Sony debuts above-entry-level Alpha

Except for dropping the GPS, the Sony Alpha SLT-A57 looks like a solid upgrade to the A55V it replaces.

Sony Electronics

Released over a year and a half ago, the Alpha SLT-A55V was at one point the flagship of Sony's (then) new translucent-mirror lineup. It's since been surpassed by the A77 and the A65V, leaving it to occupy the a-bit-less-entry-level position above the A35. The new replacement, the SLT-A57, comes in at the same price as its predecessor but without the built-in geotagging capabilities that were notable in the A55, and with a few new features.

The A57 uses the newer, and I think better, body design that debuted with the A77/A65V. And though the A57 is the same resolution as the A55V, it uses a different sensor--the one from the mirrorless NEX-5N--plus the newer image processor. That combo makes it likely that it will deliver better photo quality. Do I think the photos will be usable at its new maximum ISO sensitivity of ISO 16000? Nah. But it might coax it up to decent JPEGs at ISO 1600.

Sony introduces some new soft features, most notably Auto Portrait Framing, which uses face detection to better position the subject in the frame and when cropping in. Sadly, it interpolates using Sony's horribly named "By Pixel Super Resolution Technology" to make sure you have 16 megapixels' worth of photo instead of just leaving it at the cropped size. Thankfully, it will save the original as well. The company has also added more smarts to its Auto+ mode, enabling it to invoke multishot modes such as Handheld Twilight or Auto HDR if the scene warrants.

The camera now updates to AVCHD 2 with support for 1080/30p video. It also has a new EVF; while it's smaller with lower effective magnification than before, it's higher-density with the ability (if I understand correctly) to change the eyepoint by changing the magnification. The A57 also gets the same Picture Effects and addition of first-curtain shutter as the A65V and A77.

Here are some comparisons:

Canon EOS Rebel T3iNikon D5100Sony Alpha SLT-A55VSony Alpha SLT-A57Sony Alpha SLT-A65V
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megapixel CMOS16.2-megapixel CMOS16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm 23.6mm x 15.6mm23.5mm x 15.6mm23.5mm x 15.6mm23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier1.6x1.5x1.5x1.5x1.5x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6400/25,600 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 1600/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 16000ISO 100 - ISO 16000
Continuous shooting3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
n/a raw/100 JPEG
6fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
21 raw/25 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification / effective magnification)Optical
95% coverage
95% coverage
0.46 inches/1.2 million dots
100% coverage
0.43 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
Autofocus9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
11-pt AF
center cross-type to f5.6
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 speed1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering63-zone iFCL420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II1,200-zone1,200-zone1,200-zone
Metering sensitivity-1 to 20 EV0 to 20 EV-2 to 17 EV-2 to 17 EV-2 to 17 EV
VideoH.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p1080/30p/ 24p; 20/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOVAVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
AudioMono; mic inputMono; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesYesYesYesYes
Maximum best-quality recording time4GB/12 minutes20 minutes29 minutesn/a
(likely 29m59s)
(likely 29m59s)
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shift
LCD size3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC
Wireless flashYesYesYesYesYes
Battery life (CIPA rating)470 shots660 shots330 shots550 shots510 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.1 x 3.8 x 35 x 3.8 x 3.14.9 x 3.6 x 3.35.3 x 3.9 x 3.35.3 x 3.9 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces)2019.617.818.9 (est)22 (est)
Mfr. price$799.99 (body only)$799.95 (body only)$699.99 (body only)$699.99 (body only)$899.99 (body only)
$849.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens)n/a$799.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,099.99 (with 18-135mm IS lens)n/an/an/an/a
Release dateMarch 2011April 2011September 2010April 2012October 2011

I am a bit perturbed by the mixed messages Sony sends with its specs. On one hand, in order to get the highest spec number it could for burst shooting--12 frames per second--it created an 8-megapixel crop mode with continuous autofocus and fixed autoexposure (with another cumbersome name, "Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE"). It does 10fps at full resolution with fixed autoexposure, and 8fps in its fully capable burst mode. I guess that means 8 megapixels is great! But then it feels the need to offer a bunch of interpolation options, as with the aforementioned Auto Portrait Framing and its 2X Clear Image Zoom digital zoom modes to make sure you get all 16 of your precious megapixels, faux though they be. So 8 megapixels is bad! I suppose I should be thankful that the digital camera folk don't pull the same schtick as the camcorder folk and plaster "32 megapixels" on the front of the camera. The truth is 8fps is a darn good burst rate and an 8-megapixel portrait is fine.

My biggest complaints about the A55V were the poor battery life and the lack of manual controls for video; the A57 rectifies those. Assuming it doesn't backslide in performance or photo quality, it looks like a pretty good deal relative to competitive, similarly priced cameras, and the extra $200 for a better EVF, GPS, and higher resolution in the A65V makes sense. It may not be a terribly newsworthy camera, but it looks like one that a lot of people might want to buy.

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