Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My brand spanking shiny new camera - The Sony Alpha 55.

So after smashing and drowning my original Sony Alpha this summer (trying to take a dramatic shot from the middle of a Colorado river!!) I finally chose my replacement.

I was considering between a new full size SLR, or one of the new breed of micro four thirds cameras. All the selection, from the Olympus PEN, the Panasonic GF1 & 2 and the Sony NEX5 look superb, and have been re-sized excellently for the (alleged) quality pictures they produce.

I came closest to selecting the Sony NEX5 - if I'm honest, based mostly on it's look and metal construction - but if this was to be a multi-lens camera for me, then I couldn't really figure out the benefit of going with the smaller body (and the compromises that comes with), when it will anyway be too big to pocket when it has a mega zoom lens attached.

As I am also a very proud owner of a Leica D-Lux 4 (a generous birthday gift from my brother) which superbly fills my need for a compact camera (excepting only the woeful zoom), so I chose to go again with a full size and function SLR and picked up the newly launched Sony Alpha 55. For an SLR, It is still a relatively compact format and incredibly light. I chose Sony over the highly rated Canon, mainly so that my collection of Sony lenses wouldn't go to waste (and I had experienced 4 good years of service from my original Alpha).
So with my new camera in hand, Diwali day was to be the test day. It was going to allow me a variety of testing scenarios, albeit more in the genre of "family snapshot" than "Alpine panorama". There was the father son golf tournament for an outdoor sunshine test, Diwali gift giving at home for inside low light testing (using the built in flash) and family celebrations at home in the evening to test outdoor low light settings and the cameras ability to capture ambiance. I also got a chance to test the HD video recording to capture the kids running wild.

In all cases, my new Alpha performed superbly. There are subtle design changes to the original model and some nice material usage. It feels great to hold and has solid clicks with all the button presses, and am especially satisfying shutter click sound.

A couple of picture samples are shown above. Very sharp and clear (if not re-sized and viewed on my two lovely new HD LED monitors), and I can also testify that the HD video results were simply outstanding. Amazingly clear audio and excellent video with sharp, clear focus, even in low light.

A key problem with the micro four thirds cameras is the lack of an optical viewfinder, and the problem with my original Alpha was the lack of an LCD viewfinder. This new Alpha has both, although the optical viewfinder on this product is actually another LCD screen. This allows you instant previews of your pictures through the "optical" viewfinder. Very clever and very useful. The LCD screen is hinged and will allow you to take pictures with the camera held high or low, in addition to self portraits (for the very vain of us!).

The other settings are as to be expected on a top end camera (admittedly put to very limited use by me), and there is a fairly logical menu structure, including the options for a 10 fps burst mode and a panorama sweep mode, both of which I am yet to fully test.

I have not yet been able to test the battery to it's full, but can only hope it as good as my previous version (with could carry me through a weekend of heavy clicking).

I'm off to Europe in a couple of weeks, and will get a chance to really put this thing through it's paces - I can't wait.

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