Displays and operation

The SLT-A57's interface is very similar to that of previous Sony DSLRs, with menus, displays and function screens largely identical to those on higher spec'd models such as the SLT-A65 and SLT-A77.

Record display modes

There are five different views available through the camera's electronic viewfinder, plus an additional status panel view option for the rear LCD. You can define which views you want access to, with the ability to chose different options for the finder and rear screen. Once you've chosen the views you want, pressing the DISP button cycles through them. For instance, if you only find yourself needing the virtual horizon indicator when shooting using the articulated screen, you can set the camera so that it doesn't appear as an option in the viewfinder.

There are six different views available on the camera's rear display, five of which have equivalents when using the viewfinder. The views available for the EVF and rear display can be defined separately.

The A57 inherits a feature introduced with the A65; the choice of whether the camera's display simulates the scene brightness which will result from the selected exposure settings or whether it ignores it and gains-up to display an image in low light, for easier composition. This is particularly useful when working with strobes in a studio, for example, where the camera's exposure settings alone might suggest severe underexposure, blacking out the EVF/LCD in exposure simulation display mode.

Function menu

As with recent Sonys, the A57 has a 'Fn' sub-menu of all the most commonly-used shooting settings. This can be navigated with the four-way controller on the back of the camera and the dial. Many parameters have several options (such as DRO, which offers Off/DRO/HDR), and a selection of sub-settings (both DRO and HDR have Auto settings or allow you to manually set the extent of their effect) and there's a little inconsistency in the way the two methods of interacting with the camera deal with this.

While in the top-level Function menu, parameters are adjustable using the front dial. Turning the front dial cycles through the options of the current parameter. However, to change the sub-settings of the current option you'll have to use the four-way controller. (So you can use the front dial to switch from DRO to HDR mode but you'll have to navigate the Fn-menu with the four-way controller to specify a 4EV range for that HDR merge).

When using the four-way controller, selecting a parameter with the center button takes you to a sub-page, with the options arranged down the left-hand-side of the screen (It's the same screen you reach if that parameter has a direct-access button). On this sub-screen, pushing up or down on the controller moves between options while pushing left and right scrolls through the sub-settings. In this view, all sub-settings are controlled by navigating left/right. And in these sub-screens the dial still can be used to cycle between options. This description may sound a bit more complex than it is in practice though. It doesn't take very long to get the hang of it.

Pressing the Fn button brings up a standard Sony function menu. Pressing the center button of the four-way controller takes you to a sub-screen (right), while rotating the front dial cycles between options without having to leave the top-level Fn menu screen. Each of the parameters has its own sub-screen. In this instance you can use the four-way controller to change your drive mode settings. You can get to the same screen by pressing the dedicated Drive button.
This is the White Balance sub-screen. The same screen appears if you press the camera's WB button on the four-way controller. Pressing right on the controller allows you to fine-tune the sub-settings. In this instance, White Balance fine tuning.

Focus Peaking

Focus Peaking, first seen in the Sony NEX-C3, is a visual method for confirming the areas of highest contrast (and hence focus) when manually focusing the camera. With focus peaking set, a bright colored outline appears around the highest contrast regions of an image, denoting the current zone of focus. You can adjust both how thick an outline is applied, and its color (either red, white or yellow), to ensure it's always easy to see.

With 'Focus Peaking' enabled, the outlines of the in-focus regions are highlighted. The default color is red, but you can also select white or yellow (shown here).

Peaking works happily in conjunction both with magnified focus assist and, most usefully, when shooting movies. In low-contrast scenes, depending on the exact level of contrast, focus peaking is disabled. Instead, a green AF lock reticule is placed on the area of the scene which is in focus.

Picture Effects

The A57 offers 11 art-filter type effects available when shooting JPEGs. There's a wide variety of effects, many of which have options to allow you to fine-tune them to your tastes. All but four of these modes (Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Mono, and Miniature) are also available in movie mode. These effects are carried over from previous Sony models. For a more detailed look at what's on offer, take a look at our NEX-5N review.

There are 11 filter effects available. Within each of these effects there can be multiple options.

Movie mode displays

The A57 - along with its higher spec'd sibling the A65 - is one of the few DSLRs we've encountered to offer 1080p60 movie shooting. As with previous SLTs, the A57 can offer continuous focus in movie mode. It can only do so, however, if it retains control of the aperture. As such, autofocus is only available in Program mode.

Movie shooting mode inherits the information view you've set in the stills shooting modes. However, the field of view is cropped (to the 16:9 aspect ratio) in a way that's hard to predict. Movie recording is available from other shooting modes but you gain more control by selecting the dedicated movie mode from the mode dial. This presents a choice of exposure modes. Autofocus is only available in Program mode.

When movie shooting is engaged (either from stills shooting mode or in the dedicated recording mode), the camera crops its field-of-view dramatically. This means you really have to use the dedicated mode if you wish to properly compose your shot, as there is no indication in stills mode to warn which parts of the scene will be cropped-out. Sadly the crop is not quite the same as the 16:9 stills shooting mode, so you can't use that to predict what's going to be in your scene.

Playback mode displays

In the A57's playback system you can review shots in image-only mode, overlay shooting data, or opt for a thumbnail with a histogram and more detailed camera settings.

You can cycle through three playback modes by pressing the DISP button. The thumbnail view provides both an RGB and luminance histogram. In this view mode, 'blinkies' indicate both highlight and shadow clipping.

Beyond this, there are the usual magnification options: press the zoom button on the shoulder of the camera when in playback mode to magnify the view. Turning the front dial moves between images.

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller reverts back to the normal view. Alternatively, pressing the AEL/zoom out button switches to a thumbnail view, allowing you to quickly browse through images.

In magnified playback the AEL and Zoom buttons adjust magnification while the front dial cycles between different images. The A57 offers two thumbnail views via the Playback menu's Image Index option. You can set a 2 x 2 or 3 x 3 image grid.