BUILD AND DESIGN
The a55 will immediately be recognizable as a DSLR, albeit on the smaller end of the size spectrum. The body is composite and seems well put together - fit and finish is in line with the camera's price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
The first thing I noticed about the a55 was the size - it measures out at 4.9x3.58x3.33 inches, which puts it the ballpark with the Olympus E-450 as one of the smaller DSLRs. With much of the camera back dedicated to the 3.0-inch monitor and a thumb rest, the space that's left is packed with buttons and controls. Ditto for the top of the body. Even so, I had no trouble with inadvertent activations.
The deeply sculpted handgrip offers a secure hold, but clearance between the grip and the lens barrel was snug for my fingers. My shooting finger fell naturally across the shutter button, but at the second pad of the finger - it required a conscious effort to pull the finger back and activate the shutter with the finger tip. Folks with large hands should definitely check the feel of the camera before buying.
The controls themselves are logical and intuitive. There's a dedicated movie capture button, and function and d-range buttons take you to menus for available camera settings based on your particular shooting mode. Some controls have a dual function depending on the context in which they're activated - the function button also serves as the AF area selection control, for example.
Menus and Modes
Menus are straightforward and largely intuitive. There is a three page recording menu, two page custom menu, two page playback menu and one page memory card tool and clock setup menus.
Shooting modes run the gamut from fully manual to fully automatic with specific scene options thrown in for good measure.
The sweep shooting mode on the a55 is very capable and easy to use. You need to allow a good margin at the top and bottom of the frame (right and left if shooting in the vertical format), but once I got the hang of composition the a55 produced a steady diet of nice panoramas, all hand held. Here's my first try with the San Diego harbor waterfront and the keeper with the right composition.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the a55 has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 5 levels of brightness manually in addition to an auto setting. The monitor may be flipped down through 180 degrees of travel and rotated through 270 degrees; coverage is listed as 100 %. In bright sunlight the monitor can be difficult to use for image composition and capture, although the flip/rotate features can be of help in some cases.
The electronic viewfinder has a 1.15 million dot composition and diopter adjustment to accommodate varying degrees of eyesight. Coverage is 100%.
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