A step backwards or good enough?

/ Updated: 1 March 2013, 10:25 am AEDT
Lori Grunin/CNET

With the new Sony Alpha SLT-A58, Sony consolidates its entry-level dSLR models into one camera that sounds like a mixed bag for the money; debuting at the same list price as the higher-end A57, it actually seems to take a couple steps back from that model in what it delivers, even compared with the cheaper A37, which it also replaces.

Lori Grunin/CNET

On the upside, the A58 incorporates a new sensor and updated image processor with area-specific noise reduction, and which Sony says delivers better dynamic range, which in theory should deliver better image quality. It also introduces an expanded implementation of the camera's Auto Portrait Framing feature (introduced in the NEX-F3) , which can now detect a two-person portrait and generalizes to objects and macro shots. One intriguing new feature is Lock-on AF, which uses scene analysis to determine the target subject and then expands the relevant clump of autofocus points to lock the entire object in focus rather than just the area under selected AF points.

But in other ways you're losing some capabilities. Continuous shooting specs drop below the A37, from 5.5fps to 5fps and for fewer shots (the 8fps number Sony quotes is for Tele-zoom Cont. Advance Priority AE, a reduced-resolution, fixed-exposure burst mode). The LCD is smaller, lower-resolution and tilting instead of fully articulated as on the A57, and just a hair larger than that of the A37.

The camera will ship in a kit with an updated version of the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens; the lens has a new cosmetic design and a quieter autofocus motor for shooting video.

Here's what you can get for roughly the same money from Canon and Nikon:

  Canon EOS Rebel T3i Nikon D5100 Sony Alpha SLT-A37 Sony Alpha SLT-A57 Sony Alpha SLT-A58
Sensor effective resolution 18-megapixel CMOS 16.2MP CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 20.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.6mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.2mm x 15.4mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25,600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 16,000 ISO 100 - ISO 16,000 ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Burst shooting 3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
4fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
5.5fps
6 raw/14 JPEG
8fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
21 raw/25 JPEG
5fps
6 raw/7 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) Optical
95% coverage
0.85x/0.53x
Optical
95% coverage
0.78x/ 0.63x
Electronic
0.43 inch/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.43 inch/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.04x/0.69x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch/ /1.4 million dots
100% coverage
n/a
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
11-pt AF
center cross-type to f5.6
(Multi-CAM 1000)
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
AF sensitivity -0.5 to 18 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 seconds; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 1,200 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Metering sensitivity -1 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV -2 to 17 EV -2 to 17 EV n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p 1080/30p/ 24p; 720/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i/ 50i/25p/24p @ 24Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input n/a
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes n/a
IS Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
921K dots
2.6 inches tilting
230,400 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
2.7 inches tilting
460,800 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 470 shots 660 shots 450 shots 550 shots 690 shots
Size (WHD, inches) 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 20 19.6 17.8 18.9 (est) 17.4 (est)
Mfr. price $599.99 (est, body only) $499.95 (est, body only) n/a $499.99 (body only) n/a
$699.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$599.99 (est, with 18-55mm VR lens) $499.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $599.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $599.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$899.99 (est, with 18-135mm IS lens) n/a $599.99 (with 18-135mm lens) n/a n/a
Release date March 2011 April 2011 June 2012 April 2012 April 2013
Lori Grunin/CNET

This is where it gets interesting. Compared to what Sony offered before, the A58 is a bit disappointing. But it's still somewhat better than alternatives, which tend to be last year's models or older. The A58 looks to have faster continuous shooting, better-coverage viewfinder, and I suspect a more usable autofocus-system implementation.

It also leaves a big gap between the entry-level model and the more capable SLT-A65, which comes in at just under $800. Then again, that camera's due for replacement, and it's possible that Sony will apply the same strategy and introduce a model that's cheaper with some tradeoffs.

Along with the camera, Sony announced an updated version of the HVL-F20AM flash unit, the HVL-F20M, compatible with the company's new hot-shoe design.

And for the pro set, the Zeiss Planar T 50mm f1.4 ZA SSM which previewed at Photokina last year is now a real thing, costing a very real $1,499.99. There's also an updated version of the 70-400mm f4-5.6 SSM II which gains improved coatings and some cosmetic changes. That lens goes for $2,999.99.

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Where to Buy

Sony Alpha SLT-A58 (with 18-55mm lens)

Part Number: SLT-A58K
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Digital SLR Camera
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 20.1 Megapixel