It’s been a few years since Sony first introduced its DSLT, or translucent mirror, cameras, and it seems as if consumers and the industry are now au fait with the idea. The company generally updates its entry level cameras once a year, and so it has refreshed the Sony Alpha a57 with the Sony Alpha a58.
Although outwardly the two cameras are pretty much the same, the Sony a58 now features a newly designed 20.1 million pixel sensor, compared with the Sony a57′s 16.1 million pixel device.
It also features an improved electronic viewfinder (EVF), which now boasts OLED technology for improved brightness and contrast. As DSLTs, the Alpha range can only use electronic viewfinders, and as such Sony has been working hard to improve their performance.
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The camera uses a 15-point AF system, which includes three cross-type sensors. It is capable of shooting at 8fps in telezoom continuous advance priority AE mode, or at 5fps at the camera’s highest resolution, giving it one of the fastest burst rates currently in the entry-level market.
Sony is targeting this camera both at those with compacts looking to make their first step into the DSLR/T interchangeable lens market, as well as those with existing entry level DSLRs looking for a replacement.
Another new feature, which is particularly interesting, is Auto Object Framing, a step-up from the Auto Portrait Framing system that made its debut last year. Now not only can the camera automatically crop portraits for better compositions, it can also do it with objects, including macros and moving subjects.
Along with the wide number of lenses already available for the A-mount, Sony is launching three new lenses at the same time as the Sony Alpha a58. First up of those is a new 18-55mm kit lens, which will be bundled as part of the Sony a58 kit package.
Build quality and handling
Outwardly, little has changed on the Sony a58 from its predecessor, the Sony a57, although Sony says it is a little bit smaller. Holding the cameras side by side it’s not particularly easy to see the differences, though.
It has a large, chunky grip, which is particularly useful when shooting one-handed, and is reasonably weighty enough to give it a quality feel. It feels like it could withstand the odd knock or scrape, and is of a more premium construction than the Sony Alpha a37, which sits below it in the range.
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On the top of the camera is a dial for switching between the various modes it has to offer, such as fully automatic, semi-automatic and fully manual. One new addition to this dial is Picture Effects, which previously could be accessed via the main menu.
Dedicated buttons on the back of the camera provide quick access to key settings, including ISO and exposure compensation, and like other cameras in the Sony Alpha range, there’s some customisation that can be enjoyed for those who like to work in specific ways.
Like its predecessor, the Sony Alpha a58 has a movable screen, which is handy for shooting at awkward angles. However, Sony has chosen to make this a tilting device, rather than a fully articulated one, meaning you can’t pack it away when it’s not in use, and it’s less useful when shooting portrait format images.
Sadly, it’s still not a touchscreen device, which would have been handy for setting autofocus point. Instead, to set the autofocus point you need to press the central OK button and then scroll around with the arrow keys to the area you desire.
Helpfully, an eye sensor is included to automatically turn off the screen and activate the EVF. This makes it a much more seamless transition and more akin to using an optical viewfinder than having to switch between the two with a physical button.
The menu system hasn’t seen much of a refresh, and unfortunately it seems as if Sony has decided to stick with the slightly confusing system of not being able to use raw format shooting with a fair number of options, including Auto Object Framing and Clear Zoom. This means you have to delve into the menu to switch off raw format shooting, which can be a little frustrating for quick shooting.
Thankfully, Sony has decided to include a standard hotshoe, rather than the Alpha proprietary hotshoe that has been on the majority of Alpha DSLTs up until this point – good news for those with standard accessories.
Although it’s difficult to pass too many comments on performance at this stage, we have fairly high hopes for the quality of images that the Sony Alpha a58 will be able to produce, as we were impressed by the Sony Alpha a57.
Sony has been working exceptionally hard to make a name for itself in the imaging sector, and its translucent mirror cameras have been steadily improving over the years. With a new 20.1 million pixel sensor and redesigned Bionz processor, it seems likely that the Sony a58 will also be a good performer, but obviously we’ll be keen to put it properly through its paces as soon as we can get a final sample in for a full review.
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One area that we can already confidently say has been improved is the electronic viewfinder, which is now an OLED device. Looking through it you are presented with a very clear picture, which has the added advantage of displaying any changes you make to the settings, when compared with an optical viewfinder.
The image displayed is clearer and crisper than the already excellent device on the Sony a57.
We haven’t been able to test it properly, but the fact that the Sony a58 can shoot at up to 8fps is particularly impressive for an entry-level camera. This is facilitated by its trans lucent mirror technology, and therefore understandably is something that the company is keen to shout about.
Although not traditionally big players in the imaging industry, Sony is continuing to make interesting advancements with its unique technology that surely has the bigger players watching intently.
Here in the Sony Alpha a58 we have another promising entry-level camera that should offer a lot of bang for your buck, and should certainly be considered alongside the offerings from the more traditional manufacturers.
It’s a shame it couldn’t have been even more of an upgrade, with some of the handling quirks we found on the previous camera being ironed out, or perhaps with the inclusion of something exciting such as a touchscreen or inbuilt Wi-Fi. Watch out for a full review of the Sony a58 soon.