After having procrastinated for what seems like an eternity for me, I finally whipped out that shiny Citibank MasterCard of mine and punched yet another hole in my wallet for a new Sony Translucent Camera SLT-A55V. Having handled and played with it for a few days, here's some of my thoughts on this somewhat exciting yet gimicky little device.
The A55 is really small considering what it can do. Although the size is nothing to shout about compared to the Sony NEX mirrorless cameras, this SLT body seems like the offspring of an Sony NEX and a Sony DSLR, should they could ever come together and make babies. According to the brochures, the SLT-A33 and A55 are around 23-28% smaller than the A550, which is the exact model I've been using (and still) since 2009. The size difference may not be too appearant if you have a huge lens mounted on the SLT, but taking it off and comparing the A55 with the A550 side-by-side, the former does look like a somewhat minaturized version off the latter.
The A55's performance is exactly as promised by some of the greatest reviewers out there: it's fast, maintaining continuous focus at 6 frames per second (and 10fps under speed priority (selectable on the dial) if you really want to go crazy). I can't seem to turn off the review function when I'm on 10fps, which is odd. I can't imagine anyone wanting to review their pictures when the shuttle's moving at that speed. Sony should just channel all their Bionz's processing power to flush the images out of the buffer and onto the memory card instead of wasting it on displaying those frames on the LCD/EVF.
The A55's memory card chamber is a downgrade from Sony's previous offerings, in my opinion, from the A550's dual chamber (one for SD one for Memory Stick) to a single chamble that handles both formats. However, the A55 seems to be able to, in theory, support SD-XC cards. My biggest SD card to date is only 32GB, so I guess once I spend some money on a Sandisk 64GB card, I'll find out if the A55 can really handle writing onto a card bigger than 32GB.
The video recording function is redundant here, to me at least. Shooting in Full HD 1080i is no easy feat I gather, but the part where the sensor heats up to an unacceptable level after 9 minutes (with steadyshot on) or 29 minutes (with steadyshot off) sounds more like software restriction and/or design choice (by Sony) than an actual technological constraint to me. I guess anyone who makes camcorders on the side wouldn't mind their DSLR (or SLT) customers forking out more money to buy their dedicated video-only recording devices. Another annoying thing about the video recording function is that the sound from the focusing motors are recorded onto every video recording. The device has a jack for external mics, but I'm not sure just how effective those mics are in cutting out the noise from the focusing motors.
The 3D Panorama behaves exactly the same way as most Sony Cybershots (and NEXes) with rough and misaligned edges, so I won't be submitting any off those pictures to Dreamstime.
I haven't been able to get the built-in GPS to locate the camera's position after 48 hours. Think I'll give the camera a full day out in the sun before I start panicking and call the helpline.
Coming back to standard exposures (isn't that the whole reason why we buy these large cameras?), the added megapixels (from 14.2 to 16.2) doesn't appear to degrade the signal-to-noise ratio for Sony's Exmor APS-C sensor, which is a good thing. The maximum sensitivity of the sensor remains the same at 12,800, but Sony has managed to throw in the hand-held twilight feature (available on the NEX) and calling it multi-frame NR which increases the max ISO to 25,600. This sensitivity is not a "real" sensitivity as although you can shoot at full resolution with this sensitivity, you're restricted to shooting still scenes only as the A55 stacks 6 consecutive frames together to produce the final image. A multi-frame NR exposure at 25,600 is clearer and more detailed than a standard 12,800 exposure. And yes, Sony gives you multi-frame NR for all sensitivities, from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600.
For someone who's been using Sony DSLRs since their A350, the handling of the A55 is a breeze for me, with the exception of a few awkward buttons. For instance, in manual focus mode, the button to zoom in on a particular spot on either the live-view screen or the EVF is the delete button. Most of the primary controls are now on the main 4 direction keypad, which on older Sony DSLRs used to be for just scrolling up, down, left and right through the menus. The keys still have the same function once you've pressed the Fn button, but when the camera is in standby mode, the buttons are used for direct access to ISO, Display, White Balance and timer /single /burst control.
The Electronic view finder (EVF) is beautiful, probably one of the sharpest, brightest and biggest I've seen on such an affordable APS-C camera to date. At 1.4 million pixels, the preview is razor sharp and brighter than a traditional OVF.
Regardless of how some people might dismiss this camera as a toy, a gimmick or anything less than a DSLR, I'll be more than happy to submit pictures taken with this new APS-C device to Dreamstime. For someone who started out with a simple point-and-shoot, I am happy to report that this device has managed to squeeze some of the best features found on the most expensive point-and-shoot cameras we will find in the market today. Combining those features with the quality of JPEGs and RAWs that are up there with some of the best midrange DSLRs and employing the alpha-minolta lens mount, I am hopeful that the A55 will give birth to many, many children and grandchildren with higher specifications in the near future.
Happy shooting everyone, and let there be light :)