Fine LCD.
        
      The SLT-A57 also supports a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to ISO 16,000. SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilisation delivers a shutter speed advantage of be6tween 2.5 and 4.5 f-stops, depending on the type of lens used. Two automatic shooting modes are available to novice users.  The Intelligent Auto mode automatically distinguishes shooting conditions and sets camera controls according to an in-camera database of scene pre-sets to deliver optimal results. Superior Auto mode goes a step further, automatically activating advanced functions such as Continuous Shooting, Auto HDR, or Handheld Twilight based on the scene and subject. Indicators tell the user what functions are being used, helping beginners learn what functions and settings are appropriate for different types of scenes.
       
      Video
      As with the A65, Full HD Movie shooting is supported at 50i (interlaced) and 50p (progressive) frame rates using the AVCHD (Ver. 2.0) format. Cinematic 25p shooting is also available for AVCHD clips. The A57 also supports MP4 AVC movie recording using H.264 compression. Users can choose from 1440 x 1080 pixels or 640 x 480 pixel resolution, both at 25fps.

      The A57 provides support for manual focusing and P/A/S/M exposure modes while shooting video. Users can adjust most camera settings before recording begins and change ISO (between 100 and 3200), exposure compensation,object tracking or the AF area during movie recording. If you assign AF lock to the AEL or ISO button you can lock focus by pressing the selected button in autofocus mode.

      Digital zoom can be used during movie recording – but at the expense of picture quality and recording performance because the frames have to be processed as they are recorded. Up to 4x magnification is available.

      Movie soundtracks are recorded in stereo using Dolby Digital (AC3) two-channel recording. You can turn off the audio recording if you want to avoid picking up operating sounds from the camera when you change focus or zoom in or out.

      A wind cut filter is available for suppressing bass noise from the built-in microphones when shooting outdoors. It's not available when an external microphone is connected.

      Sensor etc.
       The sensor in the A57 is the same as in the SLT-A35 (and also the A55) covered in our reviews of those cameras. It's linked to the latest BIONZ image processor chip, which is standard in Sony cameras.

        The A57 also supports two aspect ratios, 4:3 and 16:9 and the panorama formats are the same.  Typical file sizes 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

      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

      3D Sweep Panorama Wide

      7152 x 1080

      6.6:1 (approx.)

      8.2MB

      3D Sweep Panorama Standard

      4912 x 1080

      4.55:1 (approx.)

      7.0MB

      1920 x 1080

      16:9

      2.3MB

      The software disk contains Sony's Image Data Converter V4.0 for Windows and Mac, PlayMemories Home V. 1.0 (Windows only) and a PDF version of the user manual for the camera. Image Data Converter is Sony's raw file conversion application.

      PlayMemories Home is an image viewing application that lets you transfer image files and video clips from the camera to a computer for viewing. (You must set the USB connection to Mass Storage before connecting the camera.) If you already have Picture Motion Browser, which was supplied with previous Sony cameras, this application will over-write it.

      PlayMemories Home includes limited file management and editing facilities. You can organise images on a calendar by shooting date for collated viewing, print or save still pictures by date or send them as email attachments.

      Red-eye correction is supported, along with cropping and resizing. You can also add a recording date to the photo. The software also provides an Autocorrect setting for adjusting brightness and contrast, along with manual adjustments for brightness, saturation and sharpness plus a Tone Curve setting with adjustments for each colour channel

      AVCHD movie clips can be saved to DVD or Blu-ray disks for playback on domestic players. You can also grab frames from video clips and save them as stills, trim clips and combine clips to make a new movie file (provided their frame rates are the same).  AVCHD clips can be converted into MPEG-2 or WMV formats for use with a wider range of viewers.

      3D images recorded with the camera can only be viewed on compatible TV sets via an HDMI cable (not supplied). No editing software is provided for these images.
       
      Performance
      Pictures taken with the review camera and 18-135mm lens were sharp and colourful and both the AF system and exposure system handled a wide range of shooting conditions effectively. Imatest showed colour accuracy to be generally good with JPEG files and saturation was only slightly boosted to suit the requirements of the target audience for this camera.

      Imatest showed the review camera's resolution came close to expectations with JPEG files and slightly exceeded them when ARW.RAW files were converted with the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw. Resolution held up well across most of the camera's ISO range, as shown in the graph below.
       
       

       

      Long exposures at night contained plenty of detail up to ISO 3200, where image noise began to be visible. Noise became obvious by ISO 12800 and slight softening was evident at ISO 16000.

      Flash exposures were evenly exposed across the review camera's ISO range. The anticipated slight softening was found in flash shots at ISO 12800 and ISO 16000.

      Auto white balance performance was similar to the SLT-A65. Shots taken under incandescent lighting retained a noticeable orange cast but the camera delivered close-to-neutral colours with fluorescent light. For both lighting types, the pre-sets over-corrected colours slightly. Manual measurement delivered a neutral colour balance and plenty of in-camera adjustments are provided for tweaking images as you shoot.

      Autofocusing was generally as fast and accurate as we found with the A65 and the review camera was able to track moving subjects during both high-speed bursts of shots and video recording. Low-light autofocusing presented little in the way of problems unless subjects had very low contrast.

      The Sweep Panorama modes worked as well as they did in previous cameras we've reviewed when used in normal daylight. However, slight flaws in the combination of images could be seen in shots taken in dim indoor lighting, particularly with the Wide setting. (Examples are provided below.)

      Video quality was similar to the A65's and impressive, even in drizzling rain. Regardless of which resolution/compression setting was used, the end results were excellent for the file format and compression.

      Soundtrack recordings were clear and vibrant and few operational noises were picked up. The wind cut filter did a good job of suppressing the slight wind noise we encountered.

      The review camera powered-up in less than one second. Capture lag remained consistently under 0.1 seconds, regardless of whether the monitor or EVF was used for shot composition.Pre-focusing totally eliminated it.Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.5 seconds without flash and 3.6 seconds with.

      Processing times were slightly slower than the A65's.It took 2.8 seconds, on average, to process a JPEG file, 3.7 seconds for each ARW.RAW file and 3.9 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.

      For our burst capture timing tests we used a 16GB Kingston Ultimate XX 233x SDHC UHS-I card, which is designed to support video streaming. In the Hi-speed burst mode, we recorded a burst of 10 Large/Fine JPEG frames in 1.2 seconds, which is only marginally slower than specifications. It took 6.1 seconds to process this burst.

      The same capture times applied to bursts of ARW.RAW files and RAW+JPEG pairs. It took 11.9 seconds to process a burst of 10 raw files and 13.6 seconds for a burst of 10 RAW+JPEG pairs.

      Regardless of the resolution/quality setting, the Lo-speed burst mode recorded 10 frames in 2.8 seconds, which equates to less than three frames/second. Processing of bursts for high-resolution JPEGs were completed in 5.8 seconds, while ARW.RAW files took 11.1 seconds. RAW+JPEG pairs took 12.9 seconds to process.

      In summary

      Buy this camera if:
       - You’re looking for a capable, high-resolution DSLR that is exciting to use and can shoot stills and Full HD video clips.
       - You want relatively noise-free high ISO settings.
       - 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 need an integrated GPSreceiver.
       - You don’t like electronic viewfinders.

      SPECS

      Image sensor: 23.5 x 15.6mm Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor with 16.7 million photosites (16.1 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: BIONZ
       A/D processing: 12-bit
       Lens mount: Sony A-mount lenses, operation with Minolta/Konica Minolta lenses confirmed
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
       Image formats: Stills –ARW.RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG, MPO (3D); Movies – AVCHD / MP4 AVC (H.264)
      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 1370; Sweep Panorama Standard:Horizontal(15M): 8192 x 1856; Vertical(8.4M): 2160 x 3872; Sweep Panorama Wide: Horizontal(23M): 12,416 x 1856; Vertical(12M): 2160 x 5536;  3D Sweep Panorama Wide: 7152 x 1080; 3D Sweep Panorama Standard:4912 x 1080, 1920 x 1080; Movies: AVCHD - 1920 x 1080 (50p, 28M/PS),1920 x 1080 (50i, 24M/FX),1920 x 1080 (50i, 17M/FH),1920 x 1080 (25p, 24M/FX),1920 x 1080 (25p, 17M/FH); MP4 - 1440 x 1080 (25fps), VGA(640 x 480, 25fps)
      Image Stabilisation: Sensor-shift type
      Dust removal: Charge protection coating on low-pass filter and image sensor shift mechanism
      Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 second plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/160 second
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EVin 1/3 EV steps
      Exposure bracketing: 1/3EV, 2/3EV increments, 3 frames
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
      Focus system: TTL phase-detection system with 3 cross sensors; Focus area selection: wide area /15-point local frame selection / fixed centre spot focus, predictive focus for moving subjects, auto-tracking focus point, Eye-Start AF, focus lock
      Focusmodes: Single-shot AF, Auto AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus
      Exposure metering: 1200-zone evaluative metering usingExmor APS HD CMOS sensor with Multi-segment, Centre-weighted and Spot modes
      Shooting modes: iAUTO, Flash Off, Superior Auto, Scene Selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night view / Night portrait, Hand-held Twilight), Sweep Panorama, 3D Sweep Panorama, Continuous Advance Priority AE, Movie, Program AE (P), Aperture priority (A), Shutter-speed priority (S), Manual (M)
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, B/W, Saturation, Sharpness; Auto HDR available in P/A/S/M modes
      Picture Effect modes: Posterisation (Colour, B/W), Pop Colour, Retro Photo, Partial Colour (R,G,B,Y), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft High-key, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome, Miniature
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: Auto (ISO 100 – 3200), ISO 100 to 16000 selectable, Multi Frame NR (extendable up to ISO 25600)
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent/ Fluorescent, Flash, Colour temperature & colour filter, Custom; WBbracketing across 3 frames, H/L selectable
      Flash: Built-in Auto Pop-up TTL flash; GN 10 (in meters at ISO 100); Auto (Flash-off), Auto, Fill flash, Red-eye reduction, Rear Sync, Slow sync modes; High-speed sync and Wireless sync with compatible external flash
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 3EVin 1/3 EV steps
      Sequence shooting: Up to 12 fps in Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE mode, Up to 10 fps in Continuous mode; Buffer capacity: 25 Large/Fine JPEG frames, 21 ARW.RAW frames, 19 RAW+JPEG pairs
      Storage Media: Single slot for SD/SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick Pro Duo cards
      Viewfinder:1.2 cm (0.46 type) electronic viewfinder with 1,440,000 dots; 100% FOV coverage; Approx. 0.97x magnification (with 50mm lens at infinity, -1m-1); -4.0 / +3.0 dpt adjustment;  five display modes and grid line display
      LCD monitor: Tilting 3-inch TFT monitor with 921,600 dots
      Live View modes: Real-time image-adjustment display; Focus Magnifier (4.8x, 9.5x); Peaking for MF
      Data LCD: No
      Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (4 or 9 frames), Enlarge (7.2x  to 14x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), Shooting information
      Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini), BRAVIA Sync (link menu), PhotoTV HD
      Power supply: NP-FM500H rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 550 shots (Viewfinder) or approx.590 shots (LCD monitor)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 132.1 x 97.5 x 80.7 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 539 grams (body only, without battery and card)

      TESTS

      JPEG images

       

       

       

       
      ARW.RAW images converted with Adobe Camera Raw.

      SAMPLES

       Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

      30-second exposure at ISO 100; 24mm focal length, f/4.
       
       

      15-second exposure at ISO 800; 24mm focal length, f/6.3.
       
       

      6-second exposure at ISO 3200; 24mm focal length, f/11.
       
       

      4-second exposure at ISO 12,800; 24mm focal length, f/16.
       
       

      2-second exposure at ISO 16,000; 24mm focal length, f/16.

      Flash exposure; 105mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.

       

      Flash exposure; 105mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6; ISO 800.
       
       

      Flash exposure; 105mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/7.1; ISO 3200.
       
       

      Flash exposure; 105mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/7.1; ISO 16,000.
       
       

      18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      135mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      Clear Image Zoom; 135mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      Digital zoom;135mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      Clear Image Zoom plus digital zoom;135mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      Macro scene preset; 90mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/8.
       
       

      Without Auto HDR; 18mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/60 second at f/4.

      With Auto HDR; 18mm focal length, ISO 1000, 1/160 second at f/4.

       

      Sweep panorama Standard setting; 50mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/11.
       
       

      Sweep panorama Standard setting indoor lighting; 18mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/60 second at f/4.
       
       

      Sweep panorama Wide setting; 50mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/11.
       
       

      Sweep panorama Wide setting indoor lighting; 18mm focal length, ISO 500, 1/60 second at f/4.

      Stabilisation test; 100mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/15 second at f/8.

       

      18mm focal length, ISO 1250, 1/60 second at f/8.
       
       

      Still frame from AVCHD 1920 x 1080 video clip recorded with the 50i/24M setting.
       
       

      Still frame from AVCHD 1920 x 1080 video clip recorded with the 50p/28M setting.
       
       

      Still frame from AVCHD 1920 x 1080 video clip recorded with the 25p/17M setting.
       
       

      Still frame from MP4 video clip recorded at 1440 x 1080 pixels.
       
       

      Still frame from MP4 video clip recorded with VGA  resolution.
       
       

      Additional image samples can be found with the review of the Sony DT 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens.

      Rating

      RRP: AUD$799, US$700 (body only); AUD$949, US$800 with SAL1855 lens 

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.8
      • Still image quality JPEG: 8.8
      • Still image quality RAW: 9.0
      • Video quality AVCHD: 8.8
      • Video quality MPEG4: 8.8

      BUY