This may come as a surprise to many, I have just purchased a Sony Alpha A57, adding to my growing collection of Sony gear. Yes, you heard that right, an entry level DSLT, Sony A57, which was targetted at the same level as the Nikon D3200 and Canon 650D. I noticed a significant price drop in the local Malaysian street market and I quickly made the purchase. Having acquired the new Sony A57, together with a group of Sony warriors, we attacked my usual photo-hunting ground at Pudu Market this morning.
Behold, the not so new (it is after all, more than one year after its release) Sony DSLT Alpha A57!!
The NEED for a NEW Camera for NOW
Hello Robin, why buy a new camera at all? Have you not kept telling us how reliable and fail-proof that Olympus DSLR E-5 has always been? And have you not just purchased the Sony A350 and a set of lenses as a full, back-up system? Why sudden need for a new body?
The stark realization hit me during my assignment in shooting a wedding in Perth, Australia recently.
I was not shooting alone, together with me was a friend (whom I shall not name) who shot with a Nikon D7000 that was not even 2 years old. On the morning of the actual wedding day, I was covering the bride's side of preparation, while my friend was covering the groom's side of things. As he was starting to shoot some wedding details (wedding rings shots) the shutter mechanism FAILED. It was in such an unexpected, inauspicious timing that the Nikon D7000's shutter decided to DIE. The bad news? My friend only had one Nikon body with no backup, and he could not reach me (miles away) without losing time to travel and miss some very important moments !! The good news? Every Tom, Dick and Harry these days have a DSLR, and one of the groomsmen had a D7000 with him which he was kind and willing to lend for my friend's usage for the day, on the spot !! Another good news? The bride and groom were my good friends, and no harm was done since the borrowed D7000 immediately picked up where the old dead shutter D7000 left, so there was no missed shots. I cannot say the same if we were dealing with clients whom we do not know personally, surely such an incident could turn out to be dramatic!!
Long story short, the D7000's shutter death (which made the camera useless anyway) got me thinking hard on the necessity in getting a fully functional and new camera body. The Olympus E-5 has been over-used, bruised and battered through all the shutter therapy sessions and quite a number of photography assignment which were intensive and demanding at the same time. I dare not even check the shutter count on the E-5, because the last time I checked it was already more than 60,000k, and that was more than a year and half ago!! As tough and reliable the E-5 may be, it is not indestructible and it can, and will fail at anytime.
As much as I have come to love the Sony A350 which I bought as a back-up measure in case the E-5 fails, I know very well that the A350 has MANY shortcomings. The autofocus was not fast and reliable enough, and more importantly the obsolete image sensor in the camera was not sufficiently good enough for my own photography demands.
I have a few photography assignment coming up in the month of May and June, both are equally important events which I need full performance of my gear, and I cannot afford to have my cameras act up on me. Therefore, there is a need for a NEW camera body.
All images in this blog entry were taken with Sony Alpha 57 and DT lenses: 50mm F1.8, 35mm F1.8 and 18-55mm F3.5-5.6
Portrait of a Stranger 1
Portrait of a Stranger 2
Portrait of a Stranger 3
Why a SONY? Why Sony A57?
Ideally, I would want to use a full micro 4/3 system. Two OM-D E-M5 bodies, perhaps an E-PL5 as a backup, with plenty and plenty of batteries and a few chargers to get the system always charged up to go. Then I would want those wonderful primes, the 12mm F2, the 25mm F1.4, the 45mm F1.8, and not to forget the 75mm F1.8. Oh wait, I also want that 60mm F2.8 macro too. I can live without long zoom lenses for now. I am very confident those combination of OM-D bodies and micro 4/3 lenses can match, or even surpass what my current 4/3 DSLR and Zuiko lenses can do.
Only one problem, I did the calculation on the costs and believe me when I say, it is not feasible for me to throw in so much money, just to start a whole new system!!
That was when I started to turn my attention to the Sony. I bought the Sony A350 together with some very cheap lenses (and a third party TTL capable flash) as a back-up, and as I have used the Sony for many shutter therapy sessions, and even as a part of some of my recent photo assignment shoots, I find that the Sony system can deliver. I love what those two prime lenses can do, the 35mm F1.8 and 50mm F1.8. I am sure their more expensive lenses can do wonders as well. I may not be able to start a whole new system, but I have accumulated enough Sony gear that all I needed now was a new body, and I am set to go!! This makes much more sense, does it not?
Why not buy the Sony Full Frame Alpha 99? Honestly, I cannot afford that. Then why not the much more superior and advanced (higher specs) A77? Truth be told, the ISO performance and dynamic range of the A77's 24MP sensor is still behind what the A57 can do. Yet the A57 is marginally cheaper, which is a huge plus.
Here are the reasons why I finally chose Sony A57, in addition to what I have mentioned above:
1) Sony A57 shares the same battery as the Sony A350, hence adding the A57, I will have two fully functional battery chargers, and THREE original Sony batteries, which should be able to keep me running for a full day shoot. I might get another battery if necessary. This is a very important cost-saving advantage.
2) I initially was interested in the Sony A58, but after I saw that cheap, lousy plastic mount, I gave up. If you have seen how I shoot, and how often I change lenses, you will know the plastic mount is something I try to avoid. I don't think it would last me a year under my stressful usage.
3) The image sensor in the Sony A57 is shared with the much acclaimed Pentax K5 and Nikon D7000, both cameras which received positive remarks in terms of image quality (high ISO noise control and wide dynamic range). Several review sites, including DPReview which has never been really kind toward Sony, have unanimously given high praise for the Sony A57. DPReview awarded Sony A57 "Gold".
4) I needed two important factors (besides being affordable): FAST/ACCURATE Autofocus and Improved image quality. Since DSLT system employs phase-detect AF, the AF should be efficient enough for my shooting needs. The Sony A57's image sensor is class leading and I expect it to outperform even my Olympus E-5.
5) I needed a camera that offers Live View and in-body Image Stabilization, which the Sony A57 does.
6) Kirk Tuck sang praises about the A57. Enough said.
Cut into pieces
Waiting for customers
A Hot Day
Drama in the market
Initial Thoughts on Sony A57
I will NOT do a review on the Sony A57, considering this is not really a new camera, and there are already MANY reviews that are available online.
I will however, share my thoughts and impressions on the camera, as I shoot with it, and discover its strengths and weaknesses.
Lets start with some not so pleasant things. The start-up time of the camera is unbearably SLOW. Slow, that it took a few seconds to be fully ready for any action, and this can be dangerous when I do need instant response from the camera. Then during the review playback on the LCD or the EVF, the magnified view is also painfully SLOW!! I do not get it, how difficult it is to create instant preview magnifications at the press of the magnify button? Olympus, Nikon and Canon can do it. Sony being a superior electronic giant, come on, I am expecting more!!
Those two things aside, I do not have much to complain about the camera, really. Everything else was on the positive side of things, and that is GOOD.
I am starting to appreciate Kirk Tuck's long time claim on the "pre-chimping" through the electronic viewfinder. In fact, everything was available and readily previewed on the EVF that I knew exactly what was wrong especially with the exposure in tricky lighting conditions (backlit, uneven lighting, or high contrast areas) and I immediately dialed the exposure compensation accordingly, and saw the results real time as it happened, even before clicking the shutter button. Knowing what went wrong and fixing it instantly did open up a whole new level of flexibility, and I am glad the newer cameras these days, both from the micro 4/3 and Sony camps are moving toward that direction. This surely can change a photographer's quality control workflow. Why waste time chimping (after the shot) when you can chimp as you shoot?
Improved Metering and Color Accuracy
Generally, I am happy with the image quality. The color balance was unexpectedly good, though not perfect, but good enough that I only needed to do some minor tweaking (which was not much) in post-processing. The metering was very accurate, and smart to adapt to difficult and challenging conditions. I did not even have to touch the exposure compensation much, but mainly this was due to the fact that I already saw what was happening in the first place as I pre-chimped.
I was shooting in generally favorable lighting condition with plenty of light, hence I did not have the chance to test the high ISO shooting yet. Do not worry, I will bring the camera and torture it as usual. During the daytime shooting in the market, I particularly like the much improved dynamic range in comparison to my Olympus E-5, but it was difficult to tell if it was better than the OM-D unless I have it side by side. If you do find highlight blown-outs or shadow clippings, well, that was all my fault, I post-processed my images and I love my images to come out with high contrast, sometimes a bit too much for everyone's taste. But hey, those are my images, who are you to tell me how I present them? I do it my way, and I like them that way!! Black to be black and white to be white.
Portrait of a Stranger 4
By the shop. That was Carlson, a Sony A99 user at the back (green shirt)
Closed Roller Shutter
The focusing was very fast, but nowhere near as fast as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 or the PEN E-PL5. Nonetheless, the focusing was already fast enough for my shooting needs. I did encounter quite a worrisome number of missed-focus shots, either rear or front focus. I have done extensive testing indoors in a controlled condition and I have concluded that the camera and lenses were free of any back or front focus issues. Things did not seem so ideal in real life shooting circumstances, and it did get a little annoying when I cannot nail my shots confidently. I am cutting the camera some slack because I am still getting to know it and understand its focusing behaviour. It takes time to learn and master a new camera, and I know I will be able to shoot much better after a few more rounds of shutter therapy with it.
That Silent Shutter!!
The silent shutter was absolutely beautiful. I like how the camera almost makes no sound at all in such a loud environment (wet market, open air). I can be very near my subject and as I fired a few shots, my subjects would not even know!! A stealth machine this camera is, and the smaller form factor surely helped as well.
The Sony Warriors: Hadi Nik, Joseph Cheung, Kevin Ng and Meng Keat. Not in photos, but with us this morning: Eva and Carlson. In the group there were 4 units of Sony Alpha 99 and two units of Sony NEX-6. My Sony A57 suddenly feels so small!!!!!
Any Sony Alpha A57 user out there? Do share some thoughts, and tips too, if you are willing. I am eager to hear and learn from you all.
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