Sony Alpha A37 Hands-on Preview
by Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins
When the Sony A57 came in the larger A65 skin, we wondered whether Sony had abandoned the tiny body found in last year's A55 and A35, but that small body lives on in the slightly upgraded Sony A37. Sony made the body small partly to show off what removing the mirror box and pentamirror arrangement enabled: a smaller camera with SLR-like capabilities. It seems some buyers, though, wanted something about the size of what the competition was offering at the same price point, hence the A57's larger body. But it still makes some sense for Sony to make their entry level camera small, to continue offering some SLT power to consumers with smaller hands.
Though the body is very similar, the Sony A37 is not without its upgrades, now including a tilting LCD, a 16.1-megapixel sensor that's said to be better than its predecessor, and an expanded ISO range up to 16,000. Sony's latest new ideas including Auto Portrait Framing and Clear Image Zoom, which we'll also cover below.
Sony wanted to emphasize the A37's lighter weight, coming in at 15.8 ounces (448g) body-only, or just under a pound. With the lens it's 25.2 ounces (715g), or 1.57 pounds. Dimensions are 4.89 x 3.62 x 3.33 inches (124.4 x 92 x 84.7mm).
Though the A37 is mostly the same as its predecessor, I like the enhancement to the grip. Its grip has a little deeper groove and a more pronounced bump below that. There's still only enough room for two fingers on the grip, as is the case on the NEX-F3 announced at the same time, but it's a very good grip, so that helps. The stippled paint and leather-like grip evoke a more serious camera feel than the past design, too. I even appreciate their deletion of the SteadyShot INSIDE logo. The front control dial is a little low for easy operation, once your middle finger takes its position, but the power switch is great, easy to find and actuate. Lower left of the lens is the Depth-of-field preview button, and to the right is the large lens release button.
3D and Movie modes are new on the Mode dial, but most other buttons are the same as on the Sony A37's predecessor. I like Sony's rear-facing beveled surfaces that make certain important buttons visible from both top and bottom. In this case, Menu, Movie, EV Compensation, and AEL buttons are easy to see. The Zoom button on the top deck replaces the D-Range button, and accesses the A37's digital zoom function. We also like the aggressively-flared thumbgrip on the back.
Whereas the A35 had a widescreen LCD, Sony outfitted the A37 with a more rectangular design that also seems smaller at 2.64 inches diagonal. The bonus, of course, is the tilting LCD, which tilts up beyond 90 degrees and down a little more than 45 degrees. I prefer some kind of articulation to widescreen. All other buttons are the same, except for the Delete button, which now also serves as a Help button.
Shooting with the Sony A37
by Shawn Barnett
Just a short afternoon out with the Sony A37 isn't enough for a full review, but I can report that I got some great images and had a lot of fun with the camera. Since we were headed to the zoo, I mounted the fine Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G lens we had and set out. It wasn't quite as outrageous looking as when I had the Sony NEX-5N mounted on this lens with the LA-EA2 Alpha-mount adapter, but it's still a lot of lens for a camera with a two-finger grip.
It was an early Spring day, so the animals were out and easy subjects. The gorillas were unusually available, so you'll see plenty of grayback shots in the Gallery.
Shooting was fairly straightforward, so I didn't do a whole lot of special mode exploration, sorry to say. We'll have to hit things like Panorama, 3D, and seven-frames-per-second modes when we do the full review. Once we reached the gorillas, I did dive into the Bracket Continuous mode, as I knew the background combined with their black fronts and gray backs would throw the meter off a bit in both directions. The plan paid off. I just held down the shutter button and the Sony A37 fired off three shots in succession.
I came away pretty satisfied with the Sony A37. It focused quickly and accurately. I always shoot several of a given subject just to guard against missed focus, but my percentage of missed focus was low, so I had plenty of good expressions to choose from. For autofocus, I stuck with Zone Area mode. With a quick press on the AF button, I was able to use the left and right arrows to choose one of three clusters, perfect for keeping the cluster on a face, regardless of whether the animal was moving horizontally or sitting vertically.
As I've done often in the past, I sought to see just how soft I could make the background with this big, beautiful lens, but that was a mistake with a subject as big as a gorilla. I ended up with softness everywhere. So it's good I also had the sense to stop it down a bit, to f/5.6, which gave me much sharper images, while still maintaining decent background blur.
The EVF worked pretty well, though I still think the sensors in most cameras switch between the EVF and LCD a little too slowly. The rear eyecup isn't glasses-friendly, lacking a rubber coating; instead, it's hard plastic. To see the whole screen, I have to push my glasses into my eye socket, not a comfortable proposition. I used both at the zoo, though; once you get used to it you do what you must to get the shot.
It was a good day at the zoo. I even managed to make a rhinoceros blush. I followed this big guy a bit as he wandered back and forth, and I think the big lens made him uncomfortable. (Maybe he thought the camera was too small for the lens?) At one key moment, he raised his head and his face turned green! I have no idea if rhinos blush green, as it seems completely absurd, or if the lens suddenly started reflecting green internally, but I have about eight shots that show this guy's face turning green, then slowly fading back to normal. I didn't notice it in real time, so I can't be sure if it really happened or not--despite my photographic evidence.
Zoologists please comment, as I'm curious; I can find nothing online. Luke and Dave have looked at the images, and they think a leaf in the foreground colored his face as he or I moved. Perhaps. I don't remember anything being in my way, nor do I think I changed position in these two shots. What's also odd is that his horn turns a bit green, which doesn't seem right at all. Weigh in, experts, and let me know what you think. Do rhinos blush green when irritated? Tweet your answer @shawnbarnett if you know. As shown below, the time between the two images is three seconds.
|1/250 sec., f/4, ISO 100
|1/250 sec., f/4, ISO 100
Green-faced rhinos notwithstanding, the Sony A37 did quite well, turning out some great shots of a day at the zoo. Most of the shots in the Gallery are from me, but Luke, Rob, and Dave were also shooting, hence the occasional duplication of subjects. See the brief gallery of images I present below, but be sure to see our Thumbnails and Gallery page for our latest test shots and the full set of Gallery images!