Photo answers review
Photo answers rating
Last year, Sony broke the trend of traditional D-SLR design and added two unique cameras to its Alpha family. Although they resembled the shape, look and functions of a standard D-SLR, the a33 and a55 featured ‘translucent mirror technology’ meaning that without a conventional moving mirror behind the lens mount, neither model could be classed as a true Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. Instead, these models are known as D-SLTs, with the ‘T’ in the name signifying the translucent technology, where rather than directing light via a mirror to the viewfinder, Sony’s D-SLT cameras use electronic viewfinders (EVFs) and split the optical pathway of light between the image sensor and a phase-detection AF sensor.
The a35 marks the arrival of Sony’s second wave of D-SLTs and will eventually replace the a33. Can it go one better, though?
Features & Build
With the same dimensions as the a33, the a35 looks almost identical to its predecessor from the front. The slender proportions of the body make it fractionally smaller than budget D-SLRs and the reduction in size is made possible by simplifying the internal mechanisms, stripping out the traditional mirror box and replacing it with a less bulky semi-translucent mirror system.
Featuring an EVF instead of a conventional optical viewfinder, it offers 100% coverage and displays at a 1.15 million dot effective resolution. There’s also a responsive sensor that triggers when the camera is lifted to your eye and switches the display between the screen and EVF in less than a second.
At its heart, the a35 features a higher resolution 16.2Mp Exmor CMOS APS-C sized sensor (as opposed to the 14.2Mp chip inside the a33) and this produces a maximum 4912x3264 resolution. As with the a33, the a35 records JPEG and RAW formats (or both) in a 3:2 aspect ratio and the ISO range of 100-12,800 remains, as does the 15-point Phase Detection AF system which promises to deliver rapid and accurate focus tracking.
Complementing the AF system, the a35 allows you to shoot a continuous burst of images at 5.5fps and if this isn’t fast enough for you there’s also the option of capturing a burst at 7fps using the a35’s Telezoom Continuous Priority AE mode. Located via the Mode dial, this multiplies the focal length by 1.4x, so if you were to use this mode at 55mm on the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, you’d effectively be shooting at 77mm. This gives you a greater chance of filling the frame with your moving subject, but also cuts resolution to 8.4Mp (3568x2368 pixels).
Also selectable from the Mode dial is the SCN/Picture Effect mode, which features 11 new artistic styles including effects such as High-Contrast Mono, Partial Colour, High-Key and Toy Camera. These can be accessed quickly using the Function button (Fn) and there’s a handy preview showing you how the result will appear when shooting in Live View mode. As well as offering the standard M, A, S, P modes, Sony’s Sweep Panorama mode is on hand for super-wide images, while in playback mode you can hit the central D-Pad button to view your panoramic in a sweep view and check it for any noticeable joins.
For metering, the a35 uses the tried-and-tested 1200-zone evaluative metering system, offering Multi, Centre-weighted and Spot metering modes. Accessing these and other common functions is straightforward thanks to the Fn button, but rather than adopting the tilt and swivel type screen from the a33, a fixed 3in 921k-dot resolution monitor is located at the rear. Sony claims this has helped reduce the cost of production, making it more affordable to its consumers. Comparing the price of the a35 to the a33 when it was launched, it works out £50 cheaper and
falls just short of the £600 mark with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
Video-wise, there’s a Movie-rec button above the screen to start filming, with footage being captured in Full HD (1920 x1080 @25fps) in the AVCHD format.
Performance & Handling
Even though the a35 has a fairly small handgrip it feels comfy to hold and is smartly finished in a black, rubberised coating. Your index finger easily hovers over the shutter and on/off switch and the positioning of the other buttons is also excellent. The only two controls that aren’t easily reached by the right hand are the Mode dial and Menu button, which are set to the left of the viewfinder.
The menu system is very clear and neatly laid out, too. Split into six simple categories, its white text stands out well against the black background and the Help Guide is useful for newcomers who’d like a brief description of each setting and what it controls.
When shooting with the a35, there were occasions when we wished it featured a pull-out, tilt-and-swivel screen as shooting at low and high angles was trickier with the fixed display. That said, the screen displays a crystal-clear picture in both Live View and Playback modes. The same can also be said for the a35’s EVF which is great to use in high-contrast conditions when it’s tricky to compose on the LCD. The EVF displays a pin-sharp image, also clearly revealing your shutter speed, aperture and the exposure bar in the bottom right-hand corner.
Unlike some D-SLRs that feature optical image stabilisation in their lenses, the a35 uses Sony’s SteadyShot stabilisation system to combat camera shake. Effective to four stops, this sensor-shift type of image stabilisation gives off a low-frequency mechanical whirr in operation and while this isn’t an issue when shooting stills, the noise is picked up by the camera’s inbuilt microphone when recording HD videos. Added to this is the noise the 18-55mm kit lens makes when focusing – it too produces some mechanical whirring noises, so expect to hear these in the background when you replay your movies.
The 15-point Phase Detection AF system worked very well and there’s Wide, Spot and Local AF area modes to choose from. Repositioning the AF point in the frame is very simple to do; just hit the centre AF button on the D-Pad and use the four-way controller to move your AF target to its new position. With its uninterrupted AF system, the a35 managed to lock on to subjects very quickly with barely any signs of hesitation or hunting – even in low-light.
Setting the mode dial to SCN/Picture Effect mode, we enjoyed using the rich palette of artistic options. Partial Colour mode is great if you want to pick out red, green, blue or yellow tones from a mono image and offers a similar result to a pop-colour effect, but our two favourite creative modes were Toy Camera and High-Contrast Monochrome. Toy Camera pronounces the colours in your shots and darkens the edges of the frame to produce a creative vignette effect, whereas High-Contrast Mono darkens the shadows and brightens the highlights to give you really punchy black & white results.
Loaded with an 8GB Extreme Pro SanDisk SDHC card we set about testing the a35’s write speeds. A single RAW file took 3secs to write to the card whereas a Large Fine JPEG took 1.4secs. This is 0.2sec faster than the a33’s write times we recorded eight months ago. Setting it to Continuous shooting (5.5fps) with image quality set to RAW, it rattled out six frames before the buffer filled up and prevented more shooting. Returning to Telezoom Continuous Priority AE mode and setting the JPEG quality to Fine we fired 18 frames at 7fps, which increased to 20 frames when we changed the JPEG quality across to Standard (RAW is unavailable in the 1.4x cropped format).
Value & Verdict
It’s fair to say there isn’t a huge difference between the a35 and its predecessor, the a33. If you’re an a33 user there aren’t really enough new features here to justify an upgrade and the a35 is more about refreshing Sony’s D-SLT lineup than producing a direct replacement for its existing users to get excited about. There’s no doubt that the a35 is a fantastic camera though and will certainly cause quite a stir among those who are looking to take the next step from a compact or bridge compact camera.
Competitively priced at £599 with the 18-55mm kit lens, one of the a35’s closest competitors on the market is Nikon’s D5100 D-SLR, which features a similarly sized 16.2Mp CMOS sensor. The a35’s trump card is that it can shoot 3fps faster than the D5100 (albeit a reduced resolution of 8.4Mp), and other features such as its Sweep Panorama mode and lightning-fast AF make it an attractive proposition.
We thoroughly enjoyed using the a35 and, most importantly, the images and results it produces are first class. Removing the tilt and swivel screen for a fixed LCD is a regrettable decision in our opinion because it’s a feature many people want and commonly use, but this has reduced the camera’s price, so should help it reach a wider audience. The a35 doesn’t pick up five stars across the board, but remains a cracking entry-level camera and a genuine rival to budget D-SLRs.
Digital Single Lens Translucent (D-SLT) technology
Rather than using a conventional moving mirror behind the lens mount to channel light into an optical viewfinder as in a regular D-SLR, the Sony a35 ‘SLT’ uses a fixed, semi-translucent mirror that splits the optical pathway of light between an AF sensor and the image sensor. This design offers uninterrupted AF as there’s nothing to get in the way of the light, while a continuous electronic feed is taken from the sensor to display images through an EVF (or the LCD screen).
Continuous Priority AE mode
The a35 features a new Telezoom Continuous Priority AE mode for fast, high-speed shooting. It automatically multiplies your focal length by 1.4x, but allows you to shoot at an impressive 7fps. Easily located inbetween Manual and Sweep Panorama modes from the Mode dial, it’s worth noting that you’re restricted to shooting in JPEG (there’s no RAW) and that resolution falls to 8.4Mp.
AT A GLANCE
Street price: £599 (with 18-55mm)
Resolution: 16.2Mp (4912x3264 pixels)
Lens Mount: Sony Alpha mount
Focusing: Single-shot AF, Automatic AF, Continous AF, Manual Focus
Burst rate: 5.5fps or 7fps in Telezoom Continuous Priority AE Mode
Write Speed: 1.3secs (JPEG), 2.2secs (RAW) ISO Range: 100-12,800
Image stabilisation: Sensor-shift
Shutter range: 30secs-1/4000sec
Viewfinder: EVF, 1.15m dot resolution
Monitor: 3in, 921k dot TruBlack LCD
Live View: Yes HD Video: Yes, Full HD 1920x1080@25fps
Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo/Pro-HG Duo
Weight (Body only): 415g