Sony Alpha a58 £449

16th May 2013 | 03:02

Sony Alpha a58

DSLT merges two beginner lines

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Picture Effects; Low light performance; Good EVF;

Dislike:

Slow autofocus; Frustrating raw format use; Not an articulating/touchscreen;

Introduction

It's been a few years since Sony first introduced its DSLT, or translucent mirror, cameras, and it seems as if consumers and the industry are now au fait with the idea. The company generally updates its entry level cameras once a year, and so it has refreshed the Sony Alpha a57 with the Sony Alpha a58.

Although outwardly the two cameras are pretty much the same, the Sony a58 now features a newly designed 20.1 million pixel sensor, compared with the Sony a57's 16.1 million pixel device.

It also features an improved electronic viewfinder (EVF), which now boasts OLED technology for improved brightness and contrast. As DSLTs, the Alpha range can only use electronic viewfinders, and as such Sony has been working hard to improve their performance.

Sony Alpha a58 review

Although some people don't favour electronic viewfinders, there are a couple of distinct advantages to using them. For starters, it's helpful to see changes you make to settings displayed in real time via the viewfinder. You also spend less time removing the camera to glance at the LCD screen as the image pops up in the viewfinder, helping you determine whether or not you've nailed the shot.

On the back of the camera is a 3-inch tilting screen. With 460,000 dots, it's a fairly low resolution screen when compared to other beginner models currently out there on the market, such as the Canon EOS 100D. It's also not touch-sensitive, which although unfortunate, perhaps would have pushed the price up too far for the target consumer.

Talking of price, the Sony a58 currently costs £449 / US$599.99 / AU$799 with a newly designed 18-55mm kit lens.

Sony Alpha a58 review

The camera uses a 15-point AF system, which includes three cross-type sensors. It is capable of shooting at 8fps in telezoom continuous advance priority AE mode, or at 5fps at the camera's highest resolution, giving it one of the fastest burst rates currently in the entry-level market.

Sony is targeting this camera both at those with compacts looking to make their first step into the DSLR/T interchangeable lens market, as well as those with existing entry level DSLRs looking for a replacement.

Another new feature, which is particularly interesting, is Auto Object Framing, a step-up from the Auto Portrait Framing system that made its debut last year. Now not only can the camera automatically crop portraits for better compositions, it can also do it with objects, including macros and moving subjects.

Sony Alpha a58 review

As befits the intended consumer of this camera, Sony has included a number of fun and simple features. These include Sweep Panorama, a feature first outed in the company's range of Cyber-Shot compacts, and a range of Picture Effects and Picture Styles.

Another feature that may be particularly appealing is Clear Zoom - Sony's name for its digital zoom. This uses By Pixel Resolution Technology, which is designed to double the effective focal length of whichever lens you're using, while maintaining the same resolution. Those customers who don't want to purchase additional lenses may find this is especially useful.

One of the benefits of the translucent mirror is that the camera can deliver autofocus during fast burst speeds. The camera is capable of shooting at up to 8fps, which is pretty high for an entry-level camera, certainly beating the Canon EOS 100D, which is capable of 4fps.

Sony Alpha a58 review

Along with the wide number of lenses already available for the A-mount, Sony is launching three new lenses at the same time as the Sony Alpha a58. First up of those is a new 18-55mm kit lens, which will be bundled as part of the Sony a58 kit package.

Sony is including the 18-55mm kit lens as standard with the Alpha a58, which covers an equivalent focal length of 27-82.5mm in 35mm terms. Although Sony doesn't have quite the proprietary lens range of Canon and Nikon, the number of A-mount lenses now tops 50, with seven premium optics available manufactured by Carl Zeiss.

Build quality and handling

Outwardly, little has changed on the Sony a58 from its predecessor, the Sony a57, although Sony says it is a little bit smaller. Holding the cameras side by side it's not particularly easy to see the differences, though.

It has a large, chunky grip, which is particularly useful when shooting one-handed, and is reasonably weighty enough to give it a quality feel. It feels like it could withstand the odd knock or scrape, and is of a more premium construction than the Sony Alpha a37, which it also replaces.

On the top of the camera is a dial for switching between the various modes it has to offer, such as fully automatic, semi-automatic and fully manual. One new addition to this dial is Picture Effects, which previously could be accessed via the main menu. Picture Effects can also be accessed when shooting in other modes, such as aperture priority. This enables you to keep control over other settings while still using the Picture Effects, whereas in the dedicated mode, everything is automatic.

Sony Alpha a58 review

Built into the hand grip is a scrolling dial that can be used to alter aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode you're in. When in fully manual, the dial controls shutter speed when used on its own, but if you hold down the exposure compensation button and use the scroll dial, aperture is altered.

Dedicated buttons on the back of the camera provide quick access to key settings, including ISO and exposure compensation, and like other cameras in the Sony Alpha range, there's some customisation that can be enjoyed for those who like to work in specific ways.

The function button accesses a type of quick menu that has the majority of the most commonly used settings, such as Drive Mode, Metering and Creative Style.

Sony Alpha a58 review

A number of the most interesting options available on the Sony a58, such as Auto Object Framing, Clear Zoom and Picture Effects can't be shot when shooting in raw format. Not only is this pretty annoying in terms of keeping a clean image to work with, but it also requires a pretty tedious delve in and out of the main menu to switch to JPEG-only shooting.

Having the ability to switch to JPEG from the function menu would have been much quicker, as would a pop-up screen asking if you'd like to switch off raw format shooting if you attempt to use one of these functions. Better yet, it would be nice if Sony enabled raw format shooting when using these tools so there was no need to switch it off at all.

A dedicated button for the digital zoom feature can be found on the top of the camera. Press this and then use either the left and right keys to zoom incrementally, or the up and down keys to zoom in steps.

Sony Alpha a58 review

There's also a dedicated button for exposure compensation, so you can press this first and then use the scroll dial to make changes.

Like its predecessor, the Sony Alpha a58 has a movable screen, which is handy for shooting at awkward angles. However, Sony has chosen to make this a tilting device, rather than a fully articulated one, meaning you can't pack it away when it's not in use, and it's less useful when shooting portrait format images.

Sadly, it's still not a touchscreen device, which would have been handy for setting autofocus point. Instead, to set the autofocus point you need to press the central OK button and then scroll around with the arrow keys to the area you desire.

Sony Alpha a58 review

Helpfully, an eye sensor is included to automatically turn off the screen and activate the EVF. This makes it a much more seamless transition and more akin to using an optical viewfinder than having to switch between the two with a physical button.

However, there is also a physical button included, which can be used when switching off the automatic detection. This is handy if you only want to use the EVF and LCD for a certain length of time.

Thankfully, Sony has decided to include a standard hotshoe, rather than the Alpha proprietary hotshoe that has been on the majority of Alpha DSLTs up until this point - good news for those with standard accessories.

Performance

Sony has been producing high performing cameras for some time, so we had reasonably high expectations for the Alpha a58. Image quality from both last year's Sony a37 and Sony a57 were good, so we guessed it would be a similar story with their replacement.

Happily, we can say that images contain plenty of fine detail, display good colours without being over the top and are generally well exposed.

JPEG images straight from the camera are pleasing, although in some circumstances, the camera has a tendency to produce slightly underexposed images, especially where the scene is quite dark. You might find yourself regularly having to dial in exposure compensation to combat this particular problem.

Sony Alpha a58 review

Bright colours, such as reds and oranges, are displayed well. The Sony a58 also represents other general scenes with more muted colours well, but perhaps with slightly less punch than the colours straight from its Canon and Nikon counterparts.

General purpose metering, known as Multi-segment metering on Sony cameras, does a good job in the majority of conditions, helping to produce balanced exposures. However, in high contrast situations it can struggle a little, and you'll need to switch either to centre weighted or spot metering, depending on the situation you're in.

Similarly, automatic white balance performs well in the majority of conditions, erring towards slightly warmer colours under artificial lighting, but switching to a more appropriate white balance setting is easy enough if you're finding it a problem.

Sony Alpha a58 review

The Sony a58 is packaged with an 18-55mm kit lens as standard, which is a new version of the old kit lens. It's a good performer overall, and is certainly worth investing in as part of the kit, if you don't already have some compatible optics.

By shooting at mid-range apertures such as f/8 we can assess the edge to edge sharpness of images. The whole frame displays a good level of clarity, though there is some softness evident in the very corners.

Autofocusing speeds, though much quicker than what the equivalent Nikon and Canon cameras can achieve while shooting in Live View (which DSLT cameras are basically always shooting in), are slow when compared to traditional DSLR focusing speeds, and certainly slow when compared with some of the current crop of compact system cameras (CSCs).

Sony Alpha a58 review

Sometimes the lens can hunt around to attain focus for several seconds, and when you're using the kit lens this can be a fairly noisy process, so if you're shooting somewhere quiet this can be a little distracting. This problem is made worse when the lighting levels drop slightly, or if you're attempting to photograph something relatively close to the lens, such as a portrait.

One plus point about the autofocusing system is the Eye-Start AF, which can be activated from the main menu. This automatically starts the autofocusing process as soon as the camera is lifted to the EVF, and can speed things up. It's perhaps most useful when using automatic AF

Sony was extremely keen to shout about its low light performance, in terms of image quality, at the launch of the Alpha a58. At very high sensitivities, such as ISO 2500 and ISO 3200, the Sony a58 does put in an impressive performance, with an impressive amount of detail kept and noise well controlled.

Sony Alpha a58 review

There's some evidence of smudging if you zoom in to 100%, but at normal printing and web sizes images are more than useable.

There are a wide number of digital filters available on the Sony a58, and it's worth experimenting with them. We particularly liked Toy Camera and High Contrast Monochrome. Because you can't use filters with raw format shooting, you might find that using Creative Styles gives you more flexibility.

With Creative Styles you can shoot with different settings selected, including Monochrome and Vivid, which you can customise, such as by upping the contrast. We particularly enjoyed using the Monochrome setting, but it's a shame you can't use different toning, such as cyanotype and sepia, as is offered by other manufacturers.

Sony Alpha a58 review

The Sony a58's screen is fairly low resolution, at just 460,000 dots, but it doesn't suffer too badly from glare or reflections. The tilting element helps if the sun is particularly strong, enabling you to get a better view.

The most notable improvement to the camera perhaps comes in the shape of the EVF, which is now an OLED device. It's significantly brighter than the previous version and is very easy to use.

There's barely any time lag and it's almost good enough to make you forget you're using an electronic viewfinder at times. You might find, however, when it's very sunny you need to guard the EVF with your hand to get a better view.

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Sony a58 with the Sony a57, Canon EOS 650D and Nikon D3200.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Sony Alpha a58 review

These results show that JPEGs from the Sony a58 contain reasonable signal to noise ratios, outperforming images from the Canon EOS 650D and Nikon D3200 at every sensitivity setting above ISO 400. The Sony a58's JPEG images contain similar signal to noise ratios to the Sony a57's at lower to mid sensitivities, but the newer camera's images are stronger at ISO 3200 and above.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Sony Alpha a58 review

Signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Sony a58 are much weaker than the JPEGs, relatively speaking, this time performing worse than those from the Sony a57 and Canon EOS 650D at every sensitivity setting, and worse than the Nikon D3200 at every setting except ISO 6400 and 12800.

JPEG dynamic range

Sony Alpha a58 review

As we can see from this chart, the Sony a58's JPEGs show greater dynamic range than the Canon EOS 650D's at every sensitivity but ISO 1600 and 3200. The a58's JPEGs show similar levels of dynamic range to the Nikon D3200 at ISO 100, 200, 1600 and 6400, but the a58 is stronger at other sensitivities. The a58's JPEGs contain similar dynamic range to the Sony a57's at ISO 100 and 200, then the a57's images are stronger from ISO 400 to ISO 6400, but the a58's overtake at the top of the sensitivity range.

Raw dynamic range

Sony Alpha a58 review

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Sony a58 contain greater dynamic range than those from the Canon EOS 650D at ISO 100-800, after which point the scores are very similar. The a58's TIFFs show a similar dynamic range to the Sony a57 and Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 and 200, but after that they fall behind both cameras, only beating the Nikon briefly, at ISO 6400.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony Alpha a58, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Sony Alpha a58 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Sony Alpha a58 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 16000, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 16000, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sample images

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

We used the Pop Colour Picture Effect to boost the colours and contrast in this shot for extra effect.

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

There's lots of fine detail recorded by the Sony a58. The standard kit lens does a good job of maintaining sharpness across the whole scene, though you'll see in the high resolution version of the image that there is some softness in the very corners of the frame.

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

A number of Creative Styles are available, such as this monochrome setting. The advantage of using these is that they can be used while shooting in raw format, leaving you with a clean version of the image to work with later if you choose.

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The standard 18-55mm kit lens has an equivalent starting focal length of 27mm, which is a decent wide angle for every day shooting.

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The kit lens rises to around 82.5mm at the telephoto end of the optic, giving flexibility.

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours straight from the camera are bright and vibrant, without being too over the top.

Sony a58 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Sony a58 struggled to focus on this scene at first, since the light was quite minimal. This is a problem with DSLT cameras as the translucent mirror lets less light in than their DSLR counterparts.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Sony Alpha a58 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 16000 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a58 review

ISO 16000 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

Once again, Sony has produced a very capable DSLT that should find favour with anybody looking for their first camera of this kind.

If you're already a Canon or Nikon user, it's unlikely to tempt you away from the longer established brands, but for those without any previous loyalties or kit, this is a very tempting proposition.

Although many people will be put off by the thought of an electronic viewfinder, devices such as this go some way to convincing the dubious that EVFs are not the terrible compromise they once were. In fact, at very high resolution and increased contrast and brightness, it's almost akin to using an optical viewfinder but with the added benefit of being able to see live changes and the taken image previewed.

We liked

We've been particularly impressed by low light performance, with noise control very good at the top of the sensitivity run.

If you're not that interested in raw format shooting, you've got a wide range of fun and interesting features on offer here. There's a much more extensive range of Picture Effects, while beginners may be tempted by functions such as Auto Object Framing. Sweep Panorama is a fun feature too that will probably particularly appeal to the holidaying photographer.

Putting aside any niggles about the screen and focusing mechanism, images produced by the Sony a58 are very good and are arguably the best thing about the camera, which is probably the most important thing.

We disliked

It's a little disappointing not to have a fully articulating screen. While tilting screens do have their benefits, for not much more bulk than is on offer here, the added flexibility of a fully articulating screen could have been added. It also doesn't flip up 180 degrees, as the Sony NEX-3N does, which is very useful for self-portraits.

Like with other Sony cameras, both in the Alpha and NEX range, we are left a little frustrated with what can and can't be shot in raw format shooting mode. Having to constantly delve into a main menu to switch between raw and JPEG formats soon becomes tiring, and we'd really hoped that Sony would either enable functions such as Picture Effects to be shot in both formats, or come up with a quicker way to disable raw format shooting.

Probably the biggest drawback of this camera is the slow focusing, which can be a little frustrating in certain situations. Although it probably will have little impact on general and holiday scenes, if you find yourself trying to shoot something a little more serious then you might quickly get tired of lenses hunting around for focus and, with certain optics, the loud noise emitted.

We tested the camera with both the 18-55mm kit lens and a 50mm f/1.8 optic and found the problem occurred with both lenses.

Final verdict

We're a little disappointed not to see a touchscreen incorporated on this camera, too. With the Canon 100D and Canon 700D showing us how useful these can be on DSLR (type) cameras, we'd expect an electronic giant like Sony to have touchscreen technology at its disposal. That said, for the time being this camera is significantly cheaper than its main Canon rivals, so perhaps it was more of a cost issue.

We find the Menu system on Alpha cameras to be much more intuitive than on NEX cameras, despite both ranges being manufactured by the same company. Using the function menu for the majority of settings is a good way to make everyday changes, and aside from the ability to switch on/off raw format shooting, will probably save you delving into the main menu in all but rare occasions.

We've been impressed by the detail, colour rendition and generally good exposures in the images the Sony a58 shoots. Watch out when you're shooting in lower light, though, and remember to dial in some exposure compensation in certain situations and you'll soon find you're producing very pleasing images. As with any camera, spending some time getting to know its particular quirks will be rewarded well.

Overall, Sony has produced a very good camera in the Alpha a58, and we're sure that anybody who buys one will be very pleased with its performance. At its current retail price of £449 / US$599.99 / AU$799 with the 18-55mm kit lens, it also offers excellent value for money, especially compared with its closest rivals.

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