Hands-On: Sony a58 Translucent Mirror Camera

We take Sony's new entry-level SLT to the Museum of Natural History in NYC

Sony a58

Sony a58

Sony's a5x camera line has been dutifully marching ahead since the a55 won our Camera of the Year award back in 2010. We took the new a58 equipped with the revamped version of their new 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 SAM II kit zoom lens to the Natural History Museum in New York for some sample images. The lighting was a bit tricky at times, but for a $600 complete DSLR kit, it performed impressively.

On many levels, the a58 is a lot like the a57. Handling is very similar and composition and review are handled by the same team made up of an OLED eye-level finder and a rotating LCD screen. Not much change there.

Megapixel count has been bumped up over 20 from 16 in the previous model and ISO still tops out at 16000. While upping resolution can have a negative effect on noise performance, the extra resolution makes applying noise reduction a little less destructive. And despite the extra data moving through the pipes, it can still push 5 FPS in full resolution mode. There's also a 1.3x crop mode which lets you go to 8 fps and allows the AF system to have full coverage over the scene, which is a nice touch.

The button layout is easy to navigate, but not entirely without its quirks. Since there's no dedicated button for selecting an AF point, I had to assign the task to the programmable AE-L button and even then, the process meant navigating through two quick menu screens before you could actually move your AF point around. This may not ever even occur to many first-time DSLR owners, but if you're used to being able to select your AF point with ease, it may slow you down a little.

But, despite the selection process, the AF system itself seemed fairly fast in both still and video mode. That's not that surprising, though, considering the SLT's history. One thing I did notice about the revamped 18-55mm kit lens is that it flared pretty easily. Most of the time it wasn't enough to ruin an image and Sony informed us that these were pre-production units, so we'll have to get a feel for the performance during our full test, but it's something you'll almost certainly notice in the sample images.

The sample image gallery was all shot in Fine Large JPEGs exported through Lightroom 4.3. No adjustments were added unless noted in the caption. All were shot on the new 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 SAM II lens.

Check out the sample images for more insight into the a58 and look for our full lab test in the coming months. But, barring any unexpected drops in image quality on our lab tests, the a58 sure seems like a serious contender at the entry-level price point. Lots of resolution, fast operation, 60i video at 1080p and an OLED viewfinder for $600 with a lens? That's pretty tough to beat. At least on paper.

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The lighting in this butterfly exhibit wasn't overly dark, but it also wasn't very even. Lots of hot spots and a less-than-ideal color temperature. The camera seemed to handle it fine, though. It was also incrediby humid inside the butterfly room and the camera didn't fog, which suggests the weather sealing is actually solid for an entry-level camera. ISO: 800 Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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Lots of mixed lighting conditions to be found in the museum, this one encompased both indirect sunlight and tungsten. Set on auto WB, it did a fine job getting the daylight right and letting the tungsten go warm. ISO: 1000 Shutter Speed: 1/60th sec Aperture: F/4.5 Focal Length: 18mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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To check out the in-body Steady Shot, this was taken at 1/4 sec at 55mm. You can see it does a pretty good job. In our test, I don't expect it to be quite as effective as the in-lens systems offered by other makers, but at the entry-level, the benefit of having every lens stabilized is very tangible. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/4 sec. Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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This close-up portrait of FDR (not the real one, obviously) was taken in a hurry. As you can see, the color temperature isn't perfect, but the image quality is nice and the focus was quick to get where it needed to go thanks to the face detection. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/15 sec Aperture: F/4 Focal Length: 18mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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Another tricky subject. These shiny pie decorations threw all kinds of crazy reflections. We're still at ISO 3200, so the color accuracy suffers a bit, but these were such an odd color it's almost hard to tell. Despite the shiny surfaces, though, the specular (blown out) highlights are kept very acceptable. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/15 Aperture: F/4 Focal Length: 18mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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This image was straightened slightly in Lightroom, so the total resolution has been slightly reduced. It's a good example of how it performs in daylight at a middle ISO. The purple fringing around the blown out windows is actually pretty manageable thanks to the in-camera reduction system. ISO: 1000 Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 28mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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Shot through glass, this photo is included simply so you can see the fine detail in the hair and horns at ISO 3200. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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A chance to check out the fine detail rendering at ISO 3200. That's where the auto ISO tops off. Some of the smaller details start to get a bit muddy, but even up past this, you can get images that are more than fine, especially if you're displaying them on the web. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/25th sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 50mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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Some vibrant blue butterflies under imperfect light. Again, you can see a bit of muddiness in the small details thanks to the high ISO, but it might actually be a little less than you'd expect. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/25 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 50mm DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES VERSION
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Not a beautiful shot, but a particularly tricky exposure scenario with lots of big, dark areas, mixed light, and high contrast. It gives you an idea of the dynamic range of the new sensor at high ISO ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/20 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 50mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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Here's where you start to see the flare from the lens. The small light (like the ones pictured in the frame) at the corner of the frame caused all that flare and purple ghosting that goes across the frame. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/20 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 50mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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Another butterfly shot. Note the very decent color accuracy despite the light color and 3200 ISO. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/20 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 50mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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More indirect daylight. This image was straightened in Lightroom so the overall resolution has been very slightly reduced. ISO: 800 Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec. Aperture: f/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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This is the beginning of an ISO comparison run. Check out the next couple images to see how the noise performance is affected as the ISO is jacked up. ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec. Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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ISO: 6400 Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec. Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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ISO: 12,800 Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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ISO: 16000 Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec. Aperture: F/5.6 Focal Length: 55mm DOWNLOAD FULL-RES VERSION
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