At ISO 1,600, detail starts to mush up, but, for the most part, detailed photos can remain usable up to ISO 3,200. As is typical for this camera's class, ISO 6,400 and higher are more emergency modes than for everyday shooting, but the A550 displays better noise suppression at these mid-range ISO sensitivities than we usually see from Sony cameras. Its ISO 6,400 shot, for example, is much cleaner than our equivalent shot with the full-frame but older A900 and A850 models. While not a complete mess, ISO 12,800 is definitely best for small image sizes.
As we've seen repeatedly with Sony dSLRs, the 'creative style' defaults yield poor colour accuracy and oversaturation, and you can't tell that's what's happening because there's no 'natural' style or its equivalent. Nor does Sony tell you what the contrast, saturation and sharpness settings are for each style -- they're all listed as '0', from which you increase or decrease. With the A380, at least, the raw versions were more accurate, but the A550's raw files look as bad as the JPEGs. At first, we thought it was the Adobe Camera Raw settings, but the images looked the same in Sony's mediocre Image Data Converter SR raw-processing software. Nor does that software give you a way to strip the creative-style settings from the image. You can rectify this to a certain extent by shooting in Adobe RGB rather than sRGB, but that's not practical for many people.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Given its excellent mid-range noise profile and above-average performance -- two of the most important considerations when buying a dSLR -- it's frustrating that the Sony Alpha DSLR-A550's awkward design and poor colour rendering keep us from being able to recommend it without numerous caveats.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet