Sony Alpha A550 Review
The Sony Alpha DSLR A550 is a mid-range DSLR priced around $1000. You can choose to buy it with the body only or with the kit lens (18-55 mm lens).
When we held the DSLR A550 in our hands, it was clear that this camera is heavier than most competitors in this price range. But the grip is comfortable than most cameras. It has a solid build, but does feel a little cheap in some places. This camera suffers from button overload. There are some functions that don't require dedicated buttons such as the D-Range Optimizer - they just aren't use that often.
Even with so many buttons, the strength of the A550 lies in live view and shooting with the LCD, instead of the viewfinder. The viewfinder is solid - it display focus indicators as big boxes, which is convenient. But it's too small and the magnification is low too. We prefer shooting using live view much better.
Let's talk about the LCD. It's flexible, and you can twist it in different angles. It features incredibly high resolution and brightness.
Its live view is one of the best we've seen. We really enjoy how fast auto focus is, compared to most cameras. This is because the Sony A550 utilizes a separate sensor inside the viewfinder housing to provide live view, and autofocus. Most camera simply utilize contrast detection autofocus, which is much slower.
Because the A550 uses a small sensor for live view, in dim light you may notice a bit of noise in your images on-screen (not your final images though). To fix, you should use the Manual Focus Check Live View, which is activated by a button in the top of the camera. The MF Check LV mode adjusts the displayed exposure as well as magnifying the focus, by using the primary sensor.
One area where the live view falls short is that it just offers 90% coverage. But other than that, the live view is one of the best in the industry.
And it's good that the live view is excellent, because you probably won't be using the optical viewfinder a whole lot. It's one of the smallest viewfinders we've used, and quite mediocre. Because of the live view implementation, Sony had to reduce the size of the pentamirror for the viewfinder. So they basically sacrificed the viewfinder's performance for a better live view.
The A550 isn't chock full of cool, interesting features, but while playing with it, we did like the Auto HDR, which is similar to hand-held twilight mode. With auto HDR, you shoot 2 consecutive shots at different exposures and combine the 2 shots into 1, with optimal shadow detail and highlights. This feature works in just JPEG. We think it does a decent job, and even if you don't have Photoshop knowledge, you can manage to create some cool effects.
Another cool feature we appreciated was the speed priority continuous advanced mode, which increases the frame rate to 7fps from 5 fps. It's useful at times, but even without it the A550 is still a very fast camera.
Performance is solid, all around. Power on to first shot is .4 seconds. Focus to shot takes .3 seconds in good lighting, and .7 seconds in dim lighting. Shot to shot takes .7 seconds, and .9 seconds with flash. Continuous shooting is 4.3 fps. Overall, these numbers are above average in class.
The A550 features the same number of megapixels (14.2) as its predecessors, but we notice much cleaner, and sharper images at all ISO levels. When testing on low ISO sensitivities, all of our images turned out sharp, clean with good exposures. ISO 800 images still look solid. When you get up to 1600, you lose a bit of detail, but overall, photos still look quite detailed and crisp up to ISO of 3200.
Once you go above ISO 3200, results usually depend on a lot of factors. But we think the A550 handles noise much better in these high ISO sensitivities than similar cameras. We compared shots captured in ISO 6400 with the A900, and it's clear: The A550 showed less noise.
The gripe we have with the image quality is that photos shot with the A550 often have bad color accuracy, and oversaturation. It's even tougher because there's no natural style to compare it to. All of the settings such as the sharpness, contrast and saturation are set to 0, by default. This is an issue not just the A550, but with most of Sony's DSLRs. For some reason, their cameras notoriously display poor color accuracy.
Given this complaint, we feel the Sony A550 is still not a bad choice to go for. When buying a DSLR, two of the most important criteria to look for is how it handles noise in mid to high ISO levels, and the performance. In this 2 aspects, the A550 is one of the best in class.
One last thing to mention - video. The A550 doesn't have video. Doh! It's not a big deal for most photographers because noone buys a DSLR just for video, but it certainly is nice to have (and makes for good bragging rights anyhow).
- 14.2 megapixels
- Supports ISO 200 - 12,800
- Includes image stabilizer
- Pop-up flash
- 3 X Optical Zoom
- Optical Viewfinder
- 3 inch LCD screen with 921,600 pixels
- Good performance for its class
- Good high ISO performance
- LCD is user friendly
- Live view autofocus is fast
- Live View has 90% coverage
- Color is not very accurate
If you love to use live view when shooting, the DSLR A550 offers a solid live view experience, combined with great performance, and good noise handling. It's especially good for beginners, casual photographers, and people who are used to digicams.
If color accuracy is not a big deal for you, and you don't mind the underwhelming viewfinder, this camera is a solid option. Overall, it's a great bang for your buck digital SLR.
Rating: 4.1 out of 5
Where to Buy It:
Lowest Price: Amazon for $629.95.
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|Amazon||$629.95 (Cheapest Price)|
Prices last updated on: Mon, 13 Jul 2020 16:23:10 PDT