Sony Alpha 550 Review / Test Report
DSLR Reviews - DSLRs

by Sebastian Milczanowski


Talking about DSLR line-ups of players like Sony is anything but straightforward. Their portfolio includes not less than eight models and this is even one more body in comparison to the big two - Canon and Nikon. As of the time of this review it includes the A230, A330, A380, A450, A500, A550, A850 and the A900. Upon closer observation we classify these models into three groups. The first 3 are targeting the entry level segment followed by 3 intermediate and two high end (full format) bodies. Price-wise it's starting at as a little as 300€ and ending at 2200&euro.

When I got prepared for my trip to Oz (Australia) last year Klaus asked me weather I want to take the Canon EOS 7D or the Sony DSLR-A550 for the next OpticalLimits Outdoor test with me and after a short check of the net weight of both cameras I decided to put the latter in my backpack.
The next eight pages will give you an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the Sony and tell you whether I regret my decision or not.

The Sony DSLR-A550 is the top level camera in Sony's intermediate segment and includes the assumed advantages of the other two models - the higher resolution and the faster frame rate of the A450 and the bigger as well as the tilt-able screen with "Quick AF Live View" of the A500. Furthermore, the A550 has a higher LCD resolution and a HDR functionality that will be explained later on.

For a better grading of the Sony DSLR-A550 I have chosen two competitors for comparison; on the one hand the EOS 500D from Canon and on the other hand the D5000 from Nikon. The following table shows the key features of each camera.

Sony DSLR-A550 Canon EOS 500D Nikon D5000
Launch Date Aug 09 Mar 09 Apr 09
Image Sensor 23.4 x 15.6 mm CMOS 22.3 × 14.9 mm CMOS 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS
Effective pixels 14 MP (4592 x 3056) 15 MP (4770 x 3153) 12 MP (4310 x 2868)
Pixel pitch 5.1 µm 4.7 µm 5.5 µm
Bits per pixel 12 14 12
ISO latitude 200 - 12800 100 - 12800 100-6400
Focal length multiplier 1,5 1,6 1,5
Dust-reduction system CCD shift Ultrasonic Ultrasonic
Frame rate 5-7 fps 3.4 fps 4 fps
Dimensions (W x H x D mm) 137 x 104 x 84 129 x 98 x 62 127 x 104 x 80
Weight (g) 599 480 560
Street Price (Mar 2010) 650,00 € 500,00 € 500,00 €

Sony put about two million pixels more on their CMOS which has almost the size of Nikon's D5000 (12MP) resulting in a lower pixel pitch of 5.1 µm which is still 0,4 µm above Canon's EOS 500D CMOS. Furthermore, Sony uses their CCD shift they use for image stabilizing also as a dust reduction solution while Canon and Nikon work with ultrasonic systems. This technique didn't convince me in the past and I'm curious if Sony was able to improve it. However, the high frame rate of the Sony looks impressive and is for sure a unique selling proposition in this class. Finally, the Sony is the biggest and therefore heaviest camera in this group of three and the highest price results for sure in the newer release date.
But these are only specs! After the body tour on the next side the technical analysis on page three, four and five will figure out whether the inner values of the Sony DSLR-A550 are convincing. The applications section on page six is divided into five different photography scenarios and will give you an idea of the potential of the Sony in action. Last but not least, the final two pages of this review contain some sample shots to give you an idea of the image quality and our verdict of the Sony DSLR-A550, including the proven OpticalLimits rating.
But before you switch to the next page have a closer look to the 360 degrees of the Sony DSLR-A550.

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