Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
Despite the upsurge in micro-system cameras that use electronic viewfinders, it is a brave decision by Sony to include an EVF in an Alpha-mount camera. Purists still prefer optical viewfinders that are easy on the eye. At the launch of the camera, Sony stated that an optical viewfinder would have been a compromise, presumably due to the loss of light, and that electronic viewfinders have many advantages.
I must say that EVFs have grown on me, particularly as the image quality has improved and manufacturers have found new ways of using the screen. One of the main advantages is the 100% view they offer, and the ability to preview exposure and white balance settings. Even manual focusing is made easier, and the Sony Alpha 33 allows a magnified section of the image to be displayed. This allows far more precise manual focusing than can be achieved from even the largest optical viewfinders.
The 1.15-million-dot (equivalent) viewfinder in the Alpha 33 has another interesting feature – a digital level gauge that shows in the centre of the viewfinder. Although the gauge can be distracting if you aren’t taking landscapes, it can be easily turned off via the settings menu. However, I found it really useful.
In practice, the viewfinder of the Alpha 33 is comfortable to use, especially as it has a very large and bright 1.1x magnification. However, there are a few improvements that need to be made for the next generation of EVFs.
While the resolution of the Alpha 33 EVF makes it relatively easy on the eye, the refresh rate of the gain and automatic white balance could be improved. If you point the camera in a different direction quickly, the AWB and brightness of the EVF can take a fraction of a second to refresh, which is a little distracting.Given that the choice to use an EVF instead of a optical viewfinder has only been done to enable the new phase-detection system, I think it offers many advantages over a traditional optical viewfinder.
One thing that struck me halfway through this test was that I hadn’t acutally used the EVF very often. When I thought about it the reason , I put it down to the fact that phase-detection AFmakes Live View easier to use. The fluidity of the phase-detection system in the Alpha 33 makes it seamless to use compared to using contrast-detection AF. In fact, it was a similar feeling to when I first used the Quick AF system of Alpha 350.The 3in, 921,600-dot wide-view screen is bright and clear to use, and the TruBlack technology helps to produce deep blacks and a good level of contrast.
The tilting screen that we have seen in previous Alpha cameras has also been upgraded. On the Alpha 33 the screen folds out and swings below the camera where it can rotate through 270°. Again, I found this extremely useful when taking very low-angle images. However, as mentioned earlier, the user must be careful not to rotate the screen in the wrong direction as it could break off.
The wideangle screen is at its best when used for HD video capture. With a 1920x1080i-pixel resolution, saved as AVCHD format, the Alpha 33 has an impressive video mode, but there are a few things that really make it stand out against other DSLRs in its price range. One of these is the fact it has a 3.5in external microphone socket, in addition to a pair of stereo microphones built-in. An external microphone is a necessity for those serious about video as the internal mics pick up the noise of the AF lenses focusing. However, again it is the phase-detection AF that really defines the video mode.
Being able to use the AF as you would when taking still images is superb. The lens focuses quickly and smoothly. It doesn’t have the same snap as when taking still images, which is a good thing as it prevents the video being jumpy. For those wanting video with continuous AF, the Alpha 33 really is impressive.
There is one catch with the video mode; for the camera to use the phase-detection system the lens aperture must be fully open, so depth of field so minimal. If you intend to focus manually, the aperture can be selected before recording starts, and regardless of which focusing mode or aperture is used, the Alpha 33 decides the shutter speed and sensitivity.