In the hand the A35 feels very much like a regular DSLR, albeit quite a small one. The camera’s outer construction is almost entirely plastic, with a slightly mottled finish that attempts to imitate the magnesium alloy construction of more expensive cameras. The finger-grip is only really big enough for two fingers, although both it and the thumb grip have been given a texturised rubber finish that makes your grip far more secure.
On the back of the A35 sits a 3in TruBlack LCD monitor with a resolution of 921,000 pixels, which is as sharp as 3in monitors currently get. The A35’s screen is an elongated 16:9 widescreen aspect rather than the regular 3:2 display more common to DSLRs. This means that regular 3:2 still images can appear a bit small when viewed on the screen. However, when the A35 is being used to record movies (or when you’re shooting in 16:9 aspect) the image will fill the entire screen.
Sadly, there’s no optical viewfinder either, although Sony has seen fit to attach an electronic viewfinder (EVF) offering 100% coverage. It’s not particularly large but it is bright and at over a million pixels it’s actually pretty sharp too. Indeed, as EVFs go it’s pretty good, further benefiting from an eye sensor that automatically switches between the screen and the EVF with minimal fuss when the A35 is lifted to eye level.
That said, it’s still no substitute for a traditional optical viewfinder and also suffers from the usual stuttering problems when the camera is trained on a fast-moving subject. If you’re seriously considering splashing out on the A35, then it’s essential that you weigh this up before parting with your money because it’s a big trade-off.
Controls are well-spaced and easy to reach, with the one-touch movie record button and standalone D-Range button able to be re-assigned to your own preferences – both nice touches. It’s also good to see an AEL button to hand for those situations where a bit of creative metering is required. In-camera menus are similarly easy to browse, with the Function button acting as a gateway to a kind of Quick Settings menu for regularly accessed shooting controls.
Turning to performance, the 15-point phase-detection AF module of the A35 delivers exceptionally fast focusing in all light conditions, including dim lighting. The camera’s AF points are laid out in a diamond shape across the central portion of the screen with three cross-type sensors running through the middle.
Ideally, we would’ve liked to see the AF points cover a bit more of the screen as they’re bunched quite tightly together in the centre. We were also surprised to note the complete omission of an AF Assist light on the front of the camera. While it’s not exactly new technology, we do quite like how the Eye-Start feature can be set to automatically engage autofocus when the A35 is lifted to eye-level.
With the drive set to Single-shot we were able to shoot full-resolution JPEG and Raw images at approximately one frame per second, with no upper limit on the number of shots we took. This slowed slightly to about seven frames in 10 seconds with the camera set to record Raw and JPEG simultaneously.
Switching over to Continuous mode without the Tele-Zoom feature enabled we were able to record full-resolution JPEGs at the claimed 5fps for a total of around three seconds, after which the camera slowed to about 2fps. Nudging resolution down to you can expect to keep the 5fps frame rate for about five to six seconds, or approximately 30 frames, after which the camera will begin to slow
Using Raw capture, we were only able to shoot continuously for around one and a half seconds, to a maximum six frames, after which the camera dramatically slowed down, capturing one image every three seconds. Shooting Raw and JPEG simultaneously, the A35 was again able to shoot six images in about an second and a half, after which it slowed to one image every three seconds.
Using the Tele-Zoom, the A35 does indeed hit the claimed 7fps, although you can only shoot at this seed for just under three seconds (or around 19 frames) before the buffer fills and the camera begins to slow. It’s not possible to record in Raw while using the Tele-Zoom.