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Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 (photos)

A discussion of the design and features of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A550.

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Lori Grunin
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1 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Bulked-up body

The A550 is heavier and bulkier than its lower-end brethren are--though it's lighter than the competition are--but oddly doesn't make as good use of space and is less streamlined for shooting. Like many dSLRs that have to remain backwardly compatible with older lenses, the A550 has a Manual/autofocus switch on the body that you confusingly have to remember to match with the switch on the lens.
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2 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigation

The navigation switch feels a bit too flat, without enough tactile feedback; I frequently ended up pressing the AF button while trying to navigate menus.
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3 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Flipping LCD

While not as flexible a design as a flip-and-twist articulated LCD, Sony's tiltable displays are nice for shooting at odd angles.
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4 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Typical modes

If the guide is turned on, when you rotate the mode dial a description of the mode appears on the LCD screen.
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5 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Not thrilled with the buttons

On the lower-end models, Sony puts controls for the ISO sensitivity and drive modes on the navigation switch on the back of the camera. I think that placement works better than the three, hard-to-differentiate buttons on the top of this one. It's also annoying that in a camera of this class that you have to set the ISO sensitivity via the back display--it doesn't appear in the viewfinder. Usually on dSLRs with buttons on the top right, they're placed forward enough to easily and comfortably reach with your forefinger. On the A550, they're set closer to the camera back where you can't comfortably reach them with either your thumb or forefinger unless you lower the camera.
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6 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Extension

Note how the LCD, when tucked in, extends beyond the viewfinder eyecup. That makes it relatively uncomfortable when trying to use the viewfinder. On the upside, the A550's grip is much better than that of its lower-end siblings; theirs are about 3/4 height, which feels much less secure.
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7 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Two views

Compared with the standard display (bottom), the graphic display (top) is intended to provide an educational view of the relationship between shutter speed and aperture, as well as the effect each has on stopping action and depth of field. I think it's odd that the graphic display drops the metering mode info, however. It's also a bit frustrating that Sony, which pioneered the interactive display in the A700 (where hitting a button would let you navigate the bottom view and change settings), opts for the disruptive Fn-button-into-different-interface approach (see next slide).
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8 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNEt

Function

While I prefer the interactive displays that are becoming more common--there's less of a jarring transition between looking at the settings and adjusting them--Sony's traditional approach may seem less cramped for some shooters.

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