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Sony Alpha a58 review: A feature-packed entry-level DSLR great for beginners

Melissa J. Perenson | Oct. 15, 2014
If you aren't wedded to Canon or Nikon, the budget-priced Sony Alpha a58 offers a ton of features and good image quality.

The Fn function button above the rocker circle calls up another set of menus, this time for options you're more likely to need quick access to. For example, tap Function to call up 14 options, seven each on the left and right of the screen. This is where you'll adjust scene selection, drive mode, flash mode, auto-focus mode, smile and face detection, auto object framing. Or, tap the rocker to the right to select among ISO (also adjust via a convenient button on the top of the camera), metering mode, creative style, flash compensation, and white balance.

While it's important to have access to these settings, it took me a long time to get used to their unusual placement. I prefer it when they're easier to access and fewer menu taps away. It took me some trial and error to get accustomed to the way the horizontal scroll wheel on the front of the hand grip fit in with using the four-way button. Often, I instinctively tried to use the four-way nav when in fact I needed to use the wheel. Another side effect of having so many options: The display gets very cluttered around the perimeter, which can be off-putting to new users and enthusiasts alike.

Meanwhile, the top of the camera has some additional buttons worth noting. A red movie button sits conveniently near the viewfinder. A Zoom button, for using digital zoom to supplement the camera's optical zoom, sits on top in prime real estate--images taken at 2X magnification looked soft, but were better than you'd expected from a digital zoom. Also on top is a button for using just the electronic viewfinder or the LCD.

The electronic viewfinder and LCD combo make for an interesting pairing. The a58's electronic viewfinder tended to make images a little darker then they were when viewed on the LCD. I wasn't a big fan of that viewfinder--something about the tiny text, the way an electronic sign shimmers due to the EVF's limitations--but it did provide a more accurate representation of exposure than you'd get through an optical viewfinder. The camera is actually smart enough to engage the electronic viewfinder only when you're close to the eyepiece; move away, and the LCD will engage instead.

The Alpha a58 has 15 auto-focus points, three of which are cross-point. While that may not sound like it's dramatically more than others (typically, we've seen nine or 11 points), those few extra points make a big difference in compositional possibilities. Unfortunately, changing autofocus options is a pain: You have to first enter the Fn menu, select down to AF area, and then again find the AF option you want. The four-way nav makes it fairly easy to move among the options, but I prefer other approaches.


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