The Sony Alpha SLT-A33 isn’t a DSLR. It might have the shape, the interchangeable lenses and a veritable truckload of flexibility, but strictly speaking it’s in a category of its own: SLT cameras.
That stands for Single Lens Translucent mirror, a new design that ditches the old-school DSLR’s flip-up mirror in favour of a split optical pathway between the main sensor and a second, dedicated AF sensor.
What does that mean? Well, there’s no moving mirror to slow down shooting, so you can capture full-size photos at a continuous 7fps. And the dedicated AF sensor allows the live view autofocus to lock on to a subject with incredible speed – no rival DSLR comes even close.
It also means no optical viewfinder, which we found initially disappointing. Then we realised that the live view mode is so good we barely missed it – and if you must clamp your eyeball to the A33 there’s a pretty decent electronic viewfinder, which replicates the live view screen in crisp miniature.
Speaking of crisp, the A33 sports the best screen we’ve seen on a DSLR-type snapper for some time. This tilting 3in, 921,000-dot panel is sharp enough to slice your retinas off, packed with gloriously rich colours and remains viewable even in bright sunlight. It’s a peach.
Picture quality is just as impressive. The A33 has an ISO range of 100-12800, and you can get well up that scale before noise starts to become a major problem. There’s also a huge dynamic range available (including a usable built-in HDR mode) and a host of tricksy smart modes to play with.
Alongside the usual scene presets and priority modes, the dial features dedicated spots for 7fps continuous shooting and sweep panorama. The latter works a treat, capturing detailed (and usually seamless) hi-res panoramic shots with a minimum of fuss – and it even works in 3D. We viewed our shots back on a 3D telly (with the help of a PS3) and were pleasantly surprised at the added depth – a gimmick, sure, but a heck of a good one.
Previous Sony DSLRs have eschewed video, but the A33 has full 1080i capture with manual controls and stereo sound (there’s an external mic socket too). You can use the AVCHD or MPEG-4 formats, and the results are excellent – we got some particularly lovely blurry background stuff by bolting on macro and telephoto lenses. The quick AF also works in video mode.
All in all the A33 is a loveably powerful camera, especially given its relatively low price. We can’t think of many entry-level (ish) DSLRs that offer this much for this little.