See It Live
Sony continues to deliver the best live-view shooting experience. A simple switch lets you choose between the optical finder and live view. Since the A550 uses a second, small CCD sensor near the pentamirror to provide the live preview, you can use the same phase-detection AF as you do with the optical finder. Other cameras employ slower contrast-detection AF systems in their live view modes.
To add flexibility to live-view shooting, the 3-inch, 921,600-dot LCD screen tilts downward or upward. It doesn’t swivel, like the LCDs of the D5000 and some Olympus DLSRs , but it’s useful when trying to get a shot while holding the camera overhead, or low to the ground.
The only drawback to Sony’s approach is that the LCD shows only 90 percent of the image you’ll capture, while all other manufacturers’ live-view modes show 100 percent. So, you’ll see more of the final image if you use the A550’s 95-percent accurate optical finder.
Like Sony’s new entry-level DSLRs, the A550 uses a graphical user interface. This depicts shutter speed and aperture using horizontal scales with icons at either end, to underscore the need for faster shutter speeds for fast moving objects, and smaller apertures for more depth of field.
It’s a nice system for beginners and a good reminder for the shooters Sony has in mind for the A550. More experienced photographers can choose to switch to a text-only interface.
The body design is significantly better than Sony’s entry-level DSLRs, with a prominent, wellcontoured grip. Though not quite as sculpted as the A850’s grip, it’s still quite nice. A single command wheel is located in front of and below the shutter button. While most single-wheel cameras put it on the back, this worked just as well in our field tests.
Despite our gripes (mostly price-related), we had fun using the A550. On a family outing to a park, it managed to capture our technical editor’s niece as she soared on a swing. With the camera in continuous AF and 5-fps high-speed burst mode, it took little effort to get a keeper.
If we hadn’t needed continuous AF and continuous metering, we could’ve opted for the Speed Priority continuous shooting mode to get up to 7 fps. Setting the camera to our preferences was simple, too, because there are numerous buttons that provide direct access to various functions. Another helpful control: Hit the function button, and you can adjust the most common settings via their display on the LCD—much as you can on some compact cameras. Interested in high dynamic range (HDR) photography? You’ll appreciate the A550’s Auto HDR mode. Turn it on by selecting it in the DRO part of the function menu, and the camera will take two exposures in quick succession with varying shutter speeds, then align and merge them.
By combining an underexposure with an overexposure, it achieves a wider dynamic range than a single, normally exposed image would. (You should use a tripod in this mode, since excessive movement can cause the automatic alignment to hiccup.)
We did see extra dynamic range in our test shots, and we’re impressed that the A550 is able to do this in the camera.