My Sony SLT A-58 review : Part I

Wow, for those who know me, it’s a little less literary or imaginative title than I usually do, right ? There’s a reason for that. This post is a little different from my usual writing, as, being a gear review, it will probably draw about ten (100 ??) times as much traffic as my little blog routinely does.

So, my faithful readers (the handful that exists anyway, I have you in mind, Tracy, Laurent, Bek and a few others), please bear with me as I give this broader audience a little background on myself, though you guys are totally familiar with my ectic, compulsive and so far totally out of control camera bodies consumption.

ClaireAvatarHello, my name is Claire, and I’m a cameraholic.

Ok, you still want to know what I think of my just delivered Sony SLT A-58, but before I spill the beans, you have to understand what kind of gear I used before, to get a fair idea of my standards, both of build quality, responsiveness, user friendliness and ultimately, image quality. Well, the answer is very simple : of all digital SLRs released from 2002 (all makers considered) I believe there are fewer models that I did NOT own, borrowed or at least played with, than those I have. Particularly from Nikon and Canon only a few models escaped my scrutiny. Sony, however, was the exception. Aside from a Minolta DSLR (can’t remember whether it was the 5 or 7D) I never held anything resembling a Sony reflex camera until… about three weeks ago. Note that I had a BUNCH of NEX before that (so there is a definite knowledge of Sony here) and that I made up for the lost time pretty thoroughly by owning successively the A37, A57, and now A58, in that pretty short window of time. If you want my opinion on the 37 and 57 SLT cameras, please report to my previous posts of late June and early July.

MarlaJul13-02A-58, Minolta 50/1.7 @F2, ISO 800, jpeg file in PS.

So, briefly, what brought me to the A-58 camera ? Since going mirrorless in early 2012 (after shooting the fantastic Nikon D700 for over a year), I got totally addicted to the magic of full time Live View, on both the LCD screen and in th electronic viewfinder. Being able to see the impact of all your chosen parameters *before* you press the shutter is just amazingly useful to me. Since discovering that I’ve become an adept of Manual mode, which I shoot 90% of the time, and I’ve had very few ill exposed shots to cry over. Keep in mind I’m a very strongly convinced jpeg shooter. I don’t even want to start touching that subject now, or argue with anyone (that poor dead horse has been beaten way too long already), so just take it for granted. I shoot jpeg (and sometimes +RAW for safety if needed) and process my jpeg files in Photoshop. If you don’t like it, or think it’s dumb or I’m not doing myself a favor or whatever, tough shit.

So despite still owning an EXCELLENT (capital letters fully deserved) Nikon D90, I wanted something that could offer my NEX bodies usability and IQ (namely dynamic range), yet fast operation and AF, for when I want to shoot moving subjects (including some kids riding, and horse jumping). The D90 is perfectly good at it, but of course it lacks Live View and has 5 yrs old DR…

Has23jun13-30PMD90+75-240/4-5.6 (old plastic lens from the 80’s)

So let’s cut to the chase and get going with my SLT A-58 first impressions. There will be a second part to the review, coming tomorrow, after I have put the camera through the horse jumping test, and paired it with more desirable lenses, the Tamron 28-75/2.8 XR Di, and the Sigma EX 50-150/2.8 DC, both delivering superior image quality, despite a well controlled price tag.

I bought the A58, as I almost always do, as a refurb from Amazon.fr. I got a nice discount for it this way, and should I decide to keep it for good (evaluation pending) I should also get 100€ cashback from Sony. That would put the kit at 407-100=307€, which is just insanely cheap for any capable, and brand new, DSLR. I’m mentioning this because I will be comparing the A58 to all the cameras that make my mental database, including models 7 times the price, so we all need to keep the price point in mind.

The camera showed up this morning, in its Sony box with all appropriates stickers. Whoever had it before was able to reset it factory condition, as it showed file 001 on my first frame. The Toy camera creative thingy was activated though, and the golden sticker on the flash unit had been put back in place slightly sideaways, so it’s been pre-owned, as its warehouse status should indicate. That’s fine by me, that’s how I got the discount in the first place. However, I thought the camera to be defective upon powering it on, because both the LCD screen and the EVF showed a mostly greyed out area (like a computer menu or option that’s disabled) and only a thin, horizontal band, showed normal brightness and contrast. It remained like this for a few frames, during which I thought I’d shoot it as such a bit then pack back and return as defective tonight, but surprisingly enough out of nowhere it disappeared, and behaved quite normally (WTF ?!).

ColtJul13-03A58+50/1.7 @2, ISO100

I took a few odd shots that we all do upon receiving a new camera, then set out for the door with my kid and dog, for the latter’s morning walk. Except it was way past morning by then and the contrast was killing me. I set DRO to 1, as I do on all my Sony cameras, and shot a few more frames :

CanalJul13-01 CanalJul13-02I made a conscious effort to use the new 18-55 SAM II kit lens for those, then packed it back in the box, likely never to see the light of day again, until I either return the camera, or much later when I sell it, if I decide to keep it now. I’m not a fan of kit lenses, because they’re both too wide and way to slow for my style of shooting.

MarlaJul13-06I think we’ll all agree for casual family snaps, that’s a pretty capable economy set-up

MarlaJul13-04It’s not SO obvious to get properly metered shots in such intense summer contrast, but the DRO thingy did its magic. No need for flash to lift up shadows here, it’s doing pretty well. That’s one area where it probably stomps the D90 and all its similar era counterparts.

MarlaJul13-05The dog is just out of a week of boarding, and totally tame, lol

MarlaJul13-07Again, although looking totally trivial and boring, this impresses me quite well for DR. Not a hint of blown skies, yet very decent detail in the dog’s black satin coat. I know few cameras capable of pulling this so graciously, and in jpeg.

TestA58-01Because I like to torture test all my cameras, this was shot at ISO 400 in my rather dim but contrasty kitchen. Fine detail was well preserved and noise extremely well controlled.

ColtJul13-02As I stated before, DR is a huge concern when I chose a camera, and the A58 performs admirably in this regard. Quite similarly to my various NEX bodies, in fact, so the Sony signature is clearly visible here. I find color accuracy to be also quite satisfying, as long as you nail White Balance.

MarlaJul13-09So IQ aside (which I would qualify as very solid for a 20MP sensor), how’s the build ? How’s the handling ??

ColtJul13-01It’s stated as slightly smaller and lighter than the A57, and though many early reviewers said they truly couldn’t see the difference, I certainly do. It’s not so much a huge real difference, as a well perceived one. I can just say that the A58 is a joy to hold for me, and that my hand just wraps around its deep and comfortable grip perfectly. It actually fits me like the proverbial glove. Weight wise I read somewhere it was “hollow”. I beg to disagree. It’s indeed quite light, not much heavier than my NEX 7, but in a nice and comfortable kind of way, and nowhere “hollow” in my perception. The overall slightly lacking and plasticky build quality is made up for by the very nice feeling of the well shaped grip, and, to a lesser extent, textured plastic thumb rest. So if the build materials do feel like the weakest link in th A58’s DNA, it nonetheless never feels weak of fragile, just somewhat cheap (not really know if I’m making sense here, lol).

MarlaJul13-10A58+50/1.7 @F2, ISO 500, jpeg.

Let’s talk about a few key differences with its two sibling models it sits between and both replaces, the A37 and A57. The A58’s screen has the same 2.7″ size and tilt only mechanism, but doubles the resolution at 460K. Memory serving me well, it’s the same specs as the LCD unit on my “old” Panasonic GX-1, which I never had any major complaint with. The one thing I’m unhappy about though, is the hinge mechanism. Not that I don’t like it, it’s actually the very best possible proposition for me as I love to shoot “from the waist”, and find fully articulated screens totally useless in that regard. I love the tilt screens on my NEX bodies, they have gotten me numerous excellent perspective shots I would have had trouble taking otherwise. However, what I’m wailing about is the quality of the screen assembly on the A58. It’s simply the cheapest feeling part of the camera, and just awful in use. It’s both very hard to operate (plastic parts seem to be grinding together) and has the worst cheapo feeling. I did drop a hint of oil on various articulations, no little avail. I suspect time and repeated operation might loosen the whole thing a bit. If loser it’d actually be a perfect proposition for me. Larger and more defined, à la NEX, would have been fine, but I can totally live with this screen. The A37’s unit was just unacceptable for me, and the main reason I didn’t stay with this otherwise absolutely fine camera, so that’s a definite improvement over it here. And for the large, high res screen on the 57, the articulating assembly was annoying for how I like to shoot and just frustrated the hell out of me. Magnification during playback is faster on the 58 vs. the 57, which is also a big improvement, as it was a really weak point of the latter.

TestA58-02

The EVF has the same resolution as the one in the A57, but a different technology (OLED vs LCD). I’m slightly worried regarding the EVF in my unit, as sometimes it looks great, and sometimes I can see like a very, very fine mesh of textured lines in it (?!?). I have no idea whether this is normal, and have to check if it happens again (it seems to behave this way in very bright light). Otherwise it is more subtle in its contrast than the LCD based EVF in the A57, and I like it better.

ColtJul13-05

As far as handling go the camera is very fast. Power up takes way under a second, wake up from sleep is a hair shy of instant. All buttons and dials seems very sturdy and positive in their action, with little to no risk of being accidentally turned/pushed. Compartiment doors seem solid enough. Overall there is nothing flaky about the camera. Yes it’s obviously not higher end in build, but never feels fragile. Menus will be instantly familiar to Alpha users, and NEX users will be able to operate the camera intuitively pretty fast. The Fn screen allows fast access to a lot of  essential functions, and it’s super handy. WB has direct access via the right click on the 4 way controler, drive mode via the left click. The creative modes gets its own direct access (bottom click) plus its own mark on the mode dial AND can also be turned on and selected in the Fn menu. That’s totally overkill for such a gimmicky feature IMO, but somehow Sony wanted to make sure you had instant access to it (?!).

MarlaJul13-11

The zoom feature get its own button. I’m a little unsure about that. I’ll try it tomorrow and report to you, since I’ll be using my Sigma 50-150/2.8 zoom, which is just brilliant for indoor horseriding, but could use a little extra reach outdoors. I’ll make sure to test the zoom function and share samples as well. I wish the zoom button could have been reconfigured for those users who won’t want to try it, but hopefuly that might come later in a firwmare update ?? The exposure compensation button moves to the back of the top plate, and falls right under my thumb, which I find a better and more useful location than where it was on the A37 and A57. So good point here. It also doesn’t need to be held down to operate. Just press it once with your thumb if the metering offered by the camera is not spot on where you want it, turn the front dial with your index and voilà ! you’ve altered exposure. Autofocus points are selected by pressing the AF marked button which sits at the center of the four way controller. Press it to access AF point selection, and then move between points (or group of points, I personally use the “zone” setting) by clicking left or right. The zone setting offers only three clusters of AF points, so switching between them is very fast.

ColtJul13-04I haven’t tried the new flash hotshoe yet, but will tonight, as it will natively accomodate my Nikon SB-600 unit. I know not all of you shoot manual flash, but for those you do, you’ll be immediately at home using any unit you’re accustomed to, here.

TestA58-03Metering seems decently reliable, although in my view the WHOLE point of getting an SLT camera (and hence putting up with the 1/3 stop light loss due to the fixed translucent mirror, with the noise consequences attached) is to have full time exposure preview and shoot Manual. As explained before, if you chose to let the camera meter for you in any mode (center weighted would be my choice), you can easily compensate.

MarlaJul13-12So overall I’m pleased with the camera and hopeful to keep it upon further testing. If Canon always had the edge in IQ for me, and Nikon offered the best handling and features, Sony holds a pretty special position with its full time Live View. Once you’ve tried this feature, and if it fits your shooting, it’s very hard to go back…

Shot pros & cons list for tonight :

*PROS : value for money : outstanding. Excellent and comfortable handling thanks to great shaped grip, at least for my size of hands. Smallish enough to be taken along, light but not hollow feeling. Good-looking, I forgot to mention it’s a handsomely designed camera. Good, detailed EVF, less constrasty than previous generation. Fast power on, AF and overall operation. Good, traditional Alpha user interface. Tilt screen with decent resolution, perfect for shooting “from the waist”. Very good IQ for 20mp, noise well controlled at high ISO, and finely grained.

*CONS : aside from the nice feeling grip aread, build material looks plasticky and cheap. Worst part being the screen assembly, which is very rough and overly tight in operation. Hopefully will losen with time/repetition. Smallish screen at 2.7.

EDIT : I realized what was going on with the greyed out area at initial power on ! The camera was set to “Miniature” with Horizontal setting. Phew, I’m relieved, lol !

Disclaimer : I never claimed to be a great photographer or to produce art. I’m a hobbyist mostly aiming to make pleasurable memories for my own use. The pictures illustrating this article have been shot fast, in order to provide samples.

To be continued tomorrow !

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to My Sony SLT A-58 review : Part I

  1. Brilliant! a real down to earth, ‘nothing but the facts ma’am’ review…..and now I want one too 😉

    The pictures are fabulous (as I’ve come to expect), my favourites being the one of Marla playing Barbie and Colt with his head hanging out of the door.

    Sony do almost everything well in terms of cameras IMHO. Yes, noise may be more prevalent than the Canikon comparables but the Alpha’s offer features that you can’t get anywhere else right now, namely live exposure preview and focus peaking via screen and VF, and those which you can get in spades; DR, sharpness, colour depth… (blah, blah, blah)

    It’s a matter of picking your poison, and you pick yours well 😀

  2. Laurent says:

    Boy, I thought you lived in the north of France…..but what’s about this blue sky? Did summer fall on a week end this year?
    Great review. I liked the sony SLT I tried before, I don’t really know why I did not buy one. Conformism, I guess.

  3. marla2008 says:

    Hey, we’ve waited long enough for a bit of sun ! Except all the sun we didn’t get till now decided to show up all at once.. It’s mighty hot !!

  4. Gavin says:

    Great review, informative and really readable. Headed down to a local camera store to pick up an A58 and ended up playing with a nex 5R. Would appreciate your thoughts on what you think the SLT offers over the nex5.

    Looking for a camera for pics of a couple of fast moving toddlers. Really like the size of the nex, especially as lots of friends have dslr’s that have become “special event” cameras only, not something they take along with them when day tripping.

    That said really concerned with the nex what I might lose in terms of low light AF speed.

    Appreciated your thoughts.

    • marla2008 says:

      Hello Gavin and thanks for stopping by ! As I consider myself nearly a NEX specialist (I’ve had a boatload of them and love them), I think you’ve come to the right place. That was the good news. The bad new is, as you probably know by now, there is no free lunch. I adore my NEX (the 7 being in my few FAR superior to any other model in the line-up, and way worth the premium in price, mostly for handling reasons) BUT I’d be guilty of lying if I didn’t tell you NEX AF will struggle badly keeping up with toddlers. Or I should rephrase. I’d shot thousands of frames of my 4 yr old with my various NEX bodies, and manually focusing at that !! But you’ll get more shots of them during their quiet moments than when they’re playing, that’s for sure. Actually what prompted me to try (and totally adopt) manual focus on the NEX, was how bad autofocus was !!! With practice I soon become more efficient with MF and old lenses than the AF and E lenses were… Things might have improved a bit in the very last released model, the 3N, but I doubt by a wide margin. The much touted “PDAF” in the 6 and 5R was a vast scam in my view. I had 2 NEX 6 units and 3 NEX 7 units, and the 6 didn’t focus any faster than the 7 under any circumstances… So if you’re an experienced photographer feeling up to relying on manual focus and wanting to experiment with legacy glass (and you’ll find MANY) posts about that on this blog in posts about a year old), go ahead and get the NEX. If you want the safety and comfort or reliable AF, try the A58, I doubt you’d be disappointed. And to be perfectly honest, I maintain a two camera system with both NEX and SLT, because I think both are useful in my hobby. Hope this helps !

  5. Gavin says:

    Hi Clare, thanks for the reply. That was just what I was looking for and expecting. Now I just need to convince the other half an SLT’s not too big.

    On DP review you mentioned the Sigma 17-70/2.8-4.5, any idea how the compares to the sony 1650 2.8 A77 kit lens. Current plan match the A58 with the Sal1650, but the sigma a lot less expensive and offers a more flexible range.

    Really enjoyed part two of your review. For the money the A58 looks like great value. I’ll look forward to reading more of your updates.

    Thanks again,

    Gavin

  6. marla2008 says:

    The Sigma is a versatile but compromised, budget option. If you need the wide angle, the Sony 16-50/2.8 is certainly a wonderful proposition. If money is a big object, you can opt for either the Tamron 17-50/2.8, or a recent Sigma 18-50 HSM or 17-50. I tend to prefer Sigma lenses overall (mostly because of the great and silent HSM motor), but I’m currently shooting the Tamron 28-75/2.8 on my A58 and I’ve always loved this lens, it’s aboslutely great. I don’t think the A58 comes body only yet, so you’ll have the kit lens in case you need wide. It’s really all about your needs. I personally need 70 much more often than I need 17, so I sold both my Tammy 17-50 and Sig 17-70, and went for the 28-75/2.8. If you have small kids treat yourself to the SAM35/1.8, it’ll be your best friend indoors…

  7. Dewang says:

    Hi,
    I am going to buy my first SLR. I have options for Canon 650D, Nikon D5200, Sony A57 and A58.
    This one is at good price (allows me to buy an extra lens with the price difference) However, am i loosing anything largely compared to A57. Are Canons and Nikons are better SLRs compared to Sony?
    Thanks in Advance.
    Dewang

    • marla2008 says:

      I find Nikon to be the best overall, or Canon. Sony wouldn’t be my DSLR top pick due to the lesser high ISO performance of the SLT sensor. I liked the 58 better than the 57, but if it were for me personally and to keep long term, I’ stick with CaNikon.

      • I would agree, whilst I love Sony DSLR’s, after recently purchasing the Nikon D7100 I have to say the IQ is great. The Sony’s dynamic range is unbeatable in this class, but overall I think Canikon perform better, especially at higher ISO’s.

  8. Mattias, Sweden says:

    This is how reviews always should be written. I can for myself see on product pictures where you can find the button for exposure compensation, but this is real life usage. Thank you. And yes, I am considering buying a A58 (new) or A65/77 (used).

    • marla2008 says:

      Thank you Mattias for the kind words !! Please feel free to visit the blog again any time. I am glad my review was helpful to you. Even though I myself prefer the compact form of the NEX cameras, the A58 is a fine DSLT !

      • Mattias says:

        Well, fact is I mostly use my Olympus E-PM2, but I like, like you do, to take pictures of my daughter riding. In such situations, my mirrorless camera is a bit limited. As I said, there are infomation in you review that will never come up if I were to read 100 expert reviews. I do like your pics and the storytelling that goes with them too.

      • marla2008 says:

        Mattias, so sorry your comment had gotten buried under a bunch of more recent ones, so I only get to respond to you now, I apologize for that !! I’ve tried a BUNCH of other set-ups and solution for indoor riding since that post, and so far I’m still enjoying my NEX7 with various optics most of the bunch. Sure, DSLRs are better for AF, but the lack of Live View makes me favor the NEX anyway.

  9. 8anita says:

    Thanks for this great review. The photos look lovely and bright. I am in the market for a new camera to take really nice snapshots. Would you the nex 6 over this camera or is the image quality about the same?

    • marla2008 says:

      I did like the A58, but to me IQ is noticeably better on any NEX camera. The SLT fixed transluscent causes a light loss that the camera has to bump ISO to compensate, generating noise and degraded IQ vs. a NEX. Plus I like a smaller cam over a bulkier one, so for me the NEX is the obvious choice.

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