Field Review: Sony a580 (Day 1)

Sony a580

Within the past two weeks, I have made the move from film to digital. My Minolta career is on hold for a while as I explore every facet of Sony’s latest addition to the alpha DSLR line: the a580. I had a brief hands-on with it at Photo Plus. This camera is a blend of elements as it is an upgrade from the a550, and it shares a 16.2 MP sensor and full HD video with the a55. In this post, I will detail my first impressions as a new Sony alpha shooter. Any images taken with the a580 were shot with Minolta AF glass.

Tech Specs

-23.4 x 15.6 APS-C CMOS Sensor

-16.2 MP resolution

-ISO sensitivity up to 12,800

-Burst capacity up to 7 fps

-Full HD video

-AVCHD & Quicktime Motion JPEG recording formats

-95% OVF coverage, 100% in Focus-check Live View mode

-3.0″ LCD, 921,600 dots, tiltable

As stated earlier, the a580 is a blend of elements. It’s 16.2 MP sensor is the only feature that distinguishes it from the soon to be released a560. It is currently unclear whether or not Sony will continue to add to its traditional alpha DSLR line. In the past year, Sony made waves with the new NEX line of cameras – the NEX-3 and NEX-5 – and the introduction of the translucent mirror line of alpha cameras, the a33 and a55. (Chris reviewed the NEX-5 and loved the A55.) The translucent mirrors in the a33 and a55 force both to have an Electronic Viewfinder as opposed to an optical one, which the a580 has. Coming from a Minolta film camera, I’m well accustomed to an OVF, and I wanted to maintain that with digital. So I purchased the a580.

Ergonomics

I’ve only had prolonged exposure to two cameras in my photographic career, the Minolta Maxxum Htsi-Plus and the Sony a230. Both have okay grips. I can tolerate the Htsi-Plus’ grip because I’ve been using it for almost two years, and I can tolerate the a230’s grip because it was the only DSLR in my home until the a580moved in. If I had my choice, which I know I do, I’d have avoided those grips altogether. I’m a large-handed individual, so anything too small proves too frustrating and awkward for long stretches of shooting.

Minolta Maxxum Htsi-Plus Grip

Sony a230 Grip

Take a look at those two grips. They’re not remarkably comfortable. The a580‘s grip, however, is smooth and contoured.

While that isn’t the best angle, you can readily see the curvature of the a580‘s grip. It’s a joy to hold. The camera is bulkier than its lower priced brethren—like the a230. The grip on the a230 was a point of confusion for me because, if memory serves, it was the only grip of its kind across any of the alpha DSLRs. Perhaps it was designed for the most petite photographers.

Tiltable LCD

Extended LCD

While this isn’t a landmark addition, as it has been done before, it is a smart addition. Now that I have this added leverage, I’ve found myself going for shots I would have overlooked or simply ignored given time constraints and other limitations. Last month, Chris Gampat held his monthly gathering, Snapshots, at Stone Creek in NYC. While there, I noticed someone who looked like he wanted his picture taken.

Frosted

I planted the a580, switched to Live View, maneuvered the LCD, and began adjusting the focus of my Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7. This was shot at ISO 1600 wide open at 1/60 sec. Slight adjustments were made in paint.net for contrast and brightness.

If I find myself in tight spots with a shot close to the ground or in a crowd with a sea of heads around me, I’ll have the good fortune of being able to see the shot from a different angle. It’s not a landmark addition, sure, but it’s helpful and worth noting.

Autofocus

Given my Minolta tenure, I carried over five lenses from the Htsi-Plus. I do not own any current Sony glass, aside from the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens which sits at the bottom of the camera bag. My mainstay is the Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7. Perhaps it’s the age of the lens, but I noticed a slight bit of difficulty using the a580‘s AF with the Minolta lens. When I tested the a580 back at Photo Plus, the AF was quick and easy. As I craft more postings in this field review, I’ll be sure to revisit this small hiccup.

All of that aside, the a580 features an 11 point AF spread. The AF controls can be accessed by pressing the Fn button located above the directional buttons. On the left side of the two-tiered menu are the options Autofocus Mode and AF Area. Under Mode, there’s Single-shot AF (AF-S), Automatic AF (AF-A), and Continuous AF (AF-C). Under Area, there’s Wide, Spot, and Local. Set the camera to Local to manually select the desired AF point. This small section of the larger menu system is a breeze to access and move through.

It is important to note that because the a580is a traditional DSLR, it cannot continuously autofocus in video. Because of translucent mirror technology, the a33 and a55both can autofocus with each shot in burst mode and can shoot video with AF. The mirrors in both the a33 and a55do not flip up and can afford both the higher burst rates and extended use of AF.

Conclusion for the first bit

I’m very much enamored with the a580. It’s proving to be an excellent upgrade, and given that I will be in Thailand soon for the better part of January, this will be a worthy companion on the streets of Bangkok. There’s more to come in this Field Review. A concert. Faces. And Thailand. Stay tuned.

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