Sony Alpha DSLR-A580
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail and color at lower sensitivities
- Consistently reliable metering and AF
- High ISO JPEG output usable up to ISO 12800 for smaller prints
- Low shadow noise levels at lower sensitivities
- Good dynamic range
- Good quality 1080p full-HD video output
- 7 fps continuous shooting
- Good handling, decent sized comfortable grip
- Multi-frame noise-reduction useful for static subjects
- HDR and sweep panorama modes are fun to use and produce attractive results
- External microphone connector
- Useful digital level gauge (but only available in Focus Check LV mode)
- Two distinct live view modes for either speed or precision
- Very usable manual focus mode (including up to 15x image magnification) in Focus Check LV
- Tilt-screen useful for overhead and video shooting
- Comprehensive bundled software package
Conclusion - Cons
- Quite aggressive noise reduction from ISO 1600 upwards
- Limited control over high ISO noise reduction in JPEG mode ('auto' or 'weak')
- Limited control in movie mode
- Occasionally unreliable white balance in low artificial light
- Limited customization (compared to peers)
- No program shift
- Face detection AF works only with faces that are close to an AF-sensor in the frame
- Protruding LCD screen not ideal for photographers with glasses
- Awkward to navigate between stills and movie playback modes
- LCD unusually prone to finger prints and smearing (reducing visibility in very bright light)
From a price and specification point of view the Sony DSLR-A580 competes directly with other mid-level cameras such as its sister camera SLT-A55, the Canon EOS 600D/Rebel T3i or the Nikon D5100. In terms of image quality there is not an awful lot between these cameras (three of them even use the same sensor platform) but while the more established rivals (at least in the DSLR arena) stick to their tried and tested DSLR formulas, Sony is a little more adventurous and manages to differentiate itself with some unique design ideas such as the SLT-A55's fixed translucent mirror or the A580's dual live view modes.
The A580 uses a small secondary sensor in the viewfinder to provide live view with fast phase-detection AF, but can also utilize the slower but higher-resolution main-sensor live view system used by all other manufacturers, albeit only with very slow contrast-detect AF. This combination should get the A580 a top-spot on your camera shortlist if you are planning to undertake a large proportion of your shooting in live-view. The fact that the A580 has been designed around this mode also means that it works pretty well in video mode, despite a lack of manual controls. On the other hand, if you still regard live view as an unnecessary gimmick that's only being used by 'compact-camera-upgraders' then one of the more 'traditional' designs might be a better option.
No matter whether you prefer framing your images through an optical viewfinder or on a LCD-screen the A580 offers a range of cool features that are genuinely useful and fun to use at the same time. The sweep panorama and HDR modes are a great alternative to manual stitching and blending if you don't need the best possible image quality, and work well even without a tripod. The multi-frame noise reduction can still get you a usable shot in extremely low light, at least with static subjects.
All in all the Sony DSLR-A580 offers a lot of camera for your buck. Traditionalists might feel intimidated by some of the more innovative aspects of the camera's design but photographers who shoot a lot in live view mode (but don't like the SLT-A55's electronic viewfinder) or enjoy playing with slightly gimmicky features should have a closer look at the Sony.
The DSLR-A580's imaging pipeline is near identical to the translucent mirror model SLT-A55. It appears Sony has only made minor modifications to the sensor and processing and in practice the output of both cameras is therefore pretty much indistinguishable. This is not a bad thing at all, as we were quite impressed with the A55's image quality in our review.
The A580 follows right in the SLT's footsteps and produces good output across the ISO range. Out-of-camera JPEGs show natural colors and detail, only low-contrast areas can sometimes look a little 'mushy' at a 100% magnification. While we were working on this review we shot approximately 1500 sample images in all sorts of conditions and never had to worry about the multi-segment metering or the 15-point AF system not doing their job. Only the Auto White Balance function was occasionally fooled by low artificial light, producing strong yellow/brown color casts. In those situations we would recommend to use one of the white balance presets or shoot RAW.
The latter will not only give you additional control over white balance and a range of other shooting parameters such as noise reduction or sharpening but also squeeze a small amount of additional low-contrast detail out of the A580's .ARW-files. Thanks to this new sensor generation producing very low levels of shadow noise at low ISOs it also gives you the option to alter the tone curve and only introduce minimal amounts of noise to the shadow areas.
The A580's high ISO performance is among the best APS-C cameras. Up to ISO 1600 noise is not much of an issue and, while at the higher settings noise and detail smearing get visibly more intrusive the output is still good enough for at least the family album or web use, even at ISO 12800. That said noise reduction on the A580 is a little more heavy-handed than on some of the competitors. If you'd prefer a more subtle approach shooting RAW and applying your own noise reduction cocktail is your best bet. The A580 also has a very good dynamic range in JPEG mode which means that, if you get the exposure halfway right, highlight clipping is not a problem in all but the most contrasty scenes.
While the A580's imaging pipeline is being borrowed from the SLT-A55 the ergonomics and handling remain almost unchanged from the predecessor DSLR-A550. The inclusion of a video mode on the A580 required a video button and the ISO and drive mode buttons on the top plate have been moved closer to the shutter button but other than that there are no notable changes to the control layout. Sadly, this ergonomic similarity extends to the lack of program shift. The A580 isn't as customizable as we'd like, either and can't compete against the likes of the Nikon D7000, for example, in this respect. Fortunately though, unlike the A550, Sony has at least provided the A580 with a depth of field preview button and mirror-lock-up (automatically engaged when using the self-timer.
The A580 feels comfortably weighty in your hands, the grip is of decent size and the rubberized surfaces feel quite pleasant. There's no reason to complain about the A580's ergonomics when shooting with the camera 'traditional style' using the optical viewfinder (although the protruding edge of the LCD screen can make it a little difficult for photographers with glasses to get the eye close enough to the viewfinder) but the camera really shines when being used in live view mode.
Once you've worked your way through the manual and fully understood the difference between the two live view systems available on the camera - standard live view for quick focusing and operation, focus check LV for focus and framing critical applications such as macro photography - it's totally feasible to use the A580 exclusively as a live view camera and only use the viewfinder in emergencies, such as in very bright light (the rear screen of the camera is a little prone to fingerprint smearing and reflections). There are still a few inconsistencies between the two modes but nevertheless the A580 is the camera of choice if you're looking for a DSLR to use in live view mode.
The Final Word
The Sony DSLR-A580 is an excellent all-round performer that gets all the important stuff - image quality, metering, focus - right most of the time. Whether you like its slightly live-view centered design and user interface is pretty much a question of taste and shooting style.
It is not quite as radically innovative as its sister-model SLT-A55 with its translucent mirror and electronic viewfinder but it could be the ideal compromise for those who like the option of shooting in live view as a standard mode of operation, but can't or don't want to live without an optical viewfinder as an option.
The A580 might not be for everyone but with its excellent image quality, solid performance and innovative feature set it can be a great alternative to more 'traditional' competitors and therefore easily earns itself a dpreview.com silver award.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The Sony DSLR-A580 is an excellent all-around performer but also offers a range of innovative features. It's a great alternative to more 'traditional' DSLRs, and Sony's unique dual live view system makes it the ideal compromise for those who like the option of shooting in live view but can't or don't want to live without an optical viewfinder.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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