Sony Alpha a550 review
Image Quality & Value for Money
Sony Alpha a550 review - Tone & Exposure
Exposure is generally good when using Multi-Segment metering (except for the odd over-exposure when metering lighter subjects). However, the Spot meter is a little less refined, it feels as though the spot-area is relatively large and may underexpose in some circumstances. Tonally images are a little on the flat side, though in-camera Creative Styles such as Vivid mode can spruce this up where needed, or a bit of software post-production or Raw processing can help out.
Sony Alpha a550 review - RAW/JPEG
Sony's ARW Raw files allow output in Jpeg or Tiff when using the Image Data Converter SR V. 3.1 software. As unprocessed files, the Raw versions are similar to the Jpeg, though severity of noise differs depending on the level of processing.
Sony Alpha a550 review - Colour & White Balance
Colour is a little on the flat side, with ‘Standard' mode seeming to lack high contrast, though shooting in ‘Vivid' mode will push this to be punchier and more vibrant.
As with many Sony cameras, the Auto White Balance still sides a little towards the cooler blue feel. It's not an overwhelming issue, but portraits and similar shots may need an injection of warmth to spruce them back up.
Sony Alpha a550 review - ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
Obviously Sony's newly configured CMOS sensor set out to make low-noise images, especially with number-grabbing ‘ISO 12,800' headline. However, above ISO 800 there's a gradual increase in prominence of colour noise that, at the highest ISO 12,800 sensitivity, can even be seen when previewing on the rear LCD, making it notable when viewed at full size or as a print. However, image quality overall is an improvement over the Alphas of old, which is the key thing here - it's a step in the right direction.
Sony Alpha a550 review - Sharpness & Detail
The provided 18-55mm kit lens is a little soft, and there is notable chromatic aberration to the corners, particlarly when shooting wideangle. It's not unexpected, given kit lenses on the majority of DSLR releases tend to be reasonable at best. There's a lot of detail present, and the 14.2 megapixel sensor does a good job, but is probably better paired with a sharper lens.
Sony Alpha a550 review - Value for money
The a550 was released in tandem with the a500. The ultimate confusion of the a550's £640 street price is the a500's nigh-on identical £630 street price. In one very swift swoop the a550 trounces much of the need for the a500 in the market, and all for the sake of a tenner. In broader market terms of course, the a550 is pitching itself directly against the likes of the Canon 500D, Olympus E620 and Nikon D5000, and, with its high performance live view, in-camera stabilisation and now ultra-high ISO, decent image quality, it's got a firm chance of offering buyers unique advantage points in all those areas - except for its lacking of a video mode. If you're willing to pay around an extra £150, then even a Nikon D90 would also be in your grasp.