The Sony SLT-A58 is a refresh of last year's pretty darn good SLT-A57 DSLR. But don't let the 20-megapixel count and plummeting price tag fool you. We just took the camera for a test drive in some less than ideal conditions, and we were impressed. If you're getting started with serious photography, the new A-58 might be the way to go.
You're getting basically everything you need to step up from a point-and-shoot or smartphone: good image quality at higher ISOs, relatively snappy shooting performance, and full-manual controls that are easy to operate. Let's go down that list in a little more detail.
The camera's APS-C sensor has been bumped from 16 to 20 megapixels, which could hurt performance in darker shooting conditions. But at ISO 3200 in mediocre light this detail shot of a museum exhibit lacks noticeable noise:
As for the camera's performance, it can shoot at 5fps, which is in line with basically everything under $1000. The camera has a battery of autofocus modes, but we mostly stuck to the single-shot autofocus. For the most part, the camera locked right on to what we were trying to shoot, but be ready to use manual focus sometimes, because when your focus point is very small, it's not directly on the money. That's why our friend the butterfly here isn't as sharp as some of the surrounding water droplets:
This isn't a dealbreaker, as that's a particularly tricky spot for AF, where manual is probably better bet. For the most part, the focus was quick and accurate, especially given that the A58's more-expensive competitor, the Nikon D3200, falls way short on autofocus. There were no noticeable problems with the camera's metering. Basically, with a little care and attention, this camera is capable of great photos.
As for the handling, the A58 does a serviceable job of making full control of the camera straightforward. It's not covered in buttons and dials, so you've got to go into menus frequently. Luckily, most of the settings you change frequently (like ISO, AF mode, metering, white balance) are easily accessible from the settings menu that pops up when you push the Fn button on the back. Once you get into the rhythm of shooting with the camera, switching is no big deal.
Note that "SLT" in the camera's name stands for "single-lens translucent" mirror camera, which means that it's not a traditional DSLR. It doesn't have an optical viewfinder. Instead it's got an OLED screen, which looked fine. Good enough, basically.
This is an interchangeable-lens camera, and so you'll want to get more lenses down the line. That's the whole point, after all. The included 18-55mm is a standard zoom lens, but its stabilisation wasn't spectacular so shooting a slower shutter speeds can be a challenge.
And we didn't have a chance to inspect any video quality this time around. That's a really important consideration for some people. Canon has the market for sub-$1000 video DSLRs cornered, and we'd be surprised if the A58 performed to that level.
Remember, the Sony SLT-A58 is a $600 camera — and it's a lot of camera for $600. Take a good long look before someone tries to convince you to spend more.