It seems like not too long ago that I got my Sony A350 DSLR, ok... so it was only about a year ago that I got it. And boy did I have a lot of fun with it, the performance of an SLR was definitely needed to take shots of WZ who was now running, jumping and climbing everywhere. And Sony's FANTASTIC DSLR Live View system made the A350 a joy to use. But all good things must come to an end, and on Saturday 12th December 2009 (following the busted suspension) I said good bye to my Sony Alpha A350.
And HELLO to the Sony Alpha A550!
What follows is just a quick rundown of the camera, if you want to read a real review with numbers and samples and such check out this one.
So what warranted the upgrade? Well basically I liked the fact that the A550 had better High ISO performance due to the fact that well.. there's a one year technology gap between the A350 and the A550 so of course it got better between then and now!
This pic was taken in a dimly lit restaurant at ISO 6400, obviously there's still noise but it's not like I'm printing 8R sized pictures here.
If you're wondering, NO... the A550 record HD video. I've said it before that the way DSLR cameras take video now is a nifty little trick, but the fact that a cheaper point & shoot digicam can take video in a much more user friendly manner (ie.. with auto focus.. sound recording... no jello vision) means that I'll never buy a DSLR for it's video capability less my wife has the opportunity to say "Why is the video all shaky? Why can't the expensive camera auto focus while recording video?" But.. while the A550 can't record video, it has a speed priority multishot mode, once engaged you just hold down the shutter button, and the camera will start snapping pics at a maximum speed of 7 frames per second up to a max of 32 images at JPEG Fine quality. Makes for a nice flip book effect! ;) But when just one of 14 MegaPixel JPEG files has an average size of 6MB, it'd be best to buy a huge memory card first. And while we're on that topic.
The A550 comes with TWO memory card slots, an standard SDHC (I'm guessing it's HC, since the manual says that 32GB SD cards are supported) card slot and a slot for Sony's Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. There's a little switch that allows you to toggle between which of the slots you want to use. I was going to get an SD card at Low Yat but after the little accident with my car I just decided to get a Memory Stick from the shop. Call me old fashioned, but I still think Compact Flash cards had the time to mature into a realiable and high performance media. But of course... Compact Flash pins aren't exactly the best connector interface.
Another welcomed change from the A350 is that it now has a STANDARD Mini USB connector instead of some proprietary/uncommon one.
And yes that's a Mini HDMI connector beside it. Which I personally feel I'm NEVER going to use. Heck... I don't even have a Mini HDMI cable!
The last thing I want to talk about is the A550's Live View.
Like the A350 the A550's Live View that's activated by the switch is unlike what you see on Canon's and Nikon's. While the other manufacturers choose to use the actual image sensor as the live view camera, thus sacrificing shot speed. Sony's LiveView uses another lower resolution camera sensor to give a LiveView experience that's exactly what you get on a normal digital camera WITHOUT sacrificing autofocus and shot speed. If anyone tells you a DSLR's LiveView is useless, they haven't seen a Sony DSLR LiveView in action before!
While Sony's LiveView experience is great in the eyes of people coming from compact cameras, the Pros shunned it because it wasn't an actual representation of the image you would shot cause the LiveView sensor showed a cropped image instead of the full picture that would be captured. To satisfy those users the A550 is able to perform LiveView using the ACTUAL IMAGE SENSOR (just like how Canon and Nikon does it) just by pushing the MF Check LV button on the top of the camera.
While it's a great way to know absolutely what picture you're going to be taking, remember that a DSLR's image sensor was not meant to be constantly on so the longer you keep it constantly on in LiveView mode, the hotter it gets.. and personally the shorter the lifespan of the sensor will be. (That's probably why users of the other camera don't encourage or see the point of LiveView :P)
Another neat trick that the A550 can do is that it can create HDR pics in the camera itself, basically the camera will take 2 shots at varying exposure levels and piece them together to form a HDR shot without the need to use Photoshop or what now. It's a neat trick, but I can't quite tell the difference yet. other than the highlights on a HDR pic looking brighter, check out the balls on the Christmas tree.
I really can't tell the difference... here are two shots of the same location, one with HDR, one without. Can you tell which is which?
I can't even remember which is which myself! :P
The A550 is definitely a worthwhile upgrade from my A350 and I'm glad that I got it, I think I should be able to keep using this until Sony puts proper video recording into a camera. ;)