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Compared to...

As the middle of the SLR market starts to look increasingly homogenized it's more and more important for manufacturers to carve out little niches for their products by offering something unique. This is especially important for brands like Sony, which still have a long way to go to challenge the dominance of the big two (Canon and Nikon), who between them account for around three-quarters of the cameras sold. In the last couple of years Sony has launched nothing short of an all-out attack on Canon/Nikon's market share, undercutting at the low end (with the bargain-priced Alpha 200 series, for example) and introducing the world's first sub-$2000 full frame model (the Alpha 850) at the top end. And with in-camera stabilization on nearly every model, Sony had a clear leader in nearly every category: on paper at least.

But you can't compete on price forever, and Sony's more recent models have a far more solid unique selling point: a clever twin-sensor live view system that - unlike all others - doesn't sacrifice speed for the convenience (and, for compact camera upgraders, familiarity) of framing using the screen on the back rather than the traditional viewfinder. A

All of that preamble is a long way of saying that the A550 (and to a certain extent its sister model, the A500) have many competitors, but none that offers exactly the same mix of features at the same price point. For this comparison we'll start with the new Pentax K-7, which has a broadly comparable feature set (for around $100 more you get a movie mode and considerably more advanced photographic features, but lose the A550's superior live view and tilting screen).

To represent the market leaders we're also going to include the Canon EOS 500D, which costs a little less, and has a movie mode, but lacks the A550's live view and image stabilization gadgetry. We could just as easily have picked the Nikon D5000 or even D90, but we went for the one with the nearest pixel resolution. I've included the D5000 in the table below for the sake of completeness, but not in the studio comparisons that follow.

Camera Kit
price
Live
view
Video LCD Anti
Shake
Sensor
(effective pixels)
Sony DSLR-A550 $950 Yes No 3.0" / 920k pixels In-body 14.2 MP CCD (1.5x crop)
Canon EOS 500D $895 Yes 1080p (20fps) 3.0" / 920k pixels Lens option 15.1 MP CMOS (1.6x crop)
Pentax K-7 $1050 Yes 1536 x 1024 3.0" / 920k pixels In-body 14.6 MP CMOS (1.5x crop)
Nikon D5000 $800 Yes 720p 2.7" / 230k pixels Lens option 12.3 MP CMOS (1.5x crop)

Kit prices include standard zoom lens

Sony A550 advantages

  • Fast, usable autofocus in live view
  • In-camera image stabilization (vs Canon and Nikon)
  • Screen and sensor resolution (vs Nikon D5000)
  • Articulated Screen
  • Highest frame rate (7fps in 'speed priority mode')
  • Automatic handheld multi-frame HDR mode

Sony A550 disadvantages

  • No movie capture
  • Only offers +/- 2 stops EV compensation
  • Limited customization options / custom functions (compared to competitors)
  • No mirror lock-up, no depth of field preview
  • No ISO indication in viewfinder
 
Sony DSLR-A550

Canon 500D

Nikon D5000

Pentax K-7
Price
(single lens kit)
US: $1050 [check price] US: $895 [check price] US: $800 [check price] US: $1050 [check price]
Sensor • 23.4 x 15.6 mm CMOS
• Exmor Sensor
• 14.2 million effective pixels
• 14.6 million total pixels
• 22.3 x 14.9 mm CMOS
• 15.1 million effective pixels
• 15.5 million total pixels
• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS
• 12.3 million effective pixels
• 12.9 million total pixels
• 23.4 x 15.6 mm CMOS
• 14.6 million effective pixels
• 15.1 million total pixels
Dust reduction • Charge protection coating on low-pass filter
• Sensor-shift dust reduction mechanism
• Anti-dust materials
• Low pass filter vibration
• Dust reference image
• Low pass filter vibration
• Airflow Control System
• Dust reference image
• Anti-dust coating
• Low pass filter vibration
Native image size 4592 x 3056
(3:2 ratio)
4752 x 3168
(3:2 ratio)
4288 x 2848
(3:2 ratio)
4672 x 3104
(3:2 ratio)
Video No

1080p @ 20fps
720p @ 30fps
MOV (Video: H.264, Sound: Linear PCM)

720p @ 24 fps
AVI Motion-JPEG, with monaural sound

1536 x 1024 @ 30 fps
FOV crop 1.5x 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x
In-body
shake reduction
Yes No No Yes
Live view • Dedicated live view sensor (pentamirror tilt system)
• Phase detect AF
• Optional main sensor live view system (manual focus only)
Yes, Contrast detect (inc Face detection) AF Yes, Contrast detect (inc Face priority) AF Yes, Contrast detect (inc Face priority) AF
File formats • Raw (.ARW)
• JPEG (2 levels)
• Raw (lossless comp. 14-bit)
• JPEG (2 levels)
• Raw (compressed)
• JPEG (3 levels)
• Raw (PEF or DNG)
• JPEG (4 levels)
Auto focus • TTL CCD line sensors (9-points,with center cross sensor)
• EV 0 to 18 (ISO 100) detection range
• Predictive focus, Focus Lock
• 9 area TTL
• Cross-type F2.8 at center
• Range: -0.5 to +18 EV
• Contrast detect AF in live view
• 11 area TTL
• Cross-type at center
• Range: -1 to +19 EV
• Contrast detect AF in live view
• 11 area TTL
• 9 Cross-type sensors
• Range: -1 to +18 EV
• Contrast detect AF in live view
AF illuminator Flash strobe, must be raised Flash strobe, must be raised Built-in lamp Built-in lamp
Metering sensor • 40 zone sensor
• 2 - 20 EV working range
• 35 zone sensor
• 1 - 20 EV working range
• 420 pixel RGB sensor
• 0 - 20 EV working range
• 77 zone sensor
• 0 - 22 EV working range
Metering • Multi-segment
• Center-weighted
• Spot
• Evaluative
• Partial
• Center-weighted average
• 4% spot

• 3D Color Matrix Metering II
• Center-weighted average
• Spot

• Multi-segment
• Center-weighted average
• Spot
Exp. comp. +/- 2.0 EV +/- 2.0 EV +/- 5.0 EV +/- 5.0 EV
EV steps 1/3 EV 1/3 or 1/2 EV 1/3 or 1/2 EV 1/3 or 1/2 EV
Sensitivity ISO 200- ISO 12800 • ISO 100 - 3200
(with 6400 and 12800 equiv)

• ISO 200 - 3200
(with 100 and 6400 equiv)

• ISO 100 - 3200
(with 6400 equiv)
Auto ISO Auto (200-1600) Auto (100-1600) User definable maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed User-definable ISO range
High- ISO NR Yes (2 levels) Yes (4 levels) Yes (4 levels) Yes (4 levels)
Shutter speed • 30 - 1/4000 sec / Bulb
• 1/160 sec Flash sync
• 30 - 1/4000 sec / Bulb
• 1/200 sec Flash sync
• 30 - 1/4000 sec / Bulb
• 1/200 sec Flash sync
• 30 - 1/8000 sec / Bulb
• 1/180 sec Flash sync
Continuous
shooting
• Approx 5 fps max
• 4 fps in Live view
• Speed- Priority: 7 fps max
• 14 Raw frames
• 32 JPEG/Fine frames
• 3.4 fps
• 170 JPEG/Fine frames
• 9 RAW frames

• 4 fps
• 67 JPEG/Fine frames
• 11 RAW frames

• 5.2 fps
• 40 Best JPEG frames
• 15 RAW frames
• 14 DNG frames
White balance • Auto
• Six presets
• Manual preset
• Kelvin temperature
• Fine tunable
• Auto
• Eight presets
• Manual preset
• Kelvin temperature
• Fine tunable
• Auto
• Twelve presets
• Manual preset
• Fine tunable
• Auto
• Nine Presets
• Kelvin temp
• Manual preset
• 3 memories (K or mired)
• WB shift
Viewfinder • Pentamirror
• Eyepoint 15 mm
• Frame coverage 95%
• Magnification 0.8x
• Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen
• Pentamirror
• Eyepoint 18 mm
• Frame coverage 95%
• Magnification approx 0.87x
• Precision matte screen
• Pentamirror
• Eyepoint 18 mm
• Frame coverage 95%
• Magnification approx 0.78x
• B-type Bright View Clear Matte Mark V
• Pentaprism
• Eyepoint 18 mm
• Frame coverage 100%
• Magnification approx 0.92x
LCD monitor • 3.0 TFT Xtra Fine LCD
• 921,600 dots
• Articulated
• 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 920,000 dots

• 2.7 " TFT LCD
• 230,000 dots
• Hinged/swivel

• 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 920,000 dots
Mirror Lock Up No Yes No (exposure delay mode) Yes
DOF preview No Yes No Yes
Other features

• Auto HDR (3 shot)
• Dynamic Range Optimizer
• Smart Teleconverter
• Smile Shutter

• Multi-shot self-timer
• Image verification data
• Auto Lighting Optimizer
• Highlight Tone Priority
• Remote Live view shooting (via USB)
• Eye sensor
• In-camera retouching
• Active D-Lighting
• RAW Development
• Interval shooting
• Stop motion movies
• In-camera RAW conversion
• Digital Filters
• HDR/Multi-exposure
• Composition adjustment
• Intervalometer
• Program line options
• Adjustable distortion correction
• Level display
• Weather sealed

Storage • SD/SDHC
• Memory Stick Pro Duo
SD/SDHC card SD/SDHC card • SD/SDHC card
Vertical grip VG-B50AM (option) BG-E5 (option) No D-BG4 (option)
Software • Picture Motion Browser
• Image Data Lightbox SR
• Image Data Converter SR
• Canon DPP
• Canon PhotoStitch
• Canon ZoomBrowser EX
• EOS Utility (Remote Capt.)
• Nikon Transfer
• ViewNX
• Nikon Capture NX (trial)
• Digital Camera Utility
Dimensions 137 x 104 x 84mm
(5.5 x 4.2 x 3.9 in)
129 x 98 x 62 mm
(5.1 x 3.9 x 2.4 in)
127 x 104 x 80 mm
(5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in)
131 x 97 x 73 mm (5.1 x 3.8 x 2.9 in)
Weight (no batt) 599 g (1.5lb) 480 g (1.1 lb) 560 g (1.2 lb) 670 g (1.4 lb)
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