Cameras

Sony SLT-A55 Digital Camera Review

The SLT-A55 is a new spin on the conventional SLR, with a translucent mirror that lets most light through, so the camera can shoot and focus at the same time. Read our full review of this promising new camera.

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Introduction

The SLT-A55 is a new spin on the conventional SLR, with a translucent mirror that lets most light through, so the camera can shoot and focus at the same time. The result is a camera that has the advantages of an SLR (quick and flexible focusing and high quality images) but shoots much faster: 10 frames a second. And it has the image quality to justify the cost: we found that the images it took had good color and excellent overall sharpness, and the video looked great. However, the SLT-A55 also has the downsides of an SLR: it is a large, bulky camera that has a somewhat confusing menu system and only has a limited range of lenses available.

Product Tour

The SLT-A55 takes a new approach to SLR design. Most digital SLR

cameras use a mirror that diverts light to the focus, exposure sensors

and optical viewfinder in the top of the camera . This mirror flips

up out of the way when the photo is taken, hence the Single Lens Reflex

(SLR) name. The downside of this is that it is complicated, and the

moving mirror slows the camera down: it cannot focus with the mirror up.

The SLT-A55 uses a different approach, using a translucent mirror that

reflects some of the light up to the focus and exposure sensors, but

lets most of it through to the image sensor. So, the mirror does not

have to move when taking a photo: the camera can focus and shoot at the

same time. The mirror can be manually flipped up to clean the image sensor, but it remains in place while shooting.

 

Front


SONY-SLT-A55V-front.jpg

 

Back


SONY-SLT-A55V-back.jpg

 

Sides


SONY-SLT-A55V-left.jpg
SONY-SLT-A55V-right.jpg

 

 

Bottom


SONY-SLT-A55V-bottom.jpg

Top


SONY-SLT-A55V-top.jpg

 

**Size Comparisons

**


 

**In the Box

**


SONY-SLT-A55V-boxshot.jpg

 

In addition to the camera, you get:

• 3.5-5.6/18-55mm lens

• USB cable

• Neck strap

• Battery charger

• NP-FW50 1080mAh battery

• Software CD

Not included is a HDMI cable or any analog A/V output cables. Any

mini HDMI cable can be used for digital A/V output, and Sony offers an

optional analog A/V out cable for showing images on an older standard

definition TV.

Color

 

**Color Accuracy

**

* (14.20)

*


We found that the SLT-A55 captured pretty accurate color, although

it struggled with some colors, such as the purples and magenta of our

test chart. We also found that the colors were a little oversaturated

in all of the color modes that the camera offers, with saturation

ranging from 105 per cent up to 120 per cent, which produces almost

cartoon-like results.  Click here for more on how we test color.

To test color accuracy, we shoot our test chart in all of the color

modes that the camera offers, and then determine which mode produces

the most accurate color. For this camera, this was the Standard mode,

but you should remember that color can be a rather subjective thing:

some users might prefer the more saturated colors of another mode. You

can see how the different modes affect the same colors from our chart

in the next section of this review. 

 

*NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the

images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or

in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative

color shift, not the absolute captured colors.*

 

Color Modes*(4.00)*


The SLT-A55 offers 6 color modes: Standard, Sunset, Vivid,

Portrait, Black & White and Landscape.The differences between these

are mostly subtle, but do what you would expect, with Vivid and Sunset

boosting the saturation to around 120 per cent and Portrait producing a

more muted look than others. Examples from our color test chart for 5

of these modes are shown below.

 

*NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the

images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or

in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative

color shift, not the absolute captured colors.*

 

Long Exposure

(7.30)


Shooting in low light often involves using long exposures, and long

exposures mean more time for electronic noise to gather in the sensor.

This means noisy images, so we test how well the camera deals with this

by shooting a number of images at different shutter speeds and

examining the noise in them using Imatest. We found that the SLT-A55

had some issues here: although the colors in log exposure images were

pretty constant, the noise in images with exposure times of more than 1

second was significant. We also found that enabling the long exposure

noise reduction didn’t make that much difference: in some cases, it

seemed to make things a little worse.  [Click

here

for

more

on how we test long exposure.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#longexposure)

When we look at the noise in images (see the chart below), we see

that the noise in images rises as the exposure time increases, rising

from 1.05 per cent to about 1.24 per cent at 30 seconds. You can also

see that the long exposure noise reduction didn’t make much difference,

and at some speeds it seemed to make things slightly worse.

Compared to other SLRs, the SLT-A55 didn’t fare well: many other

SLRs have lower, or more consistent, noise with long exposure

levels. So, the SLT-A55 earns a lower noise score than all of our comparison cameras.

Noise

 

Noise*(6.95)*


The Alpha SLT-A55 was something of a mixed bag when it came to our

tests on the noise in images. We found that it had low nose at the

lower ISO settings, but the noise levels quickly rose as the ISO level

was increased. At ISO 800, the noise level is just under 1 per cent,

but it climbs quickly as the ISO increases above this.  One thing

to note here is that this camera does not allow you to turn off the

noise reduction: the options you get are for NR Auto and NR Weak. We

didn’t find a huge difference between the two settings, although the

noise was slightly higher with this set to NR Weak.  [Click

here

for

more

on how we test noise.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#noise)

If we look at the individual color channels in our test images, we

see that the same pattern is consistent, so there is no one color that

is adding more to the noise. Only the luminance channel (L) is slightly

higher than the others, but not significantly so.

If we compare the SLT-A55 to our comparison cameras at the lowest

noise reduction setting (NR Weak for this camera), we see that the

noise is consistent with the others, but the noise is lower than the

Canon T2i by a quite considerable amount. 

Turning the noise reduction to maximum (NR Auto) produces a more

consistent result: here, the SLT-A55 has similar noise to the other

cameras with their maximum level of noise reduction enabled, although

the noise reduction does not save the noise level from rising

significantly at the higher ISO settings of 6400 and 12800. the noise level is also consistent with the Sony NEX-5.

 

 

ISO*(8.00)*


The SLT-A55 offers a very impressive ISO range, going from 100 up to

12800, all at the full resolution of the camera. If you really

need to push it further, the SLT-A55 offers a special ISO expansion

mode that takes 6 shots for each shutter press and combining the images

together to form a single image. This can widen the effective ISO range

to 100 to an incredible 25600. However, moving objects can confuse the

camera: see our Sample Photos for an example. All of the images below

were shot in the standard, single shot mode. 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

Resolution

 

Resolution*(12.64)*


Our tests of the SLT-A55 and the 18-55mm SAM lens that it came with

revealed mixed performance. Although the camera was capable of

capturing a good level of detail in image, the lens seemed to have some

issues with chromatic aberration and introduced a fair amount of

distortion into the final image. Of course, you should remember that

this camera has an interchangeable lens, and lenses other than the kit

lens that comes with the camera could produce better performance. [Click

here

for

more

on how we test resolution.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#resolution)

 

Distortion

The 18-55mm SAM lens that comes with the SLT-A55

is biased more towards the wide end of the zoom range, and this seems

to have something of a price: the lens introduces a lot of distortion

at the wide angle setting: 3.29 per cent barrel distortion, where

straight lines become curved inwards towards the center of the image.

This distortion was much less at the middle of the zoom range and was

barely noticeable at the 55mm setting, though, so you should stick with

this end of the zoom if you want straight lines and undistorted faces

in your photos.

 

 

 

*Chromatic Aberration (7.37)

*We found some issues with chromatic aberration when shooting with

the kit lens: the images showed noticeable chromatic aberration at the

edges of the frame across both the zoom and aperture range. Although it

was noticeable across both ranges, it was most pronounced when the

aperture was stopped down, which is pretty common with lenses like

this. This aberration is caused by the lens, so it would be worth

considering investing in a better lens if you want to avoid the

characteristic color fringing caused by Chromatic Aberration.

*Sharpness (14.90)

*The images shot by this camera were generally pretty sharp,

although the images were somewhat softer when the aperture was stopped

down all the way to the f/22 or f/36 maximum of the lens. At more open

apertures, the images were pretty sharp across the frame, with only a

slight falloff at the edges. From our tests, the sharpest images are

captured when this lens is in the middle of the aperture range at about

f/13 to f/14.

 

As you can see from the crops above, the best performance from this

lens comes in the middle of the aperture range: the images captured at

f/13 are sharper and more clearly defined than the others. 

 

Again, the best performance comes from the middle aperture setting,

although the widest aperture is also pretty good. The smallest aperture

is extremely soft. 

 

At the longest zoom setting that this camera offers, the sharpness

is acceptable at the widest and mid apertures, but the image gets

extremely soft at the smallest aperture of f/36.One important thing to

remember here is that this test is very dependent on the lens, and it

seems that the 18-55mm zoom lens that Sony bundles with this camera is

not particularly great. We don’t test with other lenses, but it seems

that the camera is capable of much better performance with a higher

quality lens. 

 

**Picture

Quality & Size Options***(9.15)*


The SLT-A55 offers a wide selection of options for image size

and compression when you include the panorama modes on offer. There are

only three sizes for standard, still photos, though: L, M and S. 

You do get the choice of two aspect ratios: 3:2 and 16:9.

In addition, there are two options for the JPEG compression 

(Fine and Standard), plus the ability to capture RAW files and RAW and

JPEG files simultaneously. The last two options slow the camera down

considerably, though, and use a lot of storage space for images. 

 

Dynamic Range

(8.78)


Dynamic range is a measure of how wide a range of shades a camera

can capture: does it capture detail in shadows, or are they just black?

We found that the SLT-A55 did a good job here, capturing a wide

dynamic range at the lower ISO settings which would allow it to capture

a good level of both shadow and highlight detail.  [Click

here

for

more

on how we test dynamic range.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#dynamicrange)

As you can see from the graph above, the dynamic range of the camera

falls significantly as the ISO is increased, so it is important to keep

the ISO as low as possible to get the best image quality. However, the

dynamic range of this camera remained wider than other comparable

cameras across the range. We also found that the SLT-A55 could capture

a slightly wider range than other cameras at the lowest ISO settings:

it captures just under a stop more than the Panasonic G2.

 

Sony also offers a special shooting mode called D-Range optimizer,

which they claim uses special image processing techniques to enhance

the dynamic range. This mode does not expand the dynamic range of the

camera, but can bring out shadow detail in images by tweaking the gamma

of the image. There are 5 levels of D-Range optimization: you can see

examples in the Sample Photos section of the review.

 

The SLT-A55 also offers an Auto HDR mode, which increases the dynamic

range of photos by taking three images at different exposures and

combining them together to form a single image. This HDR (High Dynamic

Range) technique can expand the dynamic range that a camera can

capture, and we found that it produced quite attractive results. You

can read more about this mode in the controls section of this review, and see examples in the Sample Photos section.

 

 

**Image

Stabilization***(4.96)*


The SLT-A55 includes Sony’s usual SteadyShot Inside stabilization

system, where the image sensor moves to compensate for camera shake.

This differs from other manufacturers, who usually move part of the

lens. The upside of this approach is that it works whatever lens you

use, because the sensor is the part moving. On other cameras, the

moving element has to be built into the lens.

We found that, when shooting with the 18-55mm kit lens, this system

was pretty effective, especially with the high shake in our tests. This

high shake simulates more extreme camera movements, such as shooting

one-handed or while walking. We found that the images captured with

SteadyShot turned on were sharper at all of the test shutter speeds in

the high shake tests, but this was not the case with the low shake

test, which simulates more subtle movements. In this case, having the

SteadyShot turned on while shooting at speeds above 1/125 of a second

were less sharp. At slower speeds, there was some improvement with it

turned on, but it seems the system is more tuned to detecting larger

camera movements.  [Click here

for

more

on how we test image stabilization.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#imagestabilization)

 

Overall,we found that the SteadyShot system was slightly more effective

than the IS systems on our comparison cameras, but no stabilization

system can replace holding the camera steady by using a tripod or other

solid object.

 

 

Below you can see sample crops from our test images, which use a simple black and white angled line.

White Balance

 

White Balance*(7.42)*


White balance is a critical factor for camera performance, as a

camera has to be able to judge the white balance to show colors

correctly. We found that the SLT-A55 did a pretty good job here,

judging the white balance of various light sources on auto and

correctly setting the white balance when using a custom setting. Like

most cameras, the auto setting was slightly confused by incandescent

lighting, though.  [Click here

for

more

on how we test white balance.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/How-we-test-digital-cameras-20069.htm#whitebalance)

Automatic White Balance (10.16)

To test the auto setting of the SLT-A55, we took photos of a

colorcheck chart under three different types of light: incandescent,

fluorescent and simulated daylight. This camera did a very decent job

here, getting very close to spot on for the fluorescent and daylight.

It was slightly off with the incandescent light, but most camera

struggle with this light source. 

The SLT-A55 had similar performance to most cameras on the daylight

test, missing the right spot by just a small amount. This means that

when shooting in daylight with auto white balance,whites should come out clean and colors should be on target.

With an incandescent light source, the camera was off by a

significant margin, but so were all of our comparison cameras. For some

reason, all of them miss the mark with this light source. 

 

With fluorescent light, the SLT-A55 had a smaller error than most cameras. 

 

Custom White Balance (4.68)

We expect that using the

custom white balance feature of a camera will produce more accurate

results, because we give the camera a white card to work from. We found

that the SLT-A55 was a little off here, though: both the incandescent

and fluorescent light sources produced a significant error that could

be visible in images.

Given this error, If getting a correct white balance is critical to

you (such as for product photos, where the images have the match the

subject), you might be better off shooting in RAW format and color

correcting afterward in Photoshop.

 

 

**White Balance

Settings***(7.50)*


A good selection of white balance settings are on offer. As well as

the full auto mode, there are 6 presets, all of which can be tweaked up

or down to three steps (each step represents 10 Mired). You can also

enter a color temperature directly, or use the custom setting to

measure a white object. 3 memory spots are also available if you are

able to visit a location before shooting and check the lighting. The

color filter option allows you to set the white balance as a spot on a

green/magenta compensation graph. And if you don’t know what that

means, you will probably never need it.

Sample Photos

 

Sample Photos


Below are sample images taken with the SLT-A55V. Click on any image to see the original, unedited file.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**Still Life

Examples**


Below are sample shots from the SLT-A55V (with the High ISO NR in

the Auto mode) and our 4 comparison cameras taken at all of the ISO

modes supported by the camera. Click on any image to view the

original, unedited JPEG file. 

 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

 

Noise Examples


Below are crops from the above images, again at all of the single shot ISO images that the cameras support. 

 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

Playback

 

Playback Mode

(8.50)


The SLT-A55 offers a good selection of playback features, including

the ability to view up to 12 thumbnails on screen, to zoom in up to 12x

on images and create basic slideshows. The slideshows are very basic,

though, with the only control being the length of each slide and if the

slide show repeats. Several options for the level of information shown

on the screen are available, with options to show just the image or

very detailed image information.

Images can be deleted singly, or as a folder. Images and videos are

treated as separate items: you can’t create a slideshow or view them

together. This is an odd choice; most cameras allow you to sort images

and video by date so you can view both images and videos of an event

together, but on the A55, you have to choose one or the other.

 

In-Camera Editing

(1.00)


The only image editing tool on offer is image rotation: you cannot

re size, crop or remove red-eye from images in the camera. This makes

sense for an SLR, though, where most users are going to do their

editing on a computer in a program like Photoshop, not in the camera

itself.

 

Software*(4.50)*


The SLT-A55V ships with a CD containing three image programs: Image

Data Lightbox SR, Image Data Converter SR and Picture Motion Browser

SR.

 

 

**Direct Print

Options***(3.00)*


The SLT-A55V supports

both DPOF image tagging and PictBridge direct printing. DPOF image

tagging allows you to tag images for printing within the camera, and a

DPOF printer then reads these tags and produces the expected

prints.  PictBridge allows you to connect the camera directly to a printer and print out images without a computer. 

Other Features

(0.00)


3D Playback – The SLT-A55 can capture 3D panoramas, and can ply them

back on a 3D HDTV over the HDMI connection. We found the process of

shooting and playing these images back to be rather complex and

finicky: more details are in the mode section of this review.

Hardware

 

Sensor*(3.50)*


The SLT-A55 uses an Exmor APSCMOS filter, which measures 0.925 by

0.614 inches (25.5 by 15.6mm) and has a resolution of 16.7 megapixels.

Of these, about 16.2 megapixels are used, with the rest being used for

image stabilization. This CMOS chip uses RGB sensors, with the color

filters being mounted onto the chip surface.

This sensor sits behind a translucent mirror, which is in a fixed

position. Conventional SLRs work by moving the mirror out of the way

when taking a photo, but the mirror of the A55 is translucent, so it

lets most of the light through, but reflects a small amount into the

viewfinder housing, where it is used to meter the scene and to focus.

This means that the camera can focus and shoot images at the same time;

it does not have to focus with the mirror down and then move it out of

the way to take the photo.

Some users of this camera have reported a problem with this, seeing

a ghost image caused by internal reflections from this mirror. We did

see this on a few images (particularly those where bright objects were

shot against dark backgrounds), but this was not a significant problem:

the ghost image was much darker than the actual one, and were not

visible in most shooting situations.

SONY-SLT-A55V-Mirror-diagram.jpg

*A cutaway view of the SLT-A5 showing the

split light path (image by Sony)*

 

 

Viewfinder*(7.75)*


On the back of the A55 is the electronic viewfinder, which has a

resolution of 1,440k pixels. Because it is electronic, it shows the

image being captured by the image sensor, rather than the image through

the lens that normal SLR cameras capture. We found the viewfinder to be

comfortable to use, although it is a little difficult to see the entire

image when wearing glasses: the edges of the image are blocked by the

edge of the viewfinder unless you press your eye close to the

viewfinder, which leads to smudges on the glasses. The image does break

up somewhat with fast

moving objects, if you pan the camera quickly or if you are shooting in

very low light. 

SONY-SLT-A55V-viewfinder.jpg

The viewfinder of the SLT-A55

Diopter adjustment is available from a small dial on the right side

of the viewfinder housing, and we found the viewfinder to be

comfortable to use with spectacles. Below the viewfinder is an eye

sensor, which switches from the screen to the viewfinder when it

detects an approaching eye. However, it is also triggered by hands or

fingers, and this is a little annoying when you are reaching around the

camera body to press one of the buttons: the sensor is often triggered

by the hand. This can be disabled, though, and a button on the top of

the camera body can be used to switch between the viewfinder and the

screen.

 

LCD*(8.60)*


The LCD screen of the A55 is a large, bright 3-inch LCD with a 921k

pixel resolution. This is very sharp and clear, and is visible in all

but direct sunlight, which is where you would use the viewfinder

instead of the screen. The screen is also articulated, with a hinge and

pivot allowing you to flip the screen out and rotate it around. This

allows the screen to be rotated so that it can be used for shooting

with the camera held above, below or behind you. It is possible to also

use this to shoot self-portraits, but the screen is somewhat obscured

by the camera. Some Canon models use a side hinge, which is better

suited to this, as the screen is less obscured by the camera body when

it is rotated around to the side.

SONY-SLT-A55V-lcd.jpg

The LCD screen of the A55 folded flat against the camera body

 

 

SONY-SLT-A55V-lcd2.jpg

The LCD screen rotated around for use

This rotating hinge also allows you to turn the screen around so

that it can be folded flat against the camera body, protecting it from

scratches and bumps. We were not able to test this to destruction, but

we did find that the LCD screen and hinge feels tough: it is unlikely

to break off or be otherwise damaged by anything other than extreme

force. 

Flash*(6.75)*


There are two flash options with this camera: a small built-in

flash, or attaching an external flash to the hot shoe on the top of the

camera body. The built-in flash is a pop-up model located in the front

of the viewfinder housing. It pops up when the small flash button is

pressed: it does not pop up automatically. We found it to be reasonably

powerful, penetrating total darkness out to a distance of about 11-12

feet, and having a pretty even flash pattern, although there is some

vignetting at the edges of the frame at the widest angle setting of the

kit lens: the edges of images taken there are noticeably darker than

the middle. The flash sync speed is a pretty speedy 1/160 of a second:

useful for capturing fast moving objects.

SONY-SLT-A55V-flash.jpg

*The flash of the SLT-A55 in its open position

*

The other option is to attach an external flash to the camera

through the hot shoe. This is a proprietary design: it will not work

with standard hot she flash guns. Sony is the only company to make

compatible models, and their HAL-F42AM flash costs $299.99. They do

also offer a microphone that can plug into this port.

 

Lens Mount*(7.00)*


The A55 uses Sony’s own A-mount to mount the cameras, so it is

compatible with any A-mount lens. There are a decent range of lenses

available from Sony themselves, and other lens manufacturers (Sigma and

Tamron in particular) are supporting this mount type by making

compatible lenses. The A-mount is not compatible with the E-mount

used on the NEX range of cameras from Sony.

SONY-SLT-A55V-front.jpg
  *The Sony A-mount on the front of the camera* The lenses are easy to take off and replace: just press in the button (on the right side in the photo above) and twist the lens counter-clockwise. To put on the lens, you just match up the red dots on the camera and lens bodies, then twist the lens clockwise.  The SLT-A55 is available with an 18-55mm kit zoom lens.     **Battery***(6.00)* *** The power source of the A55 is a small 1080mAh battery that fits into a cavity in the camera grip. This battery (model NP-FW50) is recharged with the included charger: it cannot be recharged in the camera body. Sony quotes a battery life of 330 images with the viewfinder and 380 when using the screen, but this feels a little optimistic: we found that the battery did not typically last for more than a day of serious shooting. A spare battery would be a sound investment, and these cost about $60.
SONY-SLT-A55V-battery-open.jpg

The battery and memory card compartment of the SLT-A55

 

Memory*(5.50)*


The SLT-A55 can handle the Pro Duo and Pro-HG Duo variations of

MemoryStick flash memory cards that Sony offers, but it can also work

with SD, SDHC and the newer SDXC memory cards. Both types of card fit

into the same slot next to the battery, below a latched cover.

 

 

**Jacks, Ports

& Plugs***(4.50)*


The SLT-A55 offers a small number of ports, but the important ones

are on offer, with a mini HDMI port, a multi-function USB and analog

A/V output and a microphone input on the left rear side of the camera

body. On the left front side is a single port for attaching an external

GPS receiver. The camera does have an internal GPS receiver, but an

external unit may have better sensitivity or be more accurate.

SONY-SLT-A55V-ports-open.jpg
SONY-SLT-A55V-ports-open2.jpg
 

*The ports on the left

side of the camera body*

 

 

Other Features

(1.00)


GPS – The SLT-A55V includes a built-in GPS receiver, which

can be used to geo-tag images, with a longitude and latitude being

added to the EXIF data. We found that this GPS receiver did work well,

but it did often take a significant time to get a location fix. Bars by

the side of the GPS icon on the screen indicate if the camera is

getting a fix, but the camera seems to use the old location if it

cannot update with a new one: several of the test shots taken in our

Cambridge, MA studio were tagged as being taken in the UK because the

camera was not able to update its location indoors, so it kept using

the old one. If you frequently turn the camera on and

off between shots, this could mean that many of your images are not

properly tagged.Sony also offers a model without the GPS feature: the SLT-A55.

Controls

 

Shooting Modes

(14.50)


The SLT-A55 has a 10-position mode dial on the top left of the camera body, which offers the following modes

 

The special scene modes are described below. 

 

Live View*(8.00)*


The SLT-A55 works in live view mode all the time: the preview image

you see in the viewfinder and on the screen is the image that is being

captured by the sensor. As such, it is not surprising that this camera

works very well in this mode, with snappy focus and a clean, efficient

display. There are a few times that it works less well, though: the

screen is only updated once a second or so when shooting in the 10fps

burst mode, and the image is updated very slowly when using the depth

of field preview in moderate to low light, because stopping the

aperture down limitsthe light that gets to the sensor, so it has to use a longer exposure to show the preview.

There are four different types of display available on the screen

which can be cycled through by pressing the DISP button on the back of

the camera body. The last shot below shows the grid overlay, which can be applied to any of the other screens.

 

 

The high resolution screen makes these displays easy to read, even

from a distance.

 

Scene Modes*(4.00)*


The SLT-A55 includes a relatively short list of scene modes: 9 in

total. This covers all of the basics, but excludes specialist modes

such as documents, food and the like. 

 

 

Picture Effects

(4.00)


The picture effects

that this camera offers are not special effects: they are more like

modified color modes that also affect the sharpness and contrast of an

image.

 

 

 

Focus*(14.25)*


The SLT-A55 tries to include the best of both worlds when it comes

to focusing, combining the flexibility of the SLR (which has dedicated

focus sensors) with the speed of mirrorless cameras (which use the

image sensor to focus). The SLT-A55 has a fixed mirror which is

translucent: it lets most of the light through to the image sensor, but

bounces some up to the 15 dedicated focus sensors in the viewfinder

housing. The theory is that this arrangement allows the camera to focus

and shoot at the same time, because the camera does not have to focus

then wait for the mirror to move out of the way to shoot: the mirror

remains in place. This theory is most borne out in practice: the camera

focuses quickly, and there is much less delay between pressing the

shutter and the camera taking the shot. It also means that the camera

can focus and take shots at the same time, which makes the cameras burst

mode both faster and more accurate, as the camera can keep focusing

while it is shooting.

SONY-SLT-A55V-focuspoints-scan.jpg

The layout of focus points of the SLT-A55

There are three options for how these 15 AF spots are used: Wide

allows the camera to choose, while Spot uses the center group of 7 and

Local allows you to choose an individual spot. We found that the

SLT-A55 focused quickly in most situations, although it did swim a bit

in low light, focusing back and forth to look for the focus point. The

center group of focus points are the best ones to use in low light:

they are cross-type sensors that work better in low light, and we found

that the camera had some issues focusing on off-center objects in low

light settings.

 

 

Exposure*(4.00)*


The SLT-A55 allows you to tweak the exposure settings to a large

degree. Exposure compensation of 2 stops up or down in 1/3 of a stop

steps is available by pressing the exposure compensation button on the

top of the camera body. The amount of compensation is adjusted by

turning the front dial, so it is possible to use without taking your

eyes away from the viewfinder with some practice

Bracketing is also available for both exposure and white balance,

with a choice of 0.3 and 0.7 stop steps for exposure and Hi and Low

settings for white balance.  

Speed and Timing


Shot to Shot (10.00)

Because the mirror stays in place when shooting, the the SLT-A55 is

a speedy shooter: we measured it at an impressive 10 frames a second

(fps), which is exactly what Sony claims. This does come with a caveat,

though: it can only manage this speed for a burst of 39 or so frames.

After this, the speed slows to between 4 and 6 frames per second, which

is heavily dependent on the speed of the memory card in use. The camera

also offers a continuous shooting mode, which we measured at about 6

fps, but which could be sustained for as long as their is space on the

memory card. Our review unit had no problem maintaining this speed with

out test card (a Sandisk 4GB SDHC card). 

This speed puts it ahead of the pack when compared with other SLRs:

it is significantly faster than all of our comparison models. The

only conventional SLRs to get close to this speed are some professional

models, such as the Canon 7D and the Nikon D300s, both of which can manage about 7 to 8 frames a second, but which cost much more than the SLT-A55.

 

Drive/Burst Mode (7.00)

The SLT-A55 also offers a good amount of control over the burst

shooting, providing two levels of burst: a 10 fps mode that can shoot a

burst of up to 39 images (in JPEG format: using RAW+JPEG limits this to

20 shots), and a 6 fps mode that can shoot continuously up to the capacity of the card. One

quirk of the burst mode is that, while the camera automatically adjusts

the shutter speed to compensate for changing lighting while

shooting,  the camera can only control aperture if you put the

auto focus mode to the AF-S setting, so it only focuses once at the

start of the burst of images. What this means in practice is that you

are forced to choose between having the camera continually focusing or

having control over the aperture for no adequately explained reason,

which limits the usefulness of the mode. Using the 10fps mode also

slows the camera down a lot after shooting, as it has to take time to

write the images out to the memory card. It is still possible to take

images, but only intermittently and in a seemingly random pattern. So,

although the 10fps burst mode works as advertised, it does have a few

caveats that make it less flexible than we had hoped.

 

**Depth of Field

Preview***(2.00)*


Because it uses the image sensor to create the preview, the SLR-A55 does not offer a depth of field preview

when looking at images in normal shooting. However, holding down the

preview button on the front of the camera body sets the aperture to the

current setting, allowing for a proper depth of field preview. When

using a small aperture, this does make the preview somewhat dim and

grainy, so it is a little difficult to see the effect if shooting in

low light.

 

Metering*(7.00)*


The SLT-A55 includes an extremely large number of sensors used to

judge

exposure: Sony claims that there are 1200 in total located alongside

the focus sensors in the viewfinder housing. This, they claim allows

the camera to more accurately judge the scene in the evaluative mode,

which is one of three metering modes on offer. In addition to the fully

automatic evaluative mode, the SLT-A55 offers a center weighted and

spot metering mode. 

 

 

Shutter Speed

(10.00)


The SLT-A55 offers a wide shutter speed range, from a minimum of

1/4000 of a second out to maximum of 30 seconds. A bulb mode is also

offered, where the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter is

pressed down. 

 

 

Self-Timer*(3.00)*


The usual options are available for taking delayed images: a 2 and

10 second delay, plus a smile detect mode that only takes the photo

when it detects a smile. 

In addition, the SLT-A55 supports an optional IR remote, which can

be used to take photos. No pricing is currently available for this

remote control.  

 

Other Features

(6.00)


The SLT-A55 offers a number of special shooting modes, most of which

are useful (such as Auto HDR and Panorama), but the 3D panorama mode

feels like a poorly executed gimmick.

Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) – In this mode, the camera

processes a single captured image to show a wider dynamic range by

tweaking the gamma curve of the image processing. Although this can

bring out shadow details, it does not widen the dynamic range of the

sensor or the captured image. For examples of images shot in this mode,

see our sample photos section of this review.

 

Auto HDR – The camera takes 3 images at different exposure

settings, then processes them down into one image, producing an image

with more dynamic range than any single image the camera can capture.

This can be set to auto, or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 stop differences

between the images. For examples of this mode, see our sample photos

section.

Multi-frame noise reduction – In this special ISO setting,

the camera takes 3 images and then combines the results, with the

theory being that the combined images will have lower noise than one

single shot. It also allows for higher ISO settings: up to 25600. In

practice, it does seem to make a significant difference, with less

noise appearing in images, but it only works with still or slow-moving

objects: if anything moves in the frame (or the camera moves), the

image becomes blurred. Samples are shown in the Sample Photo section of this review.

Hand-Held Twilight – This mode has been seen on several of Sonys

point and shoot cameras. It works by taking 6 images, then combining

the sharpest parts of each into a single image. Again, it works well

with static objects, but movement produces blurs.

Panorama – The SLT-A55 can take panoramic images by taking several

images as the camera is panned and then combining them into a single,

larger image. This differs from the one-shot panorama that many Sony

point and shoot cameras can produce: in this, the camera shoots the

panorama as a single image, but the A55 shoots a lot of images and

combines them. Options are available for the direction of pan (left,

right, up and down), as well as the size (small or wide). Examples can

be seen on the Sample Photos page of panoramas shot in this mode.

3D Panorama – The SLT-A55 can shoot 3D panoramas, where the camera tries

to create a 3D panorama image by capturing separate images as you pan

the camera. The process is awkward: we typically found that it required

several attempts to get the shooting process right, with the camera

often complaining that we were moving too fast or too slow. The results

were not that impressive, either: there were obvious glitches in the

images we took where the camera had incorrectly joined the images

together, and the 3D look of the images was not consistent. You also

need a 3D HDTV to view the images, and there is no way to preview the

results on the camera screen. Basically, it feels like a poorly

executed gimmick rather than a useful feature.

Design & Handling

 

Handling*(7.00)*


Although the SLT-A55 is smaller than most SLR cameras, it is larger

than most interchangeable lens cameras. The body measures 4.8 bu 3.62

by 3.3 inches, which makes it a touch smaller than the Canon T2i, but

substantially larger than Sony’s own NEX-5. That is because of the

hybrid nature of this camera, which still includes the mirror of an

SLR, but one that does not move, so it needs fewer parts surrounding

it. The camera feels natural in the hand, with the wide, deep grip

providing plenty to hold onto and the textured rubber surface providing

a firm grip with sweaty hands. The index finger falls naturally onto

the shutter and power control, and can easily reach around to the

control dial on the front of the camera body

The thumb also falls naturally into an indentation on the back of

the camera, but it can also comfortably reach the movie shutter,

exposure compensation and AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) buttons. The latter

is especially important, as it is often used when shooting in low light

with spot metering: you center the subject, meter, then use the AEL

button to lock the exposure while framing the shot.

With the other hand bracing the camera body, the thumb can also

reach for the Fn button, which provides quick access to the shooting

control. With this combination, you can control all of the shooting

features of the camera without taking your eye away from the

viewfinder: an important factor if you are trying to shoot quickly and

efficiently.

 

Controls*(7.50)*


The SLT-A55 has no shortage of dials and buttons on the body: we

counted 19 buttons and switches plus the control dial on the 

camera body. That is a somewhat bewildering selection for the novice,

but it does put the options to hand for more experienced users. We do

find some of the choices a little unusual, though; the presence of a

dedicated button for the D-Range setting, but no secondary control dial

for controlling aperture in full manual mode seems like an odd set of

priorities.

 

Menu*(5.50)*


The menu of the SLT-A55 is divided into two parts: the function menu

that appears when you press the function button and the main menu that

is accessed with, appropriately enough, the menu button.

The function menu is designed for on the fly changes, such as changing

ISO or auto focus mode quickly. There are 12 options in total, arranged

in groups of 6 down the left and right sides of the camera screen. You

navigate by using the directional pad, then select an option by

pressing the center button.

 

The screen for the function then opens, with the options presented in a

list that you can scroll up and down through and select the option by

pressing the center key. A text explanation of the function is also

shown on the right side of the screen. Some of the major functions

(ISO, display, white balance, AF and drive mode) are also available

more directly from buttons on the camera body. When these are used, the

camera jumps straight to the control screen, skipping the function

menu. The function menu works pretty well, but it can involve some

button mashing by having to scroll up and down to reach the option you

need.

 

The main menu contains all of the options from the function menu and a

lot more, arranged in a tabbed structure, with just a single screen of

options per tab. Again, this involves quite a lot of scrolling around

to find specific options, especially as you can’t from the bottom of

the list of options to the top or vice versa.

 

**Manual &

Learning***(6.00)*


Our review model was supplied without documentation, but we were

able to review a PDF version of the instruction manual, which covers

both the A33 and the A55. We found this manual to be well written and

generally easy to use, with plenty of illustrations. Some aspects of

the camera are not discussed in any great detail: the image

stabilization of the camera only gets a single page. 

Video Color & Noise

**Video: Color Performance***(9.38)*


The Sony SLT-A55V managed to have good color accuracy in our bright light test, with its score besting the competition by a slight margin. The camera earned a color error of 3.73 and a saturation level of 98.59%. These color tests were performed in the camera's Standard color mode, but we have sample images from the other color settings available on the SLT-A55V below. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests color performance.

Take a look at the Color Error Map above and you'll see the camera did very well in rendering blue and purple tones accurately, but some reds and browns gave it trouble. The SLT-A55V's video clips seemed to be a bit on the dark side, which you can see clearly in the color mode sample images below. The last sample image below was recorded with the exposure level boosted a bit, and we think it looks better than the clips recorded with auto exposure.

The Standard color mode on the SLT-A55V produced the most accurate colors in our test, although the Portrait mode registered equally-accurate colors (and a slightly higher saturation level). You can customize the color modes on the camera—just like you can when taking photos—if there are certain tones or settings you want to enhance.

All of the cameras in this set did a good job in our color test, but the Sony SLT-A55V had the best overall numbers. The Sony NEX-5 was the only other model that had close to 100% saturation level in auto mode, while the Canon Rebel T2i and Nikon D5000 had saturation levels hovering around 87%.

 

 

**Video: Noise Performance***(11.95)*


Cameras that record video usually perform very well in this test, and the Sony SLT-A55V definitely falls into this category. The camera produced an average noise level of 0.395% in its bright light video. This was less noise than all but one of the cameras in this set registered in this test (the Nikon D5000 had the least amount of noise). Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests noise performance.

Related content

You can get a good idea of how much sharpness and detail each camera is capable of capturing in video mode by looking at the crops above. The Nikon D5000 is the only model in this set that does not record Full HD (it tops out with a 1280 × 720 video resolution), so that's why its image doesn't look nearly as sharp as the competition. Overall, we like the smooth lines captured by the SLT-A55V, and it managed the best video sharpness numbers in this set of cameras.

Video Motion & Sharpness

**Video: Motion Performance***(7.75)*

 


The Sony SLT-A55V records Full HD video with a 60i frame rate, which is what you commonly see on consumer camcorders (including Sony models). The camera also has a 1440 × 1080 MP4 record mode that uses a 30p frame rate, but we didn’t see too much different between the motion quality of the two record settings.  Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests motion.

p.

Sony SLT-A55V

_ Click Here for large HD Version _

We like the way the A55V records motion, and the camera’s results in our motion test were similar to the Sony NEX-5. The SLT-A55V did capture a smoother video image, however, and there was slightly less artifacting and interference than what we saw on the NEX-5. Our main complaint is that there’s no 24p mode on the SLT-A55V.

 

Canon Rebel T2i

_ Click Here for large HD Version _

The Canon Rebel T2i captured some of the best motion video we’ve seen from a DSLR camera. It records using 24p or 30p frame rates, but it does not have a 60i or 60p mode. So, this means it essentially offers the opposite frame rate options than the Sony SLT-A55V.

 

Nikon D5000

_ Click Here for large HD Version _

The Nikon D5000 is behind the times in terms of its motion capturing capability. In our testing, the camera recorded choppy motion video with terrible interference and jagged lines. The camera also had a very bad rolling shutter problem, although this is a common issue with video-capable DSLRs. The Nikon D5000 records video using a 24p frame rate.

 

Sony NEX-5

_ Click Here for large HD Version _

As we said before, the NEX-5 captured motion in a similar manner to the Sony SLT-A55V, but we liked what we saw from the A55V a bit more. The NEX-5 had more artifacting, its video looked a bit choppier, and there was more blur noticeable in the rotating pinwheels in our test.

**Video: Sharpness***(11.15)*


With its Full HD (1920 × 1080) recording capability, we expected the Sony SLT-A55V to put up a strong showing in this test. The camera did not disappoint, as it measured a horizontal sharpness of 700 lw/ph and a vertical sharpness of 725 lw/ph. These numbers were the best out of the other video-capable DSLRs we compared it to, although we have seen better sharpness scores from consumer HD camcorders. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests video sharpness.

 

Video Low Light Performance

 

 

**Video: Low Light Sensitivity***(6.30)*


The SLT-A55V needed 11 lux of light to hit 50 IRE on our waveform monitor. In a strange coincidence, this was the same amount of light required by the other three cameras we compared it to. This makes it rather simple to compare the A55V's low light sensitivity to the competition.  Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light sensitivity.

There are a number of factors that go into determining low light sensitivity, and a lot of it depends on what kind of lens you use. We did all our testing with the 18 – 55mm kit lens, so it is likely that you could get better low light sensitivity if you shot video using a faster lens.

 

**Video: Low Light Color Performance***(8.23)*


The Sony SLT-A55V had a slight drop in color accuracy during our low light testing, but its numbers were still solid. The camera registered a color error of 4.26 and a saturation level of 89.63%, which are both worse than the camera managed in our bright light shooting. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light color performance.

In low light, it appears the A55V had more trouble with green and yellow tones, while it continued to render blues very accurately. It also didn't do too bad with reds, which was one of the SLT-A55V's biggest problems in our bright light color test. Looking at the comparison images below, you'll see that the SLT-A55V actually looks very good pitted against the competition. Its colors are very strong and deep, although the saturation levels on all of the cameras shown below hovered around 90%.

 

 

**Video: Low Light Noise Performance***(11.97)*


The Sony SLT-A55V continued its strong low light performance with a  good showing in our low light noise test. The camera averaged 0.6725% noise, which is higher than it managed in our bright light test, but more noise in low light is a normal occurrence (and it is something we expect). The Sony's noise numbers fair very favorably to the competition, which you can see in our score comparison chart at bottom of this section. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light noise performance.

We think the Sony SLT-A55V looks very good when you look at the crops above. Its low light image doesn't have the pink discoloration that we saw from the Sony NEX-5 and it is certainly a whole lot sharper than both the NEX-5 and the Nikon D5000. The Canon Rebel T2i poses the stiffest competition to the SLT-A55V, but we like the smooth lines captured by the Sony (look at the horizontal trumpet at the bottom of the crop)—and the Canon's image had a tad more noise in our low light test.

Video Features

 

 



Video: Compression*(11.00)*


 

The Sony SLT-A55V has two compression options for recording video:

AVCHD and MP4. The AVCHD mode captures Full HD video at a 1920 × 1080

resolution and a 17Mbps bitrate, which are similar to the specs you’ll

find on Sony’s consumer camcorders. The MP4 mode has two quality

settings: a 1440 × 1080 HD mode and a 640 × 480 standard definition

setting.

The advantage of having both AVCHD and MP4 compression options is

that it gives you more versiatility when recording video. AVCHD clips

can be difficult to work with on a computer, but they look great when

viewed on a high definition television. On the other hand, MP4 clips

are easy to play back on a computer and upload to the internet, but

they won’t look as good on a TV (especially considering the MP4 modes

on the A55V use lower bitrates to record video).

 

 



Video: Manual Controls*(4.75)*

 


 

Auto Mode

Since the SLT-A55V doesn’t really have any manual

controls in video mode, you must rely in the camera’s automatic

settings for everything except focus and exposure. This lack of

aperture and shutter speed control will probably not please Sony fans

who are looking for a more versatile DSLR to record video, but it does

make things simple.

The A55V does exposue video quite well during recording and its

autofocus mechanism is one of the best we’ve seen from a video-capable

DSLR. The focus doesn’t work quite as quickly as what you get on a

consumer camcorder, but it is close.

 

Zoom Controls and Zoom Ratio

Zoom on the SLT-A55V is

entirely determined by the kind of lens you have attached to the

camera. The kit lens we did our testing with was a traditional 18-55mm

lens, which is close to a 3x optical zoom. Zoom is adjusted by rotating

the lens ring.

 

Focus

Focus is an area where the SLT-A55V has an advantage

over other video-capable DSLRs, most of which do not have the ability

to autofocus during video recording. Wit Sony’s Translucent Mirror

Technology, however, the camera can perform a continual autofocus

during recording (or before recording) without the need to press or

hold a button.

The focus is fairly quick, but it is a bit noisy. If you want to

record clean audio, you may want to stay away from the live autofocus

feature, or use an external mic with the camera (and hold it far enough

away so it doesn’t pick up the clicks and motor noise caused by the

autofocus mechanism). Of course, you can also manually focus using the

camera’s outermost lens ring.

 

Exposure, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

Of the controls

listed above, only exposure can be set manually in video mode on the

Sony SLT-A55V. You can set the exposure by rotating the control dial on

the front-right of the camera after pressing the +/- exposure button.

Confusingly, you can adjust aperture and shutter speed on the

camera, but once you press the record button the camera reverts to

automatic settings (for everything except exposure).

 

ISO* and Other Controls*

Just like aperture and

shutter speed, you cannot adjust the ISO manually in video mode. If you

select a specific ISO before beginning your video recording the setting

will revert to auto ISO after you press the record button.

The “Creative Style” color settings on the SLT-A55V can all be used

in video mode, as can the camera’s various white balance presets and

manual settings.

 



Audio Features*(2.25)*


The SLT-A55V has a built-in stereo mic and a 3.5mm mini mic jack for

connecting an external mic. Since the built-in mic is tiny and located

on the top of the camera, we don’t recommend using it if you want to

capture clean audio. It will pick up a lot of extraneous noise like the

camera’s autofocus system or the adjustment dial if you choose to

adjust exposure during recording. You can even turn audio recording off

in the camera’s menu if you don’t want to deal with that fucntion.

 

 

 

 



Video: Handling*(5.50)*


The Sony SLT-A55V is a true DSLR camera, which means that it is a

whole lot bigger than the compact Micro Four Thirds cameras that are

popping up with video capabilities. Still, the SLT-A55V isn’t too heavy

and it has a few good handling features that are good for video

recording. First of all, we love having a rotatable LCD on the back of

the camera when we record video. By having an LCD that can flip down,

you can easily capture shots at high or low angles without contorting

your body. The LCD isn’t quite as flexible as what you see on most

consumer camcorders, but it is still a good design and it is far better

than a flat, stationary screen.The camera also has a viewfinder that can be used during video

recording, which is great if you’re shooting in a high-glare situation.

 

When you frame your shot using the SLT-A55V you may notice a slight

alteration in the size of the frame after you begin recording. Video

mode appears to have a slightly smaller frame (the image zooms in a

bit) than what you see on the LCD prior to recording. It isn’t a huge

difference, though, and we’ve seen far worse discrepencies on other

video-capable DSLRs.

 

 

The grip on the right side of the A55V is snug and tight, so it may be

uncomfortable for people with very large hands. The fact that the grip

is tight does make the camera easier to weild with one hand, however,

which is a definite plus. Overall, the SLT-A55V doesn’t have much in

the way of manual controls in video mode, so you’ll mostly be

concentrating on holding the camera still and perhaps doing a focus or

zoom while you shoot video. Most of the buttons and controls on the

back of the camera don’t have a function in video mode, so you don’t

need to worry about them.

Canon T2i Comparison

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

Nikon D5000 Comparison

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

Panasonic DMC-G2 Comparison

 

 

 

 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

Sony NEX-5 Comparison

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but

are included here to show real-world examples of the differences

between cameras at the various ISO settings.*

Conclusion

Specs & Ratings

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