Last week Sony announced the newest addition to their Alpha line of DSLR cameras - the Sony A58. This week I had the pleasure of traveling to New York for an invite-only event to have some hands-on time with the Sony A58 at the American Museum of Natural History.
The A58 was introduced as the successor for the A57 and A37 cameras and was lavishly given a huge feature set for such a compact entry-level DSLR. For starters, the Alpha A58 has a 20.1-megapixel APS-C sensor (this is the same size sensor that can be found in the Nikon DX line and just slightly bigger than the sensor found in Canon's cropped sensor cameras). Driven by the powerful Bionz processor, the A58 features the same noise reduction algorithms found in the Sony Alpha A99. In addition, the A58 is Sony's newest camera to offer Translucent Mirror Technology. Designed to allow for non-stop phase detection AF and continuous live image preview, the A58 offers a speedy autofocus system with in-camera image stabilization. The A58 offers extremely high ISO sensitivities up to 16,000. Yes, that's right - 16,000 ISO! Another feature includes an electronic viewfinder that claims to have superior contrast ratio and be far more accurate with defocusing effects similar to that seen from a standard DSLR viewfinder.
In addition, several auto shooting options are now available including Auto Object framing and Lock-On AF. Auto object framing allows the camera to expertly crop the images in-camera to offer users the most pleasing results; allowing you to take your images to the next level. Lock-on AF uses and advanced form of object recognition to continuously follow the subject. Even if the subject leaves the frame, the camera will recognize it as soon as it reenters the frame. Finally, the camera uses 15 image effects to boost your creativity in-camera.
Our First Impression
Immediately I noticed that this camera was designed for an entry-level DSLR shooter. Although it has a lot of features, users of the A99 (or other higher-end DSLRs) will notice a dramatic difference in the feel and functionality of the camera. That being said, they will also notice a distinct price difference, too. So, to be fair to this camera, we will evaluate it accordingly. $600 is a very good price for a DSLR with these features.
I really liked the feel of the Sony Alpha A58. It was sturdy, but lightweight. It was easy to carry and has a hefty grip for easy handling over long periods of time. The physical buttons were logically arranged and easy to maneuver. Because I shoot in manual mode for most cases, one of my favorite features was the easy-to-access ISO button located on the top right side of the camera. I also enjoyed the mode dial on the top left side of the camera. Being able to change between P, S, A, M and the plethora of other shooting modes was quick and painless. New users should be able to easily learn how to adjust the camera's settings. The LCD display on the back of the camera was a tad bit smaller than average - measuring in at 2.7-inches. But the screen was bright and clear. Image playback with zoom allowed for chimping my pictures and make changes as needed. I used the tilt screen in several situations in order to get the desired angle for an image. The electronic viewfinder was okay, but not quite up to the hype. I was not "able to more accurately gauge the defocusing effects." However, I will hold off final judgment until I receive my own review unit. Maybe the EVF will respond better outdoors or in indoor areas with better lighting.
Before I move on to image quality I need to talk about our shooting environment. Although the American Museum of Natural History is awesome with interesting exhibits and lots of great things to photograph, it lacked a crucial element to creating great images - good lighting. Don't get me wrong, shooting in low light can be fun and dramatic. But in this situation, I did not have a tripod, remote shutter release or an excellent prime lens. I used the kit lens included with this camera - the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. Although this is an all-around acceptable lens for entry level users, it is not a fantastic lens in low light. So I decided to make the most of it and check out the amazingly high ISO sensitivities of the A58. In all honesty, I was afraid that the images would look horrible. But I was impressed with how well the camera handled it. Not only did the A58 maintain fast autofocus, but the lens did very little hunting. As expected, grain was evident in the images, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The camera did a fine job of rendering good images.
I played around with the Lock-On AF for only a minute. The museum was not really conducive to capturing these images. I would much prefer to try this functionality with my kids at the soccer park or beach.
Because the A58 is A-mount lens and has access to 35 Sony lenses and a slue of third party lenses, it's a solid choice for entry-level DSLR users. It offers plenty of features that will help newbies pursue their craft, while still allowing them to fall back on familiar point and shoot settings. Priced at $600 with an included kit lens this camera is a good deal. My advice would be to purchase a better lens (or 2 or 3) to get the maximum functionality from this camera. Don't underestimate a great piece of glass paired with a starter DSLR. It might last you longer than you think!