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Unique Features of the Sony Alpha A55

The Sony Alpha A55 has a long list of features – some of which you may find in a few other cameras and others that are unique only to the A55. But taken together they they make the A55 a very compelling piece of equipment.

In Part 1, I talked about the “standard” features of the A55.

In this part of the review, I’ll key in on several of these features that are both unique and innovative.

The first three features are possible because of the A55’s translucent mirror.

Electronic Viewfinder

The first time I used the A55, I was surprised when I put my eye up to the viewfinder. In place of a conventional reflex viewfinder used in DSLRs, the A55 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). The resulting image is somewhat similar to what I might see on a miniature television.

A big advantage is that the image in the EVF can be overlaid with a variety of information as you can see below.

viewfinder displaying the level gauge in the center

viewfinder displaying histogram at bottom right

viewfinder showing changeable settings
Having used a dozen or more DLSRs extensively, it took me about a week to get used to the EVF. As a wearer of eyeglasses I was able to set the built-in diopter adjustment correctly for my vision. The image is bright and clear owing to the 1.1 megapixel viewfinder screen, a high refresh rate (60fps). The EVF also has 100% field coverage. I especially like the level gauge that helps to align the horizon.


Extending your Arm

You see it all of the time – an excited picture-taker is pointing her camera at herself with an extended arm. She’s taking her own photo.

She could have used a QuikPod. I first saw a demo of the QuikPod at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January and recently ordered one through Amazon.

The people at QuikPod designed a neat device that helps these photographers take better self-portraits.
The QuikPod is small and is packaged in a lightweight net carrying case that fits in a coat pocket or purse.


The Eye-Fi SD Card

A few months ago I had read about this product – an SD card with wi-fi capabilities. You could say that I’ve been “eyeing” it for a while. Anyway, I made it a point to stop by their booth at CES in early January to learn more about the Eye-Fi card. There I spoke with Berend Ozceri, one of the founders of the Eye-Fi Company.

After he explained its features and capabilities, I was sold on the Eye-Fi and decided to review this interesting product. When I returned home, I visited a local computer store and picked up a 4GB model on sale for $39. It’s slightly more expensive than a plain vanilla SD-card so I was curious to see if the extra features were worth the price.

Do you trust your monitor?

26th January 2011

Color Calibration with the Pantone Huey Pro

As photographers, we spend an extraordinary amount of time fretting over color. We carefully tweak the camera settings and adjust the white balance, ISO, raw quality, exposure, noise level and sharpness to produce magnificent color in the captured image. Afterwards, we transfer the digital film to our computerized darkroom for further processing with a goal of reproducing the colors as true to life as possible.

So why are we surprised (read: disappointed) when a prized photo looks so different from our mind’s eye view of the original scene? After all, haven’t we set the camera for the best color?

The reason may well be that the true color of the photo has been inexplicably changed by the computer monitor.

The “Panorama Machine”

29th December 2010

Panoramas Made Easy

Last week Fedex dropped off a small package with another high tech gadget. The shiny box contained a panorama base – a device for easily capturing photographic panoramas.

Let’s back up to last October when I met Howard Chen at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York. An attractive photo in front of his booth caught my attention. He proceeded to show me how the e-Filming PS-30B Digital Drive Panorama Base automates the making of panorama photographs with popular DSLR cameras: mount the camera on the base, press a few buttons on the control panel and press the start button. A few seconds later and you’ve captured a set of high resolution images ready to be combined (stitched together).

In addition to the drive unit, the package contains a vertical bar mount, a remote controller and control cables. A cable connects the device to the remote control socket on your DSLR camera. The six included control cables are usable with most of the popular DSLR cameras.

I spent a few minutes installing the Cool Stitch software from the included CD-ROM and printing the 16-page user’s manual.

The manual describes the five options available from the LCD control panel: shoot, time, speed, function and language. However in practice, I found that I needed to change only the shoot option.

There’s also a short article “How to Shoot Photos for Great Looking Panoramas” that appears when you run the Cool Stitch software. I recommend that you print this document and carefully follow the several helpful tips.


For a couple of months, I’ve had a small box sitting on a shelf waiting for me to investigate its usefulness for mobile phones.

This morning, I heard the word bluetooth and it reminded me of this box which contains a small bluetooth device. So I pulled the box out and had it working within 10 minutes. For this week, I’ll consider it my favorite geek device.

It’s called the Polaroid Pogo. Those of us who remember the name Polaroid, know that this company is considered the inventors of instant photography that was so pervasive from the 1950 through the 1970s. While Polaroid no longer makes the film/paper packs, the Pogo instead uses a heat sensitive Zink (for zero ink) paper to produce near instant prints. From what I can tell, Polaroid licenses the Zink technology under its own name to take advantage of the historic instant connotation.

On the Equipment Horizon

06th December 2010

At the PhotoPlus Expo this past September I stopped by the Sony booth. Having received pre-show information, I wanted to try their pair of new cameras – the Alpha A33 and A55. While both look and function like DSLRs, a more appropriate term might be DVF – Digital ViewFinder – since neither uses a reflex mirror. Instead, they sport a fixed translucent “mirror” that sends a small portion of the incoming image to the viewfinder and the remainder to the “film” light sensor.

This technology isn’t new. In the early 1960’s Canon made a model called the Pellix using a similar scheme with a pellicle mirror. My uncle bought this camera back then, one of the first to have Through The Lens metering (TTL) and it served him well for many years.

Sony believes that their updated translucent mirror has life in the 21st century. There are several advantages to such an arrangement. First, a static mirror eliminates the reflex mechanism providing a space, weight and cost savings. Removing this mechanical assembly also allows for a higher frame rate. Next, the electronics measuring the auto exposure remain uninterrupted from frame to frame giving instant responses to varying changes in lighting. Similarly, the auto focus system stays 100% available – a very important consideration for high speed continuous shooting.


Good Photos Can Come Cheap

28th November 2010

I’ve been interested in photography since I was a very young kid; so much so that I wanted to study photography at college. However, I somehow became distracted and ended up studying something completely different. Yet for these past 50 years, photography has remained a professional interest.

I’ve also been involved with computers for my entire working life. In the early 70’s, there was no such thing as a personal computer. When PCs started to appear about 1976, I yearned for a way to marry the computer with photography. But the movement to digital imagery was slower than even molasses. Of course we know that this has all changed in the past ten years or so and now digital is the standard – having all but replaced conventional film photography.

PDN Photo Plus Expo

02nd November 2010

Last week I spent a few days in New York City at the PDN Photo Plus Expo. This show is held each year at the Javits Convention Center and attracts not only professionals but avid photographers who are interested in seeing, touching and feeling the newest equipment, speaking to major camera, lens, lighting and accessory makers, watching the many live picture-taking demos given by industry pros and sitting in on dozens of informative “how-to” seminars.

Many thanks to the folks at Lowepro. They generously provided these convenient camera backpacks to all of the members of the press.

I was somewhat surprised at the size of the crowds. With so many attendees, it was slow-moving traffic in the aisles. Lou Desiderio of the PDN Photo Plus Expo management confirmed that more than 24,000 visitors passed through the turnstyles to attend the show. In an otherwise “down” economic environment, this is good news to the many vendors who were exhibiting.

Two years ago when I originally wrote this article, sales of GPS Navigation devices were in high gear. Most of you already know how a GPS device works:

  1. receives multiple satellite signals
  2. determines the geographic location by 3D triangulation
  3. displays your position superimposed on a map on its small LCD screen
  4. accepts your desired destination
  5. provides driving turn by turn instructions to reach the destination

I was interested in adding location data to my snapshots – “geotagging”. Geotagging is equivalent to performing steps 1. and 2. I found my geotagging solution in the reasonably priced PhotoTrackr.

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