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Sony Alpha SLT-A37 review: Sony Alpha SLT-A37

The A37 is a solid entry-level, dSLR-class camera that will serve anyone on a tight budget who's looking for something to shoot active kids and pets.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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6 min read

Compact interchangeable-lens cameras are cute, but sometimes you want the heft of a dSLR-style body, full mode dial, electronic viewfinder, and a lot of direct-access controls. The Sony Alpha SLT-A37, the latest entry-level model in Sony's line of dSLR-style cameras with phase-detection autofocus systems but fixed mirrors, fits in that niche, along with dSLRs like the Nikon D3200 Canon EOS Rebel T2i. The EVF and faster performance make it more suited to action shooting than its ILC sibling, the NEX-F3, and more compatible with a wider variety of lenses. And while it's a relatively uninspiring update to the A35, it's not a bad camera -- in fact, it's one of the fastest models in its price class and is capable of producing very nice photos up through ISO 800.

Sony_Alpha_SLT-A37_with_18-135mm_lens_35299056_02.JPG
7.3

Sony Alpha SLT-A37

The Good

The <b>Sony Alpha SLT-A37</b> offers some class-leading performance, along with a solid set of features and respectable photo quality.

The Bad

The EVF looks dim, and the LCD is on the small side.

The Bottom Line

A good option if you're looking for something fast with a viewfinder and tilting LCD, the Sony Alpha SLT-A37 is a solid but not outstanding sub-$800 dSLR-style camera.

Image quality
While I got a few shots I liked from the A37, I wasn't blown away by the photo quality -- it's pretty typical for an entry-level model of this class. That may be due in part to the new 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens, which we tested because I think it will be a popular choice. It's a good focal length range and its aperture range is no slower than the shorter 18-55mm option. However, it doesn't seem terribly sharp.

Sony Alpha SLT-A37 photo samples

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The camera's JPEGs look reasonably good at ISO 100 and 200, then you start to see more softness at ISO 400 with increasing artifacts up through ISO 3200, which I would consider the top of the usable range for JPEGs. Colors are saturated without getting shifted and the exposures are generally on target.

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ISO 100



ISO 800

ISO 3200

Performance
The A37 generally performs faster than the A35, and that camera was quite fast. That's not just on our lab tests; it feels quite fast and responsive for nonburst shooting. It powers on, focuses and shoots in about 0.8 second, which is a little slower than other cameras. But in good light it can focus and shoot in 0.2 second and in dim light it's a mere 0.3 second -- both excellent showings. It takes approximately 0.5 second for two consecutive shots, which rises to 0.7 second with flash enabled.

I found continuous shooting a bit wonkier. While it's rated at 5.5fps with a buffer of 14 shots, our lab tests showed it slowed significantly after 10 shots, bringing the average down to 4fps. So the burst performance will depend significantly on the length of the burst.

Also, while the autofocus works quickly and accurately for single shots, the tracking autofocus lagged the subject quite often during my testing.

The 18-135mm lens does work well for manually focusing, though, especially in conjunction with the peaking function (edge enhancement) in the camera. At night especially I found that combination more accurate than relying on the AF; the viewfinder is notably dim even in good light.

Design and features
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 a functional -- if somewhat uninspiring -- design. This generation picks up the habit of the NEX series interface, telling you why an option is grayed out rather than simply disallowing it.

The control layout is the same as the A35's: 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.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i Nikon D3200 Sony Alpha SLT-A35 Sony Alpha SLT-A37 Sony Alpha SLT-A57
Sensor (effective resolution) 18mp CMOS 24.2mp CMOS 16.2mp Exmor HD CMOS 16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS 16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.2 x 15.4mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/
200 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)
ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 16,000 ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting 3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
4fps
n/a
5.5fps
6 raw/14 JPEG
5.5fps
6 raw/14 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
21 raw/25 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification) Optical
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x

Optical
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x

Electronic
0.43 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.43 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.43 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.04x/0.69x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
AF sensitivity n/a -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV
Shutter Speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 49 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Metering sensitivity 1 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV -2 to 17 EV -2 to 17 EV -2 to 17 EV
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p H.264 QuickTime MOV AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/12 minutes n/a n/a n/a
(likely 29m59s)
n/a
(likely 29m59s)
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 megapixels
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
2.6 inches tilting
230,400 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 550 shots 540 shots 420 shots 450 shots 550 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 17.8 (est) 16.1 17.8 18.9 (est)
Mfr. price $599.99 (est, body only) n/a $549 (est, body only) n/a $699.99 (body only)
$699.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$699.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $649 (est, with 18-55mm lens) $599 (with 18-55mm lens) $799.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a $799 (with 18-135mm lens) n/a
Release date March 2011 April 2012 August 2011 June 2012 April 2012

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. In addition to the typical PASM modes and a couple of auto modes, the mode dial has a Tele-Zoom high-speed shooting mode (a digitally zoomed 8.4-megapixel 7fps burst mode), 3D and Sweep panoramas, and a handful of scene and special effects modes. Unlike some competitors, Sony's Superior Auto adds on some more automation like Auto HDR, as well as control over tracking autofocus and face detection, rather than making it auto plus some exposure controls.

As with the F3, the camera adds an Auto Portrait Framing feature; in Superior Auto mode, when you frame a picture of a person in landscape (wide) orientation it can automatically create a crop that more attractively positions the person in the photo, and save both it and the original (though it seems to randomly choose between portrait and landscape orientations). This is a clever and useful idea for newbies.

After it crops the photo, though, Sony feels compelled to unnecessarily bloat it back up to 16 megapixels. At ISO 200 and when viewed at 50 percent, Sony's Clear Image Zoom interpolation technology used for uprezzing does produce a photo that looks sharper than simply cropping the original, if somewhat oversharpened. However, at higher ISO sensitivities (in other words, in any indoor portrait you'll take), it simply exacerbates the other artifacts in the photo. And even at ISO 200, the interpolation mushes up detail that looks sharp in a regular crop.

Conclusion
The A37 is a solid entry-level, dSLR-class camera that will serve anyone on a tight budget who's looking for something to shoot active kids and pets.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


0.8
0.5
0.5
0.3
0.2

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

Nikon D3200
0.3
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3

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

Sony_Alpha_SLT-A37_with_18-135mm_lens_35299056_02.JPG
7.3

Sony Alpha SLT-A37

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8Image quality 7