Sony DSLR-A550 Review

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Review posted 02/11/2010

Quick Take
Pros
Terrific performance in normal shooting modes; Unequalled performance when using Fast Autofocus Live View; Very comfortable body size and weight; Great ergonomics; Pleasing control layout; Unique Auto HDR (High Dynamic Range); Class leading frame rate (up to 7fps using "Speed Priority" and up to 5fps with Autofocus between frames); Dual Card slots (SDHC, MS Pro Duo); Superb 3-inch tilting LCD with 922,000 pixels; Excellent battery life; All lenses enjoy the benefits of a Super SteadyShot body based image stabilization system.

Cons
No way to turn off high ISO Noise Reduction (Normal or High options only); No video capture feature; No standard video out (mini-HDMI Port only); No included video cable (an HDMI cable is optional); No Depth of Field Preview or Mirror Lockup features; Slightly slower than maximum frame rate when using AF-C (Continuous AF) in some conditions (although the A550's frame rate is still outstanding for cameras in this price range).
Bottom Line
Sony has created yet another pleasing dSLR model that is likely to appeal to many photographers looking for a unique camera with the ability to perform well in a various shooting conditions. We were very impressed with the A550's abilities during our testing, especially when you consider the price point of this model, and have little doubt that the A550 will appeal to a wide variety of photographers (from the most experienced professionals, as well as photographers looking for their first dSLR). Read Steve's Conclusion to see our complete thoughts on the A500.
sony_a550_550.jpg


The Sony DSLR A550 is Sony's second model we've seen to hold a spot in their mid-level dSLR line of cameras. The A550 and A500 are very similar in features, with the A550 offering increased resolution at 14.2 Megapixles of resolution, and 921,600 pixels packed into the 3-inch tilting LCD, along with the A550's increased burst ratings up to 7fps. This model also has the new Exmor CMOS imaging sensor and Sony's fast BIONZ image processor to improve the ease of shooting and get clearer images.

 
Like its sibling, the A550 uses Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD and SDHC memory cards and is also compatible with Son's new 32GB Memory Stick PRO-Duo HX card.
 
DSLR-A550 Main Features :

  • 14.2-megapixel all new Sony Exmor 23.4x15.6mm (APS-C format)CMOS image sensor
  • BIONZ image processor
  • Anti-dust system automatically shakes dust off the imager
  • Sony Alpha/Minolta-A bayonet lens mount
  • Recording choice of JPEG, RAW, or RAW+JPEG
  • Shoot at 3:2 or 16:9 (HDTV) aspect ratios
  • Super SteadyShot anti-shake system with viewfinder indicator
  • D-Range Optimizer for greater highlight and shadow detail
  • Large tilting 3.0-inch TFT color Clear Photo LCD Plus screen with 922,000 dots
  • Quick Auto Focus Live View function allows you to use the LCD to frame your pictures
  • Penta-Dach-mirror viewfinder with 95% coverage and Eye Start AF
  •  9-point AF with Wide, Spot and Local Area Selection
  • Eye-start Auto Focus, starts the focus process when you put your eye up to the viewfinder
  • Shooting modes: Full-Auto, Auto No-flash, Programmed AE with program shift, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual and 6 Scenes
  • TTL metering: 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC sensor with multi segment Center-weighted or Spot options
  • White Balance: Auto, 7 presets, color temperature, color filter and Manual
  • Unlimited Continuous 5fps shooting Large/Fine JPEG images, up to 6 RAW or 3 RAW+JPEG (4fps max. in Live View)
  • Speed Priority burst up to 7fps
  • Shutter speeds: 30 to 1/4,000 seconds, 1/160 sec. flash sync
  • ISO Range: 200 to 12800
  • Built-in TTL auto pop-up flash with red-eye reduction
  • Hot shoe for Sony/Minolta Program Flash units
  • MSDuo/MSDuo Pro and SD/SDHC memory card slots
  • Video Out with selectable NTSC or PAL timing
  • HDMI output via type C minijack
  • Proprietary (1650 mAh) lithium-ion battery pack and charger included
  • Exif Print, PRINT Image Matching III, PictBridge compatible
  • BRAVIA Sync technology, sync the camera with a BRAVIA HDTV

 
The DSLR-A550 is available in several different ways, you can purchase just the camera body (DSLR-A550 MSRP$949.99) or a body and lens kit like we tested. The kit configuration includes the SAL1855 SAM DT Lens (DSLR-A550L MSRP $1049.99).
 
The DSLR-550L Kit includes: 

  • a550 camera body
  • SAL-1855 camera lens
  • Rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger and power cord
  • USB cable
  • Shoulder strap
  • Eyepiece cover
  • Eyecup
  • CD-ROM (application software for the camera)
  • owners manual


Below you will find the original Sony Press release.


CAPTURE THE MOMENT IN PERFECT DETAIL

WITH NEW SONY ALPHA CAMERAS


DSLRs Deliver Low-Light Performance, Exceptional Shooting Speed

and In-Camera High Dynamic Range



SAN DIEGO, Aug. 27, 2009 - Sony today introduced two α (alpha) DSLR cameras with a new generation of Exmor™ CMOS sensors and BIONZ™ image processors, which make it easy for active shooters to get the best shot and capture clearer images--without missing their favorite moments.

The α550 (14.2 megapixels) and α500 (12.3 megapixels) cameras provide excellent picture quality, particularly in low-light scenarios. A new generation of Sony® Exmor CMOS image sensors employ new low-noise processing for high-quality pictures. The BIONZ image processor has color-noise reduction that helps achieve low noise up to ISO 12800, without sacrificing fine detail.

"We are bringing performance of a higher class of cameras within the reach of a broader group of consumers," said Mark Weir, senior manager of the Digital Imaging business at Sony Electronics. "Not only do these cameras provide great value, but they also bring faster shooting speeds and new technologies like in-camera High Dynamic Range and new Live View features to mainstream photo enthusiasts."

Fast Shooting Speeds

With its unique sensor-processor combination, the α550 camera is the first DSLR in its class with seven frames per second shooting speed for under $1,000. Using the optical viewfinder on both models, you can shoot up to five frames per second and up to four frames per second with Quick Auto Focus Live View. This helps you capture the decisive moment when shooting fast moving subjects like in sports.

In-Camera High Dynamic Range

These are Sony's first DSLR cameras that offer an in-camera High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature for capturing highlights and shadows, which processes the image within two seconds. Unlike HDR features in other DSLR cameras, Sony's unique positional interpolation technology can overcome slight changes in camera position and align individual shots so that a tripod is not required.

The feature handles severe backlighting and other high-contrast scenes like looking out a window into bright daylight. The in-camera auto HDR technology combines the highlight and shadow detail of two separate captures into one remarkably natural looking image.


sony_a550_back_550.jpg


Improved Live View

Because composing shots on the LCD monitor is becoming increasingly important to DSLR users, Sony has equipped these cameras with two Live View functions and a 3-inch (measured diagonally) LCD screen that tilts 90 degrees up or down. The α500 has a 230,000 pixel Clear Photo LCD Plus™ screen, and the α550 has a 921,000 pixel Xtra Fine LCD™ display.

Sony's Quick AF Live View uses two sensors to maintain the same focusing speed as with the optical viewfinder. While the speed of Quick AF Live View is ideal for every day shooting, Manual Focus Check Live View enables critical framing and magnification for setting precise manual focus in macro and tripod shooting. Temporary 7x and 14x zoom views enable you to focus on extremely fine detail while the 1x view shows 100 percent framing in the LCD.

The Quick Auto Focus Live View has been developed with Face Detection technology to help you get the best shot by recognizing and adjusting for faces. It is the world's first Face Detection system to work with fast, high-precision "phase detection" Auto Focus. By tracking up to eight faces, this system can prioritize auto focus points on a face, and optimize exposure and white balance for beautiful portraits.

These are Sony's first DSLR cameras that include Smile ShutterTM technology in Live View, which takes the shot when your subject smiles. It works with Quick Auto Focus Live View to capture spontaneous moments.

Image stabilization helps take blur-free shots by compensating for camera shake. Typical DSLR systems build image stabilization into selected lenses only. SteadyShot INSIDE™ image stabilization is built into the camera body itself. Blur will also be reduced with every A-mount lens, including macro and wide aperture standard zoom lenses, with an effect equivalent to shutter speeds faster by 2.5 to 4 stops


sony_dt30f28_450.jpg


To make the benefits of macro photography easier and more accessible, Sony is making available at retail the DT 30mm F/2.8 (model SAL30M28) macro lens. It captures intricate close-ups, which is difficult to achieve with standard lenses and is only compatible with APS-C format DSLRs.

Memory Cards

For higher capacity storage with greater connectivity and faster transfer speeds, the new DSLRs are compatible with Sony's newest 32GB Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo™ HX media. The HX series card is designed to deliver optimal read and write speeds for a growing number of products that require high-bandwidth memory in order to capture and store large data files.

Using the HX series media, Sony α (alpha) DSLR users can confidently enjoy advanced features such as continuous-shooting photography and realize higher transfer rates of large capacity files to their compatible PC (via supplied USB adapter). For example with the α550 model, approximately 1500 14-megapixel photos shot in the JPEG+RAW mode can be transferred to a compatible PC in approximately 26 minutes (HX series media sold separately).

The new cameras include dedicated slots for high-capacity Memory Stick PRO Duo™, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo™, HX series and SD/SDHC media (all sold separately).


Pricing and Availability

The α550 (model DSLR-A550) and α500 (model DSLR-A500), which come with the camera body only, will cost about $950 and $750 respectively. The α550L and α500L, which come with the camera body and 18-55 kit lens, will cost about $1050 and $850, respectively. The SAL30M28 macro lens will be available for about $200.

The cameras, lens and a range of accessories will be available in October at Sony Style® retail stores (www.sonystyle.com/retail), at military base exchanges and at authorized dealers nationwide.


Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.

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