Sony Alpha SLT-A55V (with 18-55mm lens)
Price Range: $629.95 - $1,089.38
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.5 / 5
The good: Fast, especially for burst shooting; articulating display; relatively straightforward, streamlined interface; really nice virtual-level implementation.
The bad: Poor battery life; limited manual video-capture controls.
The bottom line: Expensive and probably a bit large for the typical point-and-shoot upgrader, the Sony Alpha SLT-A55V nevertheless delivers the performance and photo quality boost those shooters are expecting.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
With its SLT series of cameras, Sony spans a gap between mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILCs) like the Olympus PEN series, Panasonic's Lumix G series, and Sony's NEX models and Samsung's NX series and traditional dSLRs. The defining difference between the two categories is a mirror: in ILCs, light travels directly through the lens to the sensor, while in dSLRs, the light is either reflected up into the viewfinder by a mirror or allowed to directly hit the sensor for capture if the mirror is flipped up. The SLTs have a fixed, translucent mirror--hence it lacks the "reflex" of an SLR--which splits the light path.
Also known as a pellicle mirror, a TM passes most of the light from the lens through a fixed semitransparent mirror, reflecting a small bit of the light upward to a separate phase-detection autofocus sensor. This is how Sony achieves the faster phase-detect continuous AF for movie capture, while most current ILCs and dSLRs use the slower contrast AF, which is based off the imaging sensor. It also means that the camera can achieve the faster still-photo autofocus speeds associated with dSLRs.
One doesn't necessarily need to use a mirror to incorporate phase detection, though; for example, Fujifilm's recent F300EXR point-and-shoot uses a phase-detection array layered over the image sensor. Because many older dSLR-mount lenses can only work with phase-detection AF--that's why ILC adapters for older lenses generally don't support AF--Sony's system enables autofocus when using those lenses for shooting video.
The trade-off is in the viewfinder, however. Unlike a dSLR, but like some ILCs, the SLT uses an electronic viewfinder. That's because the amount of light reflected up to the phase-detection sensor isn't enough to sufficiently illuminate a dSLR-like optical viewfinder. So the shooting experience of the SLT-A55V is a kind of hodgepodge as well. And because the mirror doesn't perform the single most important function it serves in a dSLR--enabling an optical viewfinder--we categorize the SLTs as ILCs rather than as dSLRs as Sony's marketing does.
I have mixed thoughts about the A55V's photo quality. By many objective standards it fares pretty well for its price class. In JPEGs up through ISO 1,600 it does a decent job balancing noise and detail. At ISO 3,200 photos look acceptable unless you've got a lot of fine detail or edges where softness will be too obvious. I find you can get sharper results with more attractive grain by processing the raw files, but the trade-off is more clipping in the shadows; there doesn't seem to be a lot of dynamic range to play with. For high ISO sensitivities, Sony has vastly improved its noise-reduction feature in recent cameras. While there are still some obvious artifacts, there's a much better balance between sharpness and color noise reduction than I'm used to seeing in photos shot with older models. And I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the noise reduction at the camera's highest ISO 12,800 sensitivity--"pleasantly surprised" doesn't mean it's more than an emergency mode, as with its competitors, though.
Furthermore, though it lacks a neutral color setting, the standard Creative Style parameters didn't induce too much of a color shift, and it delivered very good color accuracy numbers in CNET Labs tests--better than most of its low-end dSLR siblings. Nor does the camera seem to oversharpen, either. But none of my photos really wowed me, and I shot about 500. Most had a very point-and-shoot quality to them--not the oversharpened look, but the details-never-really-resolved appearance, even with expensive lenses--and there's an overly cool white balance in daylight.
For point-and-shoot upgraders who want better video, the A55V gets a qualified recommendation; the quality is pretty solid, it can autofocus well enough for casual use (albeit loudly--you'll definitely want to use a hot-shoe microphone), and the interchangeable-lens system means you'll be able to put on a long zoom lens for shooting your kids' sports or school plays. Much has been made about the SLTs automatically shutting down for overheating--and it happened to me on a particularly hot day--but keep in mind that no dSLR or ILC can shoot for long stretches without needing a break (here's Sony's table of estimated durations). They're not camcorders. Using the image stabilization really cuts into the recording time, though.
Creative shooters who are looking for a cheap entry into dSLR video should look elsewhere. The video is softer than I'd like, with some surprising moiré in spots, there are practically no manual controls, and unhacked AVCHD cameras don't support any progressive 1080 modes (though it looks like the hacking has begun). There's an aperture-priority movie capture mode, but it only works with manual focus, and it locks the aperture wide open. This is likely to keep the A-mount lens' loud aperture activation from registering on the audio track.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
As for speed, the A55V performs reasonably well: it's a tad slower overall than competing dSLRs, but quite a bit better than its fastest mirrorless competitors. It powers on and shoots in about half a second, and in good light can focus and shoot in an excellent 0.3 second; in dim light that rises to a relatively slow 0.7 second. Typical JPEG shot-to-shot time runs around 0.6 seconds--raw is a hair slower--which rises to 1.2 seconds with flash enabled. The latter is a bit slow compared with dSLRs. For burst shooting, however, it not only leads its class, but it's pretty fast for any class. The standard burst mode clocks at about 6.1 frames per second; its Continuous Advance Priority AE mode is rated to hit about 10 frames per second, but you forgo the ability to control shutter speed. Keep in mind that a fast (30MB/sec or better) SD card will make a big difference in your burst performance experience. Finally, the battery life is spectacularly unimpressive.
I give the camera high marks for general photographic usability. The EVF is probably the best I've ever used. But while I love EVFs for shooting video, and that's one of the things that give the SLT models a decided advantage over the A580, a dSLR which otherwise has a similar set of video capabilities, there are still trade-offs between EVFs and optical viewfinders when it comes to burst shooting. Even the best EVF can't refresh quickly enough to allow for panning or easily following the subject. And the drop-down articulated LCD, like the one on the Nikon D5000, comes in very handy.
|Canon EOS Rebel T2i||Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2||Sony Alpha SLT-A33||Sony Alpha SLT-A55||Sony Alpha DSLR-A580|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||18-megapixel CMOS||16.1-megapixel Live MOS||14.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS||16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS||16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS|
|22.3 x 14.9mm||17.3 x 13.0mm||23.4mm x 15.6mm||23.5mm x 15.6mm||23.5mm x 15.6mm|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded)||ISO 160 - ISO 12,800||ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/12,800 (expanded)||ISO 100 - ISO 12,800/25,600 (expanded)|
|Continuous shooting||3.7 fps |
34 JPEG/ 6 raw
|5.0 fps |
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
|6 fps (7fps with auto exposure) |
16 raw/7 JPEG
|6 fps (10fps with auto exposure) |
20 raw/35 JPEG
|5 fps (7fps with auto exposure) |
22 raw/45 JPEG
n/a/1.5 million dots
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
0.46 inches/1.2 million dots
|Autofocus||9-point phase-detection AF center cross-type||23-area contrast AF||15-pt phase-detection AF |
|15-pt phase-detection AF |
|15-pt phase-detection AF |
|Shutter speed||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync||1/4000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync||1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync|
|Metering||63 zone||144 zone||1200 zone||1200 zone||1200 zone|
|Image stabilization||Optical||Optical||Sensor shift||Sensor shift||Sensor shift|
|Video||H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/25p/24p n/a; 720/60p/50p n/a||AVCHD 1080/60i/50i/24p (60p sensor output) @ 24, 17, 13Mbps; 720/60p @ 17, 13Mbps |
QuickTime MOV Motion JPEG
|AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps||AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps||AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps|
|Audio||Mono; mic input||Stereo, mic input||Stereo; mic input||Stereo; mic input||Stereo; mic input|
|LCD size||3 inches fixed |
1.04 million dots
|3 inches articulated |
|3 inches articulated |
|3 inches articulated |
|3 inches articulated |
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||470 shots||340 shots||270 shots||330 shots||1050 shots|
|Dimensions (inches, WHD)||5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0||4.9 x 3.5 x 3.0||4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3||4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3||5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||18.6||15.2 (est)||17.5 (est)||17.8||24 (est)|
|Mfr. Price||n/a||$899.95 (body only)||$649.99 (body only)||$749.99 (body only)||$799.99 (body only)|
|$899.99 (with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens)||$999.95 (with 14-42mm lens)||$749.99 (with 18-55mm lens)||$849.99 (with 18-55mm lens)||$899.99 (with 18-55mm lens)|
|n/a||$1499.95 (with 14-140mm lens)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Ship date||March 2010||December 2010||August 2010||September 2010||November 2010|
The camera functions very much like Sony's standard dSLRs, which is a big plus over the NEX's paradoxically dumbed-down yet awkwardly arranged interface. The relatively sparse mode dial contains the usual PASM, auto, flash off, and scene modes, as well as the new Auto+, a late-to-the-party automatic scene selection mode; 10fps Continuous Advance Priority AE mode; and Sony's Sweep Panorama mode. On the back, a Fn button pulls up an interactive display where you can set drive, flash, autofocus mode and area, face detection and smile shutter, ISO sensitivity, metering, flash compensation, DRO/Auto HDR, and Creative Style. The AF button initiates autofocus.
The camera also includes Sony's usual assortment of multishot modes like Auto HDR (increased to six shots for a possible 6EV increase in tonal range), Handheld Twilight, Sweep Panorama, and Sweep 3D. The geotagging on the A55V works seamlessly; as far as I could tell it didn't add any performance overhead and accurately tagged the photos. As with most GPS-supporting cameras, though, getting a lock here in NYC takes some doing.
My only real problem with the features is how scattered they are around the interface; I know that technologically, the Continuous Advance Priority AE is a different animal from standard burst mode, but as a user I expect to find it living under the drive modes, not as a separate mode on the dial. And while I know that Auto HDR doesn't work with raw+JPEG, the camera shouldn't just leave me staring at the grayed-out option for it, forcing me to not only remember why it's grayed out, but then make me jump through the menus to change the quality. Moment lost. (For a full accounting of the A55V's features and operation, download the PDF manual.)
I can't help but think that a camera like the A55V is what people are really looking for when they gravitate toward megazooms; to me, that's where it fits in the photographic hierarchy. Most snapshooters looking to step up want something faster and with better overall photo quality than their current cameras, but usually want it for a lot less than the A55V costs. If the A33 delivers comparable image quality (admittedly a big "if") and you don't want the GPS, then it's definitely a better deal, albeit still on the expensive side. However, if you're willing to spend the bucks--or wait until the price inevitably drops by about $100 off list--the A55V should deliver on the performance and photo quality an upgrader is looking for.
|Product Description||Sony a (alpha) SLT-A55VL - Digital camera|
|Product Type||Digital camera - SLR|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||4.9 in x 3.3 in x 3.6 in|
|Supported Flash Memory||SDHC Memory Card, SD Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, SDXC Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO Duo|
|Sensor Resolution||16.2 megapixels|
|Focus Adjustment||Manual, Automatic|
|Min Focus Range||9.8 in|
|Focal Length||18 mm - 55 mm|
|Image Stabilizer||Optical (SteadyShot INSIDE)|
|Red Eye Reduction||Yes|
|Microphone||Microphone - Built-in - Stereo|
|Viewfinder||Electronic - 0.46 in - Color|
|Display||LCD display - 3 in - Color|
|Supported Battery||1 x Li-ion rechargeable battery ( Included )|
Average User Rating: 3.5 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 9
4 Star: 1
3 Star: 1
2 Star: 1
1 Star: 1
Great Hybrid Solution Photo/Video
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on September 11, 2011
8 out of 8 users found this review helpful
Pros: + Awesome low light performance
+ Very fast auto focus
+ Very sharp and clear 3" LCD
+ Great A/S/P modes and D-Range feature
+ Video mode is very clear and crisp
+ Built in GPS, mic and remote input, rotating screen, and panoramic sweep mode
Cons: - Small grip
- Not good if you intend to take long videos
Summary: I have had several cameras over the past few years, including Nikon (D90), Canon (D40 and currently 7D), and Panasonic (GH1 and GF1). I actually bought this camera while waiting for the new GH2. The GH1 was one of my favorite cameras, but because of the low fps speed, I upgraded to the 7D. I missed the ease of the autofocus for some shooting, so I was waiting for the GH2 when I saw this, and decided to try it. So far, I am VERY impressed. One of the major features that I was pleasantly surprised with was the 10fps shooting. I didn't have high hopes for this, but it is actually very good. If you have good light, almost all of the action shots are crystal clear. I initially bought the body only, with a Tamron lens, but noticed that the AF was pretty slow in video compared to Sony lens examples I have seen online, so I have exchanged the Tamron for a Sony 16-105mm lens, which is in the mail as we speak (a great advantage of buying here). I am still waiting so I will update this review later. I also hope to try a f1.8 lens soon and will test the 10fps in lower light.
The video mode seems to be very clear and crisp, reminds me more of the Panasonic. There is only one HD mode, which is 1080 60i, nothing available at 720, but as good as the video is at this rate, that is ok with me. The AF seems to be very good, and I hope it will be a little faster with the Sony lens. Low light video seems to be pretty good too, still pretty clear. Editing on a Mac is easy, no problems.
Low light shooting is a little different too. I saw one review where the reviewer talked about comparing it to a Nikon 2.8 lens, which I found hard to believe. But, this seems to take a couple or more shots when in low light, then puts together a great photo. Almost like the HDR option. So, if you have a tripod in low light, you should get some pretty amazing photos, even on a f3.5. Speaking of the HDR option, it works very well. This weekend while in Phoenix, I took some sample shots and it seemed to really remove some of the dark shadow spots on some of the pics, making them much better photos. Haven't been able to test it fully, but happy with what I saw.
*** P.S. If you will buy this camera I suggest you have to check for best price before you decide at: www.amazon.com/exec/******/****/B0043V2PW8/cnet-offer-20
Other nice features are built in GPS, mic and remote input, rotating screen, and panoramic sweep mode (which works very well also). A couple downers were the proprietary hotshoe, and the screen rotates from the bottom, rather than the side, which I can see being not being as strong as the Panasonic. I will try to update this review when I get the Sony lens and try a f1.8 with the 10 fps on inside sports, but very happy with this selection so far!
Updated on Oct 20, 2011
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Hope this help!
Great Photos, Fast, Useful, What Ive been waiting for.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on February 15, 2011
2 out of 2 users found this review helpful
Pros: Burst mode 10fps, 16 MP, light weight, small, fits my lenses. easy to use, panorama works great.
Cons: not the best video recording, limited accesories. Has a learning curve. Standard kit lens is just not good.
Summary: 4 years ago I bought the minolta A2, and I loved it, some of my best pictures to this day are from that camera. I have tried to replicate the photos acheieved with many other cameras, including micro 4/3, Canon G10, Canon T2i, and many more, its just not possible, and frankly expensive. This camera has been the first to do so, and it took a lot of fine tuning. The preset menus are bad, and dont pull accurately, but some small fine tuning and pictures turn amazing. Hook this up to a 50mm f/1.8 and you are really talking about quality photos. Zeiss glass also works perfectly on this camera and really gives you picture quality abound. The Kit lens isn't worth it, in my opinion, maybe I got a bad one. Most people say that you have to get a really expensive camera, but I think its more in the lens, and the user. Last you should really find reviews from people who have photos that you like. I personally haven't agreed with Lori Grunins reviews, and I don't like her photography or her gripes. People take good photos with cameras that they love, I know people who will not give up there point & shoot, and I loved my really old Minolta. I'm just glad to have something that feels the same and gives me the same results.
Far better camera than dopey CNET review would suggest
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on October 3, 2011
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: 10 frames per second, continuous live view, relatively light weight and compact for DSLR, fast focusing and shooting, great panorama and HDR modes with dynamic range optimization, decent lowlight performance, competitive with Nikon and Canon while providi
Cons: rapid overheating of sensor in movie mode when image stabilization turned on, limited options for movie files and almost no options for movie playback (no option for frame by frame review of movie files), when shooting 10 frames per second, buffer fills u
Summary: Does anyone have any confidence in CNET's camera reviews when almost every single one of them gives 3.5/5 stars to the camera no matter how good or how bad the camera is? I also believe that CNET is censoring user reviews that are critical of CNET. I have submitted three reviews of this camera, and every one of them has been censored. Is that the behavior of an outfit that can be trusted? sorry but CNET is simply out of their depth in relationship to digital photography.
1) Has won numerous awards (a rare Gold Award from Digital Photography Review, 2010 Camera of the Year from Popular Photography, rave review from Imaging Resources) due to its great feature set, performance, and value for the money
2) Great movie capability (excepting one major and one minor issue)
3) Great photo capability with many useful modes and special features (including a super panorama mode and a 10 fps high speed mode)
4) Easy to use for someone with modest technical ability
5) Flexible and powerful for someone with more technical ability willing to master the multiple modes and functions
6) Best LCD panel in the price range, fully articulated
7) Sony's lenses are relatively cheap and fairly light weight with decent optics and performance (compared with Canon & Nikon)
8) Good (and fast) autofocus
9) Neatest feature (among many) - automatic activation of electronic viewfinder and deactivation of LCD by proximity to the eyepiece -- EVF turns on as you get near it)
Terrific Step Up Camera with Superior Talent
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on December 27, 2010
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: Speed, HD Video, Superior Phase Detection Autofocusing, Small Size, Light Weight, GPS, In-Body Image Stabilization, Relative Value, Accepts High Quality Minolta Lenses (available on eBay for a fraction of new), Nifty Panorama Feature (it works)
Cons: Poor Battery Life, Still IQ Not Equal to the Best SLRs, Underwhelming Build Quality (versus Nikon), Uncertain Longevity of Translucent Mirror (will it darken over time?), In-Camera Microphones Reveal Autofocusing Noise (there's a jack for that)
Summary: Tough to locate in the United States. Fortunately, in stock at Fry's Electronics throughout late November and December.
I'm not a pro photographer, but a budding enthusiast stepping up from a great little Nikon point and shoot camera. What set this apart from the Canon and Nikon almost-equivalents (DSLRs versus the Sony SLT) for me were it's amazing 10 shots per second speed (yes, ~9 out of 10 in focus), instant HD Video focusing, relatively small size, built in GPS and strong value versus competition.
The sensor in this camera is the same as the Nikon D7000 and Pentax K5....both terrific cameras at higher price points. Nikon and Pentax probably do a better job of processing the image versus Sony, but the sensors are the same. In my opinion, the Sony offers better focusing, so action shots and HD Video come out way better. Sony has the edge on sports photo and HD Video image quality when the subject is on the move.
I matched this camera with a used Minolta 70-210 MM F4 "Beer Can" Lense and took some terrific, professional-looking photos on Day 1. I highly recommend this lense...available on the used market and well worth it if you can get a good one.
Small, Light, and Fast
Rating: 5 / 5
on November 17, 2010
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: 10fps to capture the perfect moment.
Good dynamic range.
Great high iso performance.
Continuous auto focus during HD video.
Fun consumer modes like sweep panorama, face detection, smile shutter.
Unique multi-frame noise reduction mode for low light.
Cons: EVF suffers in (very) low-light.
Small design might not be for everyone--especially for extended use.
Summary: For the price, you can't beat the functionality this camera affords. If you are an amateur or a professional that wants a second body, then this is a very fun camera that delivers great results. It is the perfect camera for anyone coming from a point-and-shoot who decides they want to get some professional quality pictures on a budget.