Sony’s latest entry-level SLT camera shows that a tight budget need not mean compromising on specification. We find out if it hits the mark. Read the Sony Alpha 37 review...
The Alpha 37 is an update of the Alpha 35, which was released in June last year. This is a short shelf life, even for a digital camera, but the update aligns the entry-level SLT and compact system camera models, so the only decision between the two comes down to how the buyer wants to use the camera.
Like the NEX-F3, the Alpha 37 features a new 16.1-million-pixel Exmor CMOS sensor, which has been paired with the Bionz III processor. This delivers a 3264×4912-pixel image, creating an almost A3-sized print at 300ppi. Files can be saved in a choice of JPEG or ARW, Sony’s own raw format. The camera comes with Sony’s Data Converter SR software, and the raw format is already supported by the latest updates to Adobe’s Camera Raw and Lightroom. The ISO sensitivity has been extended from the 12,800 on the Alpha 35 to ISO 16,000 on the Alpha 37, which, while only a 1⁄3EV increase, is impressive for such a camera.
This new sensor has also facilitated higher-quality HD video – an area that has seen a rapid advancement in digital cameras over the past couple of years. SteadyShot stabilisation features in the camera, allowing all lenses to benefit from the technology. This is one area where the Alpha 37 differs from the NEX compact system range, and is worth bearing in mind for anyone planning to use older lenses on the camera. As the Alpha 37 uses an electronic viewfinder, the sensor-based stabilisation will be a benefit to composition, steadying the monitor feed.
The metering options remain unchanged from the Alpha 35, offering a 1,200-zone metering system with a choice of multi, centreweighted and spot options. The exposure compensation – also unchanged – seems rather limited at ±3EV, compared to a now standard ±5EV in most models.
The usual PASM shooting modes are present, and are bolstered by an array of automatic and feature modes that allow simple operation and easy control of some of the camera’s more advanced features. The intelligent auto is accompanied by iAuto+ (Superior Auto), which includes automatic scene detection, continuous shooting and HDR options. So, when required, it will fire a burst of images and process them into a single file to deal with high-contrast or low-light situations. Also included is the Sweep Panorama mode, allowing real-time image stitching to create a panoramic shot as the camera pans. This can be saved in either 2D or 3D forms.
The Alpha 37’s impressive-sounding 7fps continuous shooting is only available in a limited scenario, and a more modest 5.5fps is the true maximum for use in most modes. There is a high-speed option on the mode dial for the 7fps shooting, and it provides a cropped, 8.4-million-pixel image and full auto exposure control. In reality, 5.5fps is more than enough for most users, and in the situations where a faster frame rate is actually needed the cropped view may well be an advantage, giving extended range from a particular lens. And an 8.4-million-pixel image is more than enough for most uses – plus, the smaller file size will stop the memory card filling up too quickly.
Using a high-speed Lexar Class 10 600x SDHC card, the Alpha 37 managed 21 frames in high-speed crop mode before slowing. In its standard 5.5fps operation, the number of frames was noticeably lower, however, with six JPEGs, five raw or four raw+JPEG frames taken before slowing. Writing an individual file took up to 2.5secs for a raw+JPEG, which shows fairly fast processing – it is just the size of the buffer that limits the number of shots.
Image: High ISO performance is impressive, and although signs of luminance noise are clearly visible at the top ISO 16,000 setting, theISO 1600 setting is still usable