Sony SLT-A57 In-Depth Review
The A57 comes with the same impressive video specification as its higher priced stablemates, the SLT-A65 and A77. It is capable of recording full 1080p video, with the ability to record at 60p. The new AVCHD 2.0 format is now compatible with the newest Blu-ray players, as well as many older players after a firmware update.
|In video mode, you have access to the same set of information displays as when shooting still images. A status indicator bar along the top indicates video quality and recording time remaining on the SD card.||Available options for configuring movie behavior include file format and quality settings, a wind noise filter and image stabilization.|
Full manual control of shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation is possible when shooting video but there are some restrictions. You can only take manual exposure control in the A57's dedicated movie exposure mode (found on the main exposure mode dial), and this is incompatible with AF. If you want to take advantage of the A57's full-time AF during video, you'll have to shoot in program AE mode, at which point the camera will not select an aperture smaller than the lens' maximum (or f/3.5, in lenses with a maximum aperture greater than f/4). This simply reflects the fact that the AF system will stop working if the aperture is stopped-down smaller than f/5.6.
Speaking of AF, Sony's phase-detection AF implementation in current Alpha models is easily one of the best performing systems we've encountered on any stills camera. Focus acquisition is quick though not silent, object tracking is easy to employ while recording and works reasonably well across a central area of the frame. As you'll see in the video samples that follow, focus hunting rarely becomes a distraction during clips.
Pressing the Movie button when shooting in one of the PASM modes on the A57 will begin recording video in program AE mode, with AF operating continuously. AF can be locked temporarily by holding the AEL button (assuming it is so assigned in the custom menu), while ISO, AF area and object tracking can all be adjusted during recording. A digital wind cut filter can also be enabled.
Video quality options
1920 x 1080 60i/50i (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080 60i/50i (17 Mbps)
1920 x 1080 60p (28Mbps)
1920 x1080 24p/25p (24Mbps)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p (17Mbps)
1440 x 1080 30/25p (12Mbps)
640 x 480 30/25p (3Mbps)
|Audio||• Dolby Digital Audio
• Stereo audio capture via built-in mic.
|Format||AVCHD 2.0/ MPEG4|
|Max file size per clip||2.0 GB for Motion JPEG, card capacity for AVCHD (new file is created automatically after file size has reached 2.0 GB)|
|Recordable time||Approx 29 minutes (around 13 min when temperature exceeds 40 degrees C)|
Handling in Video mode
The A57 handles very well in video mode. The tiltable screen allows you to hold the camera at waist or chest height and view the LCD from above, just like you would do with a dedicated video camera. You cannot control exposure settings and use AF at the same time but the camera still offers a very fluid shooting experience. The convenience of being able to compose video using either the viewfinder or LCD screen with equal ease cannot be overstated, and as we alluded to earlier, having full-time phase-detection AF available during movie shooting (albeit only in P mode) makes for more satisfying results.
While video recording can be initiated from any shooting mode by pressing the record button, accurate framing does require you to first set the mode dial to movie mode, as the video crop is even different than the camera's 16:9 still image crop.
|The A57's rear LCD is hinged along the bottom and fully articulates for comfortable waist level viewing while recording video.|
The A57 builds on its predecessor's reputation as one of the best stills cameras in its class for video work. And the addition of a 60p capture mode has obvious appeal for more serious-minded video shooters on a budget, although the complicated method of setting and using manual exposure during filming might take the shine off a little.
The A57 video samples below, all shot at 1080 60p, highlight the camera's focus acquisition and exposure metering adjustments. Because the A57's video quality matches that of previous Alpha series models be sure to look at the video pages of our SLT-A65 review and A77 review for a wider range of real-world samples.
This handheld clip shows the A57's video performance in good light. The motion of the twirling objects is rendered crisply and the camera's AF system quickly locks onto objects near the center of the frame. Image stabilization works well, providing stable handheld footage without interfering with the panning. The built-in stereo microphones are doing a decent job of capturing the audio emanating from speakers located roughly 70m behind the camera.
|1920x1080 60p, MTS, 26 sec, 92.3 MB Click here to download original file|
In this handheld panning shot you can see the camera successfully lock focus even on low contrast subjects very smoothly and without any distracting AF hunt. The amplified sound originates from speakers on the stage in front of the camera position. Look carefully at the full resolution version and towards the end of the clip you can see moiré patterning in the pants of one of the sound crew. While the kit lens does produce audible noise during focus acquisition, here it is overwhelmed by the ambient sounds.
|1920x1080 60p, MTS, 26 sec, 93.9 MB Click here to download original file|
This handheld clip was shot on a beach during sunset. During the pan you can see the camera's AE system compensate for the changing brightness levels as the scene shifts from the sand to waves and finally to the distant horizon.
|1920x1080 60p, MTS, 32 sec, 112.4 MB Click here to download original file|