Hands-on: Sony Alpha SLT-A35

Sony's update to its entry-level SLT (single-lens translucent) interchangeable-lens cameras is solid, if not terribly exciting. The company also plans a firmware update to bring a couple new capabilities to its existing models.

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As Sony's replacement for its SLT-A33, the current entry-level model in its line of interchangeable-lens cameras with a fixed translucent-mirror design, the A35 looks like only a modest update, but it is also merely marginally different than the currently shipping A55. That's probably one reason why the A35 won't be shipping until August, at which point I expect that Sony will be ready to announce the replacement for the A55, which will be a year old in September. The other Sony camera announced today, the Alpha NEX-C3, is also slated to ship in August.

The most notable difference is that the A35 retains the fixed LCD of the A33, while the A55's is articulated. I have to say, I'm partial to the articulated LCDs. Even though I'm a viewfinder shooter, the LCD occasionally lets me get shots I wouldn't otherwise have tried. The A55V also has GPS.

Otherwise, the design remains pretty similar to the other SLT models: SLR-like but with 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. The feature set has a few additions, including the same Picture Effect menu that debuts in the C3, with the usual options we're used to seeing from other cameras, including selective-color R, Y, G or B; toy camera (vignetting); posterizing; pop art (vivid color); and retro (faded). Unlike the C3, though, you can't layer the effects together before shooting, and you can't adjust the quality or intensity of the effects like you can with Olympus' models. Plus, I found the selection of effects and their rendering to be just OK.

I was also disappointed that the A35 doesn't pick up the interface convention of the new NEX, wherein it will tell you why a particular option is grayed out. And the video options haven't been updated, either, with the A35 limited to 1080/60i AVCHD.

Here's how it compares with some of its Sony brethren and a couple of competitors:

Canon EOS Rebel T2i Sony Alpha SLT-A33 Sony Alpha SLT-A35 Sony Alpha SLT-A55 Sony Alpha DSLR-A580
Sensor (effective resolution) 18- megapixel CMOS 16-megapixel Live MOS 14.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 23.4 mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 1600/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 1600/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 /25,600 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.7 fps
34 JPEG/ 6 raw
4fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
6 fps
(7fps with auto exposure)
16 raw/7 JPEG
5.5 fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
6 fps
(10fps with auto exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
5 fps
(7fps with auto exposure)
22 raw/45 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optical
n/a
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
Electronic
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Optical
n/a
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
Autofocus 9-point phase-detection center cross-type 23-area contrast 15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63 zone 144 zone 1200 zone 49 zone 1200 zone 1200 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p @ n/a; 720/60p/ 50p @ n/a Mbps AVCHD 1080/ 60i/50i @ 17 Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 million dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches fixed
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flash No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 470 shots 250 shots 270 shots 420 shots 330 shots 1050 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 11.8 (est) 17.5 (est) 16.1 17.8 24 (est)
Mfr. Price n/a n/a $599.99 (body only) n/a $749.99 (body only) $799.99 (body only)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $699.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $849.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date March 2010 June 2011 August 2010 August 2011 September 2010 November 2010

Sony has tweaked a few of its multishot modes, though. The Handheld Twilight now combines six shots, for example, though it doesn't seem any slower, which is good. It still has all the standard Sony features, like Auto HDR and Dynamic Range Optimization, 3D, and Sweep panoramas. A new Tele-Zoom high-speed shooting mode is just a digitally zoomed 8-megapixel 7fps burst mode; the standard burst is 5.5fps, which is quite respectable for its class. In fact, the A35's overall performance is quite good, on par with the A55, though still lags behind sub-$1,000 dSLRs in some ways. The battery life has been incrementally improved over both the A33 and A55.

It's got the same new 16-megapixel sensor and updated image processing as the NEX-C3, which Sony claims delivers better noise reduction. And while we didn't test the A33, the image quality of the A35 does look better than the A55's at midrange ISOs like ISO 1600. They're a hair crunchier than I like, but overall the A35's photos are quite pleasing, with decent color accuracy and dynamic range. Final judgments on the photo quality will have to wait until I can process the raw files, but JPEG shooters should be pretty happy.

As far as I can tell, the A35 isn't really worth putting off your buying decision for, though I'm curious what the update to the A55 will look like and it might be worth waiting for that. I should have a full review up within the next few weeks, so check back.

In addition, Sony will be releasing a firmware updated for current A33 and A55 models, which will add Picture Effect, high-speed sync for wireless flash on the A55, tweaked menus and display, and the ability to program the D-Range button with a custom assignment. You'll be able to download the firmware from www.esupport.sony.com.