Sony A55 Excellent, Worthy Award-winning DSLR

Nov 28, 2011 (Updated Nov 28, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Easy to learn, reasonably priced, Sony reputation backed by great warranty, lots of available lenses.

Cons:HDR image processing takes 3+ seconds, Sony A-compatible lenses generally 5-10% more than other brands

The Bottom Line: I LOVE this camera and highly recommend it for its ease-of-use, features, and quality.

I bought this camera in May, so my review reflects about 6 months of experience with the camera. I consider myself a sort-of-serious hobbyist.

In short, if you're looking for a very solid but not overly bulky, reasonably priced, and high-quality consumer DSLR, I highly recommend this camera. As of this review's writing, it's been about a year since it received Popular Photography magazine's Camera of the Year Award (2010) and since then, Sony has introduced some higher-end consumer and pro cameras (notably the A65 and A77) so the price is dropping slowly. Frankly, I thought it was a bargain at $799. Kits, of course, offer great value - just don't expect high-end specialty lenses. (Hint: look for a kit that includes genuine Sony lenses, then decide what kind of higher-end lenses YOU want to play with/invest in later.)

Much has been made by more technical-types of the Sony's Translucent Mirror Technology, but from my perspective, new technology often = problematic features. Not so in this case! For one thing, this is totally behind-the-scenes technology - it affects the way the camera's innards work, but does not affect the way you take pictures.

OK. The rest of this review is about MY experience and MY opinions about the camera. For a feature-by-feature, inside-the-technology review, look at DPS Reviews (Digital Photography School) - they're quite good, and feature both high-tech, in-depth reviews aas well as more general overviews.

My experience and features I like, in no particular order:

It's a good size. I'm 5'2" and petite, and it fits me great - which is not only great for me, but also for my subjects. Who wants a huge honking camera in their face? This one doesn't scream PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER ON THE SCENE, so folks relax fairly quickly when you pull it out. I hike a lot, and with the right bag, I can carry the A55, a couple of lenses, hoods, a handful of fun-to-play-with filters, a water bottle, extra battery, and more stuff than I really need, for miles without feeling like I'm lugging too much. That said, the buttons, including dial and rotary menu buttons, aren't squished together, so I think it would be just as comfortable a "fit" for folks with larger hands.

What you see is what you get! The viewfinder and LCD screen provide a very true representation of what your photo will look like - size- and color-wise. I've found that what I see relative to brightness varies a bit in the image (on my computer screen and printed), more with some lenses and less with others.  Generally, pictures are a bit brighter than they appear on screen/viewfinder. The 15-point auto focus works as advertised - that is, quite well. I've found no disappointing out-of-focus portions or fishbowl effect in any my shots (and embarrassing as this is, I've taken over 5,000 so far).

NO shutter lag. Like none. Professionals may argue but I have tried and tried to concentrate on noticing any lag and I simply haven't. I also love the 10 fps (frame per second) feature, especially for sports shots but also for kids and animals playing.

It's been widely touted as "Good in low light" and it is. Yes, you'll have some noise/graininess at ISO settings 6400 and up. Duh. (Does anyone remember film?) Having a very steady hand helps, as does the HDR feature.

I'll admit I haven't used HDR (High Dynamic Range) much, however, and my eye isn't refined enough to provide a great analysis. If you want to read more about that feature, please see a more technical review of the Sony A55. What I know about using it: after taking a shot using one of the HDR settings (there are 2, with varying degrees of each available) it takes 3-4 seconds for the camera to process the image. Which annoys the impatient, like me, which is another reason I haven't used that feature much.

Three things beginners/those who need a refresher might want to know:
1. Onscreen tips are very helpful. One of the reasons I gravitated toward the A55 in the first place were the high-context menus. Hover just a moment over any feature and you'll get a 1-2 sentence description and tip on how/when to use. You can turn it off when you know it all, but I probably won't. The extra popup-like menus don't seem to be any drag on battery/performance, and I'll never know everything about photography or this camera's features.

2. Something that surprised me, and you need to know if you're venturing into digital SLR territory for the first time/first time in a long time - the image files are BIG. Most of my images are in the 7-10 MB range. So, first, get a BIG, brand-name SD memory card. Or two. And second, don't expect a quick-upload to Facebook! Of course, you can reduce the file size by shooting at a lower resolution in the first place or reduce file size using your photo processing program (I'm using iPhoto while I'm learning Photoshop Elements). And if you're a quick learner who wants to shoot RAW, you can with the A55.

3. There are LOTS of lens choices available for the Sony A- or "Alpha" mount, including a bunch of "old" Minoltas, so as you grow into this camera, you won't be limited by lens choice.

Happy shooting!

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