My "DSLR solution".


I'm joking right? This must be another of his "small cameras can do the job - really" posts.

No joke. 

The answer to the question as to whether I'm going to keep a DSLR has been solved by the acquisition of a Sony SLT-A55V camera. 

Michael Reichmann in his review of the A55 at Luminous Landscape - opened by writing:-

"It isn't often that something really fresh comes along in this industry. There are new models every few months, but usually these are simply the same old with a bit of added chrome.
But Sony, who are really gaining momentum in the still camera industry of late with their NEX series still and video models have just launched two new cameras, the SLT-A55V and A33, which will cause their competitors to have a few sleepless nights, and uncommitted camera buyers to look very carefully at what Sony is offering. Current Sony Alpha owners will, I forecast, buy these two new models in droves. Lets have a look at why."

He concludes with:-

"The A55, will I believe, be regarded as something of a landmark camera. It offers a significant amount of new technology in a surprisingly inexpensive package. It challenges the big boys, Canon and Nikon, to get off their butts and start offering something new and exciting."

Is he right?

I've had this camera for less than 24 hours and I love it. I certainly didn't expect this and the fact that I'm writing about it so enthusiastically is a total surprise.

Picking one of these up gives few clues as to what it can do. It looks and feels like a bridge camera and gives the words "plastic feel" a whole new meaning. With apologies to Sony's designers, I think its hideously ugly and if you want a camera to impress the gearheads down the photo club, or anyone else for that matter, this isn't it. Is it weatherproofed? - no. Is it built to withstand heavy duty use? - no. Will it survive being dropped? - probably not. Is it a "pro" camera? - absolutely.

If you saw the following spec. what would you think?
10fs shooting speed
Up to ISO12,800
Fast AF
No Lag shutter
Articulated 3" screen with TruBlack technology and 100% coverage
Continuous live view when shooting video or stills
1080p/30 full HD video recording with continuous high speed AF
In body image stabilisation
Auto Panorama and Auto HDR

Pretty impressive and there's loads more features that I haven't even looked at yet.

The two main reasons that I want to keep a DSLR, or something like it (not sure whether this qualifies as a DSLR with its fixed mirror) are firstly, fast operation in tricky, mixed light,  fast changing environments and good high ISO performance. The A55 does both with ease. The 10fps is just astounding and the camera has an eye start AF mode which means you bring your eye to the viewfinder and it focuses before you've even sorted out your composition. Its way quicker than me!!

Lets get the high ISO performance dealt with.
These are taken at ISO3200.

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

These are taken at ISO12,800  -  yes thats 12,800!!

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

These were all processed from raw files on Photoshop CS5, which supports the files in ACR, and I've done very little to them. I've used some luminance noise reduction but the images are still sharp. The A55 takes pictures in very low light and doesn't render them as "mush". These images shot at ISO12,800 are better than I got with my Canon 7D at ISO3200, so that gives an idea of how good the results are.

All the images I took were sharp. I only have the kit lens at the moment, but it works very well. There's some distortion and CA / fringing but its a pretty decent lens. It makes a lens like the Canon 18-55mm look like what it is - Very poor indeed.

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Again I prefer the output from this camera over my recent Canons. The colour is superb and the raw files have bags of detail. The jpgs are a little "processed" but again no more so than many cameras.

The sweep panorama is fabulous. I shoot a lot of panoramic pictures, and while the A55 restricts these to 2 fixed sizes and only produces a jpg, its quick and (almost) flawless. I had to force myself to stop using it, its so good.

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Sony SLT-A55V 18-55mm SAM lens

Within an hour of this camera arriving I was on the phone ordering two more lenses.

A 30mm f2.8 1:1 macro lens that weighs 150g and cost me £150mm and an
85mm f2.8 that weighs 175g and cost me £200. I'll report back on these later.

Again really good. Very sharp with terrific colour and superb low light performance. I'm not getting into the 24/25/30fps broadcast quality debate, as I'm never going to be shooting video for movies or TV with the camera. All I see is superb quality HD video footage, and I shoot this by pressing a red button on the back. There, you have the limit of my video expertise! I'm not Phillip Bloom and I want completely different things from video than he does. All I can say is that it looks incredibly good to me. But then Sony do know a bit about this!!

As I said I haven't had this camera very long and am probably being somewhat premature in my fulsome praise of it, but it is an amazing piece of technology. Plus I generally find that my first impressions are accurate. When I first got a GF1 and 20mm f1.7 I went into raptures about them after one day. A year later and I see no reason to change that opinion.

The A55 is so small and light and produces these incredible images and footage, that I'm a bit overwhelmed by it at the moment. Its obviously not built to the standard of a D3 or a Sony A900, but at its price point, with the current discounts you could buy 6 of them for the cost of a D3. I've given up shooting weddings but I would have no hesitation in using a couple of these to shoot one. The speed and low light performance are both amazing and assuming there's no great flaw in the design and construction I can't see it imposing any restrictions on me if I was shooting stills in a critical situation.

Michael Reichmann is right in saying that this is a significant development in camera design and manufacture. It provides top quality "Professional" performance and results in a small, light and cheap(Ish) package. If Sony take what's inside of the A55 and put it into a weather sealed "pro" body they will have queues round the block. Because of the fixed mirror they would be able to make it lighter and smaller than something like the A900.

I've been critical of Sony in the past & I'm still bewildered by their bloated and confusing camera range but the A55 is a great little camera. However I'm not going to subject it to the same stresses that a news, sports or wildlife photographer would and its important to remember that. This is not a camera for those who need a camera built like a tank. In fact this is probably a camera built like a Nissan Micra! I must stress that this is my solution, not anybody elses. I can cope with the fragility and the situations in which I will use it are very different from many of my colleagues. I won't be sticking 300mm f2.8 lenses on it, I won't be expecting it to work in -25 degrees selsius or be grappling in a scrum of other snappers to get pictures of Kate and Big Willy. However one area where I think it would be of great benefit is for photojournalists, who want to shoot stills and video in a fairly unobtrusive and non-threatening way. It is far from an intimidating camera and yet is capable of producing results of the highest quality.

Major change in the camera market is probably still a long way off but adding this camera and its technologies to the mirrorless developments of the last two years, means that there is a quiet revolution going on. Photographers who can afford the biggest and the best no longer have the quality advantage that they may have enjoyed in the past. I'm just grateful that making a living as a photographer  is about more than the gear you use and the technical quality of your results. Cameras like the A55 are putting extraordinary capabilities into a package that many can afford, and there is not much excuse anymore for saying that a modest budget means you can't produce the same quality of image that the highest paid professionals can.

DSLR man with his big black camera, flak jacket and bag of heavyweight lenses may not realise it yet, but his days are probably numbered. He may not be convinced that the person standing next to him (and they are always men) with their little plastic marvel is taking pictures that equal and often exceed his output in terms of image quality, but in time when he sees the results he may begin to question his own equipment choices. That companies like Panasonic and Sony are driving camera development forward is both unexpected and fascinating. In the future will we be talking about Nikon and Canon in the same way as we talk about IBM? They haven't missed the boat yet, but its already left the harbour and if they don't get going soon it will be too far ahead to catch up. I have no hesitation in saying that the A55 is a "better" camera for me than the Canon 7D I had. It produces sharper, cleaner images and has a batch of features that allow me more flexibility and creativity, without sacrificing speed of use. In terms of construction and durability it is not in the same league, but how much that matters is only something that we as individuals can answer, and discover over time