Sony Alpha A55 review

The first DSLR to use a translucent mirror is part of a new breed of digital cameras

Sony Alpha A55
Those who use live-view will appreciate the fast autofocus and articulated swivel screen

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Having a 3-inch articulated swivel screen is an incredibly useful tool when shooting out and about. As the screen can be adjusted to pretty much any angle it will save countless muddy knees on those occasions when you wish to shoot from a low angle. This coupled with the fast phase detection autofocus makes for a very flexible system, allowing your creativity to go beyond what can be seen at eye-level.

Fifteen autofocus (AF) points, of which three are cross-type, can either be selected individually, or set as a wide area providing plenty of options for most shooting scenarios. In use the AF system is quick and accurate, most of the time, but it can struggle to keep up with moving subjects and will occasionally miss-focus altogether. Still, for the most part it is a reliable system, making the live view feature feel truly integrated, instead of a bolt on afterthought.

Previous cameras with translucent mirrors, such as the Canon EOS 1N RS, used them to allow fast continuous shooting speeds with no viewfinder blackout. The Sony Alpha 55 certainly achieves the fast shooting, with a maximum continuous shooting rate of 10 frames per second, but during shooting the screen freezes after each frame and blacks out completely for a while whilst the images are written to the card in any of the manual exposure modes.

This blackout time can be quite considerable, especially if shooting raw images, or even worse if shooting raw and JPEG files simultaneously. The only way around this is to select the automatic 10 frames per second mode from the dial on top of the Sony A55 body. This mode reduces the screen blackout and allows continuous AF to be used. Unfortunately it also removes the ability to adjust the shutter speed or aperture, which may be an issue in some situations.

This novel mirror also allows continuous AF during Sony A55 video recording, allowing the camera to keep up with moving subjects. In principle this is a great feature for those using the camera for video, although it it worth noting that the AF speed is much reduced during video recording and that the sound made by the lens can be heard in the recordings.

The quality of the Sony A55 video is excellent, with clear, crisp footage being produced, even in low light conditions. As it is full HD, your Sony A55 video will look great on your HD television and the AVCHD format used for recording Sony A55 video is widely supported.

The usual array of scene modes and picture styles are all included as well as a few interesting additions. A sweep panorama function makes taking a wider view quite straightforward as you simply move the camera in the direction the camera requests. It then takes pictures continuously and merges them automatically. An automatic HDR function is also provided, allowing shots up to six stops apart to be merged into one image with increased dynamic range.