Saturday, 21 November 2009

Sony A550 First (Use) Impressions – Part II

(out of the box images here – Part-I)

I’ve just taken the camera for a spin to check out all the new features.

First of all, I must say the camera feels comfortable in the hand and has the same grip and feel as the A200 with a little bit more cushioning.

I was really curious to know how the view through the view finder was, considering that it has to make compromises for the live view. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the view was just as good if not slightly better than that of the A200! Readers of this blog may remember that I had replaced the eyecup of my A200 with a Pentax-O-ME 53 magnifying eyepiece. I tried to put it on the A550 too and it fits, but it covers the eye-start autofocus sensors. The magnification was offset by the roundish field of view and I felt it was better off without the magnifying eye piece.


Next, switching on the camera with the new button. Well, there was no problems with that, but just as several others have discovered, on many initial occasions, I accidentally reached out for this button and turned off the camera while trying to access the control wheel located close beneath to change aperture/shutter speed.


The next annoying thing was the error messages. Everytime I pressed a button which had a feature that was inaccessible in a particular mode, an error message popped up explaining why. This may be a helpful feature for beginners, but I found it annoying after a while.


It took me a while to figure out which button was for smart tele-converter and which modes it worked in. Same goes for Manual focus live view. But I must say the features on this camera are worth the price. Two obvious features are the MFLV and the smart TC. While the smart TC was really useful, I`m not sure if the MFLV is as useful, because it also magnifies every shake you make, and thus unless your camera is on a tripod and absolutely stable, defeats the purpose of checking focus on a particular plane.

One thing i discovered about this camera is that it is one beast of a machine when it comes to speed. When i tested the 7fps mode, I was so shocked by the speed, I thought I had broken it! it goes like a machine gun!…and it keeps going even after 7 frames are over. Wow, this is something compared to the the 3fps that the A200 could barely manage. Here`s an animated GIF that I made using 7fps:


I was pleased to see that the Dial now includes a “No flash” mode, and you dont need to dig into the menu to disable the flash in Auto mode. However, in the flash settings, i find that the “Wireless” flash setting is missing. I guess i wont be able to use the camera to trigger off camera flashes then! (Actually, thats not true. I just discovered that this option is only missing in Auto mode. Its still available in S, A, and P modes)

Another thing missing is the lower ISO of 80 and 100. The ISO starts only at 200 on the A550 but goes all the way up to 12,800. I tried out the different ISO’s and here are the results. All images were taken at 50mm  at f2.8 in aperture priority mode.

ISO 200


ISO 400:DSC00021.jpg

ISO 800:DSC00020.jpg

ISO 1600:DSC00019.jpg

ISO 3200:DSC00018.jpg

ISO 6400:DSC00017.jpg

ISO 12800:DSC00016.jpg

The shuter speed on the above images vary and I have not used the flash. All were taken under dim light indoors. Long exp noise reduction was on while high iso NR was on normal. Clearly the images are very good until ISO 6400. This is what it looks like if the flash was used at ISO 200:


I mentioned the smart teleconverter function earlier. Here`s a demonstration. You can either crop/magnify the image 1.4 times or 2 times before you take the pic. Below is a un magnified image:


No if i use the 1.4x smart TC before I click the image, this is what I get:


and if I use the 2x smart TC it becomes:


Thats a great feature that I cant wait to test it out for my bird photography.

I haven’t tested the AF much yet, but using my f8 500mm reflex lens, i got the below image about 500m away in nightlight without much effort. There seems to be a definite improvement in AF, but I`ll have to study that further.


Now coming to DRO and HDR. The camera has a dedicated button for that and you can choose either of those or no DRO. Within DRO you can choose upto 5 levels  and within HDR you can choose different bracketing from 1.0 – 3.0 ev. In this mode the camera takes two pictures at + or – the chosen exposure value and then aligns them and combines it.

Here is a scene with No HDR:DSC00078

The same scene with DRO modes 1-5 levels:



and here is the same scene with HDR

Auto HDR:



EV 3.0:DSC00088

Thats all for now, I`ll be back with test shots from field tests. Hope someone finds this useful.


  1. Thank you for the review.
    Is there a way to turn off the help function? If it bothers I mean? Would you say the overall feel of this cam is good enough for a snap shooter who once in a while would like to print up to A3. A grandchild portrait or the house cat?
    Lars F.

  2. Thanks Lars. Yes it can be turned off from the menu. This camera is more than enough to handle shots like that. The 14 mp would be good for large prints. In fact the A200 can handle casual shots like that with good results. The A550 is a step or two higher.

  3. Sony would never leave out the wireless flash function :) You just have to be outside of an automatic mode to select it.

  4. A550 is one of the cameras on my want-to-buy list too! Glad to see a helpful post from a fellow birder. Can't wait to see you take it out to the field and start snapping away!

  5. Just purchased an A550. Haven't used it enough to make any sensible comments. I'm interested in recommendations for SDHC cards in the 16gb range that would provide best performance for this camera. Thanks in advance.

  6. Hi Buzz, thanks for visiting. I havent tried a 16gb sdhc so i cannot comment on that. Sorry.

  7. Just took mine to Chile for 1400 snaps. Excellent, a joy to use. Beautiful balance and fits my small hands very well.
    My old Minolta dynax lenses work well as does the wireless flash from my Minolta A2.
    Few gripes. Viewfinder a bit small.
    Hard to reset P mode parameters.
    Do not seem to be able to increase the exposure bracketing from 0.3 EV.
    Hard to find the aperture adjust in manual mode without a manual.
    Shame they didn't fit a video mode for those rare occasions.
    Jessop polarising filter vignettes at wide angle (18-55mm lens).
    Would have liked the display to flip around so that in portrait orientation it is viewable vertically.


Please leave a comment on what you liked or disliked about this post. Any thoughts on technique or improvements are welcome.