Sony Alpha SLT-A55 Review

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Sony Alpha SLT-A55 Camera Experience

My first impression of the A55 was excellent. I took it out for a sunset photo session in temperatures well below freezing. Unlike my fingers, the camera didn’t misbehave in the cold and the built-in sensor-shift image stabilization worked great as the sun went down and I tried to milk the last bits of light. I got great photos that evening and couldn’t wait to use it again.

Sony Alpha SLT-A55 - Wasatch Sunset

There are a whole bunch of reasons to be excited about the A55 but as an outdoor sports photographer its small size and speedy performance specs really caught my attention. The size and weight did not disappoint. Compared to the digital SLRs I usually use (Canon EOS 7D, Nikon D7000, Canon EOS-1D Mk IV, Nikon D3s) it looks and feels like a toy. But size isn’t as important as performance, right ladies? My main concerns were whether the shooting speed was as good in the field as it is on paper, and if the auto focus was up to the task of shooting fast action.

Using an electronic viewfinder is weird if you’re used to a traditional SLR. It definitely doesn’t give as clear and natural a view as an optical viewfinder. However, it does have its benefits and I’ve found I adapt quickly when I use camera with an EVF. The main benefit of the EVF is it can display all the same things the LCD can. You can even review photos and videos and I especially like being able to see the histogram display in the viewfinder (more about the histogram display). However, there’s a dark side to the EVF – literally. Most electronic viewfinders black out after a shot making it very difficult to pan while shooting in burst mode, which I do a lot shooting skiers and cyclists. The first couple of times I shot high-speed action bursts with the A55 I was caught off-guard by the blackout. After some experimentation I discovered the A55 only blacks out after you stop shooting. As long as you hold the shutter release down you can see just fine. But if you pause you have to wait for the camera to save and refocus, pretty much blowing your chances for any more photos.

Sony Alpha SLT-A55 - Backcountry Powder

The Sony A55′s 15-point auto focus is quick and accurate and the continuous AF tracks moving subjects very well. The only problems I had were with the coverage of the auto focus points and trying to focus on snow. The fifteen AF points are arranged in the middle of the frame and I would have liked wider coverage for focusing on subjects closer to the edge of the frame. Focusing on snow? Well, to be fair, trying to focus on snow is one of the hardest things you can ask of a camera. The A55 costs a lot less than the prosumer Nikon and Canon cameras I’ve also been using so I don’t want to judge it too harshly. But I did miss some ski photos because I wasn’t able to pre-focus where I wanted. However, when I had something to focus on besides plain white snow, the camera did great. And the continuous auto focus in movie mode rocks! It walks all over the Nikon D7000 video auto focus, which has hard time tracking moving subjects and can’t really keep up if there’s any speed involved. The A55, on the other hand, stayed focused on fast skiers and snowboarders with no apparent trouble. I was really impressed.

Although the A55 didn’t turn out to be the compact, inexpensive action camera I hoped, it’s still very capable and I got some great ski and snowboard photos with it. To be fair, I am pushing it harder than most photographers will and most definitely harder than Sony intended. I expect it will actually outperform most photographers’ expectations. I offer this arty snowboard pan sequence of fellow action photographer Patrick Branch as proof.

Sony Alpha SLT-A55 - Snowboard Action Sequence

For the more casual photographers considering the Sony Alpha A55 as a family camera, a travel camera or as a step up from a compact – you won’t be disappointed. For landscapes, people photos, still life and snapshot photography the performance and image quality are excellent. My only issues are at the extreme end of the performance spectrum. Unless you’re a professional photographer used to cameras that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars more, I’m confident the A55 will surprise and delight you.

Next – Sony Alpha SLT-A55 Image Quality >>

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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Charlie (Anbesol) says:

    Great review John! I’ve been considering the A33/A55 as a backup to the A700, even a daily driver in many ways. Your review reconfirms a lot of what I hoped for with SLT, and the down sides are of no significance to my intended needs, (being a backup body). Now I just need to wait for their next A77 announcement before making any decision, my A700 is still doing me fine in the mean time, I can wait.

  • Pete says:

    Thanks for this review John – This re-enforces my decision to buy this a few months ago. I’ve taken approx 3000 frames with it so far and I think its great! The 10fps burst mode has already been used to ensure casual portraits come out the way I want them to and although I was a little cautious of the EVF, it comes into its own when you are stopped down on a manual lens and still wanna see clearly what you’re focusing on.

    On the negative side, I’d say battery life is not the best (although normally sufficient for a day’s shooting), the body could be made from stronger materials – particulalry the battery cover and the shutter noise seems quite loud compared to Pentax KX and other cameras. ( maybe just my example? )

    The 18-55 that came with turns in a reasonable perofrmance, but I was taken by the quality of Sony SAL 18-250mm as a main lens. I think this is a superb “walkaround” lens – keep it stopped down at 5.6, or f11 at the long end and I find the sharpness is good. ( focusing at f11 is naturally slower, but for me normally okay for the subject at hand.

  • bram says:

    thats a good review there… from the way it turns out, it appears sony has some market in the enthusiast for now, as most enthusiast is always lured by technology and features. Sony still lacks many things the other manufacturer has, if anyone says its not lacking, then they are just putting a blind on their eyes.

    Im not saying its a bad camera, its just not there yet, it is getting there though… knowing sony is an even bigger giant than canon / nikon and the growth of digital things, id say it will be soon enough that sony will start catching up and sit in the same game as with the 2 giants.

    as for the cons that you pointed out, its a major no for pro, BUT this series (A55) is intended for enthusiast… so a pro wouldn’t bother to buy anyway (unless they are thinking of second body or vacation camera)

    the control feels strange… no, i refuse anyone saying “you’re just not used to it” because i use Nikon SLR, then switch to canon SLR in a breeze (the 2 of them have almost opposite control mind you) and i once shoot a whole day using my friends pentax, sure at first i was fiddling, but after an hour of use, its easy. Not the case with sony, i still forgot so many thing when i borrowed 1 for a whole day photo session. i get the hang of it eventually but the session is about to finish in 2 hour or so… soooo … Nah… for now im not into sony

    Feel free to disagree, its just opinion anyway, cheers

  • Photo-John says:

    Great comment, bram. There’s room for disagreement here and I’m glad you shared your experience. I don’t disagree with you on the camera controls, either. They are different and I did have a little trouble with them. I do think that if I used them longer I would have gotten used to them, though. Also, you’re correct about the A55 being designed for amateur photographers. It has better performance than its competitors, which could be sort of confusing. But the new Alpha A-77 and NEX-7 look very promising for photographers who want a more professional camera with better controls.

    You say you’re a Nikon owner. Please visit our user reviews section and write reviews for your camera and lenses. User reviews are the foundation of the site and we would be very happy if you’d post reviews for your gear :-)

  • Mark says:

    I am a little disapointed with the user-unfriendly controls on this camera. I also have a Canon G11 which I took on vaction last year.I’m glad I didn’t take the Alpha 55 as the controls are too clumsy for me and I wish I had never bought it. also all my pictures are underexposedto a slight degree.

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