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First Look: Sony Alpha SLT-A35

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First Look: Sony Alpha SLT-A35

4:46 /

A solid camera for point-and-shoot upgraders who want to be able to shoot action and video, the Sonly Alpha SLT-A35's bulk may still be a turn-off for some.

Hi! I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET, and this is the Sony Alpha SLT-A35. As Sony's latest entry-level model in its line of interchangeable lens cameras that have the fixed translucent-mirror design. The SLT-A35 looks like only a modest update over its predecessor, the A33 and it's only just a little bit different than the currently shipping A55V. The most notable difference between the two is that the A35 still has the fixed LCD of the A33, whereas the A55V is articulated. The A55V also has GPS. The design remains pretty similar to the other SLT models and even to Sony's dSLR models. It's SLR-like but it has an electronic viewfinder. It's relatively lightweight for its size, with the same functional-- if somewhat uninspiring-- design as the rest of Sony's SLRs. I was disappointed that the A35 doesn't pick up the interface convention of the newer C3, where it tells you why a particular option is grayed out. The camera has a typical layout, with direct-access buttons for drive mode, ISO sensitivity, etc. Plus, it's got a function button to pull up access to frequently used settings. My biggest problem here is that there's no way to quickly change image quality. An even bigger problem is the placement of the movie record button. It's on the right shoulder next to the exposure compensation button and I always, always hit the exposure compensation button instead of the record button and couldn't figure out why recording didn't start. In addition to the typical manual modes and a couple of auto modes, the mode dial has a new Tele-Zoom high-speed shooting mode. It's really just a digitally zoomed 8-megapixel 7fps burst. It also has 3D and Sweep panoramas, and a handful of scene and special effects modes. Unlike some competitors, Sony's Auto Plus just adds some more automation like Auto HDR rather than making its plus extra exposure controls. Picture Effects are the usual options we're used to seeing from other cameras, including selective-color; a sort of toy camera, which is a vignetting mode; posterizing; pop art; and retro. Unlike the C3 or even like Olympus' ILC models, you can't layer the effects together before shooting, and you can't adjust the quality or intensity of the effects. The LCD is serviceable-- there's nothing particularly notable about it good or bad--and the contrast is different between the viewfinder and the LCD which makes fine exposure determinations difficult. Nonetheless, the viewfinder is relatively large and magnified compared to competitive dSLRs, and I like the stabilizer indicator in it which helps you pick the best moment to shoot. The A35 has the same new 16-megapixel sensor and updated image processer as the NEX-C3, which Sony claims delivers better noise reduction. And, the details start to get a little mushy at ISO 400, but even then the shots are usable, and the image quality of the A35 does look better than the A55V's at midrange ISOs like ISO 1600. Overall, the photos are quite pleasing and they have good color accuracy and a good dynamic range. The video quality is relatively good for what it offers. It doesn't have manual controls except for exposure compensation. Sony doesn't provide data rate specs, but it seems to be about 17Mbps; the video is sharp but a little washed out and with mushy background detail and it would probably be a lot better if they've bumped it to 24Mbps. The exposure changes a little too abruptly as you move the camera, but it does handle individual exposures a lot better than most other competitors. The autofocus works very well, too. It focused quickly and accurately and fairly quietly in video mode. The A35 earns pretty high marks for performance; it's faster overall, though it's not fastest at everything. But, the burst shooting clocked at 5.0fps, which is excellent for its price class. And, the viewfinder actually updates quickly enough that I could pan comfortably while shooting, at least on only moderately fast subjects (like a bicyclist in NYC traffic). With excellent photo quality, better continuous-shooting performance than a lot of the dSLRs in its class and solid autofocus behavior during video capture, the Sony has a lot to recommend it as a step up from a point-and-shoot. But it also lacks some of the design pizzazz or simply basic attractiveness of some competitors, and it can be a little annoying to shoot. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Sony Alpha SLT-A35.

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