Ten frames per second with continuously active AF is no mean feat, especially in a camera costing £700. Whether it is worth the loss of the optical viewfinder is another matter
Viewfinder, Live View, LCD and video
It is with the viewfinder, Live View, LCD and video that Sony has made some of the most significant steps forward. Instead of an optical viewfinder, the Alpha 55 features a high-resolution, 1.152-million-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) with 100% coverage.
I was initially sceptical about this, but found that with a little practice the EVF aids handling. It is in effect a mini Live View for when conditions render the LCD screen unusable.
Like Live View, any changes made to the exposure are shown on-screen, something not possible with optical viewfinders. Menus can also be navigated via the EVF, and once I had memorised some of the basic controls on the camera body, I did not even need to take my eye away from the viewfinder to control it. The Function (Fn) button is next to the thumb position and I used the EVF frequently in combination with it, as it allowed me to control metering and autofocus. I wouldn’t be surprised if this EVF technology were to become more common in conventional style DSLRs cameras.
I particularly like the 3in, 921,000-dot articulated LCD screen. The fact that it is adjustable for portrait and landscape setup makes it is very useful for shooting at low angles or hovering over a crowd. I appreciated it when looking at autumn leaves on a tree, where I would normally have had to crane my neck. The screen is bright, with TruBlack technology giving deep blacks and extra impact. The screen is prone to fingermarks, though, and quickly becomes dirty. These marks become more apparent in bright light, so the screen needs to be cleaned regularly.
By pressing the dedicated movie record button, the Alpha 55 immediately switches from photo mode to recording up to Full 1080i HD video. Phase-detection AF helps focusing in this mode no end. It moves smoothly rather than snapping in to focus, which is visually less distracting.
The AF is audible in quiet movie scenes, but there is always manual focus if you wish to avoid audible AF noise. Further to this, and something that will please video users, is the inclusion of a 3.5mm external microphone socket. Sony has developed two microphones for use with the Alpha 33 and 55, the ECM-ALST1 and ECM-CG50, but any microphones with a 3.5mm jack are compatible.
Built-in microphones are disappointing, to say the least, so the option of an external microphone along with phase-detection AF places the Alpha 55 ahead of several of its competitors and makes the video mode the most usable in the camera’s class.
Image: The built-in digital level aids shooting even horizons