Unloved but hugely impressive, at least to me.

Started Oct 27, 2015 | User reviews thread
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47872Mike Regular Member • Posts: 210
Unloved but hugely impressive, at least to me.

Ok, I see no reviews for this camera. This accords with its general low profile, which probably results partly from Sony's policy of producing a number of very similar cameras with slightly different model names. Anyway, here's a review...

This was the last of a line of several cameras descended from the A-55 which all used the same A-55 body shape. Its sensor is the rather well-regarded 16MP one which featured in the A-55, A-35 and several NEX cameras.

I bought mine in December 2014 because I wanted to renew my association with Minolta A lenses, some of which I used in the early 90's, and because I have struggled a bit with the technical errors built into my Olympus E-PM2 cameras (of which I have two) which mitigate against consistently sharp images despite a decent (Sony) sensor, good AF system, and excellent processing engine. This is not the place for my review of the E-PM2, or of my former Canon DSLRs, though.

Basically this rather humble and unloved (it seems) Sony A37 is in many ways the best camera I have ever used. Specifically, it delivers consistent sharpness, even with 30 year old Minolta lenses, and has a very responsive feel with palpably low levels of shutter delay.

In a little more detail:

1. The AF speed with 20-30 year old screw drive Minolta A series lenses is outstanding. I can only assume that with modern lenses, it would be better still, but it's really impressive even with lenses which cannot respond as fast as modern ones. This 3+ year-old bottom-line camera focuses faster than my mid-range Canons did, and with greater consistency.

2. Shutter delay is, as I said above, simply palpably low. The camera is light years faster than the reasonably fast and not inexpensive Canon DLSRs I had before my rash move to Olympus. The responsiveness is refreshing.

3. I have not yet experienced even one shot which shows the influence of the shutter shock which so damages the results of many Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. I suspect that the electronic front curtain design of this camera's shutter makes it impossible, but I don't know. Incidentally neither my Canon EOS DSLRS nor Olympus XZ compacts ever suffered from this either.

4. The in-body stabilisation of this camera works very well, and can be left on all the time without ever having a detrimental effect on sharpness (like the Canon EOS lenses which have IS, but sadly unlike the Olympus PEN compacts).

5. The JPEG processing of this camera is light years ahead of what Sony used to be capable of. It impressed me, and it matters to me since I can only very seldom be bothered to shoot RAW.

6. As an SL-T series camera, there is no optical viewfinder, it's true (so technically this is not a true SLR). The good news is that the EVF of this model is very good indeed. It's even better than the nice VF-2 I used to use on the PEN and XZ cameras, and which I sold for twice what I paid for the A-37! It's also streets ahead of any other EVF I have used, like the quite usable one in the Panasonic G2, or the not too good ones I remember from Fuji cameras from years ago. I actually much prefer the view through this EVF to the one I used to get through any of my Canons, even the ones like the 40D which had proper pentaprisms, not just pentamirrors.

A few less brilliant things:

1. The shape of the thing. It's not uncomfortable to use, but it looks a bit odd, somehow.

2. Using manual lenses ought to be pretty good with this camera, particularly as it has focus peaking, a feature inherited from NEX series cameras, but I came up with two problems: the difficulty of finding an adapter thin enough to give infinity focus with M42 lenses (haven't managed it yet, in two tries) and the fact that the sensor stabilisation is disabled unless you use a chipped adapter...and you'd have to use a chip whose focal length matched that of the lens if you wanted it to work properly. No thanks for this, Sony!

3. Although I said above that the JPEG processing impresses me, the camera's performance in mixed lighting or at night as a JPEG shooter is compromised by its auto white balance performance, which is kind of...old-fashioned. To avoid strong yellow and other casts, you really have to take a manual white balance, just my old Canons required. My Olympus E-PM2 cameras have much better AWB and don't need this.

4. The 18-55 kit lens, although not useless, disappointed me a bit more than I expected, specifically because the edge performance at wide apertures and short zoom settings is not at all good. You need to stop it down quite a lot at 18mm to get critically sharp edges. It's worse than my recollection of the Canon 18-55 IS, although I think its microcontrast is probably slightly higher than that lens.

5. To differentiate it from other similar models, Sony fitted a low resolution rear screen to the A37. It's not totally unusable but the EVF gives a far superior view. Weirdly, marketing being what it is, another of the SLT series has a much better rear LCD than this one, but an inferior EVF. I'd choose the combo of crap rear screen and good EVF over that...

6. It isn't exactly over-endowed with manual controls, so you'll be making a few trips into the menu. But hey, this is an entry-level camera...

7. Sony has been putting a more visible effort into its E mount cameras (the mount introduced with the NEX series) than A mount over most of the last year or two. But there are 30 years' worth of Minolta AF lenses out there, every one of them usable on this camera, as well as a good range of Sony optics and those by independents.

General things:

Did I say that this is a rather impressive camera? Yes, I think I did make that point. It considerably surpassed my expectations. It is the first Sony (or Minolta) DSLR or SLT I have used.

I use it most often with the Minolta 100-300 APO (a nice little lens, and one of my favourite Tokinas...yes, it was made by Tokina).

I sometimes use it with the Minolta 50/1.4, a super lens which resolves well at all apertures but has a slight cloudy look at the widest apertures from under-corrected abberations. By F2.5, its performance in all practical situations is outstanding.

I occasionally use the 18-55 kit mentioned above. It's small and light and pretty good if you are able to stop it down a bit.

I occasionally use a Minolta 28-85 3.5-4.5 which I find sharp and colourful at almost all settings, but with high-ish linear distortion at 28mm, a little cloudiness at 85mm at 4.5, and an irritatingly long minimum focus distance. The main reason I don't use it more is I find it just a bit too big and heavy, though. (The 100-300 APO is actually slightly smaller and lighter!).

Re the electronic front curtain feature mentioned above, Sony advise that:

"This feature should be turned off when using a Konica Minolta™ lens. Otherwise, the correct exposure will not be set or the image brightness will be uneven."

This advice seems to be over-cautious, since I have no problem shooting my Minolta lenses with electronic front shutter enabled.

Let me know if the review needs an edit. I just saw there was nothing for this camera and felt like sharing my positive experience of it!

 47872Mike's gear list:47872Mike's gear list
Canon EOS 10D Canon EOS 20D Canon EOS 50D Sony SLT-A37 Canon EOS 6D +13 more
Sony SLT-A37
16 megapixels • 2.6 screen • APS-C sensor
Announced: May 17, 2012
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Canon EOS 40D Olympus PEN E-PM2 Sony SLT-A37
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