Sony DSLR-A580 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha DSLR-A580|
|Kit Lens:||3.00x zoom
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Dimensions:||5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3 in.
(137 x 104 x 84 mm)
|Weight:||24.5 oz (694 g)
DSLR-A580 Review Summary: Though the Sony A580 has impressive image quality, its true value is found in its clever use of multi-shot technology to dramatically reduce noise, expand dynamic range, or even create on-the-fly panoramas.
Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Sony A580 Overview
by Mike Tomkins, Shawn Barnett, Zig Weidelich, and Carl Garrard
Review Posted: 05/03/2011
Announced alongside Sony's attention-grabbing Translucent Mirror cameras, the A33 and A55, the launch of the Sony A580 was probably robbed of some attention -- and that's maybe a little unfair, because when compared to its predecessor, the A580 sports some genuinely useful changes.
The Sony A580 is based around a new 16.2 megapixel, APS-C sized image sensor, which now carries Exmor APS HD branding. (Compared to the A560, alongside which it is also announced, the A580's sensor is the main difference.) Perhaps the most significant change between the older A550 and the A580, though, is a brand new autofocus system, based around a 15-point AF sensor, of which three are cross-type points. From the fifteen total points, eleven can be addressed directly, and four serve as assist points.
Also new to the Sony A580 is its high-definition movie recording capability, which is fast becoming a common function even among entry-level DSLRs, and an absolute must-have feature for enthusiast cameras. The Sony A580 can record movies at up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixel (Full HD) resolution, with stereo audio -- either from a built in microphone, or an external mic with a 3.5mm jack. The A550's Smart Teleconverter button, which simply cropped the image when shooting at lower resolutions, has been abandoned in favor of a new dedicated Movie button.
Sony has also made some useful tweaks to the A580's body design. The Drive Mode and ISO buttons have both been moved nearer to the Shutter release button, making them easier to reach without having to change your grip on the camera. There's also a new Depth of Field Preview button just beneath the right side of the lens mount. The Mode dial is also a little larger, easier to grip, and clicks more firmly between positions to prevent accidental adjustment. The various scene modes on the Mode dial have been consolidated into a single Scene position, simultaneously reducing clutter and freeing up room for a new Sweep Panorama position.
Sweep Panorama has appeared in Sony's Cyber-shot and NEX-series cameras previously, and is now making its debut in an Alpha DSLR. The function, which offers 2D and 3D modes, automatically captures numerous images as the A580 is panned across the scene, and then stitches the result in-camera to create a single seamless image. The Sony A580 retains its predecessor's Auto HDR function, where the camera captures multiple images and merges them into one High Dynamic Range image, but now increases the number of images from two to three, as well as the possible strength of the effect, by doubling the step size to create a total range of up to 6 EV in 1 EV steps. High ISO Noise Reduction has also been adjusted, and now offers a choice of Auto or Weak modes, in place of the previous High or Normal positions. A new Multi-Frame NR function overlays six sequential images in-camera, to create one final exposure with about a two-stop improvement in signal to noise ratio.
The Sony A580 retains the articulating display screen from the A550 design, as well as the unusual Live View mode that uses a secondary, low-resolution sensor inside the pentamirror, so that phase-detection autofocus can be offered during live view. The A550's alternative MF Check LV mode -- which raises the mirror and exposes the imaging sensor like the live view modes on most other DSLRs -- has been renamed and greatly improved. It's now called Focus Check LV, and offers not only manual focusing or phase detection AF with a brief interruption to the live view stream, but now also offers contrast-detection autofocusing.
A few other notable changes include the addition of an ISO 100 position, slight updates to the Help Guide function and menu system, a change to Sony's new Playback mode, which segregates still and video content, support for the latest generation SDXC cards, and the removal of PictBridge support.
The Sony Alpha A580 started shipping in November 2010. Pricing has been set at around $800 body-only, and $900 when bundled with an 18-55mm kit lens. Be sure to try our links to see the latest prices.
See our Hands-on Preview on the subtab above or by clicking here.
Sony Alpha A580 Shooter's Report
by Carl Garrard
Overview. I'm happy to report that Sony's Alpha A580 represents the first DSLR model to receive an incremental upgrade treatment without receiving a whole new body design since Sony took over the Konica Minolta camera division in 2006, and it's also the first to sport any kind of video. The Sony A580 effectively replaces the Alpha A550 DSLR in Sony's lineup and comes with a host of improvements to the body's exterior, its handing, and a list of cool extra features I was anxious to try out.
Features like Multi-Frame Noise Reduction, Sweep Panorama, Hand-Held Twilight, a Dual Axis Digital Level Gauge, and Focus Check Live View (which replaces Manual Focus Check Live View) are fun and useful. With the following additions, such as a Depth Of Field Preview button, the Two-Second Timer Mirror Lock Up, Release w/out Lens menu option, and upgraded 15 point Auto Focus system w/three double cross sensors, the Sony A580 gave me the impression of a much more aggressive and refined mid-range DSLR offering.
Note: There are a couple of items worth mentioning about the units that Sony provided for review. Both cameras were focusing soft when using phase-detection autofocus at wide-angle. I confirmed this by switching to contrast-detect autofocus during Focus Check Live View with each camera and got sharper results. My personal copy of the Sony A580 doesn't have this issue, however. Overall, the problem proved intermittent and inconsistent with both bodies, so it's hard to say if this is an isolated case or not. It's doubtful the autofocus issue will be a production unit issue but it's worth mentioning all the same.
Handling. Weighing in at 24.5 ounces (694g) with a battery and two memory cards installed, the Sony A580 is by no means a heavy DSLR, but it's no featherweight either. Weight seems to fall right where it should be considering where the A580 is placed in Sony's line up: a mid-range DSLR with a mid-range heft. Very nice actually. My hand never tired holding the A580 with a small to decent sized lens for extended periods of time while shooting with it. Volume wise, the Sony A580 is a chunky DSLR, but about the same size as competitors. I don't find the A580's size too objectionably large at all, though other IR staff thought otherwise. For Alpha users who own any of the Sony A100/200/300 series DSLRs, the A580 is just slightly larger than these models, but you'll hardly notice it.
Attention was mainly given to redesigning the Power switch and Shutter release position, the Control dial, and the size and position of additional buttons on the top/and top right rear side of the camera. Because of these changes, the Sony A580 operates in a much more fluid and functional manner. Handling is very important to me: Controls ought to be placed in areas of the utmost priority based on the frequency of their use, and Sony has done an excellent job improving the handling interface of the Sony A580 compared to its predecessor. The noticeably larger and slightly more angled front control wheel of the A580 is easier to find and operate, and is distanced far enough away from the on/off switch for almost no accidental tripping. Kudos, Sony.
Top left of the Sony A580, the Mode dial improvements also help handling. The dial is higher off the body, has a springier action, and has a bit more tension to resist accidental mode changes. It is better organized for the enthusiast photographer, too: All of the Scene modes but Sweep Panorama have been organized under the SCN setting. Quick and easy.
And rounding things out, the addition of the Depth-of-Field Preview button on the right front side of the Sony A580, a dedicated movie button, larger and raised EV (-/+) and AEL buttons, and smoother sliding AF/MF and Live View/OVF switches round out the improvements and handling changes to the exterior of the A580. All of these changes do make a quantifiable difference.
Sometimes it's the little things in life that make us most happy, and I am pleased with how the Sony A580 handles, all of the small improvements come together in concert with one another. In a way operating a camera is like using a musical instrument: you play better with it if everything you need is within easy reach and is second nature to control. I give the Sony A580 a high score in this department.
Look and Feel. Although the exterior finish of a DSLR has little impact on the overall handling, the more durable finish of the Sony A580 means less worry about fine scratches plaguing your investment and lets you think more about shooting instead; plus it just looks a lot nicer. I prefer the all-black, more durable and professional looking finish of the Sony A580, and worried much less about scratching this model while shooting than I did with the A550.
The Sony A580's grip is mid-sized with a slight bias towards smaller hands. No doubt this is to appeal to a wider range of buyers. Supple and curvaceous are words that describe the A580's grip best, yet there's a nice large indentation for the middle finger to keep the camera extra secure. In fact, only two digits are really needed to hold the A580 securely: the thumb and middle finger. This frees the forefinger to actuate things like the Control wheel and Power switch on the front without having to reposition your grip in the process. It's a nice layout that's easy to use.
Build Quality. The Sony A580 is very similar in build to the A500 and A550, with the main difference being the finish, yet there are some small refinements in other areas worth noting as well. For example, the doors that house the Mic/Remote/USB and HDMI ports are easier to open and close and seem to snap shut more securely. Buttons and switches seem to operate more smoothly, and with more refined tolerances that have reduced wiggling, and they're a bit snappier as well. There is less rattling inside the camera than I experienced with the A500/550 DSLRs, which were likely caused by Sony's Quick Auto Focus Live View mechanisms.
I did find one small issue worth mentioning that has to do with the grip. The slim sensor cover on the front of the grip causes some creaking when you squeeze the grip. It took me some time to isolate where the creak was coming from. I don't recall hearing any creaking in the grip with the A500/550 DSLRs, so I don't know what Sony changed, but nevertheless it is worth reporting.
Optical Viewfinder. The Sony A580's viewfinder is similar in size to the viewfinder we saw in the A100 DSLR, but falls slightly behind a couple of its competitors on the market in terms of magnification. The viewing area is 95% accurate (the lab measured closer to 94%) with a 0.80x magnification ratio. The LCD overlay that highlights each individual autofocus point was a nice touch. When set to the wide AF setting, often a cluster of autofocus points will light up inside letting the photographer know where the Sony A580 is focusing. If you set the Sony A580 to Spot or Local autofocusing, the center or autofocus point you select will light up red when focus is achieved. If you choose AF area focusing, only one of the 11 autofocus points shows at all, that being the one you select manually. It's a nice little system to use once you get the swing of it, mainly because you can remove many of the autofocus points with a settings change.
Keep in mind, though, that the LCD overlay system requires power, so as soon as you remove the battery, the viewfinder will go dim and details will go soft. This is normal, and part of the tradeoff of having the LCD overlay. So if you want to practice framing without having the camera on, be sure to keep a charged battery loaded, preferably with a spare on hand.
Auto Focus. Sony's A580 has a peppy and eager autofocus system. I find the in-body autofocus motor to be slightly quicker to focus than the SAM system on the kit lens, and it's also slightly quieter, depending on the lens you use. Continuous AF mode in good light does pretty well at keeping up with the action, very similar to the A700's performance in speed, tracking, and hit rates when using the three more sensitive center double-cross sensors. The outer autofocus sensors aren't as reliable.
Focus Check Live View. This mode replaces Manual Focus Check Live View and now allows two focusing options: Contrast-detect autofocus with SAM and SSM branded lenses (that includes third party makers such as Sigma and Tamron), and phase-detection autofocus. Pressing the Display button cycles through four display options, including one with a live luminance histogram, and another with the leveling display, and makes Focus Check Live View a much, much better tool than the old mode. This is a huge addition to the Sony A580's functionality. The Sony A580 is now a very powerful photographic live view tool that exceeds any of the competition's live view experience.
Sony also slightly improved the magnification of the image in this mode, which now sports 7.5x and 15x magnification for hyper-accurate manual focusing. Getting accurate exposure, framing, and focus has never been easier in any Sony DSLR before it. Macro shooting is simply a blast in this mode. I found contrast-detect autofocus to be a tad slow, but it's very accurate.
HD Video. The A580 is Sony's first traditional DSLR to have full HD video capture. Granted, this comes without autofocus capability, but I still find it very useful. I've never been a big video guy--I'm more of a family-designated videographer; however, I find the ability to get big, high quality video files from my DSLR a nice touch. In use I wasn't bothered much by the lack of real-time autofocus. I guess I just don't miss the loud distracting sounds other DSLRs with video make during autofocusing.
I found the Sony A580's video implementation in Playback mode simple to operate and navigate. The built-in speaker doesn't really turn up loud enough during playback, but this is pretty much par for the course on DSLRs I've used in the past. I didn't have to read the manual to figure out how to fast forward/rewind, adjust the volume, or change folders back to still images after I was through watching the video. Pretty simple stuff. Note, though, that there are no in-camera editing tools for video.
Sweep Panorama. Here's a mode I had particular difficulty with. I find that it takes practice if you intend to get a clean image free of stitching or auto-aligning errors. Some scenes were just impossible to get with a perfectly clean final image and I gave up entirely. Either the camera cut off the last portion of the image leaving a section entirely black, or portions of the scene had stitching errors. Other scenes I could manage a clean shot eventually. I found that doing a practice sweep of my scene keeping the camera level and at a proper speed prior to making the final exposure helped matters greatly.
Panorama. I managed to get one good nearly error-free panorama here (at least I couldn't find
Multi-Frame Noise Reduction. Multi-Frame Noise Reduction is an ISO setting (it's not a Scene mode). The camera will automatically micro-align 6 stacked exposures accounting for some small hand shake movement. It is beneficial for static subjects only as a result. This is the trade off relative to the rather wonderful advantage of low noise images you gain at every single ISO setting (yes even ISO 100 benefits as you'll soon see). I'm simply enamored by it. The fact that it also allows for some amount of handshake (due to auto-aligning of all six images during processing) means that I can handhold the camera and capture low noise high ISO images that would be throwaway images otherwise.
Sony claims a two-stop advantage in lower noise at any given ISO setting. Getting keeper photographs up to ISO 12,800 is indeed quite possible. ISO 3,200 images look as nice as ISO 400 single-exposure images in my opinion, noise and detail-wise.
Handheld Twilight. Although this Scene mode is largely automatic, I find it does exactly as its name advertises, and does quite a good job at that. My only quibble with it is that it defaults to selecting a very low aperture value (as low as it can go) to compensate for low light, instead of raising ISO values higher to compensate for light loss. It only seems to raise the ISO value if it needs too.
Niggles aside, the mode works quite well and is great for a quickie capture when you don't have time to think or adjust settings that much. I actually ended up liking it the more I used it -- it's convenient for a quick grab. If I have time to make adjustments, it's time to use the superior (in just about every way) Multi-Frame Noise Reduction ISO setting. The samples clearly show the benefits.
Advanced DRO. Sony's Advanced DRO calculates about 4,000 different areas of the scene in order to make single-exposure images look as natural as possible. It is adjustable in five steps. Advanced DRO is best used at lower ISOs because shadow areas end up suffering more noise as you raise the ISO value and strength setting of DRO+. Auto DRO is much like the A100's version, nearly useless in comparison, but it does make some slightly noticeable differences to the scene with a bias towards preserving highlight detail. Its main advantage is that it can be used with moving subjects, unlike the two previous modes I just discussed. It's a handy tool.
Auto-HDR. This is your tool for extreme lighting circumstances, and quite a powerful tool it is. Considerably more powerful than Advanced DRO. I found it best used when you use multi-segment metering to avoid biasing toward highlights or shadows when making an exposure reading. Instead try to lock your exposure with fairly even metering of highlights and shadows (a centered histogram reading in other words). Rarely have I found a scene that requires the full six-stop setting to compensate for lighting extremes. Its like having six graduated ND filters built right into the camera. Pretty cool and nearly flawless, except that anything moving in the frame will have odd edges and ghost-like patterns as a result of the stacking. Lowered noise is another benefit of Auto-HDR.
Speed Priority Shooting. With the Sony A580's deeper buffer and seven frames per second Speed Priority shooting, it's quite the sports shooting camera as long as you aren't tracking a single object at high speeds. The Sony A580 can take quite a few more photographs in succession than the A560. If you want constant focusing and metering the A580 will still do five frames per second which is still just as fast as Sony's highest end DSLR, the A900, and plenty for most circumstances.
Resolution. 16.2 megapixels is quite a bit of resolution for a DSLR no matter how you slice it, but if the lens doesn't match the sensor, all those pixels go to waste. So I wanted to show a demonstration of the fine detail you gain when you upgrade from the decent Sony 18-55mm SAM kit lens. I used Sony's own 50mm f/1.4 standard prime lens to test against this lens at the corresponding focal length. Two things you'll see: the capability of both lenses, as well the capability of the wonderful sensor in the A580 to capture incredibly fine details. The camera was set on a tripod with image stabilization turned off, and I used Focus Check Live View at the 15x magnification setting so I could get the sharpest focus possible. Both lenses were shot using ISO 100 at f/8.
Exposure. Sony's 40 Segment Metering (in OVF mode) has gone unchanged since it first appeared in the A100 back in 2006. It has been used every DSLR since then (less the SLT models of course), and therefore I am intimately familiar with it. The Sony A580 exhibits the same tendencies as all the other Alpha cameras do. You can count on Multi-Segment metering to slightly underexpose with evenly divided lighting by about -0.3EV, and to slightly overexpose when a scene is dominated by shadows by about 0.3-0.6EV, and underexpose scenes dominated by highlights by about 0.7-1.0 EV. Overall it is a pretty accurate and consistent metering system in my experience.
White Balance. Auto White Balance on Sony DSLRs first received refined treatment on the A230/330 and A380 DSLRs. In my experience with the Sony A580 I found it will do a very good job outdoors with a slight bias towards cooler temperatures, while indoors it has more trouble emphasizing a much warmer temperature than it should. As long as you use the presets in the correct conditions, these settings are more reliable than Auto White Balance, in this respect Sony has done a good job here. Use Focus Check Live View to dial in your white balance instead of Quick Auto Focus Live View and you'll get a more accurate color reading as you change your white balance settings to match your scene.
Battery Life. Does it ever die? That's a question I've yet to answer. Seriously, though, the Sony A580 is the most efficient DSLR that Sony has made yet, hands down. Even without restricting my use of Live View, the Sony A580 seems to never run out of power. If you are the type to strictly use only the optical viewfinder you'll get even better performance. Sony's--rather CIPA's--rating of 1,050 shots seems conservative when using the camera in real life. Suffice it to say that one good charge should last for a full weekend of shooting with minimal power management.
Sony A580 Image Quality
Most digital SLRs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600, at their default noise reduction settings. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also choose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at or above this level when indoors and at night. We also explore ISO 3,200, and look at the high-contrast detail of ISO 100 vs 3,200 and 6,400. Be sure to check our Thumbnails page for more image quality samples.
Sony A580 versus A560 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 at ISO 1,600
Sony A560 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 versus Canon T3i at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 at ISO 1,600
Canon T3i at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 versus Nikon D5100 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5100 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 at ISO 1,600
Pentax K-5 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 versus Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Sony A580 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1,600
Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.
Sony A580 versus A560 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 at ISO 3,200
Sony A560 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 versus Canon T3i at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 at ISO 3,200
Canon T3i at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 versus Nikon D5100 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D5100 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 versus Pentax K-5 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 at ISO 3,200
Pentax K-5 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 versus Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Sony A580 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3,200
Detail: Sony A580 vs. Sony A560, Canon T3i, Nikon D5100, Pentax K-5, and Panasonic GH2
Sony Alpha A580 Print Quality
ISO 200 shots also look great at 20x30, little different from ISO 100.
ISO 400 images look quite good in most areas at 20x30, though detail in some reds starts to soften.
ISO 800 is where 20x30 starts to look a little hazy and soft across all detail. Slight luminance noise appears in the shadows. Reducing the image size to 16x24 improves detail noticeably.
ISO 1,600 still looks pretty good at 16x24 inches, with good detail, though shadows look a little snowy with luminance noise.
ISO 3,200 images don't look good at 16x24, but come back together at 13x19 inches, with good detail and only minor luminance noise in the shadows.
ISO 6,400 sees image detail drop fairly dramatically, especially among reds. Shadow noise is strong. Reduction to 11x14 brings most of the image back into the realm of acceptable, but the image's increased saturation and contrast still show.
ISO 12,800 images are usable, but rough at 11x14. Reduction to 8x10 brings them back to good, but with noisy shadows. Reduction to 5x7, though, makes the image look quite good; sharp, even.
Overall, the Sony A580 looks very good at every ISO, performing similarly to other popular peer SLRs on the market, even ones with higher resolution. An excellent performance, able to produce a usable print above 4x6 at every ISO setting.
In the Box
- Sony Alpha A580 body
- NP-FM500H battery pack
- BC-VM10 charger
- AC cord
- USB cord
- Camera strap
- Eyepiece cover
- Body cap
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity Memory Stick Duo PRO or SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 4-16GB cards are inexpensive.
- Camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
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Sony A580 Conclusion
The 16.2-megapixel Sony Alpha A580 comes with many refinements that make it a far more usable camera than its predecessors, making it a more significant contender in the market for mid-range digital SLRs. Starting with its heft and improved controls, the Sony A580 is a pleasure to use, feeling like a well-crafted musical instrument, making operation fluid and easy. We also find relative heft to be an aid for more stable pictures when it matters. We're split on the grip and overall thickness of the camera, with some of us thinking the A580 too thick, while others have no problem with it. The Depth-of-field-preview button is also an important inclusion, heretofore conspicuously absent from the A200, A300, and A500 Alpha models, and its return is welcome for both video and still shooters.
Excellent for low or high-angle shooting, the Sony A580's articulating LCD is sharp and vibrant, and the Quick AF Live View mode makes these shots considerably faster than the competition, thanks to the use of phase-detect autofocus. Focus Check Live View gives you back the advantage that the competition had with their sensor-based autofocus, as you can now either automatically or manually focus the lens, complete with magnification options. We really like how focus pops in these zoomed modes, especially.
Then there's a whole list of Sony magic that's added to the mix, including Multi-frame Noise reduction, Multi-frame High Dynamic Range shooting, Sweep Panorama mode, and of course 1080i HD movie capture. It's difficult to know how valuable some of these modes are unless you use them, and see the camera capture images that you'd never get otherwise. We were most impressed with Multi-frame Noise Reduction mode, which allows you to shoot handheld, merging and micro-aligning six separate images into one, very clean image. It's only usable for static scenes, but the method makes ISO 3,200 look like ISO 400 much of the time.
Like most digital SLRs, the Sony A580 doesn't offer autofocus during video capture, but it does offer control of aperture, which can be valuable when shooting to isolate your subject from the background, for example.
The only major fault we'd bring to the fore is the over-aggressive noise suppression in JPEG images, which strangely get worse in the red channel when you switch to Weak Noise Reduction mode. But there's no arguing with our printed results, which show the Sony A580 able to produce good quality 20x30-inch prints from Large Fine JPEG images from ISO 100 to 400, and even the highest setting of 12,800 produces a good quality 5x7-inch print. Impressive! Shooting RAW is the obvious workaround, and doing so allows you to tweak the noise suppression yourself for much better results. To see crops from our RAW captures processed through dcraw, go to our High ISO RAW comparison page.
Overall, the Sony A580 is a very competent camera with excellent image quality, great dynamic range, and several special modes that allow you to capture scenes other SLRs couldn't. Add that to its already impressive Quick Live View mode, which exhibits faster live view autofocus than any of its competitors, and you have an able photographic tool, one that we're happy to give a Dave's Pick.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.