Sony introduces new cameras with translucent mirrors

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Sony announced three new camera models on Monday, including two that feature a new translucent mirror technology. The three new cameras are the a55, the a33, and the a560.

a55 and a33: Translucent mirrors for faster shooting

The a55 (top) and a33 (bottom)
The a55 and a33 are similar cameras, with the same sized APS-C CMOS sensors (23.5x15.6mm) and design. The higher-end a55 has a larger megapixel count, faster Speed Priority continuous shooting mode, and built-in GPS capability.

What's most notable about these cameras is that both the a55 and a33 will have a translucent mirror that allows light to pass through directly to the camera's sensors, while also bouncing light up to the phase-detection autofocus sensor. Since the mirror no longer has to lift in order to capture an image, the camera can take photos much faster. That means a smaller camera body, higher continuous shooting rate, and continuous auto focusing, even while the camera records an image or video.

The 16.2-megapixel a55 can shoot 10 fps (frames per second) in Speed Priority mode or 6 fps in Continuous Shooting mode. The 14.2-megapixel a33 can shoot up 7 fps in Speed Priority mode and 6 in Continuous Shooting mode.

A look at the a33's translucent mirror.
The translucent mirror also means that the a55 and a33 have electronic viewfinders (EVF) instead of optical viewfinders. The EVF can be used while shooting video, has 100% coverage, offers a selection of display overlays, and shows the results of adjustments to white balance and exposure as you make them.

The 3-inch LCD screen on the a55 and a33 can tilt up and down 180-degrees, as well as rotate up to 270-degrees.

The a55 and a33 can record full HD AVCHD (1080i) or MP4 (1080p) video at the press of a dedicated Movie button. Like Nikon's recently announced D3100, the a55 and a33 have continuous autofocus abilities while shooting video. The 15-point autofocus system tracks the subjects in your video and adjusts the focus accordingly.

The cameras have Sony's Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama modes, which allow users to create 180-degree images. (Unfortunately, the 3D panoramas can only be viewed on compatible 3D TVs at this time.) The Auto HDR feature can automatically combine bracketed images in-camera. The Multi-frame NR (noise reduction) option will take six images and combine them for one image with the lowest possible noise. Using this feature, photographers can push the maximum ISO to 25,600. Finally, the Hand-held Twilight mode will shoot a burst of 6 images and combine them to minimize blur—the usual side effect of shooting in low-light sans tripod.

The a55 will be sold with an 18-55mm lens for $850, or body-only for $750. The a33 will be bundled with the same 18-55mm lens and retail for $750, or body-only for $640. The a55 will be available at the end of September and the a33 in September.

a560: DSLR that shoots HD video

The a560 is the first Sony DLSR that can shoot video. A successor to the a500 and a550 Sony DSLR models, the 14.2-megapixel camera contains an APS-C CMOS sensor (23.5x15.6mm), a new noise-minimizing image processor, and 15-point autofocus. Like the a55 and a33, it has a dedicated movie button for shooting full HD AVCHD (1080i) or MP4 (1080p) video. It has an ISO range of 100 to 12,800, and can shoot up to 7 fps in Speed Priority mode.

Live view on the a560 gets an upgrade with this model. The 3-inch LCD screen tilts 90-degrees up and down and there are two live view settings. Quick AF Live View can focus at real-time speeds, and manual Focus Check Live View lifts the camera's mirror and shows a real-time view of the framed image, directly from the the main sensor.

Like the a55 and a33, the a560 has Sony's Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama modes, Hand-held twilight mode, Auto HDR, and Muli-frame NR.

The a560 will be sold packaged with an 18-55mm lens for $750, or body-only for $650. The camera will be available in October.

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