Sony has been in the spotlight recently for its NEX E-mount cameras for their unique design, features and primarily its good image quality. Fundamentally, the NEX-5 and NEX-3 cameras were like point and shoot cameras with large sensors had no viewfinder.
Sony's new SLT-A55 DSLT
Sony’s SLT-A55 falls in the A-mount category and it has a viewfinder like any DSLR would, but they’ve gone with an electronic one like the ones on a superzoom camera. If that’s the case and if the A55 is just a DSLR with an electronic viewfinder, should you bother buying one?
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 folding screen is built very well
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 quite probably one of the poor points of this camera.
Design and Build Quality
The A55 is built well and there are no loose buttons or sliders on the body. There is a rubberized 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 Finder/LCD button switches view between the EVF and the screen
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 very closeup shots but with a little zooming, it’s possible to get good results.
The standard 18-55mm lens is an average performer
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.
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 Sony A55 looks like any other DSLR on the outside
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.