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Sony Alpha SLT-A55 review

Verdict

A camera with great potential, but a host of niggling irritations put paid to its chances

Review Date: 6 Jan 2011

Reviewed By: Ben Pitt

Price when reviewed: £500 (£600 inc VAT)

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Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

Image Quality
3 stars out of 6

The 1080i clips in AVCHD format weren’t quite as sharp as those from the Nikon D3100, but they weren’t far behind. The superior autofocus made far more difference, especially when shooting handheld or when using a wide-aperture lens to give videos a cinematic shallow depth of field.

Sadly, the video mode has its share of flaws too. Exposure control is limited and clumsily implemented, although the D3100 is no better. The built-in microphone sounded feeble and picked up noise from the lens’s autofocus motor. Thankfully, a microphone socket lets users circumvent both issues. The biggest problem was that the sensor overheated while recording video with stabilisation, causing the camera to shut down. It lasted for just under 10 minutes in our test at 20 degrees centigrade, but expect worse in warmer environments.

Sony Alpha SLT-A55

We’re used to SLRs with short recording times – the D3100’s clips last just 10 minutes – but it’s this unpredictable nature that makes it particularly frustrating. We put the camera straight back into record after its initial 10-minute effort and it lasted for just 75 seconds. This is a documented feature rather than a fault, but we’re amazed Sony expects its customers to live with it.

Quality and handling

The conventional aspects of the A55 are more straightforwardly positive. It’s light, compact and comfortable to hold, and the key controls are close to hand. The 3in LCD screen is a corker, with a 921k resolution, deep contrast and an articulated hinge. There’s also an abundance of clever processing options from automatic HDR capture to 3D panoramas to an innovative multi-exposure noise-reduction mode.

Image quality wasn’t so rosy, though. Our test shots were far from poor, but noise levels at ISO 1600 and above were noticeably higher than from the Nikon D3100. We also found the kit lens struggled with corner sharpness and chromatic aberrations. Colour reproduction was generally impressive – and there’s plenty of scope to customise it – but indoor shots tended to be under-exposed.

Overall, the A55 is a mixed bag. It could have taken the lead for video but the overheating problem puts a stop to that. It can’t match the D3100 for image quality, but it is vastly quicker in continuous mode, giving it a decisive edge for action photography. Either way, there are too many niggles for an unreserved recommendation, but it has potential; we’ll be watching the SLT range’s progress with interest.

Author: Ben Pitt

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