Can this scaled-down Sony Alpha A55 be more than a miniaturized facsimile? The Sony Alpha A35 review follows...

Product Overview

Overall rating:

90%

Sony Alpha A35

Overall score:90%
Value:90%
Design:90%
Features:90%
Image Quality:90%
Performance:90%

Product:

Sony Alpha A35 Review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£599

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Sony’s latest SLT (Single Lens Translucent) camera shares much in common with the previous A33 model, but revamps the entry-level market with a new 16.2MP sensor. Due to the SLT build there’s no optical viewfinder, instead replaced by an electronic version (EVF). The translucent mirror that makes the camera unique to Sony also gives the Alpha A35 an array of unique features, including a 5.5fps burst mode and the ability to shoot HD video with continuous autofocus. Is this the SLT to redefine the entry-level market?

Sony Alpha A35 review – Features

The Alpha A35 benefits from an impressive 16.2MP sensor similar to that found in the highly regarded Nikon D7000, Pentax K-5 and Sony A580 models. This latest Exmor sensor has a 1200 zone evaluative metering system and sensitivity from ISO 100-12,800 at full resolution.
As with the majority of the Sony DSLR and SLT cameras the Steadyshot INSIDE image stabilisation system is built around the sensor meaning that any attached lens (including older Minolta glass) will benefit from stabilisation.

The A35’s LCD screen, although 3in in size and resolute at 921k-dots, misses out on any method of angling the display independent from the body. This wouldn’t usually be of worthy note, but the previous A33 model did have a tilt-angle screen that’s been dropped for the latest edition with a view to cost effectiveness.

Above the screen is the A35’s straightforward EVF that’s identical to that found in the previous A33 model. Its electronic build has some benefits, including a 100% field of view that means what you see through the viewfinder is what you get. This also means images can be played back through the viewfinder directly to your eye (without interfering sunlight) and any alterations to settings can be made visible as well.

Sony A35 Review

The translucent mirror technology at the heart of the Alpha A35 also means the potential for burst shooting is greatly increased when compared to DSLRs of a similar level. Compared to the likes of the Alpha A33’s 7fps Speed Priority mode, the A35 has a lower 5.5fps burst on account of the higher resolution sensor. However, an in-camera 1.4x teleconverter mode does allow for 7fps to be achieved at the expense of resolution. Up against the 3fps of the Canon EOS 1100D and the Nikon D3100, both of which are within the A35’s price range, the extra 2.5fps is rather impressive. It’s made all the more eye-catching thanks to sustaining continuous autofocus (C-AF) at this speed, which means the camera should produce in-focus shots even of faster moving subjects, although it’s worth noting that the full 7fps burst mode is only accessible in Tele-zoom High Speed Shooting which adds a 1.4x crop factor resulting in a lower resolution image.

The continuous AF also translates well for the movie mode, which means the A35 can keep moving subjects sharp throughout recording. The motion of the kit lens is quite jerky though, meaning that on occasion subjects can flick in and out of focus. The output resolution, in the Full HD 1920×1080 resolution, is captured as an interlaced AVCHD file with a reasonable bitrate of 17mbps.
The A35’s D-Range Optimizer appears as with the rest of the Alpha range, designed to balance exposure between the shadows and highlights. Within the same menu option is an Auto HDR function that operates much like a bracketing feature by capturing multiple images in quick succession and then combining them in camera.

Design and Performance

Sony Alpha A35 review – Design

There’s a uniformity to the Alpha SLT
range and the A35’s black plastic frame with Sony styled orange trim
looks the part. The A35’s body is small in size, though about the same
depth as a DSLR. The top of the camera has a large surface area but it’s
height where size differs the most: as the camera isn’t as tall as a
DSLR there’s little room around the LCD screen for extra control
buttons. Instead the d-pad is given a number of secondary functions such
as ISO and white balance control. The camera’s menu system also holds a
fair amount of the functionality, meaning only a handful of buttons –
including a one-touch movie button – adorn the frame.

Sony A35 Review

Only one
control dial is present to change the likes of shutter speed and
aperture, meaning a secondary button needs to be pressed before changing
the aperture (or shutter speed) when shooting in Manual mode.

The
A35’s main mode dial is quite substantial, sitting a fair distance proud
of the camera body and holding the usual priority modes as well as a
few extras. The 7fps 1.4x crop burst rate can be accessed instantly from
the mode dial setting, as can the Sweep Panorama and Scene modes.
Shooting-related functions are accessed via the Fn (Function) button,
which opens up an opaque menu on the rear LCD screen that leaves the
background preview visible.

Sony A35 Review

The entire grip section of the A35 is
coated in a rubberised surface, making it slip-resistant without
resulting in sweaty hands. The thumb rest is similar but is granted more
of a pronounced form for the digit to rest on. As a result the A35 is
quite comfortable to hold for prolonged periods and sits well in the
hand, as well as keeping the balance central when a long lens is
attached.

Even though a couple of the buttons aren’t particularly
well placed, such as the Finder/LCD control being out of visible range
when either one is being used, the A35 handles well and keeps the
majority of the controls in a sensible location.

Sony Alpha A35 review – Performance

One
element that the Alpha A35’s SLT technology offers over the chasing
pack is rapid, continual autofocus (C-AF). Traditional DSLRs use phase
detection autofocus but rely on the mirror returning to position before
continuing to feed light to the focusing sensor. In live view (real time
LCD preview) they rely on a slower sensor-based contrast detection
system. By contrast the A35’s translucent mirror system means the camera
can utilise phase detection for the entire period of its operation, as
it’s able to deliver light to the imaging and focusing sensors
simultaneously whether shooting using the viewfinder or rear LCD for
live view.

On paper there are a few apparent downsides to SLT
technology. However, as light needs to pass through a translucent mirror
prior to hitting the sensor there is a slight drop off in the light
level and the camera has to adjust for this in processing. A traditional
DSLR provides an unobstructed passage from the rear element of the lens
to the sensor, so has a ‘cleaner’ signal. The A35 does everything
possible to match up to this DSLR standard, however, and Sony claims
that the translucent mirror has little impact on final quality. In our
tests exposure and general image quality is comparable to that of
similar level DSLR cameras.

The A35’s video mode is excellent, so
long as autofocus is left to make only minor changes or the manual mode
is used. Turning out around 17mbps AVCHD files makes the end quality
impressive, with a wide colour gamut and acceptable sound quality
through the main microphone. There’s also an external 3.5mm mic port
which is an unusual yet very welcome feature for this level of camera
(though you’ll need to buy your own microphone). The only manual movie
control comes via exposure compensation, so regardless of the manual
values present the camera auto-adjusts all settings as it sees fit.

Focusing for stills shooting is also quick and accurate, with the A35’s 15-point array laid out in an intelligent manner.

The
A35’s two primary display methods, the LCD screen and EVF, are
electronic and therefore dependent on their resolution to ensure a
decent quality preview. The 921k-dot rear screen is perfectly usable,
giving a sharp, bright representation, and the 1.15m-dot viewfinder may
not offer quite as impressive a contrast level but at least gives a
reliable preview.

Having the EVF capable of showing the same
information as the LCD screen is something of a double-edged sword, as
there’s only so much information that can be comfortably displayed. The
eye sensor just below the viewfinder automatically switches between the
two displays, or pressing the Finder/LCD button offers manual activation
between the two.

Both of the A35’s main menus are simple and
straightforward to use, with the Fn button making the symbols around the
screen into active options. The main menu button accesses the less
frequently used features, meaning most of the important settings are
within close contact. The d-pad offers rapid access to plenty of
functions, meaning there are few ergonomic issues in spite of there
being a limited amount of one-touch buttons elsewhere on the body.

Image Quality

Sony Alpha A35 review – Image Quality

With the same 16.2MP sensor as found in the A55, the A35 achieves similarly impressive results. The
sensor is paired with the Exmor processing engine and produces excellent
images overall.

Sony A35 Test shots

Although image noise is more apparent above ISO 400,
only above ISO 1600 does the colour quality degrade and speckles become
obvious enough to start to impact on images usability.

Sony A35 Test shots

Sharpness
and detail is excellent, once again showing off the quality of the
16.2MP sensor. Edges are well defined and although the kit lens had a
tendency to suffer from chromatic aberration a quick change to a better
optic eradicated this problem.

Sony A35 Test shots

The main negative to be noted was the
tendency of the Auto White Balance system to over-saturate when
outdoors, an issue also raised with the A55. The orange hue of a number
of photos detracted from the overall look of the image, especially where
greens are involved. Outside of the Auto White Balance issues the tonal
range is decent however.

Value and Verdict

Sony Alpha A35 review – Value

For the price, the Sony A35 offers
plenty. Within a comparable price band to budget DSLRs such as the Nikon
D3100 and Canon EOS 1100D, the Sony A35 has a higher resolution sensor,
more autofocus points and a higher speed burst mode. For beginners the
functions are explained when the camera is left to dwell for a second,
but not to the determent of those better informed.

Although the
amount of lenses on offer may not quite match up to the Nikon or Canon
DSLRs in the same price range, Sony is making impressive headway to
provide a wider profile of optics. This, combined with other clever
features such as the Sweep Panorama mode, make the A35 a real contender
at the lower price range.

Sony Alpha A35 review – Verdict

Sony A35 Review

Overall
it’s hard to fault the A35 in any area. The body is sturdy and well
laid out, the camera’s functionality highly impressive for the low price
range and the image quality excellent. The only downside, per se, is
user preference as to whether an electronic viewfinder is acceptable in
use instead of an optical viewfinder typical in DSLRs. Beyond that the
A35’s a superb camera that’ll more than give the current crème of the
entry-level DSLR market a run for its money, not least based on the top
notch sensor at its heart. Highly recommended.

Full Specification

Metering System:
Multi-pattern, Centre Weighted, Spot
Built-in Image Stabilisation:
Yes

Movie Mode:
1080p AVCHD
Exposure Modes:
Auto, Auto+, P, M, A, S, Scene (15 Scene Modes)

Live Mode:
Yes
Connectivity:
USB/HDMI

Power:
Li-ion
Weight:
473g

Shutter Speeds:
Bulb, 30-1/4000 sec
Dimensions:
124.4 x 92 x 84.7mm

File Format:
JPEG, RAW, AVCHD
Colour Space:
16.2MP

Dust Reduction:
Yes
Sensor:
APS-HD CMOS

LCD:
3inch 921k dot
Viewfinder Type:
EVF

Memory Card:
SD/SDHC, MS
Built-in Flash:
yes

Lens Mount:
Sony AF
White Balance:
Auto, 6 Presets, Manual

ISO:
100-12800
Sample Photos:
http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/equipment/galleries/sample-images/sony/34242/1/0/sony-a35-test-full-sample-image-gallery.html#slideshow

  1. 1. Sony Alpha A35 review - Features
  2. 2. Design and Performance
  3. 3. Image Quality
  4. 4. Value and Verdict
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