Once again, Sony has produced a very capable DSLT that should find favour with anybody looking for their first camera of this kind.
If you're already a Canon or Nikon user, it's unlikely to tempt you away from the longer established brands, but for those without any previous loyalties or kit, this is a very tempting proposition.
Although many people will be put off by the thought of an electronic viewfinder, devices such as this go some way to convincing the dubious that EVFs are not the terrible compromise they once were. In fact, at very high resolution and increased contrast and brightness, it's almost akin to using an optical viewfinder but with the added benefit of being able to see live changes and the taken image previewed.
We've been particularly impressed by low light performance, with noise control very good at the top of the sensitivity run.
If you're not that interested in raw format shooting, you've got a wide range of fun and interesting features on offer here. There's a much more extensive range of Picture Effects, while beginners may be tempted by functions such as Auto Object Framing. Sweep Panorama is a fun feature too that will probably particularly appeal to the holidaying photographer.
Putting aside any niggles about the screen and focusing mechanism, images produced by the Sony a58 are very good and are arguably the best thing about the camera, which is probably the most important thing.
It's a little disappointing not to have a fully articulating screen. While tilting screens do have their benefits, for not much more bulk than is on offer here, the added flexibility of a fully articulating screen could have been added. It also doesn't flip up 180 degrees, as the Sony NEX-3N does, which is very useful for self-portraits.
Like with other Sony cameras, both in the Alpha and NEX range, we are left a little frustrated with what can and can't be shot in raw format shooting mode. Having to constantly delve into a main menu to switch between raw and JPEG formats soon becomes tiring, and we'd really hoped that Sony would either enable functions such as Picture Effects to be shot in both formats, or come up with a quicker way to disable raw format shooting.
Probably the biggest drawback of this camera is the slow focusing, which can be a little frustrating in certain situations. Although it probably will have little impact on general and holiday scenes, if you find yourself trying to shoot something a little more serious then you might quickly get tired of lenses hunting around for focus and, with certain optics, the loud noise emitted.
We tested the camera with both the 18-55mm kit lens and a 50mm f/1.8 optic and found the problem occurred with both lenses.
We're a little disappointed not to see a touchscreen incorporated on this camera, too. With the Canon 100D and Canon 700D showing us how useful these can be on DSLR (type) cameras, we'd expect an electronic giant like Sony to have touchscreen technology at its disposal. That said, for the time being this camera is significantly cheaper than its main Canon rivals, so perhaps it was more of a cost issue.
We find the Menu system on Alpha cameras to be much more intuitive than on NEX cameras, despite both ranges being manufactured by the same company. Using the function menu for the majority of settings is a good way to make everyday changes, and aside from the ability to switch on/off raw format shooting, will probably save you delving into the main menu in all but rare occasions.
We've been impressed by the detail, colour rendition and generally good exposures in the images the Sony a58 shoots. Watch out when you're shooting in lower light, though, and remember to dial in some exposure compensation in certain situations and you'll soon find you're producing very pleasing images. As with any camera, spending some time getting to know its particular quirks will be rewarded well.
Overall, Sony has produced a very good camera in the Alpha a58, and we're sure that anybody who buys one will be very pleased with its performance. At its current retail price of £449 / US$599.99 / AU$799 with the 18-55mm kit lens, it also offers excellent value for money, especially compared with its closest rivals.