Sony hasn’t produced a DSLR for almost six years now, and much of its focus has since shifted to its popular compact system cameras. It has, however, maintained its DSLR-like Single Lens Translucent (SLT) models for the benefit of those after an interchangeable-lens camera with a more traditional form factor.
The A68 is its latest addition to the SLT system, nestling between the junior A58 and the more advanced Sony A77 II, and thus billed as a perfect partner for “demanding amateur photographers”. Looking at its spec sheet you’d be forgiven for thinking it should command a higher price than it actually does, with a handful of features borrowed from the more complex of its stablemates. As such, it holds plenty of appeal to those on a budget that require something more capable than the norm.
|1||Sony a68 Translucent Mirror DSLR Camera (Body Only)||Check Price|
The A68 is built around the same Translucent Mirror construction as Sony’s previous models, with a non-moving mirror that passes some of the light through to the sensor and the electronic viewfinder and some to the separate phase-detection autofocus sensor. This allows it to offer the same kind of form as a DSLR with the advantage of the aforementioned viewfinder, together with full-time live view and phase-detect autofocus, and also a burst rate that’s higher than expected from a more orthodox DSLR pitched at the same audience. The sensor itself is a 24.2MP, APS-C-sized Exmor CMOS unit, and this record stills up to ISO 25,600 and a full HD video at 50Mbps in the XAVC S format. This all works with the previously seen BIONZ X processor although, undoubtedly, the more exciting aspect of the camera’s spec sheet is its 4D Focus AF system.
This features 79 phase-detect AF points, with 15 of this being cross-type and sensitivity down to -2EV (this is most likely to be confined to only the central point, but means it should be more sensitive in darker conditions than would be otherwise the case). At the time of the camera’s announcement, this represented the highest number of phase-detect points available on such a model, although this has since been bested by Nikon’s D5 and D500, as well as Sony’s own A6300.
Sony reckons the high number of focusing factors and the system’s sensitivity makes the camera a good choice for tracking moving subjects, something also credited to the AF algorithm used to do so, with full-time autofocus also present during video recording on account of the Translucent Mirror Technology. The LCD screen also stands out from the camera’s spec sheet, although sadly for the opposite reason. At 2.7 inches in size, it’s smaller than expected, while its 460k-dot resolution is also behind the times, with screens measuring three inches and with a minimum 921k-dot resolution now being the norm this level. It’s not responsive to touch neither, although it is mounted on a hinge, which enables it to become tilted 35 degrees upwards and 55 degrees downwards.
The ‘Tru-Finder’ electronic viewfinder appears more impressive, with its 1.44million-dot OLED panel and the ability to preview shooting effects such as colour and white balance, together with manual-focus assistance and 100% coverage of the scene appearing to provide the user with everything they need to view the scene as clearly and accurately as possible.
The camera can also be programmed to fire at 8fps in the Tele-Zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE option, which crops into the centre of the frame and with AF tracking maintained throughout but exposure fixed to that of the first frame in the sequence and captures limited to JPEG. The camera does, however, offer a more standard 5fps option for those wanting to also use raw.
As we’d expect from Sony, Wi-Fi is on board to allow for wireless image sharing, and the camera accepts the SD family of memory cards in addition to Sony’s Memory Stick Pro Duo format. The SD slot is also helpfully positioned around the side of the digital camera rather than in the battery compartment, which means the card can be easily removed while the camera is mounted on a tripod.
The camera’s start-up time is a little behind that of the average DSLR at this level, although the fast focusing system does at least allow you to bring a subject to focus quickly once the camera has started up. Likewise, although there is a slight delay when you raise the camera up to your face before the viewfinder is displayed, the focusing system gets to work instantly.
In many conditions, I was impressed by just how quickly the camera was able to bring a subject to focus, whether the AF point had been pre-determined or whether this was left to the camera’s automatic focus stage selection. The latter will be partly down to the high saturation of AF points across the frame, meaning that the likelihood of a point covering the intended subject is higher, but it’s also thanks to the fifteen cross-type points that are positioned within the central bank.
With the 18-55mm kit lens in place, the camera focuses swiftly, although it’s not the quietest and this may prove to be a hindrance when shooting in certain conditions. Those wanting something a little more discreet should divert their attention to lenses equipped with the much quieter SSM system.
Sony has made much noise about the camera’s ability to track moving subjects, and testing validates claims of being able to do so to a better standard than the norm. I found the camera kept up well as it was tasked with tracking a variety of subjects, not flawlessly but particularly well when the subject was moving in a predictable manner (such as a jogger going in a single direction). Faster, less predictable topics gave it more of a challenge, but this would be the case for any such program. In any case, the system’s small green boxes clearly showed its capability to move nicely with the subject, and my hit rate was very acceptable. With a fast card set up, I managed to capture an average of 56 Fine and 37 Extra Good JPEGs on the camera’s JPEG-only, Tele-Zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE 8fps option. This option crops into the centre of the frame and while it maintains AF tracking, exposure is fixed to that of the first framework. On the even more standard 5fps burst mode, I achieved a rate of 21 Extra Great frames and 33 Fine frames, but just around seven or eight raw or natural+JPEG images in one burst. So, the camera is clearly capable of capturing many images at a time at high speed, although if you want a continuous burst of raw pictures you’re a bit more limited.
- The camera’s DRO function is useful to keep on at all times as it helps to lift shadows and tame highlights where it deems necessary for a more pleasing result. Here it has brought up the shadows in both the sign and the background. Click here for a full-size version.
- As with many kit lenses, the DT 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM II has its weaknesses, such as softness at wider apertures. Stopped right down to f/11 it maintains some softness in the corners of the body although details in the centre are properly defined. Just click here for a complete size version.
- The Creative Styles cover pretty much every eventuality, with a handful of more unique settings designed for specific situations. Here, the Autumn Leaves set has intensified the yellows in these shells. Click here for a full-size version.
The camera’s metering system fares well in a range of conditions, although it has a tendency to underexpose relatively easily in the presence of highlights (though it does well the other way round to help keep things balanced when shooting shadowy scenes). The saving grace is the camera’s D-Range Optimizer function; although this doesn’t adjust exposure globally, it does a good job to light up shadowy areas and bring back highlights where required in more problematic situations, helping to create a more pleasing and balanced result.
Colours are generally faithful in the Standard Creative Style, and the Auto White Balance system is consistent, although some may prefer these images to have a little more life to them, particularly those captured under overcast or otherwise less-than-ideal conditions. Fortunately, a wealth of other Creative Styles and the ability to adjust their parameters can help, and I came across the Vivid choice a good substitute for the typical setting. Images captured on lower sensitivities are nice and clean, with a fine – but not unpleasant – texture beginning at around ISO 400 in everyday images. Past this point, noise begins to affect images, even those captured in good conditions, and also the ability to process their raw version. Results from around ISO 3200 onwards are usually usable at smaller sizes, but sound, noise reduction and the softness from the package lens mar results on all but the lowest settings. A better quality optic and keeping an eye on ISO is the best course of action for getting the most out of what the digital camera can do.
- The camera’s image stabilisation system proves to be useful. At an effective focal length of 270mm, I was able to capture acceptably sharp pictures at around 1/30sec, which is around three stops from what would normally be possible. The system does appear to flash its warning sign a little too easily, and there were a small number of occasions where I managed to produce the kind of outcomes I, and I imagine many other people, would be perfectly happy with, despite being warned that the results may be compromised. Just click here for a complete size version.
Kit lenses are not exactly designed to impress, and the DT 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 SAM II is a sad testament to this, with a general lack of sharpness at wider apertures. Stopping the lens down to a mid-range aperture does improve things, however, and the camera’s JPEG processing will give images a decent spit and polish over corresponding natural files. Distortion at the wide-angle end of the lens is about as noticeable as expected, although this can be easily rectified.
The camera can capture really pleasing videos, with footage displaying a good level of detail and a natural feel. Audio quality is also nice and clear, with sounds heard well over ambient noise in the scene, while the autofocus program, which can continue to operate while recording on account of the Translucent Mirror Technology, brings details to target smoothly. Of course, you can use manual focus for even more considered shooting, but for everyday footage, I found leaving the camera to its own devices turned out perfectly good results.
Check Out: Best Sony Alpha a68 Lenses
The Sony A68 is an interesting and capable addition to the pool of beginner-friendly cameras and a welcome change from the more obvious DSLR alternatives. Its focusing system is strong and means that it’s an obvious candidate for tracking moving subjects, with its form and excellent handling making it a great host body to use with telephoto lenses. It’s also a capable and affordable step up from older Alpha bodies, perhaps for those who have already invested in a handful of lenses and wish to continue using them. The low-resolution LCD and mediocre kit lens performance disappoint, but if you plan on largely using the electronic viewfinder and an alternative optic, it’s worth considering.
Check Sony Alpha a68 Price
|1||Sony a68 Translucent Mirror DSLR Camera (Body Only)||Check Price|