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Apr 11, 2012

SONY SLT A57 Camera Preview and Photos

The Japanese company had something really different and surprising to unveil, the SLT-A57 photo camera.

The A-57 is the successor of SONY’s well known A55. SLT cameras are fundamentally different from standard DSLR camera or MILC cameras as well. SONY’s SLT brand name is translated into “Single-Lens Translucent.”

They don’t have the moving mirror that is present in all DLSR cameras. SLT cameras use the same large sensors as the DSLR cameras, but don’t have an optical viewfinder that would allow the user to see directly the image that forms through the lens.

Instead, SLT cameras have an electronic viewfinder (EVF), just like compact cameras have. Sure, the EVF from such a camera is of much better quality than the usual, compact camera EVF.

SLT cameras actually do have a “mirror”, but - unlike the one in DSLRs – this one does not move and it’s semi-transparent. The majority of  light passing through such a mirror will reach the sensor, while some part will be reflected towards the phase-detection autofocus sensor. This way, SLT cameras benefit from full time phase-detection autofocus and a much faster focus in general.

Most MILC cameras also can benefit from full time autofocus but that’s generally based on the contrast detection method that is less reliable and much slower. So SLT cameras have a noticeable native focusing advantage versus both, the DSLR and the MILC cameras.

This phase-detection autofocus is also very useful when filming, being available through the entire shooting of the video.

Because there is no real mirror and no optical viewfinder, there is no blackout when taking a picture and also, the SLT A-57 has much shorter shutter lag.

SLT cameras do come with some small compromise like the fact that there is no real-time viewfinder update when shooting at high rates. The viewfinder shows the last picture taken instead of where the camera is actually pointed, but this is mostly a concern with fast-moving subjects.

Some DSLR cameras do not update the image at all, as mirror is up when shooting so this is really a small compromise.

Also, the EVF has much less dynamic range than the sensor so the image is not the same with what is being captured at the time, but the overall quality of the EVF on the SLT cameras is considerably higher than on the MILC or compact cameras.

The SONY SLT A-57 benefits from a LCD viewfinder but this is a high quality EVF that offers 48% more effective pixels when compared with its predecessor, the A55. The effective number of pixels is 1,440,000 dots and it also has a special viewing mode for the users that are wearing glasses.

SONY calls its new EVF the Tru-Finder and  it’s really something different from the average EVF.

SLT A-57 also comes with a bottom-hinged rear 3” LCD that can be rotated into any direction. It has a 920,000 dot resolution and can also be flipped towards the back of the camera so that the screen is protected from scratches and the usual wear and tear. This is a Live View screen with Xtra Fine TFT and TruBlack technology.

The platform has a 16.1 mega pixel CMOS sensor that is also used for the image stabilization so that the optional lenses should have a lower cost. Having sensor-shift image stabilization means that the A-57, through the means of an adapter, will be able to take image stabilized pictures using almost any old Konica Minolta lens.

SONY’s SLT A-57 excels at continuous shooting mode being able to take 10 frames per second at full 16.1 MP resolution or 12 fps at a 8.4MP crop. This is something unique about the SLT cameras and the A-57 is the absolute best in its class.

The CMOS sensor size is 23.5 x 15.6 mm in ASP-C format and it can capture pictures at a maximum resolution of 4912 x 3264 pixels.  It can use 3:2 or 16:9 formats and the maximum manual ISO is a staggering 16000.

Using the ISO boost, it can reach an ISO value of 25600. What’s even better is that the A-57 shoots every single image of the 10 or 12 pictures complete with autofocus, when in continuous shooting mode.

The platform is powered by SONY’s newest generation BIONZ processor and it is really fast and efficient. The efficiency of the processing architecture can be demonstrated by the fact that the A-57 can easily surpass the official battery specifications being able to take around 1200 pictures and some FullHD movies with stereo sound during the two days it was tested.

The minimum shutter speed is 30 sec which is very good for capturing night images and the maximum speed is 1/4000 sec.

SONY’s new SLT camera also comes with a pop-up flash that is able to cover a distance of up to 10 meters. There is also an external flash Hot-shoe with wireless connectivity.

Unlike its predecessor, the A-57 has much more in common with the A65. It has the same body size and also the same battery pack as the A65 and A77. It’s a FM500H 1600 mAh battery.

Due to its very high shooting speed, the A-57 can capture breath taking panoramas that look very good even if there’s no tripod for it and they are shot by hand. Using 3D glasses and a HDMI cable, the user can also enjoy a 3D version of the panorama.

Using its fast BIONZ processor, the A-57 can film FullHD resolution videos at a maximum frame rate of 60 FPS in NTSC versions of the product and 50 FPS in PAL versions. Auto Focus is present through the entire video.

On the audio side, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the stereo microphone integrated into the camera and there is also an external microphone jack present.

Overall, the SONY SLT A-57 camera is a surprising product with lots of really useful technical features that will likely make it a best seller this summer.

Pricing starts at 700 USD for the body and 800 USD for the kit containing a 18-55mm lens. That is around 535 EUR for the body and 610 EUR for the kit in Europe.


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