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Sony A37

*Est. $600 with kit lens
Reviewed
September 2012
by ConsumerSearch
Sony A37

Pros
  • Excellent HD video, still image quality
  • Translucent-mirror design is small and light
  • Faster burst shooting than rivals
  • Nifty features not found on DSLRs
Cons
  • Electronic viewfinder looks dim to some
  • Small, low-res LCD screen
  • Not as good in low light as rival DSLRs
  • Loud autofocus shows up on video

Bottom line

The Sony A37 isn't technically a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. Its translucent mirror doesn't have to move out of the way when you snap a photo, so you can shoot faster bursts than with a regular budget DSLR. However, that mirror does force some trade-offs. The step-up Sony A57 (*Est. $700 with kit lens) solves some of them, but overall, experts prefer traditional DSLRs like our Best Reviewed Nikon D3200 (Est. $530 with kit lens).

However, if you crave the Sony's quick shooting and fun features, reviewers say it won't disappoint. CNET sums up, "The A37 is a solid entry-level, dSLR-class camera that will serve anyone on a tight budget who's looking for something to shoot active kids and pets."

Ease of use

Viewfinder and LCD screen get mixed reviews. The Sony A37 looks and handles like a regular DSLR. Thanks to its non-moving translucent mirror, the camera is smaller and lighter than its rivals, but it also has no an optical viewfinder. Sony substitutes an electronic viewfinder, so instead of a mirror reflecting the actual scene into your eye, you see a video of it. It's quite good, critics say, but CNET's Lori Grunin finds it too dim. Another neat trick: A built-in eye sensor switches on the viewfinder when you raise the camera to your eye, then switches back to the LCD screen when you look away.

However, several experts and owners complain that the 2.7-inch LCD screen looks small and disappointingly low-resolution. It does tilt, which can be helpful for tripod or odd-angle shots, but it's hinged on the bottom. Reviewers say side-hinged, tilt-and-swivel screens like the Canon EOS Rebel T3i's (Est. $695 (with kit lens)) are more useful.

Like all budget DSLRs, the Sony A37 offers preset shooting modes such as portrait, landscape and more, or you can set it to Auto mode and let the camera do all the work. The Sony also has a special Auto+ mode in which the camera tries to detect what's in front of it to automatically pick the best shooting mode. "Unfortunately, we found that on occasion the camera got confused by what was in front of it," says Amy Davies at TechRadar.com. "When attempting to shoot a portrait, it deployed landscape continuous shooting mode."

Overall, she finds the Sony A37 "not quite as novice-friendly as the Nikon D3200," with its excellent Guide Mode that walks beginners through the process of shooting a photo.

Performance

Impressive photos, but not in dim light. Photo and video quality are impressive, critics and owners say, and the 16.1-megapixel, compact-sensor Sony A37 rivals true DSLRs in this department. Because its translucent mirror doesn't have to move out of the way to shoot a photo, you get up to 7 frames per second (fps) but at a reduced 8.4 megapixels. Still, that's "very useful for catching kids jump off swings," one user posts at Amazon.com. 

However, that translucent mirror has its drawbacks. It does block some light, so the Sony A37 can't quite keep up with competitors in dim situations. Although you won't see too much grainy image "noise" until things get really dim -- around ISO 3,200 -- "the A37 does apply some pretty aggressive noise reduction to keep the files clean, resulting in some loss of finer detail," says Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. Autofocus struggles in the shade, too, says TechRadar.com's Davies.

Movie-mode autofocus is a traditional DSLR weakness, and the Sony A37 is no exception. "The focusing can be heard on the soundtrack," Goldstein says. "It sometimes struggles to keep up with the subject, and ... produces noticeable and often unwanted 'jumps' as the AF system locks onto different subjects in the frame."

Battery life is rated at 500 shots using the LCD screen or 450 with the electronic viewfinder. While that's less than the 540-shot Nikon D3200, "we managed to take over 500 shots with the battery life still showing as having 50 percent remaining," says Joshua Waller at EPhotoZine.com.

Durability

Plastic body feels as durable as pricier models. Like all cheap DSLRs, the Sony A37's body is mostly plastic, but experts don't see this as a problem. "The camera feels very light compared to a traditional digital SLR, yet it's got a solid construction and reassuring rubber grip," says EPhotoZine.com's Waller.

At TechRadar.com, Davies agrees: "Although its plastic body does belie its low cost, the grip is a good depth and the rubberized coating adds an air of quality ... 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."

Adds PhotographyBlog.com's Goldstein, "Although it feels a little plastic-y in hand, the A37 is still a solid bit of kit with build quality that's on a par with rival DSLR cameras in the same price range -- ultimately it's neither cheap enough to put you off [nor] solid enough to contend with more expensive models."

Features

Loaded with extras. Neat features are one of the Sony A37's strong suits; the camera lets you manipulate your photos in lots of interesting ways. Sweep Panorama -- a feature borrowed from Sony's point-and-shoot cameras -- shoots several photos as you sweep the camera from side to side or up and down, knitting them together to form a panoramic shot. "With a noise reminiscent of a machine gun firing as it clatters off the images required, it's not the most discreet of modes," says Davies at TechRadar.com. "It is effective, however." You can shoot 3D Sweep Panorama, too, but you'll need a 3D HDTV and glasses to view it.

Auto Portrait Framing can automatically crop a photo to a more attractive position; for example, if you shot a portrait in landscape orientation and got too much scenery on each side. "This is a clever and useful idea for newbies," CNET's Grunin says.

Clear Image Zoom uses a high-quality digital zoom that "effectively doubles the reach of whichever lens you're using ... and potentially negates the need to shell out for extra lenses," Davies says. Although digital zoom tends to make photos look blocky and pixelated, the Sony A37 minimizes this. "At printing or web sizes, the quality is more than usable," she adds. One caveat: You can use Clear Zoom, Auto Portrait Framing and some other features only if you're shooting JPEGs. They're not available in raw mode.

For video, the Sony includes a built-in stereo microphone whereas DSLR rivals have mono mics, and an external mic jack. It also includes the helpful exposure bracketing feature that's found on entry-level Canons, but not the Nikon D3200.

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Our Sources

1. TechRadar.com

Review Credibility: Very Good After a complete test, Davies gives the Sony A37 a score of 3.5 stars out of 5, not high enough to make it a top pick. Image quality is "fantastic," but the Sony's translucent-mirror design forces some compromises. Autofocus struggles in low light, for example, and the camera substitutes an electronic viewfinder for an optical one. Sony also cuts back on some features -- like shooting options in Raw mode and in-camera editing -- that you'd find on most entry-level DSLRs.

Review: Sony Alpha 37 Review, Amy Davies, June 1, 2012

2. ePhotoZine

Review Credibility: Very Good This site posts plenty of test photos from the lab, the studio and outdoors, plus a video clip shot with the Sony A37. Waller does find a few drawbacks, but says the A37's "excellent images," fast focusing and terrific value outweigh them. He gives it a perfect 5 stars and an Editor's Choice label.

Review: Sony Alpha A37 DSLR/SLT Review, Joshua Waller, July 19, 2012

3. PhotographyBlog.com

Review Credibility: Very Good Few cameras earn a 5-star "Essential" rating here, but the Sony A37 is one of them. Goldstein says its image quality rivals its DSLR competition, and the Sony's translucent mirror lets it shoot faster bursts of photos and autofocus better while shooting video.

Review: Sony A37 Review, Mark Goldstein, June 27, 2012

4. CNET

Review Credibility: Good Although she names it one of the top nine budget DSLRs, Grunin says this digital single-lens translucent camera is "solid but not outstanding." Its photo quality is "respectable," but she dislikes the "dim" electronic viewfinder and small LCD screen. CNET's reviews aren't as minutely detailed as those at photo websites, but they're still thorough and thoughtfully critical.

Review: Sony Alpha SLT-A37 Review (with 18-135mm Lens), Lori Grunin, May 16, 2012

5. Amazon.com

Review Credibility: Fair Fewer than 10 owners evaluate the Sony A37 here at the time of this report, with all giving it 4 stars out of 5 or a perfect 5 stars. Several of the reviews are lengthy and critical despite the high rating, including one by a professional photographer.

Review: Sony Alpha SLT-A37K 16.1 MP Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor DSLR, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012

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