Don't be fooled by the Sony SLT-A35's diminutive dimensions. A true photographic powerhouse, it boasts a 16.5-megapixel sensor and, for £486 all in, a great 18-55mm kit lens.
It faces stiff competition from the long-established dSLR brand leaders, but on the evidence of our tests, it's well-equipped to take them head on.
Shooting and test shots
The A35 feels great in your hand. It's smaller than you'd expect, and very well balanced with the kit lens attached. The relevant switches and buttons are perfectly placed, with notches at the front and back of the grip for greater support.
The focusing ring on the front of the kit lens is fat and coated in rubber, which greatly eases the process of getting a quick fix on your subject.
However, in common with many mid-range rivals, it's a fixed part of the barrel, rather than a cuff that sits around it, so it also rotates any attached filters, and thus change the orientation of a polariser of gradated filter. If you're using one, you'll need to set the focus first and then, if you're using manual focus, be careful when correcting the filter not to knock the focus out of line.
In use, the lens is sharp and the A35 itself hugely versatile. We performed the majority of our tests with the camera set to Aperture Priority, in which the front-mounted wheel that sits just above your index finger lets you quickly dial in your chosen settings. For the first of the images below we set it to f22; for the second, f3.5. The results speak for themselves, with a nice tight focal point in the latter, throwing the rest of the scene into soft focus.
Sensitivity tops out at ISO 12800, which you would imagine to be pretty unusable. To put this to the test, we used the A35 at twilight, after the sun had sunk below the horizon but before all of the light disappeared from the sky, and shot a series of frames between ISO 100 and ISO 12800.
While there's no denying that the image quality degraded with each increase in sensitivity, introducing a greater degree of noise, it was still very easy to tell what was going on in the ISO 12800 shot, which had a slightly pointillist feel to it.
Optimum results in this test were achieved at ISO 400, where noise was minimal and colours remained vivid. The overall result looked as though it had been shot in overcast conditions, rather than after sundown. At ISO 100, we were unable to hold the camera still enough for a sharp result without exposure compensation.
However, the A35 also has a clever auto ISO setting that shoots 10 frames in quick succession, combining the results for the best possible outcome -- a feature we found particularly useful in early evening when light levels were starting to fail.
Chromatic aberration was almost entirely absent, but did appear as a pink fringe in very small measure on some shots where narrow branches passed across an otherwise white sky, or the light appeared through narrow openings in dense foliage. We had to really search for this, so it certainly wasn't something that would put us off spending money on an A35.
The sensor's rendering power impressed us greatly throughout our tests, easily differentiating between very similar tones, such as a largely green scene involving conifers, grass and creamy flowers, producing a result with both high detail and great subtlety.