Like its junior version – the new A35 – and similar A33 predecessor, the 16.2-megapixel A55 is classified by its maker as a single-lens translucent (SLT) camera, because, in a first of its kind, its internal mirror mechanism has been rendered see-through.
The upshot is faster, more accurate auto-focus, and best-in-class burst shooting of up to 10fps, plus users can start shooting HD video in an instant, lending the A55 the edge for videographers. Further good news is that its crystal-clear LCD also swivels and tilts through 270 degrees for creative framing options. As an added bonus for travel photographers, the A55 is Sony’s first Alpha to feature GPS for geo-tagging images and video clips.
Like most Sony DSLRs the A55 has an abundance of plastic, but the smaller form factor helps disguise it, and the handgrip has improved. An unusual feature is that the camera boasts an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one – more suited to video as it happens – and with dioptric adjuster it offers a 100 per cent field of view and impressively high 1.15-million dot resolution. The flight simulator-like horizon level that appears in the viewfinder when you’re lining up a shot is helpful, flashing red if you angle the camera. As you bring your eye level with the viewfinder the LCD below turns off automatically.
The A55 is quick off the blocks. We were taking our first picture in just over a second utilising the 18-55mm kit lens. The camera features in-body image stabilisation, so specialist optics aren’t required. Recording AVCHD or MPEG-4 video is as simple as pressing the camcorder-style record button at the top of the backplate. This commences recording, whichever alternative is selected on the shooting mode dial. Focus automatically adjusts when recording, so there’s no need for manual dexterity, though you do hear the lens adjusting.
Not essential, but fun, is a Sweep Panorama function borrowed from Cyber-shot compacts. More likely to be used regularly is the A55’s exposure-adjusting Auto HDR functionality, ably maintaining both shadow and highlight detail if shooting against a bright background. Colours are warm straight out of the camera, and detail is crisp, so like just about all of its rivals minimal post processing is required.