Cameras

Sony Alpha A33 Digital Camera Review

The Alpha A33, along with its big-brother A55V, is part of Sony's collection of translucent mirror DSLRs.

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Introduction

The Alpha A33, along with its big-brother A55V, is part of Sony's collection of translucent mirror DSLRs. The camera functions like a DSLR in the fact that it has loads of manual controls and uses an interchangeable lens system, but since the mirror inside is translucent the camera has plenty of other advantages. It has a much quicker autofocus mechanism than a traditional DSLR, and its continuous shooting modes are top-notch for a camera of its class.

Sony recently reduced the price of the SLT-A55V by $100 bucks down to $649 with its 18-55mm kit lens, or $549 body only. We must warn, however, that the model has been discontinued in Japan as of a few weeks ago. As of now, the camera is still available in the US and you can still purchase it from Sony's website online.

Design

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

The Sony Alpha SLT-A33 comes with:

  • neck strap
  • rechargeable battery pack (with wall charger)
  • instruction manual and software CD
  • USB cable

If purchased as a kit, the camera comes with the 18-55mm f/3.5 lens shown in the photo above.

Lens & Sensor

The Alpha A33 has a 14.6-megapixel APS HD CMOS image sensor that measures 23.4 × 15.6mm. This is a slightly smaller sensor than the APS CMOS featured on the SLT-A55 from Sony, but not by much. The effective pixel count of the sensor is around 14.2 megapixels.

Like the A55, the A33 uses Sony’s translucent mirror technology. The sensor rests behind a fixed, translucent mirror, which contrasts greatly with the movable-mirror design of conventional DSLRs. Since the mirror on the A33 is translucent, the camera does not require the mirror to be moved when taking a photo. This gives you a particular advantage when shooting video, as the camera can automatically focus and record video at the same time.

Comparing to the graphic above, the Sony A55 has an APS-C sensor, although the camera’s official crop factor is 1.52x instead of 1.6x.

Viewfinder

The A33 is equipped with a 0.46-inch electronic viewfinder that has a 1.44 megapixel resolution. Because the viewfinder is electronic, you are seeing the image being captured by the A33’s sensor. You are not seeing the image as it appears through the camera’s lens, which is the case with an optical viewfinder. Despite this, the viewfinder still has a 100% field of view, and a diopter adjustment dial on its side.

Display(s)

Before we get to the specs of the LCD on the Sony A33, let’s talk about the screen’s most “pivotal” feature—the fact that it can rotate into a variety of positions. Simply put, we love having this flexibility with the LCD, particularly when shooting video or when the camera is attached to a tripod. You can swing the LCD down so you don’t have to crouch, or you can rotate it so the back is flush with the side of the camera (just like a stationary LCD would look). We also like the protective aspect that rotating the screen and tucking it into the camera offers you (this way the front of the screen isn’t exposed to scratches when you toss it in a bag).

The rotation feature could be better, of course, as we have seen LCDs that swing outward (like what is customary on a camcorder). This does give you more flexibility and better angles with which you can rotate the screen, but it’s not a huge improvement over what the A33 offers. Either way, the A33’s LCD is much better than a simple, stationary screen.

As for the specs of the LCD: the screen is 3-inches diagonally and has a resolution of 921,600 pixels. Like the viewfinder, the screen offers 100% coverage. It also has auto or manual brightness control (adjustable in the menu system).

Flash

The Sony SLT-A33, for all intents and purposes, has an identical flash to the one featured on the A55. It is a pop-up flash that sits in front of the accessory shoe and just above the “Sony” logo on the front of the camera. You can have the flash pop-up manually by pressing a small flash button on the left side of the camera, or you can set the flash to pop up when necessary in certain shooting modes (like auto mode).

The synch speed of the flash is 1/160 of a second, which makes it good for capturing motion or action shots. Sony also lists the flash illumination range at 3 – 15 feet (1 – 5 meters), but we felt like the flash range was most effective up to around 12 feet from the camera.

The built-in flash has plenty of different modes, including a fill-in flash, slow synch (for slower shutter speeds), rear synch, wireless (for external flash), auto, and off. The rear synch flash will fire the flash at the moment right before an exposure adjustment is completed. This sounds like a cool effect, and Sony says this will produce a "path of light behind a moving object" when used.

Flash Photo

The pop-up flash can release manually or it will open automatically in certain shooting modes.

Connectivity

Other than the battery compartment and memory card slot, both of which are on the bottom of the camera, all of the A33’s terminals and jacks are located behind various port covers on the right side of the camera. A larger cover that runs vertically down the side of the camcorder houses the HDMI and USB ports, while two smaller covers near the base of the camera cover the 3.5mm external mic jack and wired remote port. The A33 also has a universal-fit accessory shoe on the top of the camera that will fit most accessories. The shoe is powered, but only Sony-approved accessories will work with this feature.

Battery

The Alpha A33 uses the same battery as the Sony Alpha A55 camera, and that’s the NP-FW50 rechargeable battery pack. The pack is a 1080mAh battery and it fits snugly into a compartment on the bottom of the camera. It also comes with a medium-sized charger that plugs directly into a wall outlet to recharge the battery.

According to Sony, there may be a difference in battery life between the A55 and A33 cameras (despite the fact that they use the same batteries). Sony lists the A33 as being able to take 270 images with the viewfinder or 340 images using the LCD. Sony claimed the A55 could take 60 – 110 more photos per charge. Even so, you can probably throw all these numbers out the window. We found the A33 could usually handle a day or so of solid photography before it needed to be recharged. You’ll need to charge often, or buy an extra battery if you like to shoot frequently (or record lots of video).

Battery Photo

The battery compartment also houses the memory card slot.

Memory

The A33, like most new Sony cameras and camcorders, has a dual-format memory card slot that works with both SD and Sony-proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. In addition to regular SD cards, the A33’s slot is compatible with higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards as well.

Image Quality

Sharpness

Our tests confirmed that the A33 produced its sharpest image in the middle of the frame. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who is familiar with lens construction. We also noticed the image getting sharper the more we zoomed in with the kit lens, although this only was the case with the center of the frame. When using more zoom, the sides of the A33’s images still looked quite blurry. Check out the crops and photos below to see what we’re talking about.

At wide angle, the A33 produced a generally even image in terms of sharpness across our tested aperture range. The smallest aperture we tested, f/22 showed more blur in our blown-up images, although there was also a large amount of blur on the F/3.5 image. The f/9 aperture offered the sharpest results across our test chart (left side, right side, and center of the chart). More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

Alpha A33 uses Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization system inside the camera itself (not as part of the lens). This system differs from many cameras, most of which include the stabilization feature as part of the lens. Either way, we were fairly satisfied with the A33’s stabilization overall. It wasn’t quite as good as the Sony A55, but it did a reasonable job in our testing (and a good deal better than the Canon T2i and Panasonic G2).

Color

The Sony SLT-A33 didn’t put up the best numbers in our color accuracy test, which, quite frankly, surprised us. The Sony A55 did a very good job in this test last year, so we expected the A33’s color accuracy to be similar. At best, the A33 managed a color error of 3.43 and a saturation level of 113.1%. More on how we test color.

Since the A33 has multiple color modes, we tested them all to determine which had the most accurate performance. For the A33, this color mode was the Portrait setting, although the Standard mode wasn’t very far behind in terms of accuracy.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Color Modes

Like the Sony A55, the Alpha A33 has 6 color modes: Landscape, Portrait, Standard, Sunset, Vivid, and Black & White. As we said before, the Portrait mode produced the most accurate results in our testing, although Standard mode was not far behind by any means. At first, you may not notice much of a difference between color modes, but if you look closely at our examples below you should start to see areas (and specific color patches) where the modes differ. Saturation level is key here, as certain color modes, like Sunset for example, boost saturation quite a bit (up to 125% or so).

White Balance

White balance performance on the Sony A33 was similar to the other cameras in this test group, but each model has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to particular white balance settings and options.

Automatic White Balance ()

Much like we saw from the Sony A55 last year, the A33 had trouble getting the color temperature right under an incandescent light source. Cameras, even very good ones, commonly struggle with white balance under incandescent light, however, so we can’t complain too loudly here. Besides, the camera’s auto white balance did very well under fluorescent and daylight testing conditions.

For the number junkies: the average error for the incandescent test was 2602.5 degrees Kelvin, while the daylight and fluorescent tests registered errors of 118.17 and 109.5 degrees Kelvin respectively. This means incandescent was the only type of light that really threw the A33’s auto white balance for a loop. Things got better in our custom white balance test, though.

Custom White Balance ()

Our custom white balance test revealed something interesting about the A33. Color temperature levels improved dramatically for incandescent light—with the color error dropping all the way to 173 degrees Kelvin—but under fluorescent and incandescent light there was little improvement. In fact, the A33 actually did better with auto white balance under fluorescent light than it did with custom white balance.

We should also note that the A33 produced slightly cooler (bluer) tones under incandescent and fluorescent light when we used a custom white balance. With auto white balance, and when shooting under daylight with a custom white balance, the camera produced colors that were warmer (redder).

White Balance Options

In addition to its auto and custom white balance options, the A33 has six white balance presets: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Flash. Each of the color presets can be adjusted on a -3 to +3 scale where each step represents 10 Mired. You can also specifically set the color temperature on a Kelvin scale, but that only helps if you know the specific color temperature of the lights you’re shooting under. The color filter option, which is a sub-option from the Kelvin white balance selection allows you to tilt the color temperature more towards green or magenta. Complex stuff, for sure. The majority of users will probably be fine with using the regular custom white balance most of the time.

Long Exposure

We tested the long exposure performance on the A33 using 5 different shutter speeds ranging from 1 – 30 seconds. Long exposures like these are usually required when shooting in dark environments without a flash. Of course, we do this testing with the camera on a tripod, so image stabilization and blur is not an issue. More on how we test long exposure.

In our long exposure test, the results weren’t as simple as saying color error got worse as the exposures got longer. The A33 showed us its most accurate colors when we used 10 and 15-second shutter speeds, while its worst color accuracy came during use of the 5-second and 30-second shutter speeds. The Sony A33 is equipped with a long exposure noise reduction feature, which we switched on for half of our long exposure testing. Using this noise reduction feature, we saw no difference in overall color error (the averages we’re nearly identical).

Surprisingly, we also found the A33’s long exposure noise reduction setting did nothing to reduce noise in our testing. In fact, the overall noise numbers were a tad higher when we used the long exposure noise reduction feature, but not by much (they were basically the same with the feature on and off).

The A33’s overall noise results in this test were actually better than the competition by a slight margin. In our various tests, the camera ranged from a low noise level of 0.89% to a highest level of 1.06%. Interestingly, the lowest noise from the camera came when we used a 30-second shutter speed—the longest shutter speed we use in this test! The most noise came from when we used a 10-second shutter speed. The other shutter speeds we tested fell somewhere in the middle.

Noise Reduction

The auto and weak noise reduction modes showed no difference in noise levels until we shot at ISO 400. At that ISO level, the auto noise reduction kicked in a bit more than the weak reduction and lowered the noise levels a bit. This trend continued fairly steadily throughout the rest of the A33’s ISO options (up to ISO 12800), although the auto noise reduction showed its superiority mostly in the ISO 400 to 3200 range. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The Sony A33 has an extensive ISO range, with the camera capable of taking full-resolution photos all the way up to ISO 12800. Most comparable models, other than the Sony A55, top out at ISO 6400 for full-resolution images. The lowest ISO setting on the A33 is ISO 100. Check out the images below to see the difference in noise level and image quality at each ISO level.

Dynamic Range

With our dynamic range test we attempt to illustrate how well a camera captures detail in shadowy and highlighted areas within a single image. The A33’s results in our dynamic range test were definitely good, but its numbers weren’t any better than the other models we compared it to. More on how we test dynamic range.

Generally, the A33 did quite well with dynamic range when we shot at low ISO levels (ISO 100, 200, and 400. In each of those low ISO levels, the A33 was able to capture at least seven stops, and at ISO 100 the camera pushed close to a range of 8 stops.

In the mid-range ISO levels, the A33 showed a significant drop. At ISO 1600, the A33 had a range of just 4.93 stops and at ISO 6400 the range fell to 3.74 stops. This is the same trend we saw on the Sony A55 camera, and it is the trend that nearly all cameras follow to some extent. The difference with the A33 and the A55, however, is that the A55 managed a better range in the high ISO settings. The A33, on the other hand, kept a slight edge in the low ISO spectrum.

Noise Reduction

The auto and weak noise reduction modes showed no difference in noise levels until we shot at ISO 400. At that ISO level, the auto noise reduction kicked in a bit more than the weak reduction and lowered the noise levels a bit. This trend continued fairly steadily throughout the rest of the A33’s ISO options (up to ISO 12800), although the auto noise reduction showed its superiority mostly in the ISO 400 to 3200 range. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The Sony A33 has an extensive ISO range, with the camera capable of taking full-resolution photos all the way up to ISO 12800. Most comparable models, other than the Sony A55, top out at ISO 6400 for full-resolution images. The lowest ISO setting on the A33 is ISO 100. Check out the images below to see the difference in noise level and image quality at each ISO level.

Focus Performance

The translucent mirror technology on the A33 does a good job making the camera’s autofocus system both faster and more efficient than that of a traditional DSLR. Because of the translucent mirror, the A33 can both focus and shoot at the same time (the mirror doesn’t have to move out of the way). In actual use, we found the focus system to work quickly and accurately as well.

The camera uses a 15-point autofocus system that can be setup in a number of different ways. You can tell the camera to use all 15 focus points, a center grouping of 7 points (spot focus), or a local focus setting where you choose an individual focus point. The only time we had trouble with the A33’s focus system was in low light, where the camera seemed to have trouble finding things to use as focus points.

Long Exposure

We tested the long exposure performance on the A33 using 5 different shutter speeds ranging from 1 – 30 seconds. Long exposures like these are usually required when shooting in dark environments without a flash. Of course, we do this testing with the camera on a tripod, so image stabilization and blur is not an issue. More on how we test long exposure.

In our long exposure test, the results weren’t as simple as saying color error got worse as the exposures got longer. The A33 showed us its most accurate colors when we used 10 and 15-second shutter speeds, while its worst color accuracy came during use of the 5-second and 30-second shutter speeds. The Sony A33 is equipped with a long exposure noise reduction feature, which we switched on for half of our long exposure testing. Using this noise reduction feature, we saw no difference in overall color error (the averages we’re nearly identical).

Surprisingly, we also found the A33’s long exposure noise reduction setting did nothing to reduce noise in our testing. In fact, the overall noise numbers were a tad higher when we used the long exposure noise reduction feature, but not by much (they were basically the same with the feature on and off).

The A33’s overall noise results in this test were actually better than the competition by a slight margin. In our various tests, the camera ranged from a low noise level of 0.89% to a highest level of 1.06%. Interestingly, the lowest noise from the camera came when we used a 30-second shutter speed—the longest shutter speed we use in this test! The most noise came from when we used a 10-second shutter speed. The other shutter speeds we tested fell somewhere in the middle.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

The Sony A33 required 17 lux of light to obtain a video image bright enough to register at 50 IRE on our waveform monitor. This score is not great by any means, and it represents a significantly worse score than the Sony A55, but needing 17 lux of light to record a viable image isn’t the worst low light performance we’ve seen. Many mid-range HD camcorders need around this amount of light to hit 50 IRE on our waveform monitor, and we’ve seen plenty of video-capable DSLRs (like the Pentax K-x) that did even worse than the A33 on this test.

Chromatic Aberration

Just like we saw in our distortion test, chromatic aberration was a much bigger problem when we shot at wide angles with the A33 than when we tested using zoom. The best way to understand what we’re talking about is to simply look at the images and crops below. Shooting with an 18mm focal length, the widest angle offered on the A33’s kit lens, you’ll notice a lot of blue streaking and blur on the crops from our test chart. It almost looks as if the gray boxes have a blue halo around their edges, and this is particularly noticeable on the crops taken from the sides of our test chart (the middle doesn’t look nearly as bad).

Shooting at 35mm and 55mm focal lengths we saw little in the way of chromatic aberration, and you can look for yourself in the crops further down on this page. There is some noticeable yellowing in certain crops at 35mm, but it isn’t nearly as bad as the blue streaking we saw in the A33’s 18mm shots.

Distortion

Like we said, the A33 showed a lot of barrel distortion when shooting at the widest angle (18mm). The average barrel distortion when using an 18mm focal length was 3.0%. This distortion did not occur in the other focal lengths we tested—35mm (mid) and 55mm (tele). With those focal lengths, the A33’s images produced little, if any, lens distortion. What this tells us is that using a wider lens with the A33 is likely to result in even more distortion, so beware of that fact when you shop for extra lenses.

Motion

The Sony SLT-A33 records Full HD video (that’s a 1920 × 1080 resolution) using a 60i frame rate. There’s also an option for recording video at a 1440 × 1080 resolution using an alternate compression system (MP4) and a 30p frame rate. We liked what we saw from the A33’s 60i recording, however, and it is pleasing to see this kind of frame rate offered on a DSLR. Most only have 30p or 24p recording options, so having a 60i setting is somewhat refreshing. Of course, we would have appreciated a 24p record mode as well. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Overall, the A33's motion video looked almost identical to what we saw from the Sony A55V. The A33 showed a bit more fuzzy blur on the RGB color wheel (color bleeding), and the video seemed to pop in and out of focus on occasion. The A33's video was very smooth, however, and artifacting was not a problem.

Because the A55V offers a 60i frame rate (like the A33), its motion video looked very smooth in our testing. The A55V also had little-to-no artifacting in our test and there was less color bleeding and interference than what we saw from the A33. These two Sony models (the A33 and A55V) managed some of the best motion videos we've seen from DSLR cameras—although we are miffed that neither camera offers a 24p frame rate in addition to 60i.

The Pentax K-x had decent motion rendering, but we saw more artifacting in its motion test video than we've come to expect from video-capable DSLRs. The camera does not record Full HD video, but it does record 720p HD using a 24p frame rate (it has a standard def option as well).

Like the Sony models, the Canon DSLRs that record video generally do well on this test (probably because both Canon and Sony have a strong background in video from their camcorder department). The Canon T2i captured motion video that looked as smooth and artifact-free as what we saw from the A33, but the T2i does not include a 60i or 60p frame rate option. Instead, it has a 24p and a 30p record mode (both for recording Full HD).

Video Sharpness

The A33 produced crisp video in our testing, but its sharpness numbers weren’t quite that of its higher-end cousin, the Sony A55. In all, the A33 managed a horizontal sharpness of 700 lw/ph, but its vertical sharpness was only 600 lw/ph. While these numbers are good, and are also better than most video-capable DSLRs we’ve tested, they are still a bit lower than the sharpness scores we are accustomed to seeing from high-end HD camcorders. Perhaps with a better lens the A33 could improve its results on this test. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

The Sony A33 required 17 lux of light to obtain a video image bright enough to register at 50 IRE on our waveform monitor. This score is not great by any means, and it represents a significantly worse score than the Sony A55, but needing 17 lux of light to record a viable image isn’t the worst low light performance we’ve seen. Many mid-range HD camcorders need around this amount of light to hit 50 IRE on our waveform monitor, and we’ve seen plenty of video-capable DSLRs (like the Pentax K-x) that did even worse than the A33 on this test.

Usability

Buttons & Dials

Nearly all of the A33’s controls are located on the right side of the camera, scattered on the back and top of the body. Your thumb should be able to reach most of them with ease, although the two buttons near the base of the camera (playback and delete) can be difficult to reach with your hand in an upright, traditional shooting position. Thankfully, those two buttons aren’t really important unless you’re in playback mode on the A33.

The main menu on the A33 is both stylish and functional. it is easy to read with its bright white text and black background, and it is simple to navigate with the directional pad on the right side of the camera. You can sift through menu options by pressing the d-pad up and down, or you can jump to a new page by pressing the d-pad to the left or right.

The function menu is a quick-access menu that is meant to be used to adjust controls on the fly. It can be more complicated to use than the main menu because it is full of confusing icons and abbreviations that require some previous knowledge to fully comprehend. Using the function menu does not bring you to an alternate screen like the main menu does. You select and adjust options while the camera is in use, which means the background of the menu is comprised of whatever the lens is pointing at at the moment.

Instruction Manual

We found the manual for the A33 to be extensive and well written. It covered everything we looked for, although it occasionally glossed over subjects (like stabilization) that we wanted to get more information about. In addition to the manual, the camera does have an in-menu help system that should answer any basic questions you have about settings and menu options. To activate this help mode, just highlight a menu selection, but wait a second before selecting it. An info screen will pop up after a moment and provide you with some helpful text.

Handling

Sony was able to save space on the A33 due to the camera’s translucent mirror technology. Thus, the A33 is smaller than most traditional DSLR cameras, but it is larger than the Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens cameras you see from Panasonic and Olympus (like the Panasonic GF2, for example). This puts the A33 in a size range that is likely to please a lot of users. It is large enough to look professional and be treated like a traditional DSLR, but it isn’t quite as heavy or as bulky as your average DSLR camera.

Handling Photo 1

Sony A33 from the front

We like the size of the A33 quite a bit. The right side grip is large enough to wrap your hand around it with ease, and the camera is light enough that you can control it with one hand if you must. The textured grip on the right side of the camera is useful and it contours to the shape of your palm. There is also a good, ridged pad on the back of the camera where the thumb on your right hand can rest when it isn’t being used to adjust controls.

Handling Photo 2

Sony A33 from the back

At 3 inches, the LCD is of generous size and the fact that it does not use touchscreen technology means you don’t have to worry about touch-buttons getting in the way of your ability to frame the shot. There’s also the wonderful design feature that enables the LCD to rotate out from the camera vertically and rotate 270 degrees. This isn’t as good as having an LCD that swings out to the side (like you see on most camcorders), but the rotation offered on the A33’s screen is a great advantage when you have the camera mounted to a tripod or when you are recording video. If all DSLRs had a screen with this much flexibility, we’d be much happier.

Buttons & Dials

Nearly all of the A33’s controls are located on the right side of the camera, scattered on the back and top of the body. Your thumb should be able to reach most of them with ease, although the two buttons near the base of the camera (playback and delete) can be difficult to reach with your hand in an upright, traditional shooting position. Thankfully, those two buttons aren’t really important unless you’re in playback mode on the A33.

Buttons Photo 1

Many controls are located on the back of the camera to the right of the LCD.

On the top of the camera, buttons are easily accessible with your right index finger on the right side of the A33. The left-side controls, which include the menu button and mode dial, you’re probably best off using your left hand to make adjustments. All of the buttons feel quite good, although we’d like it if the d-pad on the back of the A33 were a bit larger. Sometimes we tried to press one direction and accidentally bumped a different direction on the d-pad instead.

Buttons Photo 2

The controls on the top are easy to reach.

Display(s)

Before we get to the specs of the LCD on the Sony A33, let’s talk about the screen’s most “pivotal” feature—the fact that it can rotate into a variety of positions. Simply put, we love having this flexibility with the LCD, particularly when shooting video or when the camera is attached to a tripod. You can swing the LCD down so you don’t have to crouch, or you can rotate it so the back is flush with the side of the camera (just like a stationary LCD would look). We also like the protective aspect that rotating the screen and tucking it into the camera offers you (this way the front of the screen isn’t exposed to scratches when you toss it in a bag).

The rotation feature could be better, of course, as we have seen LCDs that swing outward (like what is customary on a camcorder). This does give you more flexibility and better angles with which you can rotate the screen, but it’s not a huge improvement over what the A33 offers. Either way, the A33’s LCD is much better than a simple, stationary screen.

As for the specs of the LCD: the screen is 3-inches diagonally and has a resolution of 921,600 pixels. Like the viewfinder, the screen offers 100% coverage. It also has auto or manual brightness control (adjustable in the menu system).

Viewfinder

The A33 is equipped with a 0.46-inch electronic viewfinder that has a 1.44 megapixel resolution. Because the viewfinder is electronic, you are seeing the image being captured by the A33’s sensor. You are not seeing the image as it appears through the camera’s lens, which is the case with an optical viewfinder. Despite this, the viewfinder still has a 100% field of view, and a diopter adjustment dial on its side.

Image Stabilization

Alpha A33 uses Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization system inside the camera itself (not as part of the lens). This system differs from many cameras, most of which include the stabilization feature as part of the lens. Either way, we were fairly satisfied with the A33’s stabilization overall. It wasn’t quite as good as the Sony A55, but it did a reasonable job in our testing (and a good deal better than the Canon T2i and Panasonic G2).

Shooting Modes

The mode dial on the A33 isn’t loaded with options, which is the trend you see on certain DSLRs, but it still has 10 different settings. The icons and labels on the dial shouldn’t be a challenge to understand, especially if you’ve used a DSLR camera before.

Focus

The translucent mirror technology on the A33 does a good job making the camera’s autofocus system both faster and more efficient than that of a traditional DSLR. Because of the translucent mirror, the A33 can both focus and shoot at the same time (the mirror doesn’t have to move out of the way). In actual use, we found the focus system to work quickly and accurately as well.

The camera uses a 15-point autofocus system that can be setup in a number of different ways. You can tell the camera to use all 15 focus points, a center grouping of 7 points (spot focus), or a local focus setting where you choose an individual focus point. The only time we had trouble with the A33’s focus system was in low light, where the camera seemed to have trouble finding things to use as focus points.

We also weren’t crazy about the manual focus ring on the kit lens—it is simply too small and has no grip whatsoever—but this is a problem with the lens itself, and not the A33.

Recording Options

The A33 isn’t loaded with size options, but it has the basics. You get two aspect ratios to choose from (3:2 or 16:9) and there are large, medium, and small photo options for each aspect ratio. If you count the camera’s panorama image settings, then the A33 has more size options to choose from. There’s a standard or wide panorama, both of which can be captured going longways horizontally or vertically (see the table below for exact resolution specs). In addition, the camera has a 3D panorama sweep option with three different sizes to choose from.

Other Controls

Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO)

This mode uses processing to alter the image and provide the look of a wider dynamic range. Sometimes this feature produces excellent results, but since it is just using the processing power of the camera it doesn’t always do a great job (it isn’t actually widening the dynamic range the sensor is able of capturing). DRO can be set to five different levels, so you do have some control over how much dynamic range processing the A33 performs.

Auto HDR

A more complex feature than DRO, but it offers similar results. With Auto HDR, the camera takes three separate images at varying exposure levels and then combines them into one complete image in an effort to provide enhanced dynamic range. You can set the exposure stop values between the image to auto, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 EV stops (just like you can with the auto exposure bracketing feature).

Panorama

An intuitive feature that can be fun to use, panorama allows you to capture wide or tall shots by panning the A33 while holding the shutter button. With this feature activated, the camera is actually taking a number of shots as you pan. Then, after the pan is complete, the A33 stitches together the various shots automatically into one wide or tall panoramic image. As we said, the feature can be fun, but the panorama images do take up a lot of space. Also, this kind of thing can easily be done using photo editing software if you’d like to create a panorama image yourself.

3D Panorama

Yup, the A33 lets you take 3D panorama images as well. The system works the same as a regular panorama, but as you pan the camera is capturing two separate images in order to create a 3D effect in the end. Results were disappointing and the interface was very awkward—a lot more difficult to get right than the regular panorama setting. The real kicker: you need a 3D HDTV to view your finalized panorama image in 3D. Raise your hand if you’ve got one of those sitting in your living room.

Speed and Timing

There are many continuous shooting modes available on the A33, which can make things a bit more confusing than they should be. For starters, you have the dedicated speed-priority mode right on the mode dial (it is labeled well with the number “7” and an icon of stacked photos). This mode is simple to use and its capabilities are accurately described in the section above (for abridged readers: it could do about 6.6 photos per second in a burst of 12 or so).

What’s confusing is the camera’s high-speed continuous shooting mode is nearly identical to this speed-priority setting. It goes a tiny bit slower, topping out at around 6fps, but it too has a limitation on the amount of photos you can take in a row at that speed. In our tests, the high-speed continual mode could do 6fps at around 15 photos in a row. There’s a low-speed drive mode that takes close to 3 photos per second, and we found it to keep up that speed continuously. With all these burst and drive mode settings, you should use class 6 or higher memory cards for the best performance possible.

The Sony A33 is a quick shooter from shot to shot, although it is not quite as fast as the Sony A55. In our testing, we found the camera repeatedly capable of capturing around 6.6 shots per second using the dedicated high-speed shooting mode on the mode dial. This is just under the 7fps that Sony advertises for this setting, but not by much. We should also note that this 6.6fps speed only lasts for about a dozen shots or so, then the camera slows down drastically to about 2 shots per second. The A33’s high-speed shooting mode, which is separate from the speed priority mode on the mode dial, got around 6 shots per second in this test.

If you want a speedier camera, you should definitely look at the Sony A55. It could do 10 shots per second in this same test, and it was able to handle more photos in a sequence before it started to slow down. Still, the A33’s performance in this test is nothing to sneeze at—it is still one heck of a gunslinger compared to your average DSLR.

A self-timer is one of those features a lot of people love having—and that’s why it’s found on most cameras these days (from cheap point-and-shoots, to high-end DSLRs). The A33 has two basic options here: a 2-second and a 10-second self-timer. There are also options for wired or wireless remotes that can be used to take photos without having to physically touch the camera.

In addition, there’s a Smile Shutter feature that will snap a photo when it detects a smile within the frame. When this mode is activated, a small bar appears on the LCD (or viewfinder) that shows the level of smile that is being detected. You can then also set the smile detection level to slight, normal, or big. You get the picture: with smile detection set to “big” only large, wide-mouth smiles will set off the shutter. Setting detection to “slight” does the opposite, as even little smirks will activate the camera.

Focus Speed

The translucent mirror technology on the A33 does a good job making the camera’s autofocus system both faster and more efficient than that of a traditional DSLR. Because of the translucent mirror, the A33 can both focus and shoot at the same time (the mirror doesn’t have to move out of the way). In actual use, we found the focus system to work quickly and accurately as well.

The camera uses a 15-point autofocus system that can be setup in a number of different ways. You can tell the camera to use all 15 focus points, a center grouping of 7 points (spot focus), or a local focus setting where you choose an individual focus point. The only time we had trouble with the A33’s focus system was in low light, where the camera seemed to have trouble finding things to use as focus points.

We also weren’t crazy about the manual focus ring on the kit lens—it is simply too small and has no grip whatsoever—but this is a problem with the lens itself, and not the A33.

Features

Recording Options

The A33 has two compression options for recording video. There’s an AVCHD record mode, which should be familiar to anyone who has used an HD camcorder in the past few years, and there’s an MPEG-4 recording option. Both modes record using 30p frame rates, but only the AVCHD option allows for recording a 1920 × 1080 image (Full HD). The MPEG-4 mode tops out with a 1440 × 1080 resolution and it also has a standard definition record setting called VGA (640 × 480). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Auto Controls

One of the big downsides to the Sony A33 is the camera's lack of manual control options for video recording. Essentially, the camera is functions entirely in auto mode from the moment you press the record button until you stop the recording by pressing it again. During recording, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are set automatically and all three are impossible to adjust. The one benefit of the A33's entirely-automated video mode is that the camera does have a better autofocus system than most video-capable DSLRs.

Zoom

The A33 is an interchangeable lens camera, so the zoom controls and zoom ratio completely depend on what lens you have attached. The 18 - 55mm kit lens that we used has around a 3x optical zoom and the zoom is controlled by rotating the ring on the lens. If you're used to consumer camcorders with their large 10x - 20x zooms, the lack of optical magnification on video-DSLRs may be difficult to get used to.

Focus

As we said above, the autofocus system on the A33 is one thing that sets the camera apart from other video-DSLRs. Because of Sony's translucent mirror technology, the A33 can continually focus automatically (even during recording) without the need to press or hold a button. The focus is quite jarring, though, and it is far different than the smooth, gradual focus transitions that you see on most camcorders these days. The autofocus system on the A33 is also a lot louder and slower than that of a traditional camcorder. If this isn't your thing, you can switch the focus system to manual (where you use the lens ring to adjust), or you can turn off the continual autofocus and only have the camera re-focus when you press a button.

Exposure Controls

Exposure is the only manual control that can be adjusted freely on the A33 in video mode. You can set exposure during or prior to beginning your video recording, and the range of adjustment is on a -2 to +2 scale with 1/3 EV increments.

Sony makes things confusing by not offering a dedicated video mode on the A33’s mod dial. This means you can start recording in manual mode, which makes you think that shutter and aperture are adjustable, but they aren’t in reality. You can adjust those settings, but as soon as you hit the record button the A33 switches them over to manual control. Having a simple, dedicated video mode would eliminate a lot of this confusion.

Other Controls

ISO, like aperture and shutter speed, is also not adjustable in video mode (and it has the same quirky issue that makes you think it's being adjusted). Even if you select a specific ISO prior to recording, the camera will revert to auto ISO when you start recording video.

So what features can be used in video? The creative style picture options can, and they function the same way they do for photos. Also, you can set white balance presets or use a manual white balance for video recording.

Audio Features

The A33 has a built-in stereo microphone, which is more than you can say about most DSLRs that record video. We wouldn’t go as far as saying this mic is well-placed, however, as its location on the top of the A33 is right in the middle of a few buttons and controls (i.e. the exact place a finger my accidentally rub up against it).

Thankfully, you can avoid using the built-in mic altogether by connecting an external mic to the 3.5mm mic jack on the side of the camera (a great boon if you’re overly concerned about audio quality). Or, if you don’t care for audio at all, you can turn off audio recording in the menu system.

In the Box

Box Photo

The Sony Alpha SLT-A33 comes with:

  • neck strap
  • rechargeable battery pack (with wall charger)
  • instruction manual and software CD
  • USB cable

If purchased as a kit, the camera comes with the 18-55mm f/3.5 lens shown in the photo above.

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