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Sony Alpha SLT-A35 review: Sony Alpha SLT-A35

Sony Alpha SLT-A35

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
7 min read

7.5

Sony Alpha SLT-A35

The Good

If you're looking for a model with fast performance, decent video capture, and the benefits of an electronic viewfinder, those are the <b>Sony Alpha SLT-A35's</b> strong suit.

The Bad

Even compared to a dSLR it's a bit dowdy-looking and it's bulkier than competitive ILCs, with a couple of awkward control placements.

The Bottom Line

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.

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 A55V. The most notable differences are that the A35 retains the fixed LCD of the A33, while the A55V's is articulated and the camera has GPS support. 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.

It's got the same new 16-megapixel sensor and updated image processing as the NEX-C3, which Sony claims delivers better noise reduction. Details start to get a little mushy at ISO 400, but the shots are usable, and the image quality of the A35 looks better than the A55V's at midrange ISOs like ISO 1600. (Note: because of odd, irresolvable backfocus issues which for some reason didn't affect my field testing, our standard ISO sensitivity comparison shots are not available.)

With the Standard default Creative Style photos look a little crunchier than I like, but you can dial back the sharpness a bit. Though the default settings are solid, it still annoys me that there's no neutral Creative Style available. Overall the A35's photos are quite pleasing, with very good color accuracy and dynamic range. Truly final judgments on the photo quality will have to wait until I can process the raw files, but JPEG shooters should be pretty happy.

The feature set includes the same Picture Effect menu that debuted in the NEX-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 (or Olympus' ILC models) 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.

Sony's Handheld Twilight mode now combines six exposures into a single image optimized for dynamic range. Despite using more shots, the mode operates faster than in previous models, so it's a lot more useful.

The video quality is relatively good for what it offers; that is, no manual controls save exposure compensation. Sony doesn't provide data rate specs, but it seems to be 17Mbps; the video is sharp but washed out, with mushy background detail and would probably be a lot better at 24Mbps. The exposure changes a little too abruptly as well, but it handles the exposure value a lot better than most other competitors. The autofocus works quite well, too, focusing quickly and accurately.

The A35 earns relatively high marks for performance; it's fast overall, though not fastest at everything. It powers on and shoots in about 0.7 second, which is on the high side, but still adequately zippy. Shot lag in good light is an exceptional 0.2 second, increasing to a middling 0.6 second in low-contrast light. Shot-to-shot time for JPEGs runs about 0.5 second and slows to 0.7 second for raw--reasonable, but not quite as fast as you'd expect given the fast single-shot performance. Adding flash bumps that up to 1.1 seconds.

Its burst shooting clocked in at 5.0fps, which is excellent for its price class. 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) which is unusual in ILCs. And the continuous autofocus seemed to keep up pretty well.

Nikon D3100 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Sony Alpha SLT-A33 Sony Alpha SLT-A35 Sony Alpha SLT-A55V Sony Alpha DSLR-A580
Sensor (effective resolution) 14.2-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
23.6 x 15.8mm 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 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3200/12,800 (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 3fps
n/a
4fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
6 fps
(7fps with fixed exposure)
16 raw/7 JPEG
5.5 fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
6 fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
5 fps
(7fps with fixed exposure)
22 raw/45 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
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 11-pt AF
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 sec 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 420-pixel 3D color matrix 144 zone 1200 zone 1200 zone 1200 zone 1200 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
Video 1080/24p; 720/30p/25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV 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
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes No No No No
Audio Mono Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3 inches fixed
230,000 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) 550 shots 250 shots 270 shots 420 shots 330 shots 1050 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.9 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) 17.7 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)
$699.95 (with 18-55mm VR 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 September 2010 June 2011 August 2010 August 2011 September 2010 November 2010

The LCD is serviceable--there's nothing particularly notable about it--and the contrast is different between the viewfinder and the LCD which can make 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.

Its 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. I was disappointed that the A35 doesn't pick up the interface convention of the new C3, wherein it will tell you why a particular option is grayed out.

It's got a typical layout, with direct-access buttons for drive mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance and display options, plus a function button to pull up access to frequently used settings like drive mode, flash, focus area and mode, metering and ISO sensitivity. My biggest problem here is that there's no way to quickly change image quality; if you switch between burst JPEG shooting and single shot raw+JPEG that's essential. An even bigger problem is the placement of the movie record button, which is on the right shoulder of the camera next to the exposure compensation button (and further left, the exposure lock button). I consistently hit the exposure compensation button and couldn't figure out why recording hadn't started.

Sony puts the mode dial on the left shoulder of the camera. It's a good location, since it frees up the right side for controls better operated by that hand. That said, I'm not sure the D-Range Optimizer button is the best choice for that spot, though you really couldn't put any button/dial combo button there as long as the dial needs to be operated by your forefinger.

In addition to the typical PASM modes and a couple of auto modes, the mode dial has a new Tele-Zoom high-speed shooting mode is just a digitally zoomed 8-megapixel 7fps burst mode, 3D and Sweep panoramas, and a handful of scene and special effects modes. Unlike some competitors, Sony's Auto Plus just adds on some more automation like Auto HDR rather than making it auto plus some exposure controls.

Conclusion
With excellent photo quality, better continuous-shooting performance than a lot of the dSLRs in its price range and solid autofocus behavior during video capture, the Sony Alpha SLT-A35 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 can be a little annoying to shoot.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)
Sony Alpha SLT-A35
0.7
0.7
0.5
0.6
0.2
Canon EOS Rebel T2i
0.3
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3
Pentax K-x
0.7
0.6
0.4
0.5
0.3
Sony Alpha SLT-A55V
0.5
0.7
0.6
0.7
0.3
Nikon D3100
0.4
0.9
0.6
0.6
0.4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
0.9
0.7
0.6
0.7
0.4

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

7.5

Sony Alpha SLT-A35

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8Image quality 8