Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sony Alpha A57 Review and Thoughts (Updated 9-13 Gallery)

Sony Alpha A57 Review and Thoughts
August 2012, Carl Garard
Sony Alpha A57 Review and Thoughts: Recently I've had the pleasure to use Sony's Alpha A57, after quite a hiatus from using Sony slt/dslr models. The break was needed, I had to detach myself from the EVF/SLR concept Sony were trying to pull off on the market in order to let that concept completely sink in. After the hiatus a few models emerged, and one of them being the A57. To me the A57 is the most mature SLT Sony has brought to the market, with none of the glitches that plagued earlier models and a sensor which, quite frankly, I feel to be superior as an overall design decision than other models.

Prices Sony Alpha SLT-A57

Now this review is solely based on a period of time I had with the A57, I've chosen not to include *images from my experience or a press release- which is quite a deviation from my normal Sony Alpha reviews that I've completed in the past. There are enough images on the net, as well as fancy press releases for this camera. And, since SLT is still really a relatively new concept, I wanted to take my time ( a hiatus) to see where SLT would settle into the market place and how users in general would be polarized or otherwise driven away by the design.

*As of 9-13 I added new images not taken during the review period as a sharing sample pack only. Please enjoy!

Sony Alpha A57 Review- An Interesting Side Note
Prices Sony Alpha SLT-A57 

In interviewing at least five major local camera retailers of late (managers of the department, all) there has surfaced an interesting perspective that didn't exist when Sony just made DSLRS (you know, pre A77 era). All of the retailers concluded that SLT's and NEX designs have been a step up for Sony and are more popular in the shops- by sales volume - than previous SLR's. All of them agreed that Sony are still a very distant third here in the US compared to Canon and Nikon, but that they indeed are a solid third place over all other brands. That's quite a good feat in the US considering how Sony have floundered previously.

That being said, I recall being personally more enamored with Sony's A65 than the A77. I find the form factor, size,  and button placement more to my taste. I had only wished the A65 had the wonderful 16mp sensor Sony made previously, and, that it didn't exhibit the bugs that the early designs were plagued with. Those wishes manifested into the current Alpha A57. Turns out the break was good, no waiting, no agonizing, just moving on.. and wallah, there it is- a true A580 replacement/brother camera.

Sony Alpha A57 Review- Initial Reactions
Prices Sony Alpha SLT-A57 

From the moment I picked up the A57 the form factor brought a smile to my face. It has a nice density and the grip is phenomenally comfortable. The rounded edges, thumb rest, and simple but logical placement of the buttons give a refreshingly well sorted impression that just brings a smile to my face. It's been a while that has happened, too, with an Alpha design.

What a well sorted, simple and comfy design. 
The electronic viewfinder, while not the OLED design seen in higher end models, is a very large view on a camera at this level and price. In fact, it very well may be the best finder for the price out there. I've not used a finder that has been better on any other maker or model, optical or otherwise at this level. I found it to be highly capable and detailed with a fast refresh rate, and therefore, acceptable by my standards as a viewfinder to be relied upon (typically I use optical finders, but I also use and have cameras with electronic ones). A pleasant surprise actually. There is a generous amount of information available that helps keep the camera to your eye, if that is what you like to do (I do, as much as possible).

Sony Alpha A57 Review- Using The A57
Prices Sony Alpha SLT-A57 

In use it became apparent to me right away that the A57's lack of bugs, better price, newer features (like focus peaking), and lets just say it- excellent 16mp sensor were all that were lacking from previous SLT designs I had used before. I found that I like this camera, I really do.

I'm intimately familiar with not only the excellent 16mp sensor of this camera (and its image quality), but also of the menu system and layout having used the A65 quite a bit previously. The new additions like focus peaking only add tasty icing on the cameras useability and functionality that make it a darling little camera for the price. Having used Canon's T3i for quite some time now, the A57 feels turbocharged and refreshed in comparison to the little Canon (a camera which I feel is a perfect price point comparison). Really I have zero complaints about the image quality on a raw file level, or the menu system as a whole.

And lets just leave it at that.

All of the benefits of the SLT design shine well in the A57 body. I've made note in previous reviews on SLT cameras on the positive side of things, which the A57 retains- quiet shutter cycle, full view of information on a large screen at eye level, video advantages, fast shutter and autofocus, etc. Sometimes it doesn't take much tweaking to a design to make it go from good to excellent. Here is the case with the A65 to the A57.

Personally I think the A57 is a better camera for the price for most people. Rarely do I hear professionals needing that much resolution (A65/77), whereas low light performance is almost always appreciated (ironically mostly at lower ISO levels). Here I feel the A57 is just a better performer at all ISO levels.

Focus peaking goes hand in hand with an eye level EVF, it simply makes use of the electronic advantages of such a finder. Not only is the EVF a larger view than most finders at this price (optical ones are much smaller), but allows for focus magnification and high contrast outlining of in focus subjects. That is where the potential of EVF really shines to me- resolution and refresh rate will always be better on an optical finder- it's just the nature of natural light going through optics rather than an electronic screen feeding the brain. Focus peaking is  just a perfect compliment to an EVF and its rather enjoyable and accurate to use when it has the right conditions for it to shine in. Otherwise magnifying the view at eye level is more than enough to get an accurate focus on a subject.

Sony Alpha A57 Review- SLT and Its Impact
Prices Sony Alpha SLT-A57 

Truly the potential of the digital SLR is now being reached, and SLT takes it one step further in some respects. With excellent eye level finders and LCD screens, no longer does the user have to guess at precise focusing or exposure. And with the EVF both can be quickly and accurately attained on the very first shot- this is where the SLT shines the most, although there are some other advantages of that design of course. SLT is just more digital than other digital SLRs. And, there are of course, pros and cons to that conclusion. Just how SLT will make a long term impact on the camera/DSLR market, and at what strength, still remains to be seen. It takes consumers a long while to embrace new concepts sometimes.

Sony Alpha A57 Review- Conclusion
 Prices Sony Alpha SLT-A57 

The A57 is finally, now, an excellent alternative to the Rebel for the consumer - which has been the most popular DSLR ever to grace our planet to date. That is an excellent compliment to Sony and their maturation process with SLT - they should take note of the praise this camera is getting by all published sources, and customers alike.

With that being said, I'm not saying the A57 is a better camera than the Rebel, making a statement like that is futile and is just too black and white. A camera is only as good as the tasks it can perform for a wide ranging user base- and clearly the T3i and A57 approach these tasks from different design concepts. What is fair to say is that I feel the A57 can tackle an equal amount (not necessarily the same, or in the same manner) of tasks as the T3i.

In some respects it will do a better job, and in others not as well (the type of rear hinged LCD comes to mind, as does the type of viewfinder), it just depends on the task and the users needs. What I am saying is that in the grand scope of things, and view of tasks a user needs a camera to perform, the A57 is on the same level as its Rebel brethren in its totality of capabilities. Finally Sony has a body I think can match the Rebel toe to toe at this price level. It took a while, but Sony finally got there.

So in my mind, the A57 has reached Rebel status in terms of its capability as a camera body- having enough strengths and features that are  implemented excellently to be a bonafide competitor to the Canon Rebel. Of course again my opinion is relegated to camera bodies only (lenses and other system support are a completely different story). It's nice to see the maturation process of the Alpha division come to a camera like this and give a user a bonafide choice without any big compromises on the whole.

Let it be known and said that I'm not suggesting the SLT is the answer to all of our problems for the future, more, it is a bonafide alternative that offers unique advantages and disadvantages. The A57, is just an excellent example of the design, and for the price, my favorite choice by far. It's Sony's most matured SLT camera to date, and offers the best overall performance from skin to sensor than any other SLT I've used.

-Carl Garrard

p.s. Michael Reichmann- Get better bud. All of my hopes and wishes are for your recovery! 

Sony Alpha A57 Review- Update 9-13 Sample Image Gallery
This are just a few images I've shot very recently with the A57. Please note that these aren't intended to be critical analysis images, instead they are for viewing pleasure only (at least that's the hope). ISO has been documented in the image name along with a short title in some. Images here are for personal use only, thank you.

Yum, ISO 12,800

Magic Lights (ISO 100)

"And so it begins..." (ISO 3200)

Just good light- ISO 100

My Buddy and Protector (ISO 1600)

My Darling (ISO 6400)

"Jack and Dad"

ISO 12,800 from Raw

Sony Alpha A57 Review- Official Product Images of the A57


  1. Short review but enlightening, thanks for taking the time to post this as I've been contemplating an A57 for some time. Any idea if you'll be doing any more writing on this camera? I'm particularly looking for more information on how well it can hold up on continuous autofocus for action photography of any kind. Thanks for your time.


  2. Looks like you and DPR agree... Sony should do a firware upgrade to improve the engine.

  3. Great to see you posting about Sony cams again! For my needs (family photojournalist), my A55 has performed really well. I have always liked the advantages of the SLT design. Thankfully, no showstopping glitches in the A55 for me. I agree though, the A57 is a much nicer form factor -- A55 is too small. Maybe that's reason enough for me to make the upgrade!

    My dream 2-body combo would be a NEX-6 (my walkaround kit) and A57 (sports shooting, birding). If the budget allowed, I'd get the A99 too to take advantage of my legacy full-frame lenses.

    Welcome back!

  4. Hi Carl,

    I'll echo what the previous poster says -- nice to have you back reviewing Alpha mount gear again! Well written review of the A57 and also the 18-135mm lens! I see that the combo gets you the lens for $300 more -- you save a couple hundred over buy the lens separately!

    I've stated that I would never purchase another APS-C camera -- my Maxxum 7D would be my one and only! But recently I've begun rethinking that! The price of the recently introduced A99 is discouraging. Double the price of the A77 for FF! I mistakenly thought that removing all the glass related to the OVF from the A900 would bring cost way down! Being realistic, that is just way out in outer space in relation to my photographic budget. The A57 is priced closer to planet earth! :-) I guess I will just have to stick with film for FF (as long as I can still buy and process it) and APS-C for digital. I've handled the A57 and quite like it and was pleasantly surprised by the LCD VF. Still would have preferred the OLED with the 16Mp sensor. The main disappointment for me is the lack of GPS. I travel a bunch and really like GPS tags in my photos. Have had to do it to this point with an external device (Qstarz).

    So, my question is, given the current $200 price difference, is the A65's 24Mp sensor that great a negative compared with the A57's 16Mp sensor? Given that the body is essentially the same, I'd rather have the OLED and GPS.

    Thanks again for the great reviews! And when are we getting our digital back for our Maxxum 9s? :-)



  5. I consider myself an advance amateur when it comes to photography. Started out with a Minolta SRT-100, then a Canon A1, then I got a Konica-Minolta 5D seven years ago (my wife had a number of Minolta lenses including the famed 70-210 Beercan, the 35-70 f4, and the 50 f1.4). I have also purchased the Sony 16-250 mm zoom. I have been wanting to upgrade to a more “serious” camera and have been looking a great deal at the A77. I have been drooling over the robust build of the body, the weather sealing, the nifty “advanced” features like the micro focus adjust etc… But then I wonder if the A57 would not work just as well, and in some cases, like high ISO, better? I am not sure of the necessity of some of the so called advanced features and the savings between the two cameras are substantial. When I read the opinions of actual real photographers like yourself I often come across the statement that all the wiz-bang technology in the world will not make you a good photographer, it is your brain that does that. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on these two cameras.

  6. Hi George,

    I think it comes down to a matter of necessity for you. If you think you will use the extra features the A77 offers, or just regret not having them there in case you do get a bug up the kazoo to use them one day- get the A77. Yet if you really think that you won't need them and the money saved will make you smile more than frown that you don't have them the A57 is quite a capable camera.

    I think its' more capable than the A700 in many respects, which is older, however at the same level of the A77.

    Every camera is a lesson in trade offs- there is no denying that no matter how hard we try to get it right on a purchase. It just comes down to what trade-offs you can live with or live without.