The DSLR-A580 and DSLR-A560 are Sony's first Alpha DSLR models to shoot video, packing a number of new features into a redesigned frame. Both cameras are essentially the same, so we'll highlight any differences in the specs in this preview. The DSLR-A580 will be available in October, while the DSLR-A560 will be available in the first quarter of 2011. Neither digital SLR's price has been announced at the time of writing.
Sony launched the A580 and A560 alongside the innovative Alpha SLT-A55 and SLT-A33, which both have a non-moving mirror mechanism. The A560 and A580 pack in many of the features seen in their siblings, but take a traditional approach, with a moving mirror. This means they have an optical viewfinder, while also coming surprisingly close to the dizzying shooting speeds of the A33 and A55.
The A560 packs 14.2 megapixels, and the A580 has 16.2 megapixels. Both sensors are APS-C size. They use a 15-point phase-detection autofocus system and have sensor-shifting image stabilisation built-in.
Both cameras shoot up to 7 frames per second in burst mode, although the focus and exposure are fixed at the first frame, so moving subjects could go out of focus. You can shoot up to 5fps using the viewfinder, or 3fps in live view, with the AF refocusing as you shoot.
These are the first Alpha DSLRs to shoot video. A dedicated movie button fires up 1080i video in the AVCHD format with stereo sound. You can also record in the MP4 format. An HDMI socket lets you connect the camera to a high-definition telly.
The 76mm (3-inch) screen flips out and twists around, allowing you to see the screen even when holding the camera up high or down low. You can preview settings on the screen or magnify the image to check that the focus is pin-sharp.
The cameras offer the 'sweep panorama' function first seen in Sony's compact Cyber-Shot range. This lets you capture extra-wide photos by holding down the shutter button as you sweep the camera in one movement from side to side, or up and down. You can even capture 3D panoramic images for viewing on Sony's 3D TVs, although we've found that the sweeping movement has to be very smooth or the image is ruined.
A range of bracketing options is available, combining a burst of pictures at different settings into a final image. A dynamic-range option captures more detail, while a low-light option combines snaps to capture shots that aren't too dark, while cutting down on speckled image noise.
You get a choice of where you want to save your stills and video, as the cameras accept both Sony's own Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards, and the more common SD variety. They also support higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards.
The Alpha DSLR-A580 and DSLR-A560 may be late to the video-capable party, but it seems that Sony has waited until it can do high-definition video justice. Keep your eyes peeled for our in-depth review and definitive verdict, coming to a screen near you soon.
Edited by Charles Kloet