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The Complete Sony A55 Review

by Mike Pouliot on 05/12/2011

Sadly, my time with the A55 has come to an end. So what are my overall thoughts on the camera? I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by this innovative little camera. It’s fast, easy to use and it produces excellent photos and video. Instead of rambling on and repeating the previous days’ posts, I’ve made a list of my likes and dislikes. Please keep in mind that some of these may be a bit subjective, the following are simply my thoughts after using the camera for several days.

Testing

 

Likes

  • External screen: The bright, clear and beautiful external screen is probably my favorite part of the A55. Shooting with the articulating screen makes you want to shoot from strange angles and gives you a real sense of freedom. On top of that, Sony has included helpful shooting info and overlays which can be selected by the user when needed. My favorite is the on screen electronic level…no more crooked shots.
  • Special features: I thought some of the special features were going to be kind of gimmicky. Thankfully, Sony actually made these features easy to use but more importantly, they are truly helpful. My favorite of the bunch had to be sweep panorama. See Day 2 for more info on each of the special features.
  • Size and Weight: Most people do not like to take their camera with them for two reasons, size and weight. While it’s not as small as a micro four thirds camera or even the Sony NEX, it is one of the smaller DSLRs on the market. I carried the A55 around for hours and I hardly noticed it was there.
  • Video: The video from the A55 isn’t perfect, but it is pretty darn good for a consumer camera. If access to the shutter and aperture were available during shooting I think Sony would have hit a home run with the A55‘s video abilities.
  • Electronic Viewfinder: While I’d much rather use the external screen, I’m very happy that Sony included an EVF on the A55. There are certain situations where an EVF is invaluable, like when shooting in the blazing sun. Thankfully the EVF can display the same shooting information that is available on the external screen.
  • Progressive features: I think the real winning trait of the A55 is something I’m going to call “Progressive Features”. What I mean by progressive features is the A55 offers users that may be new to DSLRs or advanced cameras the ability to just pick up the camera and make beautiful photos. But more importantly, the A55 gives users the means to grow as a photographer. I couldn’t imagine giving my Canon 5D to my mom and expect her to be able to use it effectively. She would most likely get discouraged and give up on the camera. The A55 on the other hand offers excellent auto settings that help guide the user to achieve the type of shot they desire. But the A55 doesn’t stop there. It almost encourages the user to try different modes and use it’s different functions. Taking the fear out of photography is key for people that are starting out or trying to get better and I think the A55 excels in this area.

Dislikes

  • Buttons and Button Layout: While the A55 is very easy to use, it is littered with buttons. Even after a few days of shooting, I was still hitting buttons while just trying to grip the camera. Again, I only had the A55 for a little over a week so I probably would have adapted to the body but it was slightly annoying. My other beef is the pure amount of buttons on the A55. I enjoy having quick access to functions but do you really need a dedicated button for the D-Range/Auto HDR feature? Probably not.
  • The External Screen: Yes, I know I have the screen in the likes and dislikes but Sony made one big mistake with this, the swivel for the screen should be on the side and not the bottom. I could see this screen getting in the way for anyone using a tripod. It also makes getting overhead shots a little more difficult that it has to be.
  • Auto Focus: Hands down my biggest complaint with the A55 is the AF. While it worked well most of the time, it did refuse to lock onto a subject on several occasions. Even when manually selecting the AF point, the A55 would struggle to focus at times. I’m not sure if this can be chalked up to the fancy semi-transparent mirror or if is a software issue, but Sony needs to address this issue. Now, I don’t want to scare people off by making them think the A55 can’t focus to save it’s life because that’s not the case. I just want to make it clear that you may encounter the occasional AF hiccup. I used the A55 for over a week and it never annoyed me to the point that I would have returned it if I had purchased the camera with my own money.

 

The Sony A55 vs. Sony NEX

When I first received the A55 I thought, OK so why not save a couple hundred bucks and go for the NEX? Now that I’ve spent some time with the A55, I can now see that these are two VERY different cameras. If you are stepping up from a point and shoot (P&S) and you don’t think you’ll ever really need anything beyond what an advanced P&S can offer, than go with the NEX. It’s small, light and more importantly it has very good IQ. If you are looking to upgrade from a P&S or advanced P&S and you want your next camera to be able to grow with you, go for the A55. You have WAY more lenses to choose from, IQ is much better, you get more features, in-body image stabilization, built in flash, and the list goes on and on.

Chris reviewed the NEX-5 a while back.

Who is the Sony A55 for?

Like I said in Day 1, the A55 is a feature packed camera. The special features and some of the more common features make this an ideal camera for someone who is stepping up from a P&S or advanced P&S camera. The auto modes work well but on top of the plain auto modes Sony has added other features which help the user get the most out of the camera. From full auto mode, you can advance to the Auto+ mode which allows you to delve into some of the additional functions like auto HDR. Once users get comfortable shooting in Auto+ the next natural step is to move to one of the PASM modes. I think that was well thought out. I could even see some of my technically challenged family and friends learning and growing with this camera.

 

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