Body & Design
The polycarbonate-bodied SLT-A57 is a larger, more bulbous camera than its predecessor, the SLT-A55. Despite sitting below the 24MP SLT-A65 in Sony's lineup, the A57 is, in terms of body design, virtually identical to its higher-resolution stablemate. The only visible difference, aside from the model name, is the labelling of the 'Zoom' button on the camera's right shoulder which toggles the camera's Clear Image Zoom function.
Top of camera controls
Along the top of the camera you see an exposure mode dial and just visible, the 'menu' button, nestled above the rear LCD screen. The A57's exposure mode dial is where you'll find access to the traditional PASM shooting modes, as well as its sweep panorama (2D and 3D) and movie mode.
There is slightly more going on over on the right hand side of the A57's top-plate. This is where you'll find the integrated on/off switch and shutter release, as well as dedicated exposure compensation and ISO buttons. The ISO button can also be re-assigned to any one of 26 possible functions, to access features ranging from DRO dynamic range optimization to image quality settings. You can also see the camera's front dial positioned just forward of the shutter button.
To the right of the A57's viewfinder hump is a finder/LCD button for manually switching from the electronic viewfinder to the rear LCD screen, and just behind it, on the slope down to the A57's south face can be found a small outcrop of three more buttons. These are (from left to right in this view) a dedicated movie record button, a customizable AEL button and the 'zoom' button, which can trigger either normal digital zoom or the new Clear Image zoom per the menu configuration.
In manual exposure mode the AEL button is also used (in combination with the front dial) to change the aperture value. During image playback, the AEL and zoom buttons are used to change magnification of images (as indicated by their associated magnifying glass icons).
Rear of camera controls
The SLT-A57's rear control layout is identical to that of the SLT-A65. The rear four-way controller is a simple X/Y axis pad. You use the central AF button to initiate manual AF point selection and then use the rear controller (or front dial) to select the desired AF point. The Fn button is used to call up the camera's 'quick menu' when in shooting mode as well as rotate an image during playback. At upper left you'll find the main menu button and lower-right the playback, and delete/? buttons. This latter button calls up a 'Shooting Tips' help guide; the same one that can be accesed via the main menu. In addition to offering direct access to this guide, however, the '?' button takes you to a section related to the camera's current shooting mode. With the cameras set to Sweep Panorama mode, for example, the screen opens on its page with panorama information.
The front of the camera hosts three controls. Along one side of the lens throat you have an AF/MF switch, and a small button to pop up the built-in flash above the lens release. On the opposite side of the camera near the bottom of the lens mount is the small round DOF preview button. This can also be configured to activate magnified focus assist, which can be helpful for achieving precise manual focus.
Compared to Canon EOS 650D/Rebel T4i
The Sony SLT-A57 is fractionally smaller and actually a bit heavier than the Canon EOS 650D, despite the fact that the Sony lacks an optical viewfinder. Both cameras house an APS-C sized sensor and built-in flash units.