Sony Alpha SLT A57 Hands-On: DSLR Performance Without a DSLR Price

Sony's latest $700 Alpha camera sure looks like a budget DSLR, huh? Well it is. But our hands-on today has us thinking it might just perform above its paltry price tag.

The A57 handles as well as any budget DSLR we've ever tried—even better at times. The camera is a tweaked version of the 2010 A55—except that Sony actually made the camera larger rather than smaller. Equipped with an updated 16.1-megapixel, APS-C sensor and Bionz processor, improved low-light handling to ISO 16000, continuous shooting at 10FPS, built-in digital viewfinder, and 1080p recording at both 24 and 60 FPS. It may not seem like they changed a lot, but the little things add up.

Sony Alpha SLT A57 Hands-On: DSLR Performance Without a DSLR Price

And there are cosmetic changes, too, with an improved grip and larger body. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but the result is that the camera feels sturdier to hold—like a real, big-kids camera, and not just like something you cheaped out on.

What do you get? Well first of all, you get a freaking fast camera. This A57's shutter release peels off frames as fast as any other we've tried. Pardon the lofty comparison here, but the 10FPS, machine-gun continuous shooting is the closest thing we've felt to the crazy-fast $6000 Nikon D4 we tried back at CES.

Sony Alpha SLT A57 Hands-On: DSLR Performance Without a DSLR Price

Unlike Sony's NEX cameras, which ditch the mirrored design altogether, this camera uses Sony's Alpha-series lenses, which means the camera can get better, faster autofocus than other-post DSLR shots. I used the camera to shoot a bunch of quickly moving subjects in super-fast continuous mode, and I was very impressed at how quickly the camera could adapt to changing conditions.

The major downside of SLT cameras—single-lens translucent—is that they have digital, rather than the optical viewfinders on single-lens reflex cameras. Digital viewfinders are far from ideal, and they drive purists crazy, but I actually found the SLT's viewfinder to be quite good and very usable.

As for image quality—that's what this is all about at the end of the day—our limited time with the camera was far from enough for a final verdict. We didn't get to test the camera's supposedly beastly low-light performance, but in good lighting conditions the camera delivered sharp-looking images.

Sony Alpha SLT A57 Hands-On: DSLR Performance Without a DSLR Price

Without doing a full review, it's hard to say whether SLTs might be the future of the budget DSLR—but from what we've seen, we're pretty confident it might be.