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|The Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT is put to test by ePHOTOzine member John Riley.|
Sony are still relative newcomers to the world of DSLR manufacture. Much of their output still harks back to their inheritance of the Konica Minolta product line. Sound manufacture but perhaps quite dated designs left Sony following the field. Here is the new A33, a bold new concept that could just put Sony onto the path to that elusive breakthrough in market share. We shall see if it lives up to expectations or whether there is still some way to go to achieve a style and concept of their own. Is this the path of the future?
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Features
We have here either a DSLR with interchangeable lenses and an electronic viewfinder, or maybe a bridge camera with interchangeable lenses. This is something new, with Single Lens Translucent technology (SLT), or, in other words, a fixed semi-transparent mirror that does not move. 70% of the light is transmitted to the 14.6MP CMOS sensor and 30% is reflected into the viewfinder. This makes the EVF essential as without it an optical viewfinder would be very dull. This was found to be the main problem when Canon introduced their Pellix SLR in the 1960s.
The EVF makes viewing straightforward, but have problems such as poor refresh rate and resolution been solved with this 1,440,000 dot EVF screen?
No moving mirror means both live view and 1080i HD movie recordings are possible and it is absolutely viable to use the main screen for composition as we would with a compact camera. AF is available in these modes, the provision of which is quoted as being the reason for Sony to be last in the field with a Movie mode.
The specification is rounded off with in-camera SteadyShot shake reduction, an wide ISO range of 100-12,800, a 3 inch articulated screen, 15 point AF and a full range of the usual modes and scene styles.
The camera was supplied with a Thailand-made 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and there is a comprehensive range of high quality A mount lenses available, both from Sony themselves and also the independent manufacturers. No lens hood is supplied but a bayonet fit hood is available as an optional accessory.
Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD, SDHC and SDXC cards can all be used to record images. There is no metering cell, the 1200 zone metering being provided by the sensor itself. The battery is a modest 1080 mAh Li-Ion pack.
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Handling
First impression is of quite a plastic construction, especially in the case of the lens. The camera is no smaller than any small DSLR with conventional mirror system, so the SLT technology does not seem to significantly reduce bulk. In any event, the lenses are standard A mount and therefore the same dimensions as those used on the standard DSLR range.
However, as familiarity improves it becomes apparent that, plastic or not, the A33 is well made, robust enough for all but the most rigorous professional use and works smoothly and reliably.
The SLT system is slightly strange at first as the shutter releases without vibration and without the usual clunk of the flipping mirror. This is clearly an advantage, although the mirror must be kept totally free of dust and debris as these will affect the image itself. As mirrors must not be touched, this means using a blower brush to clear any dust. There is a potential drawback here as any accidental damage to the mirror will affect the image and the mirror is vulnerable during lens changes.
The articulated screen will be welcomed by many. It should be handled with care as it does also look vulnerable to damage.
One strange anachronism inherited from Konica Minolta is the non-standard hotshoe. There is an adapter available, but I would have preferred a standard shoe fitted from the start.
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Performance
Critical to the viability of the A33 is of course the new EVF. This is without doubt the best one I have seen to date and the first time that I have felt that it was usable in all circumstances. It is relaxing on the eye, detail is good and the refresh rate good enough to make action photography possible. It is also fully visible in bright lighting conditions. Yes, it could be faster still to respond, and it shimmers and shakes if panned excessively quickly, but it is not a problem and I could happily work with it. Future models will no doubt improve still further, but it is not necessary to wait for that development as the screen is already perfectly viable.
A beautiful touch is the electronic level indicator in the viewfinder. This is a wonderful aid to curing those tilting images and the display is clear and precise. It makes lining up those technical and architectural subjects very, very easy. I shall note which way I tend to tilt for future reference.
On a tripod, using live view on the back screen seems to be the most efficient way to work. In the brightest outdoor situations the screen does need shielding with the hand to be seen clearly. There is no such problem with the well recessed EVF viewfinder. Having said that, the EVF does not enhance the compactness of the camera as it protrudes backwards a good 9mm proud of the rear of the back screen. The advantage may well be that it keeps the face away from the screen and therefore reduces the tendency to mark the surface.
SteadyShot does appear to be effective at least for 2-3 stops advantage, but the display could be improved. A flashing symbol that stabilises could be a better option than a set of bars steadily reducing, moving upwards again, reducing again... it seems a little slow to lock on. When using a tripod, as usual the SteadyShot function should be switched off to avoid inducing shake.
AF capability is excellent – the camera focuses where required, virtually every time and with real speed, regardless of the focusing distance and regardless of the drive mode chosen. My preference is still for centre point focus and this locks on instantly every time. Despite trying very hard to fool the system I could only induce any hunting by pointing at totally blank subjects.
In the case of the 2 second self timer it would be useful to have a countdown on the rear screen or a confirmation beep – when the shutter release is pressed nothing seems to happen but the shutter does release in the allotted time. We are missing the auditory clues that a conventional mirror offers.
Exposure is possibly slightly on the light side for my taste and I would routinely apply -0.3EV of compensation. This equally well applies to all the metering patterns, which give identically sound results. I settle upon Centre Weighted usually and this camera was no exception. I like to know what my cameras are measuring. Backlighting is the one circumstance that does seem to need intervention from the photographer as the camera has a slight tendency to over expose.
Unusually light or dark subjects need the use of exposure compensation and this is accessed conveniently by pressing the appropriate button whilst turning the front dial. Some users do like two dials, but this increases costs and I find that one as here is not too much of an inconvenience. The display shows clearly that compensation has been applied so there is little danger of it being left at the wrong value unintentionally.
Resolution of the 14.6 (14.2 effective) MP sensor is well up to standard and gives fully detailed images that will stand up well to printing at larger sizes. A3 prints for competitions and exhibitions, or indeed for the wall, will not be a problem.
ISO and noise performance
Noise is well controlled and even 12,800 ISO is usable when necessary. There is a fall off in quality after 1600 ISO, but it does offer the possibility of image making where previously it was not possible, and with fair quality to be had as well.
|Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
Colour reproduction is also excellent, vibrant but realistic and handling well both delicate tones and more saturated subjects. Flesh tones are smooth and pure, without a hint of colour cast. AWB performs well over the range, but obviously when outside the norm the alternative settings such as Incandescent can be used. White balance presets seem to be well balanced and all give good results. If required, a custom white balance can be taken and stored until replaced by another.
Dynamic range is far in excess of film and these sensors give plenty of scope for capturing a full range of tones. Image quality is not an issue even in contrasty situations.
The start up time is impressive at less than 1 second. By the time the camera is lifted to the eye it is ready to shoot. Battery life is adequate but the EVF and live view screens do drain power. With a fair amount of reviewing of images and quite a bit of switching on and off, as predicted in the manual, battery life is relatively short. Maybe 200 images under the continuous use that I subject my cameras to on a day's shoot. The A33 would need at least two batteries for my usage pattern over a normal day.
There are now other entry level DSLRs that offer 6fps drive and the A33 matches but does not improve on this. 14 consecutive shots at 6fps and Fine quality JPEG are possible until the buffer causes a pause. In general use, there is no waiting for the camera.
Finally, the Movie mode offers Full HD resolution and thanks to SLT has the same practicality as live view. We now have the situation where SLT cameras can offer themselves as quite accomplished video cameras.
|Sample video from the Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT.|
Firstly, there is no lens hood provided, and I do think that there should be. Even with multicoated optics a lens hood can reduce flare, increase saturation and even help to protect the lens from damage. As it happens, this zoom lens is commendably resistant to flare, but I would still advise purchase of a hood. In the most extreme circumstances flare can be induced, but that holds true for most modern lenses.
Chromatic distortion is also very well controlled and will not be seen in most situations. Again, in extreme cases there may be some fringing around leaves and branches, but nothing significant.
In terms of distortion, the lens reveals where compromises have been made. At 18mm there is significant barrel distortion. This largely clears by 35mm and is overtaken by slight pincushion at 55mm. Architects may have a problem, but for general use this is very acceptable.
Sharpness is good throughout and is almost certain to impress. We can expect pleasing, saturated images with a satisfying crispness. Middle apertures are the best as usual, but fall off is not excessive at either wide open or smallest apertures. Fully closed down for maximum depth of field the lens still performs well. Wider open the lens exhibits a certain “plasticity” or smoothness that can be very effective for portraiture. It is worth reflecting that no lens is perfect, but its balance of properties gives it a character of its own. This can be used to advantage in real world photography but rarely shows up well in laboratory tests.
Kit lenses can have a bad name in some instances and this can be very unfair. This example is quite commendable and has a very impressive performance. I would be happy to use it for quite critical use.
|Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT Lens quality: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|Excellent sharpness and detail in this architectural shot.||At 18mm and closer distances barrel distortion can become obvious.|
||DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT.
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Verdict
For users of bridge cameras the Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT is a definite upwards step, opening up the world of interchangeable lenses, including the superb Carl Zeiss optics. The full APS-C sized sensor puts it in a class alongside the conventional DSLRs and the big decision will depend on whether or not the buyer will accept the EVF instead of a standard optical viewfinder. Those moving from bridge cameras will have no problem and will be impressed, those using DSLRs may be more difficult to persuade. I can overcome my own doubts easily enough having spent some very enjoyable hours using it.
Direct competition comes from Samsung and Panasonic, and maybe to a lesser degree Olympus, but the Sony scores by using the A series lenses. This range is well established, covers most possible requirements and is of the highest quality. Those Carl Zeiss lenses are particularly tempting.
With SLT we have something new and different and I can see its possibilities. It is worth serious consideration alongside the entry levels DSLRs. It gives access to a very exciting range of lenses as well, which could clinch the deal for many.
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Pros
APS-C 14.6MP sensor
Very usable EVF and rear screen
SteadyShot image stabilisation
A Mount gives access to superb lenses
Very decent kit lens
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Cons
Sony exclusive hotshoe
Fragile articulated screen
Resistance to idea of EVF
No weather sealing
Mirror vulnerable to dust and damage
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT: Specification
|Sensor size||23.4 x 15.6mm|
|Max. Image size||4592 x 3056|
|Viewfinder||Electronic 100% coverage|
15 points (3 points cross type)
|Focus types||Continuous, Single Shot, Automatic, Manual Focus|
|File types||JPEG, DPOF, RAW, RAW & JPEG, AVCHD, MP4|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO100 - 12800|
|Metering system||TTL phase detection system|
|Metering types||Multi segment, Center weighted|
|White-balance||Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash|
|Exposure compensation||+/-2.0 EV, 1/3 EV step|
|Shutter speed range||30 - 1/4000 sec.|
|Continuous shooting||Up to 7fps|
|Movie mode||AVCHD (1920 x 1080) / MP4 (1440 x 1080)|
|Monitor||3in Xtra Fine TruBlack LCD|
|Media type||Memory Stick PRO Duo/PRO-HG Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card|
|Interface||USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, HDMI mini connective, BRAVIA Sync, PhotoTV HD|
|Power||NP-FW50 rechargeable battery
|Size (wxdxl)||124.4 x 92.0 x 84.7mm|
|Weight (with battery)||433g|
The Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT body only is priced at £568 and available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT body only
The Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT with 18-55mm lens is priced at £644 and available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT with 18-55mm lens
The Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lens is priced at £819 and available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony Alpha A33 Digital SLT with 18-55mm lens and 55-200mm lens