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Sony A35 camera review   

 

The Sony A35 camera is a very small and light-weight DSLR 'type' camera that uses a stationary (and silent) 'translucent' mirror instead of a traditional mirror that moves up and down, sometimes causing an annoying slapping sound.  Sony recently perfected translucent mirror technology, (first used decades ago), and caused quite a stir at introduction because of the small and light-weight body, quieter operation as there is no mirror slap, and super fast continuous shooting, again, another advantage of not having a moving mirror to contend with.  An additional great feature is quicker and more accurate focusing during video shooting, as superior phase detection AF will work all the time, however speed and accuracy will depend on the lens being used.

 

One SLT disadvantage is the lack of an optical viewfinder; they use an electronic viewfinder similar to a point and shoot camera.  Electronic viewfinders are getting better each year, unfortunately, at the time of this review, they won't replace a good optical viewfinder like the fabulous one in the Sony A900.  With that said, the Sony A35 has a bright and relatively sharp viewfinder with 100% coverage with slight magnification, and is totally adequate in most situations, although it does gain up in low light, meaning it will show a lot of noise.

 

The A35 is a mild upgrade to the A33, with a higher pixel sensor, which normally isn't a good thing, but in this case it makes the camera better, showing more resolution with slightly less high ISO noise.  The look of the camera is very similar to the A33/A55.

 

 

Let's get started with some product shots and a walk-around.

 

JUNE2011/kma35ft.jpg
The Sony A35 body with faux carbon fiber grip

 

The new A35 is basically identical to the old A33, the changes are all on the inside.  The non-slip rubberized hand-grip is made to look like carbon fiber, a neat idea, although more noticeable in pictures than in real life. 

 

The plastic inset in the hand-grip is the self-timer lamp, which turns red so you can prepare yourself for when the shutter actuates.  The lamp lights (with an audio beep) to a continuous red on the ten second timer, until two seconds are left, at which time is starts blinking.  When set to two seconds, the lamp stays on continuously until the shutter fires. 

 

Above the self timer lamp is the control dial, which is used to adjust exposure compensation, aperture, images in review mode, menu selections and other items. 

 

Just above the control dial is the on/off switch, and shutter button. 

 

At the bottom of the camera by the "SteadyShot Inside" badge is the DOF or 'depth of field' button, although Sony now calls this the 'preview button'.  Use this to see what will be sharp in your picture, as the camera screens will show you the image with the maximum aperture, and much of the scene may be blurry when using a fast lens.  If you're shooting at F/8, and want to know what the depth of focus is, press the preview button and look at the screen. 

 

On the right side of the body cap is the lens release button, push this in while turning the lens counter-clockwise to detach, and when mounting a lens, make sure the button snaps back out, otherwise you may not have the lens locked in place, and it could eventually fall off! 

 

Just out of view by the orange α is the flash release button, use this to pop up the flash when not in AUTO mode. 

 

Finally, above the α is the mode dial, use this for changing camera shooting modes, like AUTO, Auto+ (gimmick mode), Program, Aperture priority, (you pick the aperture), Shutter priority, (you pick the shutter speed), Manual mode, you pick aperture and shutter speed, Tele-zoom advanced priority, which shoots about 7 images per second in a zoomed, or 'cropped' 1.4 mode, which is basically a smaller, zoomed-in image, and it locks the camera up for about 10 seconds while saving images as Jpegs.  In this mode, the camera automatically shows the cropped zoom on the LCD, so you may not notice the fact that you're not at your lens' proper focal length.  Next is Sweep Panorama mode, which take around 40 shots and stitches them together to make one image.  Scene mode is used to make a good looking image without having to know what camera settings should be use, and is for amateurs only.  Use the 'flash off' mode for places that won't allow flash photography, like some museums and events etc.  This is just AUTO mode that wont' fire the flash.

 

JUNE2011/kma35comp.jpg
The A35 is a very small camera when compared to the full frame A900

 

This shot shows just how small the A35 is compared to a full size DSLR, like the A900.  Quite noticeable is the small hand-grip of the A35, but there's really no way to put a larger grip on it without destroying the small size advantage.

 

JUNE2011/kma35box.jpg
Box and contents

 

Here's what you get with a body only box in the US: camera body, body cap, a battery with charger which plugs directly into the wall, software for image enhancement and converting RAW files, a one-language printed manual with 202 pages, a shoulder strap and USB cable, and an accessories brochure.

 

JUNE2011/kma35bk2.jpg
Backside, LCD is stationary, with simulated image

 
On the back of the camera from left to right is; two separate rubber doors covering ports for the remote and mic connection on the bottom left side of the body, and above the mic door are ports for the HDMI and USB cables
 
Just below the mode dial is the menu button, which allows you to customize the camera and change image quality, aspect ratios and Movie formats among many other items. 
 
Jutting out at the top center is the flash hotshoe, which is not a standard type, but is a Sony exclusive design, so only Sony and more modern Minolta flashes can be used; if you want to use standard hotshoe accessories, you'll have to get an adapter. 
 
Below the hotshoe is the electronic viewfinder with a diopter adjustment dial so people with vision deficiencies can dial in the proper adjustments to see sharply though the viewfinder.  Just below the viewfinder window is the eyepiece sensor which automatically switches off the LCD, and turns on the viewfinder when you put your eye near the sensor. 
 
The main LCD is a 3" type TFT with 921,600 dots.  It's plenty sharp, but doesn't offer as much area as the A580 LCD, and won't flip out. 
 
Below and to the right of the LCD is the tiny access lamp, when lit red, don't try to change memory cards, because the camera is still processing information, and removing the card at this time might cause a loss of images or video. 
 
The button with the red dot in the center is the Movie button, simply push this button and start taking movies. 
 
Out of view on top of the camera is another dedicated button labeled finder/LCD; used for choosing between the viewfinder and LCD. 
 
To the right and still on top of the camera is the D-range button, this allows you to choose an in-camera shadows-highlights adjusted image between auto, levels 1-5, 1 being a minor tweak, 5 being a major tweak, or an HDR image with a range of auto, 1-6ev; 1 is one exposure; then up to six exposures total.  Using HDR will result in a cleaner image (less noise) in most cases, and using the auto settings may not do anything, so I wouldn't use them by default. 
 
Above where your thumb rests is the exposure compensation button, press it and adjust the exposure by ±2 stops using the control dial or control button, left or right.  This button is also used during image review to zoom out or go to the image index. 
 
To the right of the exposure button is the AEL or auto exposure lock button, use it to temporarily lock the proper acquired exposure if you aren't happy with the camera's exposure choice.  This button is also used to zoom in to an image in review.
 
The FN or function button gives quick access to commonly used settings, like ISO, drive, AF, face detection, smile shutter, metering, flash compensation, white balance, DRO/HDR and creative styles, such as color, sharpness and contrast.  Some of these settings are better accessed by using the 4-way control button.
 
The (4-way) Control button provides quick access to many high-use settings like ISO, white balance, shooting mode and display choices.  The small center button executes a selection, and activates AF just as a shutter button half press. 
 
The bottom left button is used to access playback for images or movies.
 
The requisite delete button is at the bottom right, and is used to delete an image in review mode, or as the focus magnifier in shooting mode.
 
Not shown at the bottom is the battery compartment/memory card door, which will probably not be accessible when the camera is mounted on a tripod.  There is a small door within the main door (called the connection plate cover) for the A/C adapter cable, not included with camera.
 
 
Random observations.
 
Observed; the A35 is much smaller than the A580, mostly noticeable in the hand-grip, and it's really small when compared to the A900, check out the second product shot. 
 
The battery for the low and mid-range translucent cameras is different from most of the regular Sony DSLR's, so if you have several NP-FM500H batteries (A900, A700, A580 etc), you may want to step up to the Sony A580, otherwise you could spend the difference with buying a couple of back-up batteries for the A35/55. 
 
The A580 screen is larger with a more useful area, and is slightly green in color balance with indoor lighting during preview, while the A35 seems to be factory trimmed to favor magenta.  Both look about the same in review when the same white balance is used.  
 
_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

Specifications

 

Model

A35

Price

$599 body only  8-11

Effective megapixels

16.2

LCD monitor

3.0"  921,600 pixels, stationary screen.

Lens

 

Zoom

 

Recording media

Memory stick pro duo, SD

Image stabilization

Yes, in body

ISO range

100/200/400/800/1600/3200/6400/12800  Extends to 25600 in multi-frame NR mode

Manual controls

yes, and has dedicated D-range button by shutter button, along with Finder/LCD

Flash sync

1/160

Shutter speed

30 sec - 1/4000 sec

Optical viewfinder

No, uses 0.46" EVF with 1.44 million pixels.

Sensor size

23.4mm x 15.6mm  APS-C

AF assist lamp

No, uses flash

Timer

10 sec - 2 sec delay

Flash

Yes

Movie mode

Yes, full HD and lesser modes.

Power source

NP-FW50 

Dimensions

4.9" x 3.6" x 3.3"  124mm x 92h x 85d

Weight

14.6oz   415g   without battery

Additional info

Minor upgrade to the A33, including a 16.2mp sensor instead of the old 14.2mp, and a longer run time on video recording.

 

HDR and DRO examples.

 

Below are examples directly from the camera and have not been adjusted or cropped.  This particular room has a very high dynamic range, and is tough to shoot without supplemental lighting like a camera flash.  This is the kind of scene where the in-camera DRO and HDR come in handy.

 

JUNE2011/orig.jpg
Basic image out of camera
JUNE2011/lv2.jpg
DRO Lv 2
JUNE2011/lv5.jpg
DRO Lv 5
JUNE2011/hdr3.jpg
HDR 3.0 ev
JUNE2011/hdr6.jpg
HDR 6.0 ev

The first image is what the camera's auto exposure system chose, and it has not been altered, either by HDR or DRO.  The second image is what DRO Lv 2 looks like, the room is a little brighter, but not by much.  The third image uses DRO Lv 5, the maximum setting for DRO, and it makes a difference by lightening the room noticeably, although the shadow noise levels are higher which is contrary to what Sony says in their official A35 features list.  The last two shots use HDR, the second to last image being an HDR 3.0 ev, which is a three-shot combination.  You'll notice the outside has been exposed so it isn't blown out, but there isn't much in the way of shadows adjustments to the inside.  The last shot used HDR 6.0 ev, which is a combination of six images.  I see a lighter interior than the three shot combination, although not much has changed on the outside. 

 

JUNE2011/hdr6adj.jpg
HDR 6.0 ev with shadows and highlights adjustments.

 

The HDR 6.0 ev shot can be adjusted with simple highlights/shadows sliders and will show nicely, without excessive noise.  Obviously, you could expose the interior more in the base image and come up with a brighter inside, but the outside would be partially blown out, that's the decision you have to make when taking pictures.

 

 

ISO performance, explanation below.

 

 

          RAW

          JPEG

             Multi-frame NR

ISO 100

JUNE2011/a35iso100r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso100j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso100m.jpg

ISO 200

JUNE2011/a35iso200r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso200j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso200m.jpg

ISO 400

JUNE2011/a35iso400r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso400j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso400m.jpg

ISO 800

JUNE2011/a35iso800r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso800j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso800m.jpg

ISO 1600

JUNE2011/a35iso1600r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso1600j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso1600m.jpg

ISO 3200

JUNE2011/a35iso3200r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso3200j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso3200m.jpg

ISO 6400

JUNE2011/a35iso6400r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso6400j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso6400m.jpg

ISO 12800

JUNE2011/a35iso12800r.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso12800j.jpg
JUNE2011/a35iso12800m.jpg

ISO 25600

Intentionally left blank

Intentionally left blank

JUNE2011/a35iso25600m.jpg

 

These crops are from the center of the image, using the Sony A35 with Sony 35mm F/1.8 lens.  RAW images were cropped and saved as jpegs.  The second column represents the jpegs from the camera at the default 'fine' setting.  The third column shows the multi-frame noise reduction, which uses multiple shots and combines them to form one image.  The camera noise reduction was at the default 'auto' setting.

 

Look closely at the green part of the image to the left (at RAW ISOs 100-200), that's a painted wall behind the subject with a fine texture, it gets wiped out when saving images as jpegs.  Also check out the line detail in the bottom fabric swatch on the right side, it gets smudged quickly as the noise reduction kicks in.

 

It should be clear that using 'RAW' will substantially increase your resolution.  The A35 retains Sony's tradition of applying too much noise reduction to jpegs, especially the 'luminence' or 'smearing' type NR.

 

Multi-frame noise reduction will not work in RAW, and ISO 25600 is only available in the multi-frame mode, that's why there are blanks at the bottom.  As a side note; this feature will sometimes eliminate random movement within the frame (not necessarily camera movement) as a result of comparing each shot, and eliminating those random pixels, like noise pixels, that's how it works.  Try this yourself by passing your hand over the lens when the six shots are being taken.

 

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Sony A580 ISO comp.

 

Below is a direct comparison between the A35 and A580 noise characteristics.  For RAW conversion I used ACR 6.3 for the A580, and ACR 6.5 Beta for the A35.  For the jpeg images the A35 camera noise setting was set to 'auto' and the A580 was set to 'weak'.  I did it this way to see if the 'auto' mode actually did anything noticeably different than what the 'weak' setting did, and it appears there is no real difference, although maybe the A35 'auto' mode choose an even weaker NR setting for this particular shot, I'm not sure how Sony implements this. 

 

Note; the A580 crops are slightly darker even though all exposure settings were the same for both cameras.  The darker shadows may hide some detail, but that shouldn't be used against the camera.

 


RAW

 

 

          Sony A35

          Sony A580

ISO 100

JUNE2011/a35iso100r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso100r.jpg

ISO 200

JUNE2011/a35iso200r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso200r.jpg

ISO 400

JUNE2011/a35iso400r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso400r.jpg

ISO 800

JUNE2011/a35iso800r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso800r.jpg

ISO 1600

JUNE2011/a35iso1600r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso1600r.jpg

ISO 3200

JUNE2011/a35iso3200r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso3200r.jpg

ISO 6400

JUNE2011/a35iso6400r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso6400r.jpg

ISO 12800

JUNE2011/a35iso12800r.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso12800r.jpg

 

There doesn't seem to be any resolution differences between the cameras in RAW mode, although the ISO 12800 crop retains a better color on the A580; that could be an issue with the Adobe camera RAW 6.5 Beta version though.

 

JPEGs

 

 

          Sony A35

          Sony A580

ISO 100

JUNE2011/a35iso100j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso100j.jpg

ISO 200

JUNE2011/a35iso200j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso200j.jpg

ISO 400

JUNE2011/a35iso400j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso400j.jpg

ISO 800

JUNE2011/a35iso800j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso800j.jpg

ISO 1600

JUNE2011/a35iso1600j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso1600j.jpg

ISO 3200

JUNE2011/a35iso3200j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso3200j.jpg

ISO 6400

JUNE2011/a35iso6400j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso6400j.jpg

ISO 12800

JUNE2011/a35iso12800j.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso12800j.jpg

 

Fine jpegs are very similar at all ISOs, however, there are slight differences inside the crops (at each ISO) depending on the area you're looking at.

 

Multi-frame NR

 

 

          Sony A35

          Sony A580

ISO 100

JUNE2011/a35iso100m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso100m.jpg

ISO 200

JUNE2011/a35iso200m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso200m.jpg

ISO 400

JUNE2011/a35iso400m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso400m.jpg

ISO 800

JUNE2011/a35iso800m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso800m.jpg

ISO 1600

JUNE2011/a35iso1600m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso1600m.jpg

ISO 3200

JUNE2011/a35iso3200m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso3200m.jpg

ISO 6400

JUNE2011/a35iso6400m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso6400m.jpg

ISO 12800

JUNE2011/a35iso12800m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso12800m.jpg

ISO 25600

JUNE2011/a35iso25600m.jpg
JUNE2011/a580iso25600m.jpg

 

At very high ISOs, the A580 seems to hold up better with sharper edges and more detail, but that's probably questionable.   If I shot the whole series over again, it might be the other way around!
 
 
 

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