Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 The 16.2-megapixel Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 ($799.99, body only) is an impressive digital camera with great photo and video quality and several innovative in-camera software tricks. Autofocus is off-the-charts fast, whether you use the optical viewfinder or the LCD to frame your shots. Video recording is little trickier; there’s no autofocus whatsoever in video mode, and you can’t select frame rates. (Sony leaves these features to the Sony Alpha55 ($849.99, 4 stars). If you’re not picky about video, though, the A580 is an easy camera to fall in love with.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 Design and In-Camera Software
Like its competitors, the Editors’ Choice Canon EOS Rebel T2i ($899.99, 4.5 stars) and the Nikon D3100 ($699.95, 4 stars), the Sony A580′s body is pleasantly heavy on controls. The many buttons offer quick access to features and settings (ISO, timer shooting, and video mode, for example) without having to dig through menus. The buttons are all the same small size, clearly labeled, and placed around the LCD, and on top of the A580. At 1.3 pounds and 4.1 by 5.4 by 3.3 inches (HWD), the camera is comparable to other entry-level D-SLRs. It can write to Memory Stick Duo or SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. For sharing photos and videos, you can connect the A580 to a computer through a miniUSB port, and to an HDTV through a mini-HDMI port.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 View SlideshowSee all (13) slides
The 3-inch LCD on the back of the A580 is top notch; it’s just what you’d expect from a company that makes HDTVs. The 4:3 screen is a high-resolution 920K dots, so it’s nice and sharp. The display is mounted on a retracting arm that acts like an accordion, tilting the LCD up and down. Other D-SLRs, like the Canon EOS 60D ($1,099.99, 4 stars) also have articulating LCDs, but shooting still images with them isn’t as easy because autofocus often slows to a crawl in Live View mode. Using the articulating LCD on the A580 is a pleasure since autofocus remains blazing fast.
Sony includes two separate shooting interfaces—a simplified one geared toward beginners and a traditional one for seasoned D-SLR users. Both are good-looking with easy-to-navigate menus. One knock: In the traditional interface, you can’t set ISO to Auto. Until now, I haven’t ever seen a D-SLR that doesn’t offer that option.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 Specifications
- Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 Type
- 16.2 MP
- Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 Media Format
- Memory Stick Pro Duo, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
- LCD size
- 3 inches
- Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 Video Resolution
Sony loads the A580 with the same useful features found in its high-end compact point-and-shoot cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 ($299, 4 stars). An innovative noise reduction mode can help reduce grain, but it’s hit or miss. In this mode, the camera shoots six consecutive images in less than a second, then scans and selects the cleanest parts of each to create a single image. Under perfect conditions, it can reduce noise by up to 18 percent, with noise levels below 1.5 percent even as high as ISO 6400. Performance is less impressive when your subjects are in motion, because the system has to put together an image with the subjects in different positions in each exposure.
There are two other noteworthy image-merging tricks in the A580′s bag. First is a simple in-camera HDR (high dynamic range) photo mode. Most cameras allow you to auto-bracket, or take 3 consecutive images at three different exposures (one underexposed, one exposed as metered, and one overexposed) so you can later merge them into one master photo in an image-editing program as a high dynamic range image. The A580 automatically merges those exposures on the spot, like the Sony Cyber-shot WX1 ($299.99, 4 stars). The second feature is just a simple way auto-stitching feature for panoramic photos—you just swipe the camera left, right, up or down, and it will put together a single composite image in seconds.