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A New Breed of Camera

I first laid my hands on the Sony Alpha A55 (and the smaller, less expensive Alpha 33) at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City last September.

What interested me in this new camera was its fixed translucent mirror. In a conventional DSLR, the reflex mirror reflects the image into the viewfinder and then swings out of the way when you press the shutter to send the image to the “film” light sensor. In the Alpha 55, the translucent mirror sends a small portion of the incoming image to the viewfinder and the remainder to the “film” light sensor. This stationary mirror gives the camera several unique features that I’ll describe shortly. This technology isn’t new. In the early 1960′s Canon made a model called the Pellix using a similar scheme with a pellicle mirror. My uncle bought this camera back then, one of the first to have Through The Lens metering (TTL) and it served him well for many years.

The A55’s translucent mirror eliminates the reflex mechanism providing a space, weight and cost savings. Removing this mechanical assembly also allows for a higher frame rate. Next, the electronics measuring the auto exposure remain uninterrupted from frame to frame giving instant responses to varying changes in lighting. Similarly, the auto focus system stays 100% available – a very important consideration for high speed continuous shooting.

While both the A55 and A33 look and function like DSLRs, they sport an Electronic View Finder. The viewfinder is like a miniature television – the image is an electronically enhanced display.

The result is that the A55 has an impressive set of features for intermediate and advanced photographers: lightweight (17.5 ounces), high speed continuous shooting (10 frames per second), 100% frame coverage in viewfinder and on the LCD, full-time auto focusing with 1080 High Definition video,, a large high-res tilt-swivel LCD, built-in panorama mode, built-in High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode, built-in GPS for automatic phototagging and Sony’s new 16.2 megapixel sensor.

I played with the A55 for only ten minutes or so at the PhotoPlus Expo where I shot a group of BMX cyclers at Sony’s booth. In fairly dim light I was able to capture very decent results at 6 to 7 frames per second. I was so impressed with the list of features of this camera that when I returned home from the show, I placed an order for one. Apparently, so did a lot of others – mine was backordered until late December.

I’ve been using the Alpha 55 on and off for two months, so I feel quite familiar with how it performs.

Without any of its enhanced features, the A55 is comparable to the medium-range DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus. Among the many cameras in our inventory are models that are comparable in price and features to the Sony Alpha A55.

Having used both the Canon T2i and Nikon D5000 for months I’ve listed the comparable “standard” features.

 

Feature

Sony Alpha A55

Canon T2i

Nikon D5000
Sensor

16MP

18MP

12.3MP
Auto Focus

15-point

9-point

11-point
ISO sensitivity

100 to 12800

100 to 6400

200 to 3200
Exposure compensation

+/- 2 stops

+/- 5 stops

+/- 2 stops
Highlight retention

D-Range optimizer – 5 settings

Auto light optimizer – 3 settings

D-lighting – 4 settings
Depth of field preview

yes

no

no

Exposure bracketing

yes

yes

yes
LCD monitor

3″ 910K pixel swiveling

3″ 1.1M pixel fixed

2.7″ 230K pixel swiveling
Video

1080p HD with stereo mic (stereo external)

1080p HD with monaural mic (stereo external)

720p HD with monaural mic (stereo external)
Image stabilization

SteadyShot built-in

uses lens based stabilization

uses lens based stabilization

 

The Alpha A55 is at least an equal to both the Canon XSi and Nikon D5000 based on these standard features. What makes the A55 stand above them and above several other cameras costing hundreds of dollars more are its enhanced features.

Below is my list of these enhanced features. While a few of these are found in other cameras, the A55 is truly unique with Sony having engineered such an impressive number into a single body.

Enhanced features – unique to Alpha A55
electronically controlled 1.1 MP resolution viewfinder
articulated (movable) LCD swivels 180 degrees vertically and 270 degrees horizontally
100% field coverage with multiple information overlays
full-time autofocus using fast phase detection
high speed 10 frames per second exposure
in-camera panorama photos
in-camera high dynamic range photos
multi frame noise reduction
built-in GPS tags images with location

In Part 2 and Part 3 I’ll discuss these features in detail and show you examples.

 

Written by Arnie Lee

 


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