Field Review: Sony A55 (Day 3)

Sony A55 with 35mm F/1.8 SAM - Creative Style = Black & White

Like I said in the previous days’ posts, the A55 seems to be geared towards individuals that are stepping up from a point and shoot (P&S) or an advanced P&S (e.g. Panasonic LX-5) to a DSLR. The vast majority of these people make the jump because they want something that will “take better pictures” of their family, friends, and the all important vacation photographs. So I decided to take the A55 into Boston to see how it would perform from a tourist’s perspective. I was lucky enough to get a nice warm day to venture out into the city and boy did I pay for it…people were EVERYWHERE! The Boston Common was so packed that you could hardly see any grass. It also seemed like everyone was out with their DSLR. Funny, I never see people out shooting in the winter.

Wimps. OK, enough complaining…on with the review. To test out the Sony A55, I hit three of Boston’s tourist hotspots: The Boston Common, The Public Gardens, and Newbury Street. Let’s see how the A55 held up.

Sony A55 with 35mm F/1.8 SAM


Equipment Used

Editor’s Note: All of the images in this post are straight from the camera JPEGs, no post processing was done at all. Black and white images where made by using the in-camera creative style mode.

Auto Focus

Sony A55 with 35mm F/1.8 SAM

I’ll get straight to the point on the A55‘s AF, it’s not terrible…but I’m not in love with it. It works well most of the time but it did give me a few problems during my day in Boston. The biggest problem was focusing on small subjects, like the flowers and buds below. I even used single point AF with the center point selected and it would just hunt back and forth without locking on. I had to resort to using manual focus to lock on to the flowers shown above which was a fairly easy task thanks to the nice big external display. The AF system also seemed to have trouble with fast moving subjects. I tried to focus on a few cars and bicycles and the AF system either missed or would not lock onto the subject.

Sony A55 with 35mm F/1.8 SAM

Even though the AF system can miss or hunt at times, I wouldn’t completely write-off the Sony A55 for one reason, Live View. Using the external screen and being able to achieve almost instantaneous AF lock is pretty awesome. Yes, as I stated before, AF can hunt at times but I would say that more than 90% of the time it focuses quickly and accurately. Using the external screen to shoot is going to feel more natural for users stepping up from a P&S which is one major selling point for the A55.

Electronic Viewfinder & External Screen

As I said in the previous section, the external screen is a joy to use. It makes you think in ways you wouldn’t when using a DSLR with an optical viewfinder. You naturally want to shoot at different angles. The resolution on the external screen is excellent and even black levels look good but like most external screens, bright light renders it pretty much useless. The A55 does have a built in Electronic Live Viewfinder (EVF) but I only used it as a last resort. Unfortunately, the EVF looks awful compared to the external screen. It looks pixelated and dim which makes it hard to pick out details in your photo. You can use the optional magnification setting when using the EVF which can be helpful when using manual focus, but it seemed a bit clunky in use. With the camera up to your eye, you have to press the delete button located on the bottom right hand corner of the camera. This is probably the most inconvenient place to get to when you have the camera up to your face. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Sony added an EVF to the A55, but I only found myself using it when the external screen was completely unusable.

Dynamic Range Optimizer

As I showed in Day 2, the Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) can actually help you when shooting out in the field, but I found that it can also hurt you as well. Take a look at the images below. Both RAW and JPEG files were straight out of the camera but the JPEG had DRO set to auto. As you can see, the camera tried to even out the exposure across the image and it did a good job but it also leaves the images flat and lacking contrast. I like the RAW file much better.

RAW file converted to JPEG in Lightroom, no post processing

JPEG with DRO set to Auto

On the opposite end, below are two images that show how DRO can help. The first image is the RAW file and the second is the JPEG again with DRO set to auto. As you can see, the DRO was able to pull additional detail out of the statue that the RAW did not capture straight out of the camera. There may be some other Sony trickery going on here but I think what the camera is essentially doing is it evaluates the image and sets the exposure compensation for you; there may be some fill light type function added to the image as well. Yes, you could just bump the exposure in the RAW file or add some fill light in post processing to reveal the same level of detail but not everyone that buys this camera will shoot RAW and want to mess with post processing.

RAW file converted to JPEG in Lightroom, no post processing

JPEG with DRO set to Auto

Image Quality

Sony A55 with 35mm F/1.8 SAM

So far, I’ve been pretty impressed by the results from the A55. The RAW files have good flexibility and JPEGs are good straight for the camera. As I stated in Day 2, there seems to be a color shift in JPEGs vs. RAW files. If you are overly concerned about color accuracy, you should be shooting RAW anyway so this shouldn’t be a major issue for most. Auto white balance (AWB) and the camera’s metering modes work well in all situations. Even in my living room with the lights dimmed, the AWB does it’s job and sorts things out nicely.

I’ve noticed some noise in the RAW files, even at ISO 200, but the in camera noise reduction does a good job of cleaning up the JPEGs without softening or mucking up the photo. I will be sure to test the high ISO capabilities of the A55 in a later post.

Sony A55 with 35mm F/1.8 SAM

Battery Life

Some of you have asked about battery life so I wanted to make sure I touched on that. During my afternoon of shooting, I shot about 150 shots and made a few short videos. I also walked around with the camera on standby quite a bit but I also turned it off and on several times.

During this session, I used a little more than 40% of the A55‘s battery.

More to come in the review. We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you liked this posting, feel free to share it.

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