As advertised in Sony's literature about the SLT-A35's responsiveness, this camera is very quick to start-up, being ready to shoot near-instantaneously. Half-press the shutter release and whichever of the 15 AF points you have selected almost immediately glows green, indicating a positive lock on your subject. Select the continuous AF option and there's some operational noise from the kit lens as it refocuses, but new locks are acquired at speed as you move around and recompose your shots.
Taking a shot is a similarly speedy process. With no discernible shutter lag to slow you down, shooting moments as they unfold with the SLT-A35 is as effortless as it is enjoyable. Whether you're snapping still life subjects on a table top, capturing landscapes out in the field, shooting a high-speed sports event or chasing around after your kids, this camera takes it all in its stride.
The same can be said for shooting movies, with fast one-touch recording available via the dedicated movie button, the camera is ready to start filming at a moment's notice. Once you've finished capturing your scene, there's a short delay while the file is written to the memory card, the duration of which depends on the length of your clip. Video quality is very good, with plenty of detail and smooth panning. Sound quality is good, but the stereo microphones will pick up some operational noise from the lens as it refocuses.
We shot RAW files in conjunction with JPEGs at the SLT-A35's top quality setting, and can happily report that -generally - results live up to the rest of this camera's impressive performance. JPEGs straight out of the camera exhibit a touch of softness when viewed at 100%, but nothing that a bit of post-shoot sharpening can't fix. Set to Standard mode, colours are faithful, with enough punch to bring images to life.
Delve into the Creative Style menu and the additional Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset and Black & White options provide some scope to adjust the look of your images in-camera, with decent results across the board. You can take things a step further with a new set of Picture Effects, accessed via the scene mode slot on the exposure mode dial. Like the popular effects that were pioneered by the Olympus PEN range, the SLT-A35 offers fun options like Toy Camera, Pop Color, Retro and Selective Coloring. Some of these aren't quite to our taste, but for the most part results are effective.
By default, dynamic range is slightly better than some of its closest competitors, although the metering system does occasionally blow out the highlights when shooting particularly high-contrast scenes. More experienced users will be able to quickly correct this with a touch of exposure compensation, or the SLT-A35 also offers Sony's effective D-Range Optimizer feature, which broadens the range of tones captured in your shots automatically by combining several differently-exposed frames.
There's also an in-camera HDR feature, which takes a succession of photos at different exposures and quickly combines them to produce a shot with an extended dynamic range. Each feature can be quickly accessed using the interactive on-screen menu (activated by pressing the Fn button on the back of the camera), although the HDR function is only available if you're shooting JPEGs alone (no RAW option).
RAW files processed with the bundled software are detailed and contain enough information to really make the most of the SLT-A35's sensor, with scope to rescue highlight and shadow detail, sharpen up your shots and remove any unwanted noise, as well as adjusting the colour output to precisely suit your taste.
The auto white balance system is pretty accurate, with even indoor mixed lighting situations proving to be relatively unproblematic, save for a touch of extra warmth in the occasional image taken under tungsten lighting. There's a comprehensive array of presets available for you to select manually should this happen however - each of which can be individually tweaked - as well as the facility to take your own custom reading where accuracy is of the utmost importance. Alternatively, shoot RAW and adjust your colours to suit post-shoot.
Noise is well controlled throughout the SLT-A35's native sensitivity range, with a good level of detail being maintained across the board. Everything looks clean up to ISO 400, where noise remains unobtrusive. At ISO 800, noise is visible, but retention of detail prevents it from becoming much of an issue. Images shot at ISO 1600-3200 are perfectly usable; ISO 6400 is best reserved for emergencies however. The top expandable setting - ISO 12800 - is noisy and image quality suffers, as you'd expect.
The kit lens is lightweight, but feels well balanced on the camera body. It offers a rubberised zoom ring to set the focal length, which we found to be a little notchy - not a huge issue for stills but it can produce some juddering if you're recomposing while filming. Barrel distortion at the wide end of its 18-55mm focal range is quite strong, with pincushion distortion taking over at maximum extension, however neither of these traits is out of the ordinary for a bundled lens at this price point.
A maximum aperture range of f3.5-5.6 means that it's reasonably fast when shooting wide-angle images, but performance at 55mm and in low light isn't so impressive. Thankfully, the camera's in-camera sensor shift image stabilisation feature comes in handy to combat camera shake.