•World’s first digital camera with fixed translucent mirror
•Full HD video with full-time phase detect AF and AF tracking
• World’s first ‘DSLR’ type camera with electronic viewfinder
•10fps (a55) or 7fps (a33) burst shooting
•16.2MP (a55) and 14.2MP (a33) CMOS sensor
•3inch free-angle LCD screen
•3D Sweep Panorama
Sony has just launched the first two in its next generation of Alpha cameras, the a55 and a33. The cameras are Sony’s first DSLRs to feature HD video, as well as features such as 10 frames per second burst shooting and, for the first time in its DSLR range, Sony’s ground-breaking Sweep Panorama technology.
In fact the new cameras are not strictly DSLRs because they have electronic rather than optical viewfinders. The key feature of the a55 and a33 is the fixed translucent mirror (known as Translucent Mirror Technology), added for the first time to a digital camera (a similar technology featured in the Canon EOS RT 35mm SLR back in 1989) which enables continuous LiveView, with full phase detection AF, without closing off the viewfinder. This means that the full AVCHD 1080i HD video offers full phase-detection based auto focus technology in movie mode, including AF tracking of moving subjects. It also means that users can use the viewfinder as well as the LCD screen to shoot video. The fixed mirror also enables the a55 to shoot at a class leading 10 frames per second (and the a33 at 7fps).
Sony may be one of the last manufacturers to introduce HD video to its DSLR range but the company claims that its technology takes DSLR video to the next level. Paul Genge, Sony UK’s Technical Field Sales manager for Alpha said, ‘People have been asking when Sony would get around to adding video modes to its DSLRs and we said that we’d introduce it when we could do it better than anyone else. That time is now.’ He added, ‘These new Alpha DSLRs vastly exceed anything currently on the market’
The a55 features an all new 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, while the a33 features the same 14.2 MP CMOS sensor used in the recently launched NEX3 and NEX5 compact system cameras. Both of the new Alphas feature Bionz processors.
For viewing, both cameras boast a 3inch widescreen XtraFine free-angle LCD screen with TruBlack technology and 921k pixel resolution, in addition to the electronic ‘Tru-Finder’ which offer 1.44 million pixel resolution with 100% coverage. Both cameras accept both Memory Stick and Secure Digital (SD) media cards.
The cameras boast superior ISO performance to previous Alpha models, topping out at 12,800, or 25,600 using the new Multi-Frame NR function. Sony claims a two stop improvement in noise levels over the previous a500/a550 series. Focusing is achieved via a new 15-point system featuring 3 cross hair sensors, and is claimed to be 20% more sensitive in low light than its predecessor, while in single focus point focus mode the focus point can be manually moved around the scene during movie recording, for ‘pull focus’ effects. A new 1200 zone evaluative metering also features, along with usual spot and centre-weighted options.
The new Alphas bring together technology from Sony’s Alpha and Cybershot cameras including the award-winning Sweep Panorama (which in the Alphas is capable of 3D) Twilight Mode, Face Detection, Smile Shutter and eight scene modes. The Auto HDR mode has been improved, and a new Auto+ mode added which is based on scene recognition. Other new features include a Digital Level Gauge, which can indicate both pitch and yaw and, the a55 additionally incorporates integrated GPS, for automatic geo-tagging of images and video.
Sony have also announced the release of two further models, the a580 and a560, that will sit below the a55 and a33 in their range. The main distinction between the two sets is the use of a more traditional optical viewfinder in the a580 and a560 models, due to the lack of translucent mirror and therefore ability to use the viewfinder for video capture.
Both a55 and a33 cameras will be available from next month. At this time the a580 and a560 will shipping exclusively to the US, with UK to follow at a later date, and no plans to release them in Japan.
Sony do not give precise RRPs for their cameras but have provided approximate guide price ranges for the new Alphas, with the standard 18-55mm kit lens, as follows:
Watch our video preview: