Sony's latest Single Lens Transparent ('SLT') camera - the Alpha A55 - adds GPS and a super-fast 10fps burst rate. Is the Sony A55 the dawn of a new digital camera revolution?
Sony Alpha A55 review – Features
At present, the A55 is the highest-specified SLT in the Alpha stable, though there’s the promise of more to come in the future. With a 16.2-megapixel APS HD CMOS sensor at its heart, it’s possible to shoot high-resolution images up to ISO 12,800, with the option to record 1080i HD movies as well. Added to this is Sony’s SteadyShot Inside image stabilisation system, whereby the sensor is designed to shift in order to counter shake from whatever lens (Sony A-mount or older Konica/Minolta-fit) is attached to the front.
Where the A55 truly excels is with its super-fast shooting capability. Whereas most cameras at this level are capable of shooting a few frames per second, their autofocus systems tend not to be able to predict focus or track moving subjects. This is where the A55 is clearly different: its translucent mirror doesn’t need to move when taking a shot, thus reducing the amount of mechanical movement and sync with the shutter to allow for a super-fast 10fps frames per second in live view mode. In addition, it also has the ability to continuously re-focus for impressive accuracy. The AF system offers a 15-point array with three cross-type sensors towards the centre for more accurate use in both portrait and landscape orientations.
As phase-detection autofocus is available to use in live view mode (unlike other DSLRs), the 1080i movie recording mode is able to take great advantage of this as the A55’s rapid, accurate and a truly continuous AF can easily glide between subjects.
Built into the body there’s a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) unit that captures location-based data and attaches this information to the EXIF data of each shot. This can be used to ‘geotag’ images (i.e. place where each shot was taken in order of physical location), which is particularly useful for ordering projects, re-locating locations. Many up-to-date websites and programs can utilise the data intelligently in a number of ways too.
However, the one ‘drawback’ (as some may see it) to the A55 is that it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder. Instead, an electronic viewfinder (sometimes abbreviated to ‘EVF’) sits in its place. An optical viewfinder would not be practical due to the camera’s construction (not enough light would reach it for a bright preview), and this is the price paid for garnering the advantages of a SLT system over a standard DSLR. The A55’s EVF is a 1.15 million-dot unit that offers an impressive 100% field of view to ensure that what you see in the frame precisely correlates to the image produced. On the rear of the camera there’s a 3in, 920k-dot (VGA) LCD screen that can also be used to compose images, and this is bracket-mounted to allow for a variety of vertical and horizontal rotations.
In addition to all the manual modes you could want, the A55 also features an Auto+ option for more simple point-and-shoot operation, as well as a variety of Scene modes. D-Range Optimiser, Handheld Twilight, Sweep Panorama and HDR (High Dynamic Range) Auto modes and the standard Creative Styles set found across the Alpha range also feature.