A step backwards or good enough?

The company consolidates its entry-level SLT line into a single model.

Lori Grunin

Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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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.

Sony Alpha SLT-A58 a blend of two models (pictures)

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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 T3iNikon D5100Sony Alpha SLT-A37Sony Alpha SLT-A57Sony Alpha SLT-A58
Sensor effective resolution18-megapixel CMOS16.2MP CMOS16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS20.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.6mm x 15.6mm23.5mm x 15.6mm23.5mm x 15.6mm23.2mm x 15.4mm
Focal-length multiplier1.6x1.5x1.5x1.5x1.5x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25,600 (exp)ISO 100 - ISO 16,000ISO 100 - ISO 16,000ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Burst shooting3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
n/a raw/100 JPEG
6 raw/14 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
21 raw/25 JPEG
6 raw/7 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag)Optical
95% coverage
95% coverage
0.78x/ 0.63x
0.43 inch/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.43 inch/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch/ /1.4 million dots
100% coverage
Autofocus9-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 speed1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4,000 to 30 seconds; 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 EVn/a
Best videoH.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p1080/30p/ 24p; 720/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOVAVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60i/ 50i/25p/24p @ 24Mbps
AudioMono; mic inputMono; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo; mic inputn/a
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesYesYesYesn/a
ISOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shift
LCD size3 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 slots1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC
Wireless flashYesYesYesYesYes
Battery life (CIPA rating)470 shots660 shots450 shots550 shots690 shots
Size (WHD, inches)5.1 x 3.8 x 3.05.0 x 3.8 x 3.14.9 x 3.6 x 3.35.3 x 3.9 x 3.35.1 x 3.8 x 3.1
Body operating weight (ounces)2019.617.818.9 (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/an/a
Release dateMarch 2011April 2011June 2012April 2012April 2013
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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.