Sony SLT-A57 In-Depth Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Very good Raw file output up through ISO 6400
- Dynamic range at the top of its class
- High magnification EVF with comprehensive information display
- Manual focus 'Peaking' option for both stills and video modes
- 10fps shooting in full resolution mode
- Class-leading 1080/60p video resolution with manual exposure control
- Useful function menu provides access to shooting parameters
- Two customizeable buttons (AEL and ISO) with wide range of options
- Fully articulated rear LCD for flexible viewing options
- Good-sized image buffer and improved write times (compared to A55)
- Fast and responsive operation
- Form factor and body design matches the higher-spec'd A65
- Eye sensor for switching between EVF and rear LCD
- High capacity battery
- Optional live view exposure simulation
Conclusion - Cons
- Mediocre JPEG processing with mushy detail and visible artifacts
- LCD viewfinder (vs OLED panel in other Sony models)
- AF not compatible with manual exposure control in video mode
- No live view in 8 or 10 fps continuous shooting modes makes accurate panning very difficult
- Counter-intuitive setting of aperture in manual mode
- Awkward to navigate between stills and movie playback modes
- Main menu system is tedious to navigate
- Clear Image Zoom offers no IQ benefits over post-capture upsampling
The Sony SLT-A57 has the unenviable task of replacing the SLT-A55, which generated huge interest by introducing a ground-breaking translucent fixed-mirror design to the entry-level DSLR market. If you place a premium on the introduction of brand new features and functionality, the A57 contains only two that we haven't already seen in recent NEX and SLT models; an auto portrait cropping feature and a Clear Image Zoom upsampling technology. The 16MP sensor gives the same output resolution as the A55, although it is re-engineered and powered by the latest iteration of Sony's BIONZ processor, offering improved JPEG noise performance.
Despite the similarities though, the A57 is far from being a warmed over A55. In the two years since the introduction of the A55, Sony has rolled out a number of useful technologies in its subsequent NEX and SLT models and a large majority of these have worked their way into the A57. For starters, the A57 sheds the A55's 'mini-DSLR' form factor, for a camera body that is essentially identical to the higher-spec'd SLT-A65. The A57's video specification is identical to more expensive SLT models as well, with 1080p60 output and built-in stereo microphones. A quick look at the pros list at the top of this page will attest to the fact that simply by updating the A57 with features like focus peaking, customizeable AEL and ISO buttons and a high capacity battery, Sony has created a camera with substantial improvements over its predecessor - lacking only the A55's GPS module - and one that is extremely competitive in its class.
One feature that has not, regrettably, trickled down to the A57 is the brilliant OLED EVF seen in the A65. The LCD viewfinder does offer a higher magnification view than any of its competitors but is prone to color tearing which can detract from an otherwise seamless transition from rear LCD to EVF. And, in perhaps the only area in which the A57 is lacking compared to its predecessor, the A55's built-in GPS has been dropped.
While there are certain to be those disappointed that the A57 still offers 'only' 16MP resolution, it's only fair to ask just how many novice-oriented DSLR uses actually need more pixels than that. It's also worth noting that the 16MP sensor Sony introduced with the A55 and which has been re-engineered for inclusion in the NEX-C3, NEX-5N and SLT-A57 is one of the best performing APS-C chips on the market.
The A57 delivers images with pleasing colors, contrast and saturation. White balance is generally well-judged and metering is very reliable, with only more difficult lighting scenarios requiring the use of exposure compensation. JPEG dynamic range performance is class-leading, providing roughly 9 stops EV from highlights to shadows. And Sony continues to offer a number of creative effects for easy image manipulation, as well as features like Sweep Panorama which are just plain fun to use.
We find Sony's JPEG processing leaves a little to be desired, with default results that are slightly softer than we'd like and prone to artifacts at even mid-range ISO sensitivities. Users willing to invest the time in processing raw files, however, will find results that meet and often exceed anything its competitors can offer in terms of detail and noise performance.
Video quality of the A57 is outstanding, delivering crisp, detailed footage at 1080p60 with manual exposure control. The phase-detection AF does an admirable job of locking focus quickly on subjects in a central area of the frame, and only on very rare occasions does focus shift become a noticeable distraction during playback. The AE system also does an impressive job of smoothly adjusting to large changes in scene brightness.
In terms of its handling the A57 behaves almost identically to its bigger sibling, the A65. A comfortably deep hand grip provides a secure hold of the camera. The body is large enough to offer well-spaced control points and the exposure compensation and ISO buttons fall easily to hand while you're in the shooting position. Yet the camera is still light enough to carry around on your shoulder for a full day of shooting.
While the preference for an optical versus electronic viewfinder is clearly a personal one, there's no dispute that shooting with an EVF that offers detailed and customizeable information overlays provides a significantly different handling experience compared to a conventional DSLR. The A57 also provides an equivalent viewing experience whether using the EVF or rear LCD. This means you can not only frame a composition with as much or as little information as you like, but you can even navigate the menu system without removing your eye from the viewfinder.
When it comes to making between-shot adjustments, a well-placed exposure compensation and ISO button make quick work of two of the more common changes you're apt to make. Sony's Function menu provides easy access to nearly any other parameters you'd need such as AF mode, object tracking, creative styles and picture effects, limiting your trips to the more tedious-to-navigate main menu. The 4-way controller also provides direct access to drive mode and white balance settings.
In nearly all instances, whether using the rear LCD at arm's length or shooting in the traditional through-the-viewfinder position, configuring the more common shooting settings to the task at hand is not a complicated affair. Adjusting aperture when shooting in manual mode is a bit less intuitive than we'd like, and requiring a non-obvious button press in addition to rotating the front dial. Yet once you've figured it out, it works perfectly well.
The Final Word
The SLT-A57 is a camera that is straightforward in operation with good handling ergonomics. It does many things well and boasts a feature set that rivals its stiffest DSLR competitors. A tried and true 16MP APS-C sensor delivers pleasing images across most of its ISO range, with pixel-level Raw image quality that ranks among the best of its class. The A57's high-end video specification is backed up by a strong AF system and very good AE algorithms which produce great-looking video with minimal user input. A full-resolution 10fps shooting rate is well beyond most of its peers, and the camera tracks focus reasonably well for subjects moving towards the camera at a moderate pace.
Outside of our wish for JPEG output that more closely matches the potential of its 16MP sensor, our complaints with the A57 fall largely along issues of improved efficiency in operation and a higher quality EVF. These are hardly make or break issues for those in the market for a beginner-friendly DSLR. And at a street price of around US $800 with the 18-55mm kit lens, the A57 fits well into most any novice DSLR user's budget.
At its core, the A57 is a well put-together compendium of Sony's technology advances since the introduction of the A55 two years ago. This makes it a solid and proven performer for anyone stepping up to a DSLR from a compact camera or ILC, and one that concedes little in terms of either value or performance to its competitors from Canon, Nikon and Pentax. We'd love a touch-sensitive screen and a more sensibly articulated LCD (and the OLED EVF from the A65/77 would be lovely) but the A57 is an excellent camera at a compelling price, and as such it earns our top honor, the Gold Award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The A57 combines a high-quality 16 MP sensor, easy access to shooting parameters, and class-leading video performance. And does this while providing an equivalent shooting experience, whether composing images via the EVF or rear LCD.
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