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Tuesday, 04 January 2011


"I loved the RT"

Probably my favourite camera ever. I still have my three bodies...

Maybe Sony is trying to take advantage of the current trend, which seems to be that people buy DSLR's with no knowledge of features, operation, lens availability, ergonomics or any other legitimate reason you would use to choose a camera. I know two people who have said the bought Sony cameras because, "all the other stuff they make is good." While I have nothing against Sony, and I know they do make quality products, that is no reason to buy a camera. I think Sony, on the other hand, might be hoping it is a reason to buy a camera. That would let them get the technology out there.
Perhaps, also, they are banking on the fact that in this day and age people are more receptive to technological change. I know I am more inclined to risk a technological risk now than I was in the 90's. Of course the fact that I have a vault full of money tied up in Canon lenes and speedlights kind of precludes that, but the thought is there.

With today's high digital ISOs, the "film speed" hit isn't really noticeable any more, or it certainly isn't critical. I'm hearing this more and more, and it's annoying me more and more.

I'm sure there are people who have never really needed more than ISO 400 for what they shoot. They will probably think, today, that going to ISO 800 is is no big cost. They may find other aspects of this camera's performance quite valuable. It may be a wonderful camera for them.

I'm consistently working beyond the ability of my tools to really do what I need in low light (currently shooting a Nikon D700). I've spent many hundreds of dollars for various 1/2 or 1/3 stop improvements in lenses over the years (back when hundreds were scary). Last weekend I was running auto-ISO with 1/3 stop incremements to keep the noise as low as I could and still freeze action (manual exposure plus auto ISO is very useful in marginal light, I find).

Furthermore, the higher frame rate and the tolerance for less-sharp photos (the non-existent loss of sharpness caused by the two extra air-glass interfaces) tend to be of value in exactly the same areas of photography where high ISO is important -- journalistic, action, sports. Landscape photographers who think 400 is a high ISO don't mostly care about frame rate, and DO often care about additional air-glass interfaces.

I hate to see people throwing away all we've gained in high ISO with slow zooms and other frippery.

(You don't say how you know there's no loss from two extra air-glass interfaces. The entire history of lens design, it seems to me, says that two additional air-glass interfaces are quite likely to matter. So I'm not yet treating this as settled.)

You don't specifically mention the lower shake from not moving the mirror. This advantage IS relevant to hand-held low-light shooters like me.

Also, while I don't know the details of the design, it seems likely that it could be done in such a way that the sensor was in a sealed compartment, where dust could not get to it. Dust could settle on the fixed mirror, but it's well out of the plane of focus so it will not make obvious circles on the resulting images. I'm surprised, though, that they're not wildly promoting the end of dust problems, so maybe the sensor isn't in a sealed compartment?

Hey, how do they handle autofocus? On moving-mirror cameras, there are semi-transparent spots in the mirror for AF points, and secondary mirrors on the back; and that can't be how they do it here. Does this have DSLR-speed AF, or P&S speed AF (contrast-based from the main sensor?) This would be another huge issue for the journalist / sports / action photographer.

There's also viewfinder brightness; if it's 1/3 stop loss to the sensor, then it's 2/3 stop loss to the viewfinder. This was more of an issue back with the original Pellix, where viewfinder brightness impacted manual focus (I thought the original Pellix was a clever specialized design and very unsuitable as a general-purpose camera, myself).

I spoke once with a gentleman in Chicago who would modify the motor drive on EOS RT's and they would shoot just shy of 10 FPS.

Of course, durability was much lower than stock, but he had a group of sports photographers who loved them.

Playing around with my friend's A33 I was puzzled about the finder blackout when I took a shot - "doesn't this have a pellicle-mirror?"
It was only when I put it in continuous drive mode where I could see how it was working: blackout on the first frame but none on the rest.
I haven't read much on this camera, but having blackouts on single frames appears to defeat many of the advantages this technology could have.

Something that does not seem to get mentioned when the A-55 using a splitting mirror is discussed; the Olympus E-10 and E-20 used the same type of mirror.

I am sure a lot of people would dismiss the Olympus cameras, for a lot of reasons, and maybe that is why they are not mentioned. Maybe people just forget or didn't know.

I had an E-20 though, and I learned a lot from it. Took some pretty good pictures with it too.

...I remember the Canon Pellix particularly, as I took a great interest in it myself, mostly not about speed, but to reduce vibration to rangefinder level, and if my weak memory serves me right, I DO remember photo magazines testing it at the time and indeed finding that the image quality was somewhat reduced by the technology, not only because it was an additional layer of glass and mirror, but that it was also at an angle. Of course, you could make an observance that going through an additional layer of glass was no different than a filter, but I think it was being at an angle as well as a partially mirrored surface, and the multiple surfaces associated with it, that was the bug-a-boo...

I believe the design parameters were of the type that the reduction in actual sharpness, would not be noticed in areas of its intended uses, i.e. high-speed sports photography in newspapers and magazines, not exactly "coffee table book" quality.

I have no idea about the EOS RT, I just disregarded it, and many, if not all of the problems, even if they were minor, might have easily been solved with modern glass, coatings, and coating technologies.

You are most correct about a technology who's "time has come", as basically, with all the electronic "auto-correct" going on in cameras now, I have no idea if a lens is sharp, fuzzy, whatever, all I know is what I'm getting on the screen of the computer or print. If it look acceptably sharp, then it's OK, I don't know if it's a "dog" getting corrected by a computer.

When I talk to my pals that travel with technology, especially the videographer pals I have: "less moving parts" is better! Anything that moves will break, and the videographers I know have never been happier or quicker to embrace flash card storage over tape transport. having said this tho, I am really looking towards electronic viewfinder development as the perfect technology for digital cameras in the future. Already they are close to "good enough" for me, especially since in some cases, they can actually aid focus in reduced or flat lighting situations. I look at the pelicle mirror as maybe just a little bit too late, with it's additional glass surface to try and keep clean in the Sahara Desert while changing lenses (altho it'll keep that expensive chip surface from getting pitted).

Time will tell, I guess, but I'm already saving for the first full frame DSLR with high-res video screen view-finder...

I had (still have somewhere) a Canon Pellix that I bought new when my only requirement was 35mm film and interchangeable lenses. It was years before I knew about the speed hit.

With the Pellix, the lens was stopped down by a large, easy to finger lever that activated the light meter and gave me a beautiful preview of DOF. I still miss that simple to use "DOF lever."

Not only do modern digital sensors address the 1/3rd stop hit very effectively, but having a fixed mirror allows the DSLR's biggest weakness to be dealt with, or at least moved to a hopefully less vulnerable and troublesome place.

I'm referring, of course, to dust on the sensor.

An excellent choice. In traditional media, the A55 was also PopPhoto's Camera of the year. As a clear rethinking of the functions of the contemporary DSLR (or DILC?) without letting past or current prejudices get in the way, it's clearly the most creative new idea in cameras since micro 4/3.

I've been looking at it very carefully and working to visualize how it might work for me in practice. One issue for me is that their first models have entry level feature sets. How would it be to go back to a single control wheel? Will there be an A77, or some such, with dual control wheels?

If I get more serious, I need to handle one and see how the EVF works for me, with my particular vision and way of working. Has Sony finally got EVF up to be competitive with at least entry level DSLR viewfinders? I'm very comfortable using LCD live view on compact cameras, but as yet uncertain about them in this form.

A personal, practical issue is my current investment, and happiness, with a 5D and lenses. Might a 60D meet most of my desires for added functions while maintaining dual control wheels and an integrated system?

I come from the other side of the lens divide, using fixed focal lengths only for specialized uses - and reveling in the creative freedom of zooms. If I buy one of these new beasts, it will most probably be with the 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT.

I need to remind myself that I needn't hurry into a decision. <;^)

Moose of Two Minds

My first digital camera, the Olympus E20, had this design. It was limited to 5 MP and very slow electronics. I'd buy another one in an instant if it was updated to current state of the art.

"You don't say how you know there's no loss from two extra air-glass interfaces"

I didn't say there wasn't. I said the pellicle mirror didn't have a deleterious effect on sharpness in the EOS RT, which is something I tested extensively and is a conclusion I'll stand behind. No reason to extrapolate those results to the A55/33, but there is also no reason to automatically assume there must be sharpness loss with the A55/33, either.


"the Olympus E-10 and E-20 used the same type of mirror"

Really? I did not know that.


Let's see the "winner". Please tell me its not the oh-so-predictable Pentax K? or Nikon D7000 cameras.

BTW, you may have titled this entry/article Eos RT redux :)

The Oly E10 and E20 used prism-type beam splitters, not pellicle mirrors, IIRC.

The A55 looked like a compelling camera to me at first. No mirror vibration or noise, one hundred per cent viewfinder coverage, relatively small and light. Unfortunately, there appears to be a "ghosting" problem in some exposure situations which is pointed out at dpreview, so maybe that concern about image quality with the Canon was not totally unfounded. Video and rapid-fire shots are what this camera seems best for. For still photography it's probably not ideal. See-through mirrors sound a bit arcane, kind of like hydrogen-powered cars.

I was totally unfamiliar with this camera.
What's old has become new again.
This camera is something of a game-changer, I think...or at least is going to leave a mark worth considering when the Big Two enter into random and brief "outside the box" thought patterns.
This may well be the first air-breathing, proper convergence of mirrorless and mirrored to climb out of the ooze?

I, too, owned the RT for about 6 months during 1991. I found the viewfinder light-loss to be negligible, and more than compensated for by the greater percentage of hand-held sharp shots. It was the aesthetics that did it for me, though. Plug-ugly and plastic fantastic (the lenses too) as only Canon know how. Every time I held it in one hand with a Pentax MX in the other, I winced with profound embarrassment on its behalf

David Dyer-Bennet , Julio Marcos , Scott and others.
You are missing the point , in the A55 and A33 the mirror isn't used to view the way it is in a SLR or the old Canons. It is just there for the autofocus rangefinder modules, which are located where the focusing screen would be in a SLR rather than in the bottom of the mirror box as in a conventional SLR camera.

Are people calling this thing a DSLR ? It's no more a DSLR than the NEX cameras or the micro 4/3 cameras. A reflex camera takes it's name from the fact that you are viewing a reflected image, which you are not doing in this camera.

Excellent we've solved the sensor dust problem and eagerly await the development of mirror dust removal systems.

The RT was a marvelous camera. I had one for some time (sold it eventually because I could not live with the Canon user interface).

The absence of finder blackout and of noticeable shutter lag were the best features for me. I wish I could buy a camera like this now for taking photos of my 1-year old son - he is faster than my dslr, with a compact camera the chances of a timely photo approach zero.

It is peculiar that Sony does not find it worthy to advertise short shutter lag as a feature for the A55 - does it even have this? Apparently this is not considered an important feature nowadays.

"solve the problem of sensor dust"

But then there will be mirror dust.

Ah yes, I quite love my new A55 - In addition to what has already been mentioned I especially enjoy the reduces weight as compared to my beloved Konica-Minolta 7D. Having a newborn baby is hard enough on my shoulders...
I do however agree to moose's point about the controls. I loved how the KM 7Ds body is pockmarked with dials and buttons giving me instant access to pretty much everything. In the A55 many settings aren't even available in the menus.

As an aside, may I ask whether the 30mm macro has any advantages over the new DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens (aside of availability)?

Before anyone rushes to their e-tailer's website and buys this camera, take a look through the EVF.

I am of the school that the EVF is the future. It will open up possibilities unthinkable with OVFs. And the A55's EVF is said to be very good.

I didn't like it at all. I didn't feel it was much better than my Minolta Dimage 7i's EVF. I took only a very, very brief look through into it, but colors looked all wrong, the pixel grid was very visible, and it still wasn't any bigger than a good APS-C OVF (which is to say: too small!).

The A55 is a fascinating camera. It points towards the future. As a concept. Apparently, the technology isn't there at the right price yet.

The built-in three shot HDR mode works a treat, and the built-in GPS automatically geo-tags the image files, avoiding a lot of hassle with external GPS tracking units. And the in-viewfinder pitch and roll indicator is wonderful.

Match it with the Carl Zeiss 24mm F2 prime lens, and it's pretty much what everyone has been asking for in recent discussions about 35mm equivalent views.

"Match it with the Carl Zeiss 24mm F2 prime lens"

Hmm, now that would be an odd couple indeed...the lens is both more expensive and heavier than the camera.


...to add to my previous post above, the additional reason I'm looking at high-rez electronic viewfinders as the future, is that it also blows the hatch off of the requirements for lens designers, as we've seen with the Micro 4/3rd's system...no retro-focus needs to clear a mirror...this leaves them with a lot more options, something pellicle mirrors don't do...I look forward to the day that I can look into an eyepiece on a 1500 dollar DSLR digital body, and see a little green box designating facial recognition, following the subject around the frame, like the back screen of my hundred dollar point-and-shoot!

Regarding sensor dust and this camera - the sensor is NOT sealed behind the mirror.
The mirror is sprung, and can be moved to enable sensor cleaning (according to dpreview's test of this camera).

I've been shooting with the A33 for months now, picked it up before the A55 became available. It's essentially the same camera, just 14MP and 7fps instead of 16MP and 10fps.

As to IQ, it's excellent. Yes, ghosting can occur, but I've yet to run inot it as an issue in the real world. I wouldn't use it for a lot of long-exposure work with point light sources though.

The real revelation is in low-light work. The EVF is simply a hell of a lot easier to focus in really low light than any OVF. I replaced a Pentax K-x with the A33 and despite giving up a bit of high ISO IQ I'm now getting more keepers as the images are more reliably in focus (the K-x at the time had the best high ISO IQ of any APS-C camera, it's now been exceeded by the K-5 and D7000).

It's also a great handling little camera, the first of Sony's smaller DSLR/SLT's to actually have competent ergonomics.

Simon -- there will be mirror dust anyway. But sensor dust is less serious than mirror dust, because it is well out of the focal plane, and hence won't image sharply.

For whatever reason, they seem to have decided not to take advantage of this potential, though.

Hugh -- Ah; this is an EVIL with phase-detect autofocus (enabled by the pellicle mirror), rather than a DSLR? Sorry for my confusion.

I’m surrounded by toddlers and this might be a good choice for photographing them indoors while giving me some shoulder relief when I need to walk around with my camera and the weight of a kid or two in my arms. Do any TOP readers have first-hand experience using this camera with any small, light primes such as the Sony (Konica Minolta rebranded) 24/2.8, the used Minolta AF 28/2.0, the Sony 30/2.8 Macro or any other 30-40mm-ish equivalents? If so, I’d like to take a brief moment and photograph vicariously through you. Thanks.

Dust on the mirror should be invisible as it is very far from the focal plane (unlike sensor dust). It will be interesting to see how much dust gets behind the mirror onto the sensor.

"odd couple indeed...the lens is both more expensive and heavier than the camera"

Pre digital era, that wasn't that unusual.

I'm thinking of getting a Sony nex-3 to use with some big hunks of glass, and the lenses are way bigger and probably more expensive than the camera.

This Sony A55 is giving me pause however, as a camera for waist level shooting.

The nex can use those tilt adapters and Leica RF lenses, but this is probably faster. Neither one of them have the LCD mounting quite right.

By the time I make up my mind Nikon and Canon will have their own evil-cam systems.

I'm dumbfounded. I've only shot with an A55 for an hour or so at a photo show, but that was enough--I don't need weeks of testing to tell that something is crap. The EVF is horrid; in the not-so-terrible light of a convention center it was grainy, smeary, and lagged even the very show action of people strolling around the floor. It's maybe marginally better than the GF1's dire external viewfinder, and with the GF1 at least you have a camera that is actually small in return for the pain of the EVF.

I'm sure EVFs are the future, but when is "the future"? Progress has been quite slow in the last few years.


To answer some of your questions...

1. Yes, the lower shake from the fixed mirror is an advantage with slow shutter speeds. Combined with the Super SteadyShot IS system, it works quite well in low light handheld situations.

2. The mirror does cause a 1/3 stop loss in light going to the image sensor, but the lack of mirror shake makes up for some of it because you can handhold at slightly longer shutter speeds than with a heavy flapping mirror in a full-frame body, for example.

3. The sensor is not in a sealed compartment and that is why it receives regular cleaning automatically via the sensor-shake IS system.

4. The AF is phase-detect like all DSLRs, and is blazing fast. It is as fast as any Canikon APS-C body out there. The AF performance is much better than the CDAF based mirrorless cameras, but ultimately, the main advantage of this new technology is fast, continuous AF during video. It is miles better than the clunky and slow CDAF shooting video on dSLRs.

5. The pellicle mirror reflects 1/3 of the light to the phase-detect AF sensors mounted in the hump where the prism would be in an SLR. Unlike moving-mirror systems, the AF sensors are never "temporarily blind" while the mirror flips up, and therefore track moving subjects quite well.

6. Viewfinder brightness is not an issue because it is electronic with auto-gain/brightness, with a live feed directly off the main image sensor.

@Erik den Hartigh

Sony does advertise the fast shooting capabilities of the A55 with 10fps continuous shooting, fast autofocus, etc.

But the shutter lag and viewfinder blackout is quite different and actually longer for this camera compared to an SLR.

Because it's an all electronic feed to the viewfinder / rear LCD, you can't keep an eye on what's going on like you would with an optical viewfinder once the short blackout time is over with a flapping mirror.

Instead of a 0.2 second blackout or whatever it is with an SLR, the blackout between images is more like 1 second because the computer has to process and render the 16 MP images first.

And if you're shooting a continuous burst, you don't see it in real-time. You see a slightly delayed "fast slideshow" that won't help you track your subject because you'll always be panning 1-2 seconds behind what your subject is doing.

This is an important distinction for those of you who are thinking about using this as a sports / action camera: while this camera does have very fast shooting capabilities for its class (10fps continuous shooting with fast AF at this price?), the viewfinder blackout / lag makes it difficult for you to see and track your subjects in real-time.


"As an aside, may I ask whether the 30mm macro has any advantages over the new DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens (aside of availability)?"

The 30 macro has a closer MFD / higher magnification, slightly sharper at close distances, slightly sharper at max aperture, and less field curvature. Personally, i also like the wider FoV / shorter focal length of the 30.

To put it another way, IMHO, the only advantage the 35/1.8 has over the 30/2.8 macro is that it's faster. If you need f/1.8 for low-light, then the 35/1.8 might be preferable. If not, the 30 macro is a slightly better lens optically with no MFD to worry about.

I have the 30 macro glued to my A700 and A55 all the time. I think it's a great all-purpose lens.


I think you need to turn off image review in the menu. Then you won't have the 1 second delay issue.

I love my a33 and I am using it with a Sony Zeiss 24 mm, what a lens!
I could not tell if Mike had used the a55 and lenses or was basing his choice on the Luminous Landscapes review, I mention this because my 3 dys with the Sony 30 macro led me to return it. My images were never sharp and the build of the lens is non sturdy and plastic-y. I think it is the very lens I have returned and had no desire to try another copy.
Thanks. Joanlvh

Anne v ha,
No, I've not shot with an A55 yet. I won't be reviewing it. The "COTY" selection is just a nod to its significance, "differentness," and the degree to which it stands out from the crowd.


Nice camera...

Until you remember it has 1/2 stop penalty compared to a DSLR, it has ghosting that no other camera on this planet has and until you try that awful EVF - OUCH!

Regarding dust on the sensor: the fact that the mirror in the A55 doesn't move during normal operation means there won't be the usual turbulent air currents stirring up the dust in the mirror compartment - unlike normal moving mirror SLR's that create a mini hurricane at the focal plane with every swing of the mirror.

The less disturbed the air remains in front of the sensor, the less probability of dust being thrown at it.

I'm just thinking out loud.


Thanks for your detailed reply. I deduced from it that the A55 is probably not suitable for my needs - although I'll still try it if I can find a dealer that stocks one.

Shutter lag and viewfinder blackout are the crucial issues for me. I'm not someone who uses the maximum-fps machine gun approach, which only fills up my hard disk with useless megapixels. If I want maximum fps, I'll change to movie mode.

Thanks, e_dawg; I didn't read carefully enough and took the analogy to the Pellix too literally, which lead me astray in a couple of areas. And they made a decision that surprised me about mirror dust (seems like a no-brainer to isolate the sensor if you could).

With the high-speed shooting and the top-grade tracking AF, the long viewfinder blackout is a particularly unfortunate problem.

@Erik den Hartigh and Matthew,

I must apologize for providing a potentially misleading assessment of the shutter lag and viewfinder blackout times i have experienced with my A55.

Turns out that Matthew has a good point: apparently, turning off Image Review in the menu options will significantly reduce both the shutter lag and viewfinder blackout experienced after each shot according to suggestions others have made online.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to try this out for myself yet, as i have loaned the A55 to a family member (partially due to the dissatisfaction i alluded to earlier with the lag times). Now i'm anxious to get the camera back to see if the setting change will solve the problem.

Hopefully, you can try out the A55 for yourself with the Image Review option turned off to see if it works well enough for you. For my part, i will certainly try to report back with an update when i get the A55 back.

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