Sony A550/A500/A450 SLR camera test

Watching Sony enter the DSLR market is like watching a hockey game. This is not a market for compacts, which you can change like gloves. The system is chosen for a long time and the price of the question is great. But the power of a player is also up to the task: Sony has far more financial power than Canon and Nikon put together.

The Sony A550 SLR camera

Sony A550

In general, with respect to speed all three novelties please: fast autofocus, especially with the new 18-55/3,5-5,6 and 55-200/4-5,6 DAT-series standard zoom lens, and a record for its class speed allows you to hope that a good shot will be caught.

All three novelties use big battery of twice bigger capacity, than smaller models. The display always shows the remaining battery power as a percentage. According to the manufacturer, the A550 can capture almost 1000 frames on a single charge, the A500 and A450 can even do more than a thousand due to the lower resolution sensor and screen respectively .

We can neither confirm or deny this statement as during the week-long testing neither of the cameras battery was dead, which is not bad at all. True, the built-in flash is almost not used, because the representative Sony gave us to test the external flash system “Alpha”, and it is impossible not to note the exceptionally correct light measurement tandem “camera – flash,” which was consistently confirmed when working with all three cameras and three different flashes.

All cameras record on two cards, a standard SD of any capacity and the original Memory Stick. Switching between cards is mechanical, with a special lever, so you can’t record to both cards at the same time. The recording speed on the card is quite in line with the class of novelty.

All three models have an image stabilizer that works by shifting the sensor about 3 shutter speeds slower , and a sensor dust cleaning system.

Sony A550 SLR

Sony A550

But specs are specs, but you learn a camera by taking pictures. Let’s start with a series of indoor tests. White balance, like all DSLRs, does not like incandescent bulbs. But the new products, including the budget A450, have a quite professional option to set the white balance by degrees Kelvin. Choose 2800 K and all questions are answered.

The pivoting display really allows you to shoot from angles inconceivable for ordinary DSLRs. To shoot such a portrait of a room animal in habitat with a camera with a regular viewfinder, I would have had to dismantle the parquet floor and shoot from the neighbors below, but with the A550 it’s easy illus. Display .

The new Sony 30mm macro lens was also received for testing, and it would have been a sin not to try it out. the lenses turned out to be great and their artistic potential was enormous, just as a short macro lens should be. Measuring light outside the flash is conducted exclusively correctly, which, incidentally, no wonder: in the days of film Minolta, whose heritage is the basis of the DSLR system “Alpha”, famous as a manufacturer not only cameras and optics, but also flash meters, including flash meters in case you forget, the Americans on the moon shot a “Hassel” and measured the light Minolta . The picture of the new “macro” is very good, and the tests were delayed.

The Sony A550 SLR camera

Sony A550

I used a macro lens to seriously test the work of the built-in stabilizer which is a very useful device because even though an optical stabilizer in a lens can in some cases outperform a stabilizer based on the movement of the sensor this is especially true for a TV lens , there are entire classes of lenses including the most interesting ones where you simply cannot put a stabilizer in – high light zooms and fixes including our 30mm. For example, a stabilized f/1.4 “Polentinik”, at least with the existing technology would be too big and heavy.

The test stabilizer with a macro lens is especially tough because at short distances the influence of vibrations increases greatly. Nevertheless, at shutter speeds on the order of 1/4-1/6s the results were consistently if not perfect it would require reducing it to 1/15s , then perfectly acceptable.

Here we also check the work at high sensitivities. The new processor BIONZ significantly reduces noise, incomparable with the technology two or three years ago: up to 400 ISO no questions at all, and beyond begins pure taste, where the judgment of each photographer varies and depends only on his personal fastidiousness. In my opinion, you can shoot at 800 ISO without any problems, except that the colors are muted a little, so they may have to be elaborated in an editor. But even 3200 ISO, as much as it sounds sounds very modest, as a last resort, can be used for some scenes, and the 1600 is even more appropriate. ISO 6400 and 12,800 would be good only in situations where there’s no other choice. Anyway, even they will allow you to print quite a good 10×15 cm card.

Sony A550 DSLR

Sony A550

The only complaint to Sony about the choice of sensitivity – too big a step change full step . Competitors have long been able to change the sensitivity, as well as extraparameters, in increments of a third of a step, and this makes a lot of sense. When there’s a lot of light there’s naturally nothing to trivialize, but when every photon counts, a more detailed scale would be more appropriate for a reasonable compromise between depth of field and noise.

To check the autofocus speed a no less cruel test than for the stabilizer was done by taking a picture of children on a rather fast carousel with a TV set at a very close distance less than 3 meters with the diaphragm fully open. When you do this the subject moves quickly, not only along the frame but also in relation to the camera. The results are quite positive: even though the lens didn’t keep up with the child’s eyes you could only expect that from a high-end reporter camera, and even then it’s not a fact that it could do that , the face is quite sharp the diaphragm, again, is completely open .

Of course, the focusing speed slows down in bright conditions, but the precision is not affected. Sony has some special praise for the arrangement of the focus points – not the usual horizontal diamond, but rather an “envelope”, so that the corner sensors are precisely in the compositionally important points in the frame, according to the “rule of thirds.

Sony A550 SLR camera

Sony A550

The last snowfall of the year fell during the test, as if on purpose, to check its resistance. The camera survived a couple of hours in the snow with no consequences.

I have no complaints about the image quality: even in damp and dim March weather the colors are rich enough with all the default settings Fig.3 . color . Fine-tuning of the image is also there, it is realized in the form of the usual standard bright portrait landscape sunset, b w with separate adjustment of contrast, saturation and brightness.

And here we come to the most, in my opinion, interesting innovation of Sony in the middle class – a perfectly realized and even sophisticated function of dynamic range optimization. The special button that activates it is on the most prominent place, the top panel, which speaks to the importance the manufacturer gives it.

The purpose of this feature is to prevent unnecessary contrast in the frame – the bane of photography since ancient times, because of which we were taught: “To imagine how the final picture will look like, you have to squint hard at the subject”. The range of brightnesses perceived by the eye and film sensor is very different, and if in reality you just saw a contrasting scene, the frame would have a pure silhouette with deep black shadows. And now, finally, the clever electronics are solving this problem little by little.

The first step was to optimize the dynamic range using the software. Now this feature is in most cameras, including all the new “alphas”. It just highlights the shadows in the frame, as the Shadows/Highlight tool in Photoshop, so that some texture and detail appears in them from the dark. The downside of this method is a noticeable increase in noise in the shadows. To avoid this, all three novelties offer optimization by automatically capturing HDR – high dynamic range high dynamic range . When you turn on the HDR function camera takes two consecutive frames with different exposures the difference can be adjusted manually from 1 to 3 steps, or leave the camera to determine it automatically and then combines them into a single frame with elaborate shadows and highlights – and without noise. Possible camera micro shift between frames is detected and compensated for automatically.

Sony A550 SLR camera

Sony A550

As a result, we get a serious creative tool that regulates image contrast in a much smarter and stronger way than a simple slider in the menu, and, after all, contrast is the basis of mood in the frame Fig. HDR series .

When a photographer will discover the ability to do with playfulness what takes a lot of sitting in “Photoshop”, you can predict what he will do in the next couple of hours, and what he will return to regularly. It will be helped by a good “alpha” display, on which if you get used to it the result can be seen quite clearly. It’s also worth noting that the automatic HDR mode is rather timid and its effect is often weak, so it’s better to experiment on your own.

The dynamic range optimization software is also available in all cameras. It is more suitable for dynamic subjects where the two original HDR frames may differ too much from each other.

Surprisingly, cameras with such an advanced Live View mode don’t record video clips. It would be easy for Sony to include video recording in the armament of the new products or maybe it’s an intrigue within the company, from the division which produces camcorders? . However, it can be assumed that market pressure will force the company to make up for this in the next generation of SLRs.

The conclusion: new Sony products in the middle class are successful and unusual, and you can not doubt that the proposed innovations will be copied by other manufacturers. All three models will find their buyer: one who wants the maximum and one who will not waste money. They will find in the A550, A500 and A450 models state-of-the-art technology and high image quality. The company’s effort to make photography fun and creative, which is the key to good pictures, deserves special mention.

The editorial team would like to thank the Sony New York office for kindly furnishing us with their equipment for the test.

Picture Tests

By clicking on the picture you can see the enlarged image. Exit full screen mode by clicking outside the photo field.


Even at ISO 3200, the camera-lens system in this case, the A500 and 30mm macro captured the colors and texture of the rose petals beautifully. Sony A500, aperture priority, 30/2.8 macro, ISO 3200, 1/60 c, f/10, natural light.


Texture rendering is not an easy task, but the A500 handled it very well. What’s more, it’s ISO 3200! Sony A500, manual exposure, 30/2.8 macro, ISO 3200, 1/100th of a second, f/11.





The style of the image changes the impression of the photograph quite significantly – the warmer tone on the top photo is due to the Portrait Style setting, the calmer gamma on the bottom one is the result of choosing the Standard Style. Sony A550, aperture priority, 18-55/3.5-5.6 DAT, ISO 200, 1/200 c, f/11.


This picture shows how well the autofocus system works. The room had very little light, the shots were taken at very short distances, and the animal in the shell can be surprisingly agile. Nevertheless – everything that was planned was conveyed sharply. Sony A500, manual exposure, 30/2.8 macro, ISO 400, 1/100th of a second, f/11, external flash.


With its instant response and fast autofocus, the A550 is a very capable camera for street photography. Sony A550, program exposure, 18-55/3.5-5.6 DAT, ISO 200, 1/100 sec, f/11.


Excellent macro lens performance and the inherent play with depth of field in macro photography encourage further experimentation. Shot handheld – in-camera stabilization “Alf” proves quite effective. Sony A550, 30/2 macro lens.8, aperture priority, ISO 800, aperture f/6.3, shutter speed 1/60 c.

A vase of flowers

Even the top-of-the-line DSLRs haven’t yet learned how to properly detect white balance in artificial light left is the auto setting . New Sony cameras allow you to manually select the desired Kelvin color temperature value, which removes the problem if anyone wants to try, here’s a reference point: household incandescent light is about 2800-3000 K, bright sunlight is 5500 K, overcast sky is 8000-10000 K .

Vase of flowers


The new 30/2 macro lens.8 gives the photographer a great opportunity to explore all sorts of small things – it turns out that a doll half a palm can also look like a Stranger. Sony A550, 30/2 macro lens.8, manual mode, ISO 3200, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/100 c, reflected light from external flash.

Industrial Area

The A550’s exposure metering works very correctly, by adjusting the shooting parameters for the light – the shadows go into silhouette. Sony A550, program exposure, 18-55/3.5-5.6 DAT, ISO 200, 1/320c, f/13.

The Kremlin

The camera caught the last flush of winter and spent two hours in the snow, unharmed. Sony A550, 18-55/3 standard zoom.5-5.6 DAT, aperture priority, ISO 200, aperture f/4.5, shutter speed 1/640 c.

Children on a merry-go-round

Testing the camera on focus speed. Carousel is spinning pretty fast, the kid flies two or three meters away from the camera – test conditions are tough. Nevertheless, when shooting a few series the lens managed to focus on the object and keep it in focus about 80-90% of the time.


This colorful company lined up to participate in a test of Sony’s in-camera DSLR stabilizer. I found that even at this close range the stabilizer keeps sharpness at 1/4s in most cases.


The stabilizer test quickly turned into a test of the camera’s performance at high sensitivities. Noise is known to be more noticeable in darker areas. But you can still shoot at ISO 3200 if there is no other way out. Top left at ISO 1600, bottom at 3200.



Optimizing the dynamic range with such a powerful and clever tool as HDR automatic photography gives us remarkable control over image contrast. I can’t draw any conclusions about the recommended exposure differences: too much depends on the scene firstly, and you still need to train your eye on this subject secondly. So far, it appears that for two visually similar subjects, the best exposure difference can be quite different. Obviously, using HDR techniques makes a photograph more thoughtful and soft. All photos: Sony A550, stock zoom 18-55/3.5-5.6 DAT, aperture priority, ISO 200, aperture f/11-7.1.



The building

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