Using the Sony SLT-A35/Handling

From the point of view of ergonomics, the SLT-35 is almost identical to Sony's previous SLT models, the A-55 and A-33. The only real difference is the lack of an articulated screen. The button layout is also not too dissimilar to Sony's line of more conventional DSLRs. If you've been shooting with one of those before you will feel immediately at home with the new model. That said, due to their full-time live view concept the SLT cameras handle more like 'bridge' cameras than conventional DSLRs.

Specific handling issues

In general, there's very little to complain about with regards to the A35's handling. Only the lack of an articulated screen makes it a little more uncomfortable to use when shooting video, compared to the Sony models that come with this feature. Other than that the camera feels, despite of its comparatively small dimensions, comfortable in your hand and provides good access to features and settings. Its viewfinder projects far enough behind the camera to avoid squashing your face against the LCD screen, and an efficient switch immediately activates the LCD as soon as you remove your eye from the EVF. Full-time live view is a necessary consequence of the unique way in which the SLT series is designed, and it works very well, with no perceptible 'lag' and plenty of detail visible on both the LCD and EVF.

Any concerns about lack of detail on even a high resolution EVF should be overcome with the two-step magnification option. Once activated, using the delete button, it ensures accurate focus in either manual or AF modes - a huge benefit for anyone that needs ultra-precise control over focusing, when shooting macro subjects, for instance.

The A35's EVF has a very high effective resolution of 1.44 million dots, and is crisp and detailed enough for accurate manual focusing using the 15x magnification option. It is a shame though that screen magnification is not automatic when manual focusing is selected. Like on the A55, even with an SSM lens mounted, this feature must be activated using the slightly hard to locate (with your eye to the EVF) delete button.

Compared to the A55 there have been a few minor tweaks to the A35's behavior - all small changes but no less welcome for that. The most significant addition is the ability to customize the effect of the 'D-Range' button on the camera's top plate. This can now be set to give access to one of 14 parameters, from White Balance to Sweep Shooting (though some options only work in specific shooting modes):

Options that can be assigned to the D-Range button
• Drive Mode
• Flash Mode
• Autofocus Mode
• AF area
• Face Detection
• Smile Shutter
• Metering Mode
• Flash Comp.
• White Balance
• DRO/Auto HDR
• Creative Style
• SCN/Picture Effect
• Sweep Shooting

The other changes include the option to have the viewfinder show just the image preview and the AF point, with shooting information only appearing when you change one of the settings. This is likely to be particularly popular with users more familiar with optical viewfinders. The final addition is an option to make the main menu return to the last-used option, rather than always resetting to the top. If you've just dipped into the menu to make one quick change (such as disengaging raw shooting so that you can enable in-camera HDR), it's really handy to be able to get straight back to the same point in the menu if you want to revert to your former settings.


Overall performance

The Sony SLT-A35 is overall a fast and responsive camera that performs well for its class. The AF system is very precise and speedy for this class of camera and the power-on time is almost instant. The A35's 7 fps 'Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE' only uses a portion of the frame (1.4 crop). It also only works in JPEG mode and exposure is fully automatic if you use continuous AF. These limitations reduce the mode's usefulness in some situations.

That said, at 5.5 fps (we actually measured 5.7 fps) the standard 'Hi' continuous mode performs very well for a camera at this price point and is a good starting point for those interested in experimenting with moving subjects and sports/action photography. Just make sure you use a fast SD card to get the most out of the A35's buffer capacity and speed.

The camera uses the same SteadyShot image stabilization system that we have seen, and tested on previous Sony Alpha DSLRs. It performs quite efficiently and gives you an advantage of approximately 2-3 EV. Especially at slow shutter speeds your chances of getting a sharp shot increase dramatically with the system turned on. It's also very useful at keeping things steady when shooting handheld video.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

The A35 features a 7 frames per second continuous shooting mode on the mode dial. It only uses a cropped portion of the frame (3568 x 2386 pixels, 1.4 crop) and only works in JPEG mode. In the so-called 'Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE' mode, exposure is automatic. Setting focus set to 'single' mode gains you the ability to shift the aperture/shutter speed settings and adjust ISO but you lose the ability to refocus between shots, making the mode less useful for many applications.

The A35 has two more continuous shooting settings - continuous high (5.5fps) and continuous low (2.5fps). These can be activated from within the PASM modes, where full control over the camera's shooting parameters is possible. Here's how the A35 performs with a 8GB Panasonic Class 10 SDHC card installed.

Burst of JPEG 8.4MP images

8 GB Panasonic Class 10
Frame rate 7 fps
Number of frames 14
Buffer full rate 1.6 fps
Write complete 9 sec

Burst of JPEG 16MP/Fine images

8 GB Panasonic Class 10
Frame rate 5.7 fps
Number of frames 12
Buffer full rate 1.2 sec
Write complete 11

Burst of RAW images

8 GB Panasonic Class 10
Frame rate 5.7 fps
Number of frames 6
Buffer full rate 0.4 fps
Write complete 17 sec

Burst of RAW+JPEG images

8 GB Panasonic Class 10
Frame rate 5.7 fps
Number of frames 6
Buffer full rate 0.3 fps
Write complete 22 sec

The A35 is the budget solution in Sony's SLT line and while it shares many features with the more expensive SLT-A55 Sony had to make compromises in order to hit the price point and looking at the numbers above buffer speed and/or size has been one of them. That said, while its continuous shooting is slower and its buffer smaller than the A55's, at its price point you can't really complain. In terms of The A35 is outperforming most other cameras in in the entry level sector.

However, if you're frequently shooting in continuous mode there are a couple of peculiarities you should keep in mind. Like the A55 in its 10fps mode, at 7fps the A35 shows a constantly updating slide show of the image you just took, which means that you can't accurately tell where you subject is, - only where it just was. This can be rather disconcerting when panning as you keep being given the impression that the subject is further back than it now actually is.

It behaves differently in 5.5fps continuous shooting mode though - when set to 5.5 fps the A35 shows a slideshow of images between the last one it just captured, and the one before that. This means that with your eye to the EVF, you're always looking at a stream of snapshots, essentially, each one of which was captured by the camera before the picture it just took. Presumably this is to give an indication of panning accuracy between captured images, but the overall effect is confusing.

Autofocus speed / accuracy

The A35 uses the same 15-point AF module that we've seen on previous SLT models and DSLRs such as the A580. It is Sony's most advanced yet, and in day-to-day use with static subjects AF is very fast and very accurate. In the hundreds of sample shots we took of static subjects we could never find a main subject out of focus, no matter what light situation we were shooting in.

On paper, the SLT series cameras should also be an suitable tool for shooting fast action. The A35 can shoot at 7fps with continuous autofocus (albeit a cropped image). Because of the fixed mirror, the AF sensor can also operate full-time, without interruption. This should ensure more accurate continuous AF performance than on a conventional DSLR, since the camera is constantly being fed data with which to make the necessary calculations.

However, in practice we found that when shooting fast moving subjects the AF system cannot always keep up with the action. This is pretty much normal though for a camera in the entry-level segment and we wouldn't expect the A35 to be the tool of choice for any dedicated sports and action shooters.