Another Home Run For Sony

English: Sony Alpha 55 with Sony DT 18-55 mm F... Sony has announced the replacement to the ground-breaking SLT-A55, the first of their translucent-mirror digital cameras. The A55 was rated camera-of-the-year by one of the major photo magazines when it was released, and Sony's had a string of hits ever since. The new model, the SLT-A57, maintains or improves all the best bits of the original A55, adds a few features, and addresses a few consumer concerns.

The new camera has been built-in a larger body almost identical to the new SLT-A65, which removes the objection that many had to the older camera's grip. That also made space for the bigger battery used in the A65 and A77. That means about 550 exposures per charge. The price has also been kept down at a price similar to the A55, about $700 for the body alone and about $800 with the 18-55mm kit lens.

So, other than the size and the model number what's new?

The first thing to mention is that the A57 loses the built-in GPS. Is that a big deal? I still don't think so. As I mentioned in previous commentary, I've never had an SLR with a GPS, so I wouldn't miss it. I have a workflow for dealing with location marking when I need it. As mentioned before, the A57 gets the larger battery used in the A65 and A77, so the battery life is improved.

The viewfinder optics have been redesigned to effectively increase the usable area and make for a larger viewfinder. There's also a mode that increases the eyepoint relief, making for easier use by people with glasses. So, while not the expensive OLED viewfinder used in the A65 and A77, it's still reported to be much improved over the previous model.

The sensor is the 16MP sensor used in the  NEX-5N, coupled with Sony's newest BIONZ processor, which delivers phenomenal image quality at a very wide ISO range -- up to ISO 12,800 before "expansion." Of course, as ISO increases, so does noise. However, the new processor does a superb job of cleaning things up. Yes, there's still noise, but it's possible to get a very usable image at 12,800. The new processor also allows for true 1080p60p video, as well as shooting at 1080p24p, if that sort of thing is important to you.

What I find more interesting is the new 1.4X and 2.0X digital zoom, which Sony calls Clear View Zoom. It's real-time, in-camera smart interpolation that still yields a 16MP image when using either 1.4X or 2.0X modes. In the sample images, the result is quite amazing. These two images from show how impressive the 2.0X can be: image at native resolution, image with 2.0X zoom. The A57 also has a smart portrait mode, which is kind of interesting. When enabled, it first determines that you've taken a portrait, and then makes a second image that is a "corrected" composition (based on all the "classic" rules of portrait composition). Nifty, but something I would probably never use. The point, though, is that the image quality is still stunning, and the mode will allow beginners to get really nice portrait.

For those who need high-speed-shooting, the A57 will manage 10fps at 16MP, or, in a special lower-resolution mode, 12fps. This is similar to a trick Nikon used several years ago in one of their high-end pro models.

It also appears that most, if not all, of the features (auto-panorama, dynamic range optimization, etc.) from earlier SLT-series cameras are included, making this one hot little mid-level DLSR, especially given it's entry-level price tag.


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