Today, Sony introduced two new interchangeable lens cameras—with a twist. Unlike the usual DSLRs, with mirrors that flip up during shooting to allow light to strike the sensor, the A55 and A33 use "Translucent Mirror Technology." In place of a mirror, there's a fixed film that's reflective enough to direct light to the autofocus sensor while simultaneously transmitting light to the image sensor behind it. That means that phase detection autofocus can be in effect the entire time you're shooting, with no interruptions when you click the shutter. This includes video—these two cameras are the first cameras on the market to use continuous phase detection AF while shooting HD footage. Another unique quality of these two cameras? Instead of the usual pentaprism viewfinder, there's an electronic viewfinder, which shows you exactly what the sensor sees.
For the past week I've been shooting with a pre-production version of the A55. Here are my impressions.
The Camera Body
Because there's no pentaprism, the body of the A55 is more compact than a normal midrange DSLR, which means there's a bit less real estate for control buttons. The Function button allows you to access most of the controls you'll need while shooting, though you can't change compression or go from JPEG to RAW from there. Instead, you'll need to hit the Menu button to scroll through the camera's main menus (this can be frustrating because the camera's automatic HDR feature can only be accessed while shooting JPEG).
This is a midrange body, so there's only a single control dial. That's never a wonderful thing, but it gets more awkward than usual with this camera because the exposure compensation button (also the button which allows you to toggle between adjusting f/stop and shutter speed while shooting Manual) is on a plane of the camera that's angled forward. Trying to hold it down while moving the control wheel often gave me the feeling that I would lose my grip on the camera, particularly when I was shooting with a heavier lens.
In a move that we will hope is the norm in the future, Sony's added a tilting and swiveling LCD, which is really useful for live view shooting from any angle.