Sony DSLR-A560 Review

 
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Sony A560 Operation

The Sony A560 relies on a large, color LCD screen for all user interaction, with its compact size not leaving room for the small LCD info displays that are common on many full-sized SLRs. The user interface is for the most part clear and straightforward, although the A560 does feature the same playback-mode design that we've seen in several of Sony's other recent SLR and SLD models, which separates movie and still image playback -- a confusing design with the potential to cause panic if you're not familiar with the camera. More on that in a minute. One user interface feature of the A560 that we do very much like is the infrared proximity sensor, which can optionally switch off the LCD screen and trigger autofocus operation when you hold the viewfinder up to your eye.

Menus can be navigated either by using the four way arrow pad, and the button in the center of the four-way arrow pad makes selections, although there is no marking on the central button to indicate this function. The control dial can also be used to navigate menus, although its main purpose is to adjust exposure compensation, shutter speed, or aperture, as applicable in the current exposure mode. Since there's only one control dial and two variables to adjust when in Manual mode, the Exposure Compensation button is held in to switch between the two variables. An autoexposure lock (AEL) button fixes the curent exposure level while held down, allowing a metering reading to be taken, and then the subject reframed as desired. Dedicated Drive Mode, ISO Sensitivity and D-Range buttons respectively call up dialogs allowing each variable to be adjusted without delving in the menu system. A dedicated Movie button is used to start and stop video recording, separate from the still image Shutter button. A Depth of Field Preview button adjacent to the lens mount will stop the lens down to the selected aperture while held in, allowing depth of field to be confirmed visually.

An OVF / Live View switch adjacent to the pentamirror / flash housing is used to switch between shooting through the optical viewfinder, and courtesy of a live view feed on the rear panel LCD display. Unusually, this feed comes from a secondary image sensor located in the pentamirror assembly, allowing use of the A560's phase detection autofocusing system during live view. For a higher quality live view feed, the A560 also offers what Sony refers to as Focus Check LV, which is accessed from another dedicated button, and dervies its data from the main image sensor in the same style as most live view-capable DSLRs.

 

Sony A560 Record Mode

Like Sony's other recent DSLRs, the A560 offers an optional information display in record mode when shooting with the optical viewfinder, which can be accessed by pressing the Display button. (A similar selection of information overlays are available in live view shooting, and are described on the Live View page of this review.) Two information display layouts are available: standard or graphic. The standard mode provides the maximum possible information in program, priority, or manual modes, and a subset of this information when in Auto or Scene modes, including the exposure mode, storage type, number of available images, resolution for still images and movies, compression for still images and movies, aspect ratio, battery status, flash mode, drive mode, focus mode, focus area, white balance mode, DRO / HDR modes, creative style mode, ISO sensitivity setting, metering mode, exposure and flash compensation, shutter speed and aperture settings, exposure level, autoexposure lock, and SteadyShot mode, etc. See the illustration below (courtesy of Sony America) for information callouts in record mode.

Sony A560 Record Mode Displays
Section 1
Exposure mode
Image size of movies
Memory card
Remaining battery
Remaining number of recordable images
Overheating warning
Image size of still images / Aspect ratio of still images
Database file full / database file error
Image quality of still images
No audio recording of movies
Section 2
Shutter speed indicator
Aperture indicator

Exposure compensation / Metered Manual
Flash compensation

EV scale
Drive mode
Flash mode / red-eye reduction
Focus mode
ISO sensitivity
D-Range optimizer / auto HDR

AF area
White balance (auto, preset, custom, color temperature, color filter)
Creative style

Metering mode
Section 3
Shutter speed
Aperture
Exposure
AE lock
SteadyShot

 

Playback Mode Displays

Information Screens
In Playback mode, the default image display shows the most recently captured image or movie. Pressing the Display button cycles through the main display (with no information), a simplified display with basic information overlay, and a detailed thumbnail display with RGBY histogram, shooting info and blinking highlight/shadow display (overexposed areas are shown in black, underexposed in white). The most recent display type will be stored and shown the next time by default. Pressing the Right or Left arrow button or turning the Control dial displays the next or previous image (if currently viewing a still image) or movie (if currently viewing a movie). Curiously, there's no direct way to switch between viewing movies and still images. Instead, you must either go to the Index view (described below), then select the Movie or Still Image tabs at the left of the screen, or enter the Playback menu, then select the relevant type in the Still / Movie Select option. It's easy enough to switch when you're used to it, but if you frequently want to go from reviewing movies to stills or vice versa, the button-mashing can become a little tedious. If you're new to the camera, the design is prone to causing panic until you read the manual when you shoot a movie and then can't find your entire still image library, or vice versa.

Index View
Pressing the Exposure Compensation (Zoom Out) button switches to an Index view of either still images or movies -- but not both at the same time. You can view either four or nine thumbnails on screen at once in Index view. The Left, Right, Up, and Down arrow buttons move between the image thumbnails, and rolling the Control dial has the same effect. The OK key at the center of the four-way controller selects an image or movie for viewing. The Delete key deletes an image or movie. Two tabs at screen left are used to change between viewing still images, or viewing movies, since the A560 can't display both types at the same time.

Magnified View
Pressing the AEL (Magnify) button while viewing a single still image in Playback mode switches to the magnified view. Unless viewing a panoramic image, once in this view, you can press the Magnify and Zoom Out buttons to zoom in or out as much as 11.8x, while pressing the arrow buttons pans around the image. The Playback button exits magnified view, and the Delete button deletes the magnified image (after a confirmation screen), then returns you to full image view. For panoramic images, the first press of the AF (OK) button scales the panorama to fit the screen on its shorter side, then pans the length of the panorama automatically once, before returning you to full image view. Pressing the OK button while the panorama is panning will pause the display, at which point you can enter magnified view by pressing the Magnify button. This then allows you to pan and zoom exactly as you would with any other still image.

Movie Playback
Pressing the OK button while viewing a single movie in Playback mode launches movie playback. A second press will pause movie playback, and a third press will resume it. While the movie is playing, rotating the Control dial will cue forwards or backwards through the movie. Pressing the Down arrow button while paused brings up a volume adjustment control, allowing the volume to be adjusted within a seven step range, or the video muted altogether, by either turning the Control wheel or using the vertical arrow buttons. The Delete button deletes the magnified video (after a confirmation screen).

 

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