The Alpha 580 – a three-way view
The Alpha 580 in use
White silkscreen ink makers and button manufacturers have done well out of the A580. Ever wonder what ‘hey man, that’s too much information!’ meant? Now you know…
Although the 580/560 body design resembles the A500/550, it is a substantial camera and very close to the A700 in ‘fit’ if much lighter. The body looks and feels more integrated than the 550, but this may be down to little more than the colour and grade of plastic skin used. The rear screen mechanism is very solid with its metal frame, and the various openings and port covers for battery, memory card and connections are precise and tight in fit if not weatherproofed.
Any port in a storm, they say. Well, maybe in a very light shower. Not weatherproof, but a tight fit all round.
Despite the 5fps/7fps options and the 16.2 megapixel file size, the 580 has a stunning sequence shooting capacity – up to 22 frames RAW or 20 frames RAW+JPEG, 45 frames Standard JPEG, 44 Fine. The 560 is configured differently and can only manage 7 frames either RAW or R+J but will manage 47 Standard JPEGs, 27 Fine, from its 14.2 megapixels. It would be reasonable to guess that the Standard JPEG conversion of the 560 is not as refined as the 580 and has been tuned for speed.
The total of over 40 Standard JPEGs – at whatever cost to quality – is required by the Sweep Pan mode, which uses fast sequence shooting and captures over 40 overlapping frames which are stitched by the camera into a large panorama file. The 560’s image processor has been configured with this priority. The 580’s image processor is in a different class for speed and the SD/MS Pro Duo card drive is fed by a larger buffer. We saw exactly the same differentiation made between the Alpha 55 and 33. Marketing led? Price dictated? Who knows…
Whatever the case, and whatever the merits of the 14.2 megapixel sensor, for the extra money the 580 is a clear choice over the 560. I got used to the right hand on-off switch round the shutter button soon enough despite it working a bit differently from the NEX design, and although the lack of program shift or second control wheel make some modes a bit slow to use there is no reason to dislike the controls and interface. Canon and Nikon have equally bad and good features in their own mix.
Of course if you own an Alpha 700, which remains one of the best DSLRs ever from this aspect, then you won’t be happy with anything from Sony, Canon, Nikon or anyone else. I guess some third party must have rights to the way the A700 works, and Sony just licenced it and can’t afford to use the same system now. Either that or their own executives have never used any of their cameras.
I do have to question whether DRO/HDR really needed a dedicated button on the camera when White Balance requires Function screen diving. At least there are dedicated ISO and drive mode buttons. I would have liked the D-Range button to have been an assignable one, with its function selected by the user.