Sony’s two newest DSLRs share nearly identical bodies, but have a few differences inside.
Though we’ll still take an optical finder over an EVF any day, the higher-resolution versions we’ve seen lately, such as the 1.44-million-dot EVFs in the A55 and A33, aren’t at all bad to work with. These are sharp enough for manual focusing, especially if you take advantage of the focus magnifier that zooms in on whatever portion of the frame you choose.
As usual with EVFs, though, the view blanks out between burst shots, making it more difficult to pan along with a subject than with an optical finder. The blank-out time on these EVFs isn’t as bad as we’ve seen in some, but it’s still jarring.
These two cameras have very fast burst rates given their prices: 6 frames per second for up to 28 Fine-quality, full-size JPEGs with the A55, and up to 14 with the A33.
As it has in their compacts and ILCs, Sony included Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama in the A55 and A33. These let you frame your shot, hold down the shutter button, and pan the camera to capture a rapid succession of images that get stitched together in just a few seconds—one of the simplest ways we’ve encountered to create a panorama. It does limit your resolution in the vertical dimension, so it makes sense to shoot with the camera held vertically to maximize your pixel count.
The 3D version splits image pairs in the panoramic burst to create separate left- and right-eye images, then merges them for a 3D image viewable on 3D televisions that accept the CIPA standard MPO files. So far, we know that both Sony and Panasonic’s 3D TVs accept this standard, though as it’s part of the 3D TV spec, all should be able to handle them.
These cameras also merge images to great effect in their Auto HDR and Handheld Twilight shooting modes. Handheld Twilight takes advantage of the fact that high-ISO-related noise appears randomly. So by combining multiple shots of the same scene, it can merge together only those areas that have the least amount of noise. It’s even smart enough to realize when there’s movement in the scene, and to compensate so you don’t end up with three versions of the same jogger in your picture.
Auto HDR lets you select from 1, 2, or 3 stops’ worth of difference between three captured images to preserve more image detail in bright and/or dark areas of the scene that would otherwise be lost in a single exposure. It proved quite effective, although, like any HDR capture, it’s susceptible to ghosting when your subject (or the camera) moves between exposures, so you should probably use a tripod for Auto HDR shooting. Do it well, though, and you can end up with a great shot.
Video capture with the A55 and A33 is pretty much what most people have been waiting for from a DSLR—except that most standard Alpha lenses will likely add AF motor noise to the audio if you use the built-in mics. The continuous AF keeps up very nicely as you pan through a scene, and the quality of the footage captured is on a par with most consumer-grade HD camcorders. It’ll be interesting to see if Sony (or any other manufacturer) comes out with specialized video lenses with sound-damped AF motors for these cameras.
Sony has done a remarkable job of resurrecting semi-transparent mirror technology to create a new kind of DSLR, solving one of the toughest problems so far in video capture with a camera designed primarily for still imaging. It’s possible that contrast-AF technology might some day catch up with the continuous AF speed made possible by these cameras, but in the meantime, these two Sonys offer a wonderful still/video experience without sacrificing the level of still capture we’ve come to expect from DSLRs.