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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Translucent Tech

Why Sony’s new mirror technology is worth a serious look

Labels: CamerasDSLRs

This Article Features Photo Zoom


Sony DSLR SLT-A55 and SLT-A33. The fixed pellicle mirror in Sony’s SLT-A55 and SLT-A33 cameras transmits part of the light to the image sensor and reflects part of it up to the AF sensor, so it doesn’t have to move like a typical DSLR’s mirror. That eliminates vibration and viewfinder blackout during exposure. It also means continuous phase-detection AF is possible in Live View and Video modes, and you can use the eye-level electronic viewfinder for video shooting. The nonmoving mirror makes possible very quick shooting, with AF for each shot.
Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology addresses these limitations with a fixed pellicle mirror that transmits most of the light—but also reflects part of it. The transmitted portion goes through to the image sensor, providing the live-view image and making the exposure. The reflected portion goes up to the phase-detection AF sensor, allowing full-time phase-detection AF during live view with no disruption of the live image. The SLT cameras can focus continuously and shoot at the same time, even in video mode.

The SLT system offers a number of other benefits, as well. It makes for quicker shooting, eliminates vibration caused by mirror movement and does away with the brief viewfinder blackout during exposure that occurs with conventional SLR cameras while the mirror flips up and out of the light path so light can reach the image sensor. (Note: While the SLT mirror doesn’t move during shooting, you can manually move it to the up position when desired to clean the image sensor.) The SLT cameras can use all Sony and legacy Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses, no adapter required.

In Context
Putting a pellicle mirror in an SLR has been done before. Canon offered the 35mm Pellix back in 1965, with a fixed pellicle mirror and the selling point of no viewfinder blackout while shooting (as well as no mirror vibration, less weight and minus the cost of a moving mirror mechanism). In 1972, Canon introduced the pro F-1 High Speed Motor Drive Camera, with a fixed pellicle mirror that enabled a top shooting rate of 9 fps—you could blow through a 36-exposure roll of film in four seconds! That was followed by the new F-1 High Speed Motor Drive Camera in 1984, which could do 14 fps. In 1989, Canon introduced the EOS RT, with a fixed pellicle mirror that reduced shutter-release lag time to just 0.008 seconds—the first auto focus pellicle-mirror SLR.

Sony’s new SLT-A55 and SLT-A33 are the first digital SLRs to employ pellicle mirrors. Well, they look like DSLRs, but do away with the pellicle-mirror dim-viewfinder problem (and pentaprism/pentamirror finder bulk) by employing an eye-level electronic viewfinder instead of an optical SLR finder. Because the mirror doesn’t have to move, the camera can focus and shoot simultaneously for super-quick operation. In Continuous Priority AE mode, the A55 can shoot 16-megapixel images at 10 fps, while the A33 can shoot its 14-megapixel images at 7 fps, with continuous autofocusing and metering. This translates to pro DSLR speeds in sub-$1,000 cameras.

Another advantage of the SLT cameras is that you have convenient eye-level viewing when shooting videos—something the moving-mirror DSLRs don’t provide (their eye-level optical finders black out during live-view operation).

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