Sony Alpha SLT-A33L review
Buying a camera used to be so much easier. It was a straightforward choice between a cheap and cheerful compact or a high quality, bulky SLR. Then along came Micro Four Thirds and its peers, with their SLR-quality sensors, interchangeable lenses and compact bodies.
Some of these hybrid cameras look and feel more like a compact while others are conceptually closer to an SLR. The A33 (and its sister model, the A55) takes it to a new extreme, being externally indistinguishable from Sony Alpha SLR cameras. The layout of controls is very similar, with a command dial and a few dedicated buttons but most photographic controls accessed via a Fn button. Unlike some recent Alpha cameras, it’s comfortable to hold, and the key controls fall nicely under the fingers. It also uses Alpha lenses – the kit lens is the same 18-55mm model we’ve seen many times before.
The slightly lower height and weight, shaving around 5mm and 50g off most entry-level SLRs, are the first clues that something is afoot, but it’s only when the camera is raised to the eye that the truth is revealed. Rather than a through-the-lens (TTL) optical viewfinder, you’re greeted with an LCD version.
This electronic viewfinder is much higher quality than those used on ultra-zoom cameras. It’s bigger than the optical viewfinders on consumer SLRs, and the 1,440,000-dot resolution is almost as sharp as the eye can see. For reasons that aren’t entirely obvious, only 80 per cent of the screen is used for widescreen videos, and less for photos. Even so, accurate manual focus was just as easy to achieve here as it is on consumer SLRs’ viewfinders, with the ability to enlarge the image to 7x or 14x being very handy. It can also show a variety of other useful information, such as a histogram and virtual horizon.
It can’t match an optical viewfinder for contrast and low-light sensitivity. Shadow detail was often lost and subdued light caused the image to become noisy and the frame rate to drop. Then again, these are limitations of the sensor rather than the screen. In fact, it could be considered useful for the viewfinder to warn of the sensor’s shortcomings, as they’ll appear on captured photos too.
The electronic viewfinder caused more serious problems in some situations. One was when using an off-camera flashgun and manual exposure settings. Because the camera had no idea what the flashgun was set to, it exposed the preview image as if there was no flash – both the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder were pitch black. If you’re ever likely to want to experiment with off-camera flash, this isn’t the camera for you.
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