Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

The Sony SLT-A58 is a refresh of last year's pretty darn good A-57 DSLR. It comes with a new 20-megapixel image sensor, and importantly, a refreshing $600 price tag when it's bundled with an 18-55mm lens. But don't let the surging 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.

With the A-58, 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 APC-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:

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

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:

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

This isn't a deal-breaker, 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 A-58'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.

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

As for the handling, the A-58 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.

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

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 18-55 is a standard zoom lens, but its stabilization wasn't spectacular so shooting a slower shutter speeds can be a challenge.

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

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 A-58 performed to that level.

But remember, the Sony A-58 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. [Sony]

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget

Sony SLT-A58: A Beginner DSLR for a Beginner Budget