Sony A58 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha SLT-A58
Resolution: 20.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: 3.06x zoom
18-55mm
(27-83mm eq.)
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
ISO: 100-16000
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.1 in.
(129 x 96 x 78 mm)
Weight: 25.8 oz (731 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
MSRP: $600
Availability: 04/2013
Manufacturer: Sony
20.10
Megapixels
Sony Alpha (Minolta A) mount APS-C
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha SLT-A58
Front side of Sony Alpha SLT-A58 digital camera Back side of Sony Alpha SLT-A58 digital camera Top side of Sony Alpha SLT-A58 digital camera Left side of Sony Alpha SLT-A58 digital camera Right side of Sony Alpha SLT-A58 digital camera

A58 Review Summary: Replacing both the Sony A37 and A57 DSLRs in one fell swoop, the Sony A58 offers advanced photographic features and picture-taking skills at a consumer-friendly price. The A58 takes a big step up in resolution with a new 20.1-megapixel APS-C sensor, and it delivers pictures that are sharp and detailed, rivaling the image quality of much more expensive cameras. Although some sacrifices had to be made to drive down the cost -- namely a plastic lens mount rather than a metal one, and a simplified LCD screen -- the Sony A58 still stands out as one of the best entry-level DSLRs we've ever reviewed, as well as one of the best camera values on the market today.

Pros: Improved 20.1-megapixel resolution; Impressive image quality, especially for its price; Fast and decisive autofocus (in most conditions); Very good battery life; Good video quality (Full HD 1080p, though it doesn't support 60p frame rate).

Cons: Plastic lens mount; Slower burst mode speeds and shallower buffer than A57; LCD no longer fully articulating; Mediocre kit lens; Electronic instead of an optical viewfinder may be a turnoff for some.

Price and availability: The Sony Alpha SLT-A58 started shipping in the U.S. market in April 2013. It comes bundled with the DT 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SAM II zoom lens for US$600.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Sony A58 Review

By Jason Schneider, and Dave Pardue
Preview posted: February 25, 2013
Review posted: August 16, 2013
Updated:

Just a year after Sony released two Translucent Mirror-based DSLRs -- the entry-level Alpha A37 and step-up Alpha A57 -- the company follows on with the Sony Alpha A58, a 20.1-megapixel model that effectively replaces both of them. It's almost as if Sony merged the earlier designs to create a still-sophisticated camera at a more consumer-friendly price. The A57 kit originally retailed at US$800, and the new A58 comes in US$200 cheaper. So while the Sony A58 boasts some key upgrades that weren't available on either earlier camera, it's not surprising that it also makes some sacrifices to drive down the cost. The A58 may not be a true successor to the A57, but it appears to be an excellent value for beginners.

Sony A58 review -- Front quarter view

The Sony A58's key upgrades include a higher-resolution, 20.1 megapixel image sensor (vs. the 16.1 megapixel chip used for the A57 and A37), an Organic LED electronic viewfinder, and Sony's proprietary Multi-Interface hot shoe. The A58 also brings a significant improvement in battery life. Conversely, compared to the A57, sacrifices made in the A58 include a plastic lens mount, a slower burst shooting rate, and a downgraded LCD monitor. It also replaces the Sony A57's progressive-scan 60p frame rate for Full HD video with an interlaced 60i option, and reduces the highest bitrate from 28 Mbps to 24 Mbps. But these are only the most significant differences; there are a number of other changes, as we'll see.

Build. Sony has created a slightly smaller, lighter body for the Alpha A58, but the physical differences between the new body and those which precede it are actually fairly minimal. The most significant change is the aforementioned switch to a plastic lens mount, something we can't recall seeing on any digital camera of this class to date. (We've seen more than a few lenses with plastic mounts, but not digital camera bodies.) It should be noted that the plastic is indeed load bearing. (We originally thought the slight metal ring behind bore the weight of the attached lens, but instead it's merely a guide to help secure the lens to the body.)

Sony A58 review -- Front view

While plastic mounts have been widely used on lenses, and the one on the A58 appears to be high quality, we still do have concerns about its durability in the longer term. It's one thing to place a plastic mount on a lens, which receives wear only whenever that specific lens is mounted or removed. It's another thing entirely to put a plastic mount on the camera body, which will be worn every single time any lens is mounted or removed. Of course, an entry-level camera won't be subjected to the frequent lens changes that a pro or enthusiast camera might be, and perhaps this is what Sony is banking upon.

Sony A58 review -- Top view

Looking at the rest of the body design, the basic control layout is almost completely unchanged, with two exceptions: The exposure compensation and zoom buttons have switched places. The former now occupies prime real estate behind the shutter button, and the latter has been demoted to the rear panel. On the rear, it's immediately obvious that the A57's bottom-mounted tilt/swivel LCD panel has been replaced by a new tilt-only display that's less versatile. On the top deck, though, there's Sony's new Multi Interface hot shoe, something we've seen only on a few of the company's more expensive cameras until now. The Multi Interface shoe provides not only for flash strobes, but also for other accessories such as external microphones, viewfinders, and more. It's a relatively young system so far, but offers quite a bit of scope for extending the A58's capabilities in the future.

Sony A58 review -- Rear view

 

Shooting with the Sony A58

by Jason Schneider, with Dave Pardue

Sony A58 review -- Sample photo

The new Sony Alpha A58 is something of a 'tweener. It is, by default, the company's entry-level APS-C DSLR. At the same time, it offers a ton of photographic capabilities that would also appeal to enthusiast shooters. As such, it sits in a unique position in a fiercely competitive sector of the camera marketplace, replete with formidable rivals from the likes of Canon, Nikon and Pentax.

With the A58, Sony devised a camera that delivers virtually all of the high-tech features built into the enthusiast-targeted, 16.1-megapixel Sony SLT-A57 and the consumer-friendly, entry-level SLT-A37 -- plus a number of significant technological upgrades -- at an enticing price. What they came up with is an ingenious strategy, and a remarkably adept camera that delivers impressive value for both beginners and serious photographers alike. The Sony A58 is a lot more than a so-called "price point" camera.

Full disclosure: I own a Sony A57, so going into the review I was both excited by the new model, but also skeptical of what it might leave out. Let's take a look at how the Sony A58 stood up to such expectations.

Design. The A58 is nearly identical in size, weight and form to the recently discontinued A57, and its control array is quite similar except that the positions of two control buttons have been reversed -- the Digital Zoom button is now more conveniently located atop the camera behind the shutter button collar and the Exposure Compensation button is on the sloping rear deck, next to the AEL button. The Exposure Compensation button also magnifies the displayed image in Playback mode, while the AEL button reduces the magnification.

In comparison: Sony A57 vs. Sony A58
Sony A58 review -- Sony A57 top deck
Sony A57 top deck
Sony A58 review -- Sony A58 top deck
Sony A58 top deck

The mode dial to the left of the hot shoe has dropped the 3D setting which is no longer supported, in favor of Picture Effects which gives you access to the A58's eleven creative effect modes: Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization (Color or B&W), Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Color (Red, Blue, Green or Yellow), High Contrast Monochrome, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome, and Miniature.

The Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority mode now has a small "8" inscribed in the multi-frame icon, rather than a "12", denoting its reduced maximum framing rate. It also has a stronger 2x crop and a reduced resolution, compared to the equivalent mode on the A57.

Note that the 2x crop must be combined with the 1.5x crop of the image sensor. Hence, when shooting in Tele-zoom mode you have a 3x crop. The bundled DT 18-55mm lens is, effectively, a 54-165mm lens in this mode.

Other external differences worth noting: The A58 has a 2.7-inch 460k-dot LCD which tilts down 55 degrees and up 135 degrees, in place of the A57's 3-inch, 921k-dot tilt/swivel LCD. There's also a single contact standard metal hot shoe, in place of the narrower dedicated Sony/Minolta multi-contact hot shoe on the A57, and the A58's lens mount is fabricated of industrial plastic instead of stainless steel.

Sony A58 review -- Sample photo Sony A58 review -- Sample photo

Sensor, processor and other key tech changes. It's clear that Sony had to shave a few bucks in production costs here and there to be able to offer the A58 at a street price of about $600, complete with an updated DT 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM II lens. By way of comparison, the A57 sold for about $800 when it was first introduced. Nevertheless, for most users, the technological upgrades in the A58 should more than make up for any deletions. These include a new 20.1-megapixel Exmor HD APS-C sensor (up from 16.1 megapixels on the A57 and A37) and an SVGA (1,440k-dot) OLED Tru-Finder EVF that -- based on my observations -- displays a wider color gamut and more subtle and accurate color gradations than the non-OLED Tru-Finder in the A57, along with the same impressive detail.

Sony A58 review -- ISO sensitivity selection

On the downside, since the A58 has the same BIONZ image processor as the A57 but upgraded resolution -- and thus, larger files sizes -- it delivers a reduced burst shooting rate of 5 frames per second. That's not terrible for an entry-level camera, though it is a compromise. Many savvy buyers may be turned off by the plastic lens mount, but it doesn't worry me that much. After all, many manufacturers have been using industrial-strength plastic mounts on lenses for years, and they're pretty sturdy and reliable in my opinion. Still, it's something to consider.

Perhaps the biggest sacrifice in terms of performance is the loss of Full HD movie recording at a 60p frame rate. But considering the A58 is bridging the gap between entry-level and mid-level models, it's not surprising, and the DSLR does still deliver 1080p video at 60i and 24p. Good video, at that. It's more important to me (and likely most still photography shooters) that the camera retained the 15-point continuous AF with three cross-type AF sensors from the mid-level A57. And that it still has multi-frame noise reduction, Handheld Twilight mode and other key features.

Handling. The Sony A58 handles very well. The fairly light, moderately-sized polycarbonate body is nicely contoured, and fits comfortably even in my smallish hands. The camera feels very solid and well balanced with the standard 18-55mm zoom, and also with the 18-135mm and 200mm lenses I mounted for comparison.

Sony A58 review -- Front quarter view with lens

The handgrip is ideally shaped to wrap your fingers around for a secure grip. It's enhanced by an index-finger notch, a soft-textured leather-like covering, and a nicely contoured thumb rest on the back. The smooth light-touch shutter release, surrounding on-off collar, and various control buttons are sensibly positioned and clearly labeled so operation is generally intuitive and doesn't require a steep learning curve.

Sub-menu settings in the Menu or Function menus can easily be navigated and set using either the four-way toggle control and central AF/Enter button on the back, or by sliding your index finger forward to the Control Dial directly in front of the shutter release at the top of the grip. Press the ISO button and you can select manual ISO settings from ISO 100 to ISO 16,000 using either method, and lock in your setting by pressing the AF/Enter button.

I found Auto ISO a very convenient setting for shooting active subjects in rapidly changing light, and there's a second Auto ISO setting that provides multi-frame noise reduction when shooting at high ISOs. I found it to be quite effective in capturing crisp, low-noise images of stationary subjects in low light, but NR is obviously not what you want for shooting action.

Sony A58 review -- Electronic viewfinder

EVF and LCD. The viewing system is one of the A58's most appealing features. The 100% view, high-res Organic LED electronic viewfinder is superb; I think it's the closest thing to a first-class optical viewfinder you're likely to experience in a camera of this class. Of course, it also delivers the EVF's advantages of being able to display a brighter viewing image in low light, and to preview exposure and effects changes.

The EVF's fast refresh rate means no smearing when following action subjects, and it's adjustable for individual eyesight over a wider-than-normal +/- 4 diopter range by turning a conveniently placed knurled dial at the right of the eyepiece. By turning the Finder/LCD setting to Auto, the viewing image will automatically appear on the EVF when you raise the camera to your eye and move down to the LCD when you lower the camera to observe the LCD monitor. You can also switch it manually by pressing the Finder/LCD button atop the camera.

While the 2.7-inch LCD isn't quite as large or as hi-res as the one in the A57 -- and it doesn't swivel -- for me, these things are relatively insignificant in actual use, unless you like to take "selfies" or habitually use the LCD to assess magnified images on the fly. I found that it's actually easier and more effective to do the latter using the EVF because of its higher resolution and superior color accuracy. In any case, the LCD monitor is decent; it was usually viewable and usable in bright, sunlit conditions.

Sony A58 review -- Sample photo
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo
The 15-point AF system with three cross-type sensors helps make the Sony A58 fast and decisive for real-world street shooting, even at higher ISOs.

Performance. I found the Sony A58 to be a very responsive photographic tool in almost all respects. Startup and mode switching times were sluggish, but these aren't as important measures as autofocusing speed in my opinion. The camera autofocuses and fires very rapidly even in low light, and with most low-contrast subjects, its shutter lag is practically non-existent. I mostly used Spot AF, which is the way I normally shoot, but I also tried Wide AF mode and found it to be very effective in focusing accurately and swiftly on my intended subject.

Sony claims the new 18-55mm SAM II kit lens focuses faster and more quietly than its predecessor, and in my field testing I indeed found it slightly quicker and definitely quieter to use, the latter a real plus when I shot a few Full HD 1080p video clips at 60i. Our lab testing, however, showed that the lens was soft in the corners, and exhibited significant barrel distortion at wide angle. Overall, I guess, the 18-55mm is just a run-of-the-mill kit lens. It automatically comes with the camera -- you can't buy the A58 body-only -- but your photography is going to be better served by purchasing a better Sony Alpha mount lens or two. The bundled lens simply doesn't extract the potential of the image sensor.

Want to learn more about the Sony A58's DT 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SAM II kit lens?
Click here to see our optical test results.

In combination with its excellent EVF, shooting action subjects with the A58 gives you the uncanny sensation of grabbing images out of the air, and part of this is no doubt due to the camera's impressive AF tracking ability and its three central cross-type AF sensor. I found these cross-type sensors focused accurately and swiftly with subjects having vertical, horizontal, or oblique line patterns. No AF system is perfect of course, but when manual focus was required or desired, I simply moved the switch on the side of the lens from AF to MF and turned the front lens ring, which has a soft rubberized surface to provide a good grip. With its exquisite detail and brightness, manual focusing via the EVF was easy and satisfying.

Sony A58 review -- Burst shooting animation

Although it's a characteristic common to all current Sony Alpha cameras which use Translucent Mirror Technology, it's worth noting that the A58 provides full-time phase-detection AF before, during and after the actual exposure. This results in faster, more decisive AF that's particularly noticeable when shooting HD video and bursts of stills in continuous mode. This not only results in sharper images of moving subjects at the camera's top full-res burst rate of 5 fps, but also at the 8 fps burst rate in Tele-Zoom Continuous Priority, albeit with a 2X crop factor (3x, once the sensor crop is taken into account), and at just five megapixel resolution.

Another performance improvement is the Sony A58's battery life. It lasts about 690 shots per charge, which I can tell you first-hand is much better than the A57. (About 140 shots per charge, according to the CIPA ratings.) That's a huge life saver when you're on an extended shoot, or are on a trip and you can't pay much attention to such things.

Overall, I was very satisfied with the performance of the A58. It delivers very good image quality in JPEG mode, with very low noise at ISOs ranging from 100 to 800 and reasonably good image quality at higher ISOs. Most of the images I shot at ISO 3200 and 6400 showed good detail, a slight decrease in color saturation, and moderate noise depending on lighting and subject contrast. With a few low-contrast, backlit subjects I shot in low light at ISO 3200 and 6400, digital grain was fairly high although the pattern was tight enough not to be objectionable for most uses. And if you shoot raw files, there's even more to be extracted from the A58's image sensor, although the step between raw and JPEG isn't as dramatic as with some cameras.

Just how fast is the Sony A58? Click here to see our full battery
of objective performance tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Sony A58 - Shooting at higher sensitivities
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo
1/60s; f/4; ISO 800
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo
1/60s; f/5.6; ISO 3200
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo
1/40s; f/5.0; ISO 6400
Above are image examples from the Sony A58 at ISOs 800, 3200 and 6400. Click on any image to view the full resolution image for closer inspection.

With a higher pixel density than the A57, the 20.1-megapixel A58 might be expected to exhibit lower image quality at ISO settings of 1600 and higher, but the difference is not very pronounced based on my observations, and the increase in image detail at lower ISOs was gratifying. Perhaps this is attributable to the magic of imaging software. I would rate the camera's high ISO performance as good, if not outstanding. It is certainly equal or superior to many of its entry-level competitors, but I wouldn't rate it in the same class as enthusiast-level DSLRs or full-frame prosumer models.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Sony A58's image quality test results by clicking here, and read further on in the review for side-by-side comparisons against the A58's top competitors.

Exposure and metering. I found exposure accuracy of the A58 to be commendable, and decidedly better than average for its class. I mostly used the multi-segment metering pattern that's easily selectable via the Function button, and occasionally used the spot pattern with high-contrast subjects or when correct exposure of a particular detail was important. Both modes worked flawlessly, and I was impressed with the camera's ability to deliver accurate overall exposures even with severely backlit subjects in multi-segment metering mode.

I tried the Smile/Face Detection mode with children and adults, both alone and in pairs, and it too worked very well. Face Registration also works as advertised based on my limited field experience. The latter provides a convenient way to get consistently sharp images of a particular person in a group, especially if they're all moving around.

Sony A58 review -- Sample photo
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo

Features. Other features which may not be unique to the A58 but were nonetheless appreciated included White Balance bracketing, which is great for shooting active subjects under mixed light sources, as well as a full range of creative Picture Effect modes. I particularly liked HDR Painting, which yields painterly effects, Pop Color (which makes colors pop), and Posterization. This last is very cool but, in my opinion, a little over the top for most people pictures. I didn't have a suitably-scenic vista to show off the auto Panorama stitching mode, but I can confirm that it works and it does let you choose the panning direction.

Note that none of these in-camera effects will work when the camera is set for RAW or RAW+JPEG image quality; you have to shoot them at the Fine JPEG setting.

 

Sony A58 Picture Effect Modes
Sony A58 review -- Retro Photo filter Sony A58 review -- Pop Color filter
Retro Photo
Pop Color
Sony A58 review -- Posterization filter Sony A58 review -- Partial Color filter
Posterization
Partial Color (red)

One feature that did not work as well as I expected is Auto Object Framing, which is supposed to provide two images; the one you composed and a better-composed alternative image based on in-camera rule-of-thirds algorithms. In most cases, when this feature was turned on, the alternative rectangle did not appear and only one image was recorded. Occasionally when I attempted a really lousy composition (e.g. putting the subject smack in the center of a horizontal frame) the larger green frame did appear on the screen and two shots were captured. The Auto Portrait Framing feature in the A57 seemed to work more predictably, but I'm not sure why. (Note as I did, though, that this feature does not work in either manual or auto NR mode.)

On the plus side, the excellent performance in Handheld Twilight mode more than made up for any of these deficiencies. It combines multiple images to capture a sharper, more vivid -- but still realistic image -- of the scene, and it performed better than expected when a car with its lights on moved into the frame. I expected a blur, but instead the camera chose one image of the moving car from the sequence and sharpened it.

Sony A58 review -- Handheld Twilight mode
The Sony A58's Handheld Twilight mode performs remarkably well, even with moving subjects.

DRO and HDR. The Sony A58 offers several ways to maximize dynamic range. The Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) works in single shot mode, and can be configured to Auto or set to individual levels (1-5) depending on your individual shooting preference. Below are examples of Auto and Level 5 and, as you can see, level 5 really works hard to try and achieve a well-balanced image, rendering good exposure to different areas. This comes at the expense of higher contrast in the image of course, but it's nice to know it's there when you need it for certain shots. Meanwhile, HDR mode shoots 3 images at differing exposures and combines them into one image, and below you can see an example of HDR mode in the auto setting.

Sony A58 - HDR / DRO modes
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo Sony A58 review -- Sample photo with HDR Auto
DRO and HDR modes off HDR (auto)
Sony A58 review -- Sample photo with DRO Auto Sony A58 review -- Sample photo with DRO Level 5
DRO (auto) DRO (level 5)

Video. While I talked earlier about how the Sony A58 sacrificed some video capabilities -- not being able to record at 60p frame rate as the A57 could -- it's still a very good movie-making machine.

Paired with the updated 18-55mm kit lens, it delivers relatively smooth and quiet video. And the A58's full-time continuous phase-detection AF works better in video than most competing cameras in its class. What's more, you can use full Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, or Manual controls to set movie exposure just how you want it.

1,920 x 1.080
Progressive, 24 fps, AVCHD, MTS format
Download Original (63.6 MB)
1,920 x 1.080
Progressive, 24 fps, AVCHD, MTS format
Download Original (50.2 MB)

Summary. Where the Sony A58 really shines is in delivering an impressive value in terms of features and performance per dollar. It's a great choice for beginners and enthusiasts alike who want a camera that provides a satisfying level of responsiveness, high image quality plus plenty of room to grow. When you consider that the A58 is offered at around $600 with Sony's latest 18-55mm SAM II zoom -- albeit not a lens that will derive nearly what the camera body is capable of -- you begin to realize how far we've come in the last few years with the quality of so-called entry-level models.

Despite some of the sacrifices Sony had to make to lower the cost, I'm thoroughly impressed with the A58 and its improved resolution, electronic viewfinder, and overall performance. In fact, I have to admit it's time to trade in my trusty A57!

 

Sony A58 Review -- Technical Info

by

Sony A58 review -- Image sensor

Sensor and image processing. Moving beneath the skin, the Sony Alpha SLT-A58 is based around a higher-resolution Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor than those of its predecessors. Where the A37 and A57 were both 16.1 megapixel cameras, the Alpha A58 features a 20.1 effective megapixel sensor. The sensor is mounted on a movable platter that allows it to provide for SteadyShot Inside image stabilization.

Total resolution of the chip is 20.4 megapixels, and despite the bump in resolution (accompanied by a decrease in pixel pitch), Sony has retained the same sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 16,000 equivalents for its new camera. Of this range, everything from ISO 100 to 3200 equivalents is available under automatic control.

Perhaps explaining its ability to retain the same sensitivity range while increasing resolution, Sony notes that it has updated the BIONZ image processing algorithms used in the Alpha SLT-A58. The new algorithms apply variant levels of noise reduction and sharpening across the image, based on the degree of subject detail detected. According to the company, these algorithms are the same as those used in its flagship Alpha SLT-A99 model.

Sony A58 review -- Processor

Note, though, that Sony says it's using the same algorithms, and not the same image processing hardware. That the Sony A58 is based around a less powerful image processor seems fairly clear from its burst-shooting performance, which not only trails the A57 by some distance, but also doesn't quite manage to match the capabilities of the A37 either.

Of course, that will in part be due to the higher-resolution image sensor, and all those extra pixels which must be handled in capturing, processing and writing each image. Still, the 4.9 frames per second burst rate which we measured in our lab is quite a bit less than the 5.5 fps we found for the A37. It's only a little more than half the 8 fps claimed by Sony for the A57, which hasn't been through our lab.

Buffer depth for the Sony A58 in our lab testing was eight fine JPEG, six RAW, or five RAW+JPEG frames. The A37, by contrast, managed ten JPEG fine, seven RAW, or six RAW+JPEG frames. And Sony rates the A57 as capable of up to 25 fine JPEG, 21 RAW, or 19 RAW+JPEG frames.

Note that all of these figures are at full resolution. In the tele-zoom mode the Alpha A58 falls in between the A57 and A37's performance, but does so because it records at significantly lower resolution. The A57 and A37 save tele-zoom images at 8.4-megapixel resolution, with a claimed rate of up to 12 or 7 fps respectively. The A58 saves at a lower resolution of 5 megapixels in tele-zoom mode, but Sony claims it is capable of up to 8 fps at this resolution.

Sony A58 review -- Electronic viewfinder

EVF and LCD. One area in which the Sony A58 clearly bests both of its predecessors is its electronic viewfinder. While the SVGA resolution of the A58's viewfinder is said to be the same as that of the finder in the A37 and A57, and the size of the display used to create the viewfinder image is similar, the Sony A58 now uses an organic LED panel in place of the LCD panel from the earlier cameras. It also has a very generous dioptric correction range of -4.0 to +4.0 m-1 as in the A38, and a precise 100% field of view as seen in both earlier models.

Unfortunately, that upgrade may not be the only thing persuading you to take more advantage of the viewfinder. The Sony A58's LCD panel has been downgraded in several ways, compared to that of the A57. (It does, however, better the display found in the A37.)

Sony A58 review -- Tilting LCD

We've already noted the lack of a tilt-swivel articulation mechanism, replaced with a tilt-only mechanism. This allows a viewing range from 135 degrees upwards to 55 degrees downwards, and so cannot provide for portrait framing. The display itself is the same 2.7-inch size used in the A37. That's below both the size used for the A57, and the average for a modern interchangeable-lens camera.

And in place of the high-res, reduced glare Xtra Fine TruBlack display used in the A57, the Sony A58 uses a lower-res 460,800 dot Clear Photo LCD. That's the same tech as in the A37, albeit with double the resolution of that camera's monitor.

Sony A58 review -- User interface

Autofocus. Autofocus is largely unchanged in the Sony A58. As with both its predecessors, the new model uses a 15-point phase detection autofocus sensor, and as is standard for Sony's Translucent Mirror cameras, this is available at all times -- even during movie capture. Three points at the center of the array are cross-types, sensitive to detail in both horizontal and vertical orientations.

There's still no dedicated autofocus assist lamp, with the Sony A58 relying on its popup flash strobe to provide assist illumination. One change, however, is a new Lock-On Autofocus function. This couples information from the phase-detection autofocus pixels with that from the main image sensor, allowing subjects to be tracked as they pass between autofocus points, or as they stray outside the area covered by the autofocus sensor. This Lock-on function allows the camera to better determine when the same subject has arrived under an AF point, and thereby to resume tracking the subject.

Exposure. Although it has a dedicated autofocus sensor, the Sony SLT-A58 meters exposures using the main image sensor. It considers the scene as 1,200 separate zones, and offers a choice of multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering modes. The working range for metering is -2 to 17 EV at ISO 100, with an f/1.4 lens. Shutter speeds on offer range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, plus bulb. In all respects, this is unchanged from the A37 and A57.

Sony A58 review -- Popup flash

Flash. The built-in flash strobe is also relatively little-changed. It still has a guide number of 10 meters at ISO 100, but this is now accompanied by a rather wider 16mm coverage. Recharging is a little slower, at 4 seconds according to Sony, where the A57 could recharge its strobe in 3 seconds. X-sync is at 1/160 sec., and the A58 supports wireless flash.

Sony A58 review -- Multi Interface Shoe

Hot shoe. As noted previously, the external flash hot shoe has been entirely replaced. Gone is the Konica Minolta-derived proprietary hot shoe that's featured on most previous Sony Alpha cameras, replaced with the new Multi Interface hot shoe. This not only supports standard flashes, but also integrates 21 additional pins embedded at the front of the shoe for interfacing all manner of accessories to the camera.

If you have Konica Minolta-style strobes, you can still use them, but you'll need to buy an optional adapter.

Features. Like the Sony NEX-3N alongside which it was announced, the Sony A58 has an updated Auto Framing function. This examines pictures as they're captured, then decides if the composition can be improved. If so, the camera will crop the image so as to best match its internal composition rules, then use a pattern-matching digital zoom function to enlarge the image back to full resolution. The end result, suggests Sony, is an image that's more pleasing, yet not of obviously lower image quality to the photographer. Previously, Auto Framing worked only for portraits, keying off the camera's face detection functionality. In the Sony A58, it also works for non-portrait photos. According to Sony, it will now recognize the subject in macro and action photos, and crop to improve composition with these subjects as well.

Sony has also retained its 'Clear Image Zoom' function, a 2x digital zoom that relies on the rather clumsily-named 'By Pixel Super Resolution' algorithms to upsample images to a higher resolution than that at which they were captured. Sony claims Clear Image Zoom to offer better results than competing digital zoom techniques because it uses pattern matching to improve the quality of the guessed data.

Sony A58 review -- Picture Effect mode

Creative effects. Of course, the A58 also includes a variety of other creative options, all of which were present in its predecessor. The camera's Picture Effects function has 11 modes, and a total of 15 possible effects. These include options like Retro Photo, Toy Camera, and HDR Painting, catering to those who prefer to do their post-processing in-camera. There's also a High Dynamic Range mode that combines multiple shots in-camera to yield a single image with broader dynamic range, and Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer function that tweaks the tone curve automatically or manually to bring out shadow detail without sacrificing highlights. Finally, there's a Sweep Panorama mode that automatically captures and stitches images as you sweep the camera past your chosen scene, then saves the result as a single panoramic image.

Sony A58 review -- Optional microphone

Video. Video capture in the Sony A58 is also largely similar to that in the A57, but with one important difference, as noted previously. The SLT-A58's video capture still tops out at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), but is now limited to a choice of an interlaced 60i or progressive-scan 24p capture rate at this resolution, instead of the progressive-scan 60p rate of the Sony A57. It also has a lower bit rate of 24 Mbps maximum, rather than the 28 Mbps of the earlier camera.

Like the A57, the Sony A58 provides movie audio with both a built-in stereo microphone in front of the flash hot shoe, and a standard 3.5mm jack for stereo external microphones. You can also attach the ECM-XYST1M mic shown on the right, which mounts on (and interfaces via) Sony's Multi Interface Shoe. The A58 isn't compatible with the higher-end XLR-K1M Multi Interface Shoe-mounted mic, though.

Sony A58 review -- Connectivity

Connectivity. In addition to the mic jack, there's a variety of other connectivity options behind rubber flaps on the left of the camera body, including a DC input, Micro USB port and Micro HDMI high-def video port.

Sony describes the USB port as a multi-terminal, and it accepts a new RM-VPR1 wired remote control that provides a remote shutter button with lock, a zoom control, and a video button. Note however that support for Sony's RMT-DSLR1 wireless remote has been dropped.

Sony A58 review -- Secure Digital card compartment

Storage and battery. The Sony A58 includes a single card slot on which to store images and movies. It's compatible with either the relatively commonplace Secure Digital cards (including SDHC and SDXC types), or with Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo and PRO-HG Duo cards.

Power comes courtesy of an NP-FM500H InfoLithium M 7.2v 1600mAh rechargeable battery pack.

Sony A58 review -- Battery pack

It's the same pack used in the A57, but according to Sony's rating, battery life has been improved dramatically. The Sony A57 was CIPA-rated to 550 shots through the viewfinder, or 590 shots with the LCD monitor. The A37 -- which used a different pack -- lagged even further behind, with 450 viewfinder or 500 LCD shots.

The claimed improvement in the Sony Alpha A58 is night-and-day in this area, with 690 shots on the viewfinder, or 700 when framing with the LCD monitor. And Sony's claim gels well with what we found in the field: battery life from the A58 is very good, especially for an EVF-equipped camera.

Accessories. Alongside the camera, Sony also introduced several new accessories. A wired remote commander -- the RM-VPR1 -- connects to the multi-terminal USB port, and is priced at around US$65.

For the multi-interface hot shoe, there's a new on-camera flash strobe, the HVL-F20M, offering wireless flash control, bounce capability, auto white balance compensation, and the ability to enable or disable flash by raising or lowering the flash head. The HVL-F20M flash strobe costs US$150, and has been available since May 2013.

Finally, there are three new Alpha-mount lens options. From most affordable to most expensive, these are the aforementioned DT 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SAM II zoom (US$220), the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM prime (US$1,500), and the updated 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II with faster autofocus and reduced flare / ghosting (US$2,200).

 

Sony A58 Review -- Image Quality Comparison

The crops below compare the Sony A58 to the Sony A57, Canon T5i, Nikon D3200, Pentax K-50 and Sony NEX-6.

Note that these images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. Each camera was shot with one of our very sharp reference prime lenses.

Sony A58 versus Sony A57 at ISO 100

Sony A58 at ISO 100
Sony A57 at ISO 100

The A57 had great image quality for the price, but the A58 takes it a few steps further. With roughly four more megapixels of data, the mosaic crop from the A58 here looks sharp and the pink fabric swatch has nice detail. A noticeable improvement to Sony's entry-level DSLR image quality.


Sony A58 versus Canon T5i at ISO 100

Sony A58 at ISO 100

Canon T5i at ISO 100

The Sony A58 is far superior to the T5i across all crops above, especially with the sharpness in the mosaic and the detail in the pink fabric swatch. The same goes for the red fabric swatch.


Sony A58 versus Nikon D3200 at ISO 100

Sony A58 at ISO 100
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100

The D3200 boasts roughly four more megapixels than the A58, but the first two crops have a smeared appearance compared to the Sony. The higher resolution does, however, help in the difficult red fabric swatch, an area that Nikon typically does particularly well with.


Sony A58 versus Pentax K-50 at ISO 100

Sony A58 at ISO 100
Pentax K-50 at ISO 100

The Pentax K-50 has roughly four less megapixels than the A58, and it shows in the fine detail department. The K-50 also does a relatively poor job with the red fabric swatch and renders the pink fabric swatch with a pumped and artificial magenta hue.


Sony A58 versus Sony NEX-6 at ISO 100

Sony A58 at ISO 100
Sony NEX-6 at ISO 100

Also with four less megapixels than the A58, the mirrorless NEX-6 still does a nice job against its cousin, with sharp detail and a good job with the red fabric swatch. The A58's increased resolution certainly shows its teeth (or, in this case, threads) in the pink fabric swatch.

 

Moving onto ISO 1600 now, where noise processing starts to show its character.

Sony A58 versus Sony A57 at ISO 1600

Sony A58 at ISO 1600
Sony A57 at ISO 1600

The A58's strength against its predecessor is particularly evident above in the mosaic tiles, which are smeared and soft in the A57 but still fairly tight in the new A58.


Sony A58 versus Canon T5i at ISO 1600

Sony A58 at ISO 1600

Canon T5i at ISO 1600

The T5i loses most-all contrast detail in both the mosaic and the red fabric swatch, with the A58 a clear winner in image quality between the two.


Sony A58 versus Nikon D3200 at ISO 1600

Sony A58 at ISO 1600
Nikon D3200 at ISO 1600

The D3200 images just don't look to be in the same league as the A58's here, with pronounced noise apparent in the bottle crop, softness in the mosaic, and both noise and softness in the fabric crops. Not really a close call in any of them.


Sony A58 versus Pentax K-50 at ISO 1600

Sony A58 at ISO 1600
Pentax K-50 at ISO 1600

Again, the K-50 struggles with rendering the red fabric swatch, and pumps magenta into the pink swatch, as well as some artificial yellow into the mosaic frame. It also imparts more noise into the bottle crop than does the relatively clean A58.


Sony A58 versus Sony NEX-6 at ISO 1600

Sony A58 at ISO 1600
Sony NEX-6 at ISO 1600

As with base ISO, the NEX-6 does a nice job, going toe-to-toe with the A58, but the higher resolution DSLR comes out slightly ahead in most areas, especially fine detail.



And, below at ISO 3200, the stakes really start to show in today's cameras.

Sony A58 versus Sony A57 at ISO 3200

Sony A58 at ISO 3200
Sony A57 at ISO 3200

Yet again the A58 has a better handle on rendering some detail, even at this ISO, than the A57. This should come as no surprise, but if you're thinking of trading up it's still nice to know, as it is not always the case for every successor camera.


Sony A58 versus Canon T5i at ISO 3200

Sony A58 at ISO 3200

Canon T5i at ISO 3200

The T5i really loses ground here, and just can't match stride with the A58 for image quality at this level. Most-all image crops are either smeared or noisy in comparison.


Sony A58 versus Nikon D3200 at ISO 3200

Sony A58 at ISO 3200
Nikon D3200 at ISO 3200

As with the T5i, the D3200 can't match stride at this ISO with the A58. Images are grainy in areas, soft in others, and not particularly usable in general.


Sony A58 versus Pentax K-50 at ISO 3200

Sony A58 at ISO 3200
Pentax K-50 at ISO 3200

Noise in the shadows and bottle for the K-50 become much more apparent here compared to the A58, and the differences in the fabric crop are more pronounced as well.


Sony A58 versus Sony NEX-6 at ISO 3200

Sony A58 at ISO 3200
Sony NEX-6 at ISO 3200

Similar showings from these two cousins at ISO 3200. As stated before, the higher resolution pays off for the A58 in some of the more detailed areas like the tiles.

 

Detail: Sony A58 vs. Sony A57, Canon T5i, Nikon D3200, Pentax K-50 and Sony NEX-6

Sony A58
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony A57
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon T5i
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon D3200
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Pentax K-50
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony NEX-6
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. Sony emerges as the clear victor in this fine detail table, with both the A58 and the NEX-6 doing a better job at resolving detail across the ISO spectrum. The D3200, K-50 and T5i do a nice job at base ISO, but then quickly lose ground as ISO rises. By ISO 3200, the Sony cameras are the only two left standing.

 

Sony A58 Review -- Print Quality Analysis

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; a nice 11 x 14 at ISO 3200; and even prints a good 4 x 6 at its highest ISO of 16,000.

ISO 100/200 prints are very nice at a whopping 30 x 40 inches, with excellent detail and vibrant colors. Great wall display prints are possible at 36 x 48 inches.

ISO 400 makes a very tight 24 x 36 inch print with sharp detail, and wall display prints up to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 800 yields a nice, crisp 16 x 20. The 20 x 30 inch print here is suitable for less critical applications where minor film grain-like noise is OK in some areas.

ISO 1600 is capable of a good 13 x 19 inch print. There is minor noise now apparent in some shadow areas, and a slight decrease in contrast in our target red swatch.

ISO 3200 prints a good 11 x 14. There is now a fair amount of noise visible in some flat areas, but otherwise a nice print overall.

ISO 6400 produces a nice 8 x 10 for this ISO. It is beginning to lose contrast detail in our tricky red swatch, as most cameras do here, but a very solid print.

ISO 12,800 prints a good 5 x 7, with colors still popping nicely. This is the same print size we rated as good at this ISO for the A58's acclaimed great uncle the RX1.

ISO 16,000 makes a good 4 x 6. This is significant because so many cameras we have reviewed lately do not yield a suitable 4 x 6 at their highest ISO.

We could say the Sony A58 does a very good job in the print quality department from JPEGs, but when you consider its body-only street price of somewhere under $600, it'd be fairer to say it does an excellent job. We don't take price or any other factors into consideration when evaluating prints, just how they look, but drawing a conclusion is another story. Simply put, if you are looking at stepping into your first DSLR, or if you need a solid back-up to your more advanced model, the A58 can be counted on in the JPEG image quality department across the ISO spectrum.

 

In the Box

The Sony Alpha SLT-A58 retail kit package (as reviewed) contains the following items:

  • Sony Alpha SLT-A58 camera body
  • DT 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM II lens
  • InfoLithium rechargeable battery (NP-FM500H)
  • Battery charger BC-VM10A
  • Power cord (in some markets)
  • Body cap
  • Front lens cap
  • Eyepiece cup
  • Shoulder strap
  • Micro USB cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Instruction manual

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 16GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity for a consumer DSLR, but if you plan to capture HD movie clips or shoot in RAW format, look for larger cards with Class 6 or faster ratings.
  • Extra rechargeable battery pack (NP-FM500H) for extended outings
  • Wired remote RM-VPR1
  • External flash HVL-F20M (or other models)
  • AC adapter AC-PW10AM
  • External microphone ECM-CG50, ECM-XYST1M or standard mic with 3.5mm plug
  • PCK-LM11 LCD protective cover
  • Micro to HDMI cable
  • Leather grip belt STP-GB1AM
  • Medium DSLR camera bag

 

Sony A58 Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • New 20.1-megapixel sensor delivers excellent (and upgraded) resolution
  • Capable of very large prints
  • Above average exposure accuracy
  • JPEG engine does a very good job at reducing noise at high ISOs
  • Good dynamic range
  • Full-time phase-detect AF
  • Excellent autofocus speeds
  • Very fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Useful multi-frame modes (Handheld Twilight, HDR, Multi-frame NR, Sweep Panorama)
  • DRO works well when dealing with high-contrast scenes
  • Lots of optional in-camera lens corrections (distortion, CA, shading)
  • Very good video quality, with Full HD 1080p recording at 60i/24p
  • Movie mode allows for Program, Priority, or Manual exposure settings
  • External mic input
  • Multi Terminal
  • Crisp and bright high-resolution OLED viewfinder
  • Accurate EVF and LCD monitor coverage
  • Multi Interface hot shoe allows for external flashes and other accessories
  • Built-in flash supports wireless mode
  • Good flash range and recycling time
  • Very good battery life, particularly for an EVF-equipped camera
  • Plastic lens mount may not be as durable as metal
  • Video downgraded somewhat to max. 60i/24p frame rate at Full 1080p HD resolution
  • Reduced burst shooting rate of only five frames per second maximum at full resolution, down from a reported eight fps on the A57
  • Mediocre kit lens with high barrel distortion at wide angle, and soft corners
  • EVF instead of optical viewfinder may be a turnoff for some
  • Downgraded LCD no longer fully articulating
  • Support for IR remote dropped (but a new wired remote is supported)
  • Some aliasing artifacts (when used with very sharp lenses)
  • RAW files are a little noisier than competing models at high ISOs
  • Sluggish startup and mode switching
  • Shallow buffers (though common in entry-level models)
  • Narrow flash coverage
  • Autofocus can struggle in low light
  • User manual not very detailed

 

Sony created its entry-level A58 DSLR by taking its well-regarded predecessors, the entry-level A37 and enthusiast-geared A57, adding some significant tech upgrades -- most notably its new 20.1-megapixel APS-C sensor -- and then making just a few compromises to deliver the new model at a price point that's a full $200 lower than the A57. In doing so, the A58 effectively replaces both previous models (which have been discontinued). But does the camera split the difference and sit somewhere in the middle of these two cameras, or does it outshine them both?

Well, in terms of JPEG image quality, it's clear that the Sony A58 has taken a huge step forward. The higher-resolution sensor helps it deliver stunning photo quality that's sharper and more detailed than its predecessors'. In fact, the A58's images stack up well against those from much more expensive, enthusiast-level DSLRs. You can even get excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100 and 200 from the camera, a finding that truly surprised us. Other big steps forward include a bright-and-clear, 1.44M-dot Organic LED viewfinder, the addition of Sony's proprietary Multi Interface hot shoe, and improved battery life.

Otherwise, the A58 borrows a lot of its tech from the A57, including the 15-point continuous AF system (with three cross-type points) which allows the DSLR to autofocus quite quickly and accurately in most situations. The physical design and size of the two cameras remain roughly the same. So does the control layout, save for a few minor differences.

One of the biggest changes, however, is that the A58 uses a plastic lens mount rather than a metal one. And while people may be turned off by this -- with the fear that the material may be flimsier and more breakable -- it must be noted that many manufacturers successfully employ plastic mounts on lenses these days. It's a calculated risk on Sony's part, and we're going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one until we see how the plastic mount on the A58 lasts over time.

Other sacrifices made on the A58 include the lack of a 60p frame rate while recording Full 1080p HD, as was available on the A57. Despite that, the A58 still is a very good movie maker, offering 60i/24p frame rates and overall video quality that surpasses most of its entry-level rivals.

The increased 20.1-megapixel resolution on the new model also has a downside, as the same BIONZ processor featured on the A57 now only delivers a maximum speed of five frames per second in continuous burst mode, and the image buffer is also correspondingly more shallow.

It's a challenge to weigh the pros and cons of the Sony A58, especially since it's not an across-the-board step up from the A57. However, we think the advances in image quality make the camera a tremendous value for beginners. In fact, we believe the A58 produces arguably the best straight-from-the-camera photos across the board -- including in low light, high ISO situations -- of any entry-level DSLR we've tested to date. With the A58, Sony has once again served notice to Canon and Nikon that it's a force to be reckoned with in the DSLR arena. If that doesn't make the camera a Dave's Pick, then we don't know what does.

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