Sony Alpha 37 £530

1st Jun 2012 | 16:03

Sony Alpha 37

New entry-level DSLT offers 7fps shooting

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Clear Zoom function; EVF useful for reviewing images; Tilting screen;

Dislike:

Limited raw format options; Very limited in-camera editing; Low-light focusing tricky;

Introduction

Sony's Alpha a37 is the latest camera to arrive in the company's entry-level DSLT lineup.

Sony's DSLT (or Single Lens Translucent) cameras incorporate Translucent Mirror Technology, and a semi-transparent mirror enables light to be split between the CMOS sensor and the separate AF sensor.

The benefits of this are speedy, full-time phase-detection autofocus and fast continuous shooting rates, because there's no mirror movement to slow things down.

Having been around for a little while, Sony's concept is quite well bedded-in now, and it's beginning to have an impact on consumers looking to purchase their first interchangeable lens camera.

Sony Alpha a37 review

A number of improvements have been made to the Sony a37, when compared with its Sony Alpha 35 predecessor.

First up is the newly designed 16.1 million pixel sensor, which now combines with the latest Bionz processor to deliver ISO 100-16,000 sensitivity capability and Full HD video recording.

Sony Alpha a37 review

A 15-point AF system includes three cross type sensors, plus enhanced object tracking and Quick AF modes.

A tiltable screen is available on the Sony Alpha 37, alongside the 100 per cent field of view electronic viewfinder.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Auto portrait framing, a feature first debuted in the Sony a57, is now included in the entry-level range. This works by cropping an image in post-production to give what the camera considers to be a better composition. The original image is also saved, should you wish to make your own crop.

Clear Zoom technology is also included. This is a form of digital zoom, but Sony promises that By Pixel Resolution technology keeps image quality at a premium and maintains image size.

Sony Alpha a37 review

In terms of aesthetic changes, there is little to talk about - although minor ergonomic changes see a slightly redesigned handgrip and repositioning of some key buttons.

In live view mode, Sony's DSLT cameras use phase-detection autofocus, as opposed to contrast detection, which Sony says gives Alpha cameras more accurate and precise continuous autofocusing.

Coupled with this, the Sony a37 - priced at £530 in the UK and $599 in the US - is also able to offer up to 7fps shooting in high speed shooting mode.

Build quality and handling

For a camera at the entry-level end of Sony's DSLT lineup, it's pleasing to see that the Alpha 37 appears to have been constructed well.

With a good weight and solid construction, it feels as though it could withstand the odd knock and scrape, although of course the Sony Alpha A37 isn't weather and dustproof like some more expensive Sony cameras.

Although its plastic body does belie it's low cost, the grip is a good depth and the rubberised coating adds an air of quality. Sony says that the ergonomics of the a37 have been slightly redesigned when compared with its predecessor, but these seem to be so minimal as to be barely noticeable.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Buttons are generally well laid out, with the possible exception of the Menu button, which is in a bit of an awkward place to reach comfortably. Being a beginner level camera, the number of direct access buttons is fairly limited, but Sony has made good use of the space on the back of the camera.

There are direct controls for sensitivity (ISO), white balance, drive mode and movie record, while several frequently used settings can be accessed via the Fn button.

One initial bugbear was the fact that there is no direct button for setting the autofocus point. It appeared that this meant that you needed to dive into the function menu every time you wanted to alter the point, which is more than a little frustrating.

Sony Alpha a37 review

However, on further examination, we found that if you switch off Object Tracking in the function menu, the central button on the four way control dial acts as a focus point button.

As the Sony Alpha a37 is an SLT, rather than SLR camera, it uses an electronic viewfinder. Although it won't be welcomed by those who favour the optical variety, Sony has done a pretty good job with the a37's offering. While it doesn't offer the same clear and bright view of the a77, it is useable and offers a 100% field of view, which is handy.

Another bonus of using an EVF is that it is easier to immediately assess whether an image capture has been successful, as you see the playback in the EVF. This means you spend less time checking the LCD screen and having to press extra buttons.

Sony Alpha a37 review

By default, the camera is set to display Live View on the rear LCD screen, changing to the electronic viewfinder if you lift your eye to the EVF. While it is quite handy to have Live View instantly displayed without having to activate it, you can also switch the display to show the camera settings, which will be welcomed by more traditional shooters.

Speaking of the screen, it offers a good, bright view from a variety of angles. For the majority of conditions, using it is fine in very bright sunlight it struggles with reflections. The same can also be said of the EVF, which we needed to shield with a hand to make full use of during extremely bright conditions.

Whereas the a33 had a free-angle LCD, the a37 has a tilting LCD, something that was missing from the a35, which had a fixed device. Perhaps Sony received feedback that the flexibility was missing, because this is a welcome return.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Especially useful for shooting over the head (at concerts and so on), it's also good for taking low angle images. It's a shame that it couldn't be fully articulated for use in portrait orientation, but we suspect this might increase the overall size, and perhaps cost, of the camera.

It would also have been nice to see a touchscreen device implemented on the a37, especially considering the target audience is likely to have stepped up from mobile phones, compacts and/or compact system cameras - but again it's likely that it would have made the camera a more expensive proposition.

The Sony a37 has an impressive 15 autofocus points, a relatively large number when compared to entry-level DSLRS such as the Nikon D3200 (11 points) and Canon EOS 1100D (9 points).

Sony Alpha a37 review

While it's great to have so many points, they are all clustered towards the centre of the frame, meaning that you do need to focus and recompose for subjects on the perimeter. Those used to shooting with compact and compact system cameras that enable focusing towards the edge of the frame may find this a little frustrating.

A number of options on the Sony Alpha a37 can't be deployed when capturing images in raw format. This is a big shame for options such as Auto Portrait framing and Picture Effects, and is also frustrating because you have to dive into the main menu to switch off raw capture, then go back to whatever it is you were trying to do in the first place.

Perhaps a good way around this in future models (or even via a firmware upgrade) would be for the camera to provide a pop-up prompt to switch off raw shooting if you try to activate such a mode.

Sony Alpha a37 review

One of the key features of the a37 that Sony is keen to shout about is the Clear Zoom function. This basically works in the same way as a digital zoom, but thanks to By Pixel Super Resolution technology, Sony claims that resolution and quality remains the same.

Activating the zoom function effectively doubles the reach of whichever lens you're using on the camera, so the 18-55mm kit lens becomes a 110mm at the telephoto end and potentially negates the need to shell out for extra lenses. In practice, we found this function to be very useful, and we can see it being very popular.

A nice touch is the ability to zoom in and out quickly in steps using the up/down buttons, or more gradually and precisely using the left and right buttons.

Performance

There's a lot to like about the Sony Alpha a37 upon reviewing the images on a computer screen.

Colours are bright and punchy, and are represented well in the majority of cases. In the past, Sony cameras, and certainly Konica Minolta cameras, have been known to suffer from cyan skies, but we found landscape colours to be accurate.

In bright conditions, the AF points can lock onto a subject very quickly and accurately, however in lower light situations, such as in the shade, it does struggle noticeably. This is likely to be because the amount of light reaching the sensor is restricted by using a fixed, translucent mirror.

Sony Alpha a37 review

The Sony Alpha a37 has two fully automatic modes, including one, Superior Auto, which is represented by a '+' sign on the mode dial. According to Sony, this enables a wider range of shooting settings than Intelligent Auto to include automatic scene detection, auto HDR and continuous shooting.

Unfortunately, we found that on occasion the camera got confused by what was in front of it. When attempting to shoot a portrait, it deployed landscape continuous shooting mode. If you find this happening frequently, you have the option to select your own Scene mode from the Scene Selection area of the mode dial.

Sweep Panorama is a mode first introduced by Sony in its compact camera line. It works by shooting a number of still frames as you sweep the camera across the scene. With a noise reminiscent of a machine gun firing as it clatters off the images required, it's not the most discreet of modes. It is effective however, and the processing required to merge the images is pretty speedy too.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Image quality when shooting with the Clear Zoom function is very good, albeit noticeably worse than the equivalent optical focal length when examining the images at 100%. While image resolution remains the same, noise is introduced and there is a definite loss in quality. That said, it is a very useful function, and when viewing the images at printing or web sizes the quality is more than usable.

One big problem with using the zoom function however is that shooting in raw format is not available, a big shame for those looking to manipulate images further in post-production.

There are three metering modes available, which can be accessed via the Fn button. These are Multi Segment (general purpose), Center Weighted and Spot Metering. In practice, Multi-Segment metering works well in the majority of cases, and switching to centre weighted or spot is a great option to deploy when faced with tricky or mixed lighting conditions.

Sony Alpha a37 review

On the whole, Auto White Balance works well, producing mostly accurate colours and adjusting appropriately under different lighting conditions. On occasion, it does have the tendency to err on the warm side when shooting under artificial lighting, but if you find it to be inaccurate, setting the appropriate white balance can be quickly achieved via the Fn button.

More and more camera manufacturers are including a wide variety of digital filters on devices nowadays as they try to compete with smartphone apps such as Instagram. Here on the Sony a37 there are a few available to have a play with, such as Retro Photo, Toy Camera, Soft Focus and Miniature.

While some will inevitably be used more than others, down to personal preference, it's nice to have a variety of choice. What is disappointing, however, is that once again, the Picture Styles aren't available to use when shooting in raw format. It would have been great to have a raw version of the image where you could remove, or swap, the art filters.

Sony Alpha a37 review

If you do want to be a bit more creative when shooting in raw format, a few Creative Styles can be applied. These include Vivid, Landscape and Black and White.

Another key feature Sony is keen point out to its target demographic is the Auto Portrait Framing feature, which was first introduced on the Alpha a57 earlier in the year. This works by cropping into an image to provide what the camera considers to be a better composition for portraits.

Once again, image quality is maintained through By Pixel Resolution technology, and helpfully both versions of the image are saved should you wish to make your own crops down the line.

Sony Alpha a37 review

The only options with this feature are to turn it to auto, or turn it off altogether. There is no way to force it to always engage with a portrait, and we found that it only activated a couple of times when shooting a series. It's also another feature that can't be used when shooting in raw format, which would have been nice to see.

Unlike some other entry-level cameras from rival brands, the amount of in-camera editing available on the Sony Alpha a37 is extremely minimal, with the only option to rotate an image. Since images can be set to auto-rotate for playback anyway, we can't see this being a particularly useful feature, and it's a shame not to have more in the way of options such as cropping, or adding star ratings, available.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony Alpha a37, we've shot our resolution chart with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens mounted.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Sony Alpha a37 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Sony Alpha 37 review

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 100, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 200, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 16000, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw images

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 100, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 200, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 6400, score: 18 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha 37 review

ISO 16000, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Sony Alpha 37 review

JPEG images from the Sony Alpha 37 show improved signal to noise ratio results when compared with the Alpha 35, and also beat the Nikon D3200 and Canon EOS 600D at all sensitivities.

Raw images

Sony Alpha 37 review

For all but a sensitivity of ISO 3200, where the Canon 600D scores the highest result, the Sony Alpha 37 beats the Nikon D3200, Alpha 35 and Canon EOS 600D. This shows that noise is kept under control in low light situations.

Dynamic range

Sony Alpha 37 review

At the lower end of the sensitivity scale, the Nikon D3200 and Alpha 35 just have the edge on dynamic range over the Alpha 37 for TIFF files (After conversion for raw) . At all but ISO 6400, where the Nikon D3200 just scores a better result, the Alpha 37 shows that it has a higher dynamic range than the comparison cameras.

Sony Alpha 37 review

Up to ISO 3200 TIFF (After conversion for raw) dynamic range results between the Alpha 37 and Nikon D3200 are close. Above this value the Alpha 37 breaks away showing that it is capable of capturing a good amount of tonal graduation in both shadow and highlight areas even at high sensitivities.

Sample images

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours from the Sony Alpha a37 are represented well, being bright and punchy with lots of impact, without being overly vibrant.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Lots of detail can be captured with the a37's 16 million pixel Exmor CMOS sensor.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Skies are represented well, with great colours - something that previous Sony and Konica Minolta cameras had suffered with.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Images shot at high sensitivities, such as ISO 1600, display a good level of noise control, while still maintaining plenty of detail.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Black and white is one of the in-camera Creative Styles that can be deployed when shooting in raw format, unlike Picture Effects, which only work in JPEG mode.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Toy Camera mode is one of Picture Effects available. It works by altering the colours and adding a vignetting effect.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Partial colour black and white is another Picture Effects mode, you can choose between red, green, blue or yellow.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Sony a37 can shoot up to 7fps, which can be used for shooting fast moving action.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The supplied 18-55mm kit lens performs well, producing clear and sharp images with a good amount of detail and colour.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

However, the number of Sony A-mount lenses available on the market is increasing, enabling you to produce more creative effects. This image was shot using a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sweep Panorama mode is available via the mode dial. It fires off a number of shots in quick succession as you sweep the camera across the scene, merging them in camera almost immediately.

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Clear Zoom function uses By Pixel Resolution Technology to maintain the resolution and image quality. Here we can compare an image shot at 36mm optical focal length, with an image shot at 18mm with 2x Clear Zoom deployed (making it effectively 36mm).

Sony Alpha a37 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Although here we can see the image quality is worse when zooming in to a full 100%, when viewing at smaller sizes the image quality is generally very good, and we can see it being a very useful function.

Verdict

With the Alpha a37, Sony has developed another interesting and very usable camera to sit in its lineup.

Image quality - arguably the most important factor - is great, with excellent colour, details and dynamic range.

However, the handling could be improved, and there are a fair few disappointments when it comes to what can be shot in raw format, and what can't.

We liked

Image quality is fantastic, and the kit lens does a great job too. The high quality digital zoom function is also a great bonus.

We disliked

Several elements of the handling left us frustrated, as did the amount of functions that can't be used when shooting raw format.

Final verdict

Sony's offerings in the entry-level arena are perhaps more interesting than its Canon and Nikon counterparts, with the translucent mirror technology, Clear Zoom and Auto Portrait Framing giving the beginner photographer a lot of bang for their buck.

Beginners need to be aware, however, that there are downsides to using a translucent mirror technology. Firstly, the amount of light reaching the sensor is reduced, so focusing in lower light conditions can be a little tricky, and secondly it's fair to say that although good, an EVF won't be to everyone's tastes.

It's not quite as novice-friendly as the Nikon D3200 either, which includes on-screen guides to photography, along with a greater level of in-camera editing, not to mention a higher resolution sensor.

The Sony Alpha a37 is an interesting proposition that delivers great image quality in a neat little package. We can see Sony's share of the market increasing as it manages to cram more and more exciting technology into this area of the market - something that Canon and Nikon must keenly be aware of at the moment.

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