Sunday, February 13, 2011

Digital DNA

Unless you’re already committed to a specific brand through years of lens and accessory purchases, buying a new DSLR today may mean comparing a dozen models.
By Mike Stensvold Published in SLRs
Digital DNA

Sony SLT-A55

The SLT-A55 features a fixed translucent pellicle mirror, and this confers a number of benefits. First, unlike conventional moving-mirror DSLRs, there's no mirror vibration or viewfinder blackout when you make an exposure. Second, the camera's quick phase-detection AF system works in live-view mode, even in video mode. Third, you can shoot videos using the eye-level electronic viewfinder if you prefer, rather than only the external LCD monitor as with other video-capable DSLRs. The nonmoving mirror also speeds camera operation.

Like Sony's conventional DSLRs, the 14.2-megapixel SLT-A55 uses Sony A-mount lenses. The camera can shoot at 6 fps (10 fps in Speed Priority mode, with focus locked). Features shared with other recent Sony DSLRs include Sweep Panorama and effective Dynamic Range Optimizer to control contrasty scenes.

Sony NEX-5

The NEX-5 and kid brother NEX-3 are Sony's mirrorless interchangeable-lens models, featuring APS-C sensors in very compact bodies. The NEX-5 has a 14.2-megapixel Sony Exmor HD CMOS sensor in a tiny body that's actually a bit smaller than the NEX-3 and about half the size of Sony's smallest DSLR.

Among the NEX-5's highlights are a tilting 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor with full-time live view (there's no eye-level electronic viewfinder, nor is one available as an option). The NEX-5 can shoot at 2.3 fps with focusing for each shot or 7 fps in Speed Priority mode, with focus and exposure locked. AF is contrast-based and can track moving subjects. Utilizing a new Sony E-series mount, the NEX cameras take new E-mount lenses. A-mount DSLR lenses also can be used via an adapter. There's no built-in flash, but the camera comes with a detachable TTL flash unit.

Sony DSLR-A390

The A390 is a solid entry-level DSLR, and at under $500 with a kit zoom lens, it's a good deal. It has a 14.2-megapixel CCD sensor, can use all Sony A-mount lenses (and legacy Konica Minolta Maxxum optics) and features Sony's SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization that works with all lenses. The LCD monitor tilts 135° up and 55° down for easy high- and low-angle shooting. Quick Live View uses the camera's quick phase-detection AF during live-view operation, but with no disruption of the live image thanks to a dedicated live-view sensor. There's no video capability, but no DSLR at this price offers video.

The light and compact A390 can shoot at 2.5 fps. The proven 40-segment honeycomb metering provides good exposures in a wide range of situations. DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) improves detail in contrasty scenes, while Eye-Start AF activates the AF system when you bring the camera up to your eye to speed operation.


Sony offers a number of accessories for its DSLRs, among them flash units (including a macro twin flash and a ringlight), angle finders, cases, straps, a geotagging GPS and the LA-EA1 adapter, which lets you use A-mount DSLR lenses on the NEX mirrorless cameras.

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