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Sony introduce the A33 and A55 digital cameras

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Category: Digital Cameras

Sony A55 and Sony A33 launch - Martin Jordan got his hands on the new Sony A55 and Sony A33 digital cameras.

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Sony A55 and A33 camera launchOn arriving at the Hotel to review Sony’s latest new cameras, first thing we all had to do was sign a non-disclosure agreement, valid until 5am the next day - the official global release time. Somehow it seemed to add an element of glamour and importance which built on my anticipation nicely.

So with the embargo lifted, I can report the launch of the Sony a55 and Sony a33, to join Sony’s family of Alpha digital interchangeable lens cameras. I purposely didn’t say DSLR, because Sony call their latest camera a DSLT – hopefully all will become clear when you read about the technology.

Paul Genge, Sony’s Technical Field Sales manager introduced the cameras by saying that DSLRs over the last ten years of development had progressed by modification and adaption, however these latest cameras were truly innovative. He stopped short of saying Sony had reinvented the wheel, but when pressed said they had ‘redefined’ it.

A bold claim I thought, but not surprising coming from a marketing man, who are not generally known for being a stranger to hyperbole. In fact the last time I’d met Paul at another launch, he told me this camera was going to ‘blow my socks off’. So I’d made sure I was wearing fresh ones, just in case.

The main innovation of these cameras is that they use what Sony call translucent mirror technology. The T in DSLT stands for translucent. Rather than a moving mirror and a pentaprism which on a DSLR allows you to see exactly what is being photographed, these cameras use a semi- transparent mirror that remains stationary. The light is split between the main image sensor (70%) and the a phase detection autofocus sensor (30%). Because the mirror is always down, the viewfinder is electronic rather than optical.

Sony A55 and A33 camera launch

The advantages of this system are of saving space, having no mirror box or pentaprism, and autofocus is available at all times, even as the camera makes an exposure, unlike a traditional DSLR which has to wait for the mirror to go back down, before it can refocus.

This means the Sony a55 can shoot an incredibly fast burst of 10 Frames a second (the world’s fastest with a APS-c size sensor) and track a moving subject. This is fantastic for sports or photographing the kids running round the garden.

The HD video also has continuous autofocus, so moving subjects can be tracked, also because there is no optical viewfinder, real-time video image preview is possible via the electronic viewfinder, or as Sony like to call it, the tru-finder (don't think this name will catch on guys).  You can see an amazing video shot on this camera here: Sony a55 video.

As you might expect, the cameras also have live view with a high resolution LCD screen that tilts and swivels for framing at any shooting angle, great for getting dramatic POV’s, or sneaky portraits as you don’t need to give yourself away by holding the camera up.

The cameras are aimed at the mid market, priced somewhere between £600 and £700 for the Sony a33 and £700 to £800 for the Sony a55. They both share the same chassis, the main difference between them being that Sony a55 has 16.2 megapixels and the Sony a33, 14.2. The  Sony a55 can do 10 fps and the Sony a33 7 fps.

Sony are hoping to capture new people who want to take their photography further and to move up to a camera that has the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, but without the size and weight of a traditional DSLR. They want people to buy into their lens system, and stay with them as their experience grows.

Anyone buying into this package won’t be disappointed with the features; these cameras have more features than you can shake a stick at, if shaking sticks is your thing.

I’ve discussed the big ones like the 10 fps and 15-point AF tracking of moving subjects for video and stills; but there’s more, lots more, ok take a big breath...

Auto HDR, data from a burst of three frames at bracketed exposure values can be combined to form a single image with extended highlight and shadow detail.

Multi-frame Noise Reduction, ‘stacks’ a high-speed burst of six frames, creating single low–noise exposure that boosts effective sensitivity from the highest setting of 12800 to as high as ISO 25600.

3D Sweep panorama, not content with amazing panoramic shots in 2d on their compacts, Sony have gone one better and now you can have 3D panoramics! No stitching required.

Sony 3D glasses

In-board image stabilisation providing up to four exposure steps of anti-shake correction when shooting handheld.

Face detection and smile shutter, the camera can automatically focus on a face, not the hedge behind, and it will take the shot when it detects a smile.

An Electronic Level Gauge, which can indicate both pitch and yaw, so no more excuses for those wonky horizons.

The Sony a55 additionally incorporates integrated GPS, for automatic geo-tagging of images and video. Great for sharing photos on Google maps and ePHOTOzine.

Still with me?
After the Sales pitch and the technical presentation, we were given the opportunity to try out the cameras. We were introduced to Amy Guy a modern Pantathlete and Siren from ‘Gladiators’. Amy and a friend (who she was trying to stab) gave a fencing demonstration (one of the five disciplines of the pentathlon). The 10 fps was great for capturing this kind of action. I can’t tell you about the quality of the images as we weren’t allowed to take images away, the cameras being pre-production models. I can tell you just the noise of a camera firing off at 10 fps is awesome, this would impress your friends. Speed could be the new megapixel count in the willy-waving stakes.

We also tried the 3d Sweep while Amy pointed a gun at us (shooting being another discipline). You have to play back on a special TV and wear glasses, and then yes the gun does come ‘out’ of the picture. The novelty soon wears off however, and I found it tiring to look at, it seems to require effort. I’m pretty sure this won’t catch on, but hey I was wrong about texting…

3D sweep while Amy Guy pointed gun at the camera

After lunch we headed for a field, togged up in welllies and green jackets, for a spot of duck herding, sheep-shearing and falconry. Sony obviously thought us soft townies could use some rural pursuits. Taking pictures of journalists running after ducks was a good opportunity to get a feel for the cameras.

The first thing that struck me, was how light and compact they are. Great for taking travelling, say walking around a city. Also for sports like skiing and cycling, you could take this camera with you. I found most of the controls to be reasonably intuitive although some functions did seem to involve a bit of menu searching and button pushing.

The small size is a great selling point, but if you have big hands like me, ( I’ve got a big nose too, well  2 out of  3’s not bad) it takes a bit of getting used to and can feel a bit un-ergonomic. Panning was interesting as you rattle off the shots, your view is uninterrupted as the there is no mirror to get in the way.

One thing I didn’t like was the ‘tru-finder’ it felt like being at a gig and watching the video on stage rather than the performer, I just felt one step removed from what I was looking at. However one advantage is that as you change the exposure you can see the picture get darker or lighter.

Another advantage of the electronic viewfinder is that you can review the picture you have just taken. Now you can ‘chimp’ in secret without any embarrassment.

Overall I found the cameras an excellent package, and fun to use. Sony have been very innovative with some great features aimed at the mid-market. At this class, they do seem to have stolen a march on their rivals. Did they blow my socks off? No, but they were flapping round my ankles in a very strong breeze.

Words by Martin Jordan.

Key Features

SLT-Α55V / SLT-A33

Type

Interchangeable lens digital camera with built-in flash

Lens Compatibility

Sony α lens, Minolta and Konica Minolta AF lens

Image Sensor

a55:

Exmor™ APS HD CMOS 16.2 effective megapixels (approx.)

a33:

Exmor™ APS HD CMOS 14.2 effective megapixels (approx.)

Processor

BIONZ™ image processor

ISO Sensitivity Range

ISO 100 - 12800 (Extended: ISO 25600 in Multi Frame NR Mode)

Image Quality Modes

JPEG (fine, standard), RAW, RAW + JPEG

HDMI Connector and BRAVIA Sync

HDMI mini connector (Type C), BRAVIA Sync (Sync menu), PhotoTV HD

Image Size: 3:2 (pixels)

a55:

L size:  4912x3264 (16M)

M size:  3568x2368 (8.4M)

S size:  2448x1624 (4M)

 

a33:

L size:  4592x3056 (14M)

M size:  3344x2224 (7.4M)

S size:  2288x1520 (3.5M)

 

HD movie record

Quick AF Full HD movie with phase-detection autofocus

AVCHD: 1920 x 1080i (16:9)

MP4: 1440 x 1080 (16:9) / 640 x 480 (4:3)

Max record time: 29 mins

Electronic Viewfinder

Electronic Viewfinder “Tru-Finder” (Xtra Fine) (1.15 million dots effective resolution), with 100% frame coverage

Digital level gauge, shooting information and grid line display modes

 

LCD

7.5cm (3”) TFT (Xtra Fine LCD) with 921k dot resolution; variable-angle tilt/swivel mechanism

Live View System

Quick AF Live View

SteadyShot INSIDE

YES

Anti-dust System

Coating on low pass filter, plus image-sensor shift

Focus Modes

AF/MF selectable

AF modes: Single-shot AF, Automatic AF, Continuous AF

Autofocus System

TTL 15-point phase detection AF system with 3 cross sensors

Exposure Modes

Programmed AE (AUTO, AUTO - Flash Off, P), Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Scene selection

Exposure Metering System

1200-zone evaluative metering

Exposure Metering Modes

Multi-segment, Centre-weighted, Spot

Scene Selection

Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night portrait/Night view, Hand-held Twilight

Creative Style Settings

Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, B/W

Sweep Panorama

YES (2D and 3D)

Auto HDR

YES (available in P/A/S/M modes)

Shutter Speed

1/4000-30sec, Bulb

Exposure Bracketing

3 continuous exposures, in 0.3 or 0.7 EV steps

White Balance Settings

Auto / 6 presets / Colour Temperature/Colour Filter /  Custom WB

Continuous Advance Shooting

a55:

Continuous Priority AE mode: up to 10fps with tracking AF

Continuous mode: Up to 6fps

*varies according to shooting conditions and memory card used

a33:

Continuous Priority AE mode: up to 7fps with tracking AF

Continuous mode: Up to 6fps

*varies according to shooting conditions and memory card used

Approx. no. of Shots

a55:

Approx. 330 images with viewfinder, approx. 380 images in live view mode (CIPA standard)

a33:

Approx. 270 images with viewfinder, approx. 340 images in live view mode (CIPA standard)



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