Sony SLT-A33

      Photo Review 9

      In summary

      A compact, lightweight DSLR with most of the features of the SLT-A55V but slightly lower resolution and a $300 lower price tag.Sony’s SLT-A33 offers most of the features of the SLT-A55V that we reviewed in August but the sensor’s resolution is reduced to 14.2 megapixels (effective), its burst speeds and power management are decreased. The built-in GPS receiver is also absent. . . [more]

      Full review


      Sony’s SLT-A33 offers most of the features of the SLT-A55V that we reviewed in August but the sensor’s resolution is reduced to 14.2 megapixels (effective), its burst speeds and power management are decreased. The built-in GPS receiver is also absent.

      Otherwise, the α33 and α55 are almost identical, with the same body and Translucent Mirror Technology (TMT) technology that allows fast burst speeds and autofocusing when shooting still and video clips. The sizes of the Sweep Panorama images are the same – and so are the movie recording options. The differences between the two models are outlined in the table below.




      Sensor area

      23.4 x 15.6 mm

      23.5 x 15.6 mm

      Effective megapixels

      14.2 MP

      16.2 MP

      Image sizes 3:2 aspect

      4592x 3056, 3344 x 2224,
      2288 x 1520

      4912 x 3264, 3568 x 2368,
      2448 x 1624

      Image sizes 16:9 aspect

      4592 x 2576, 3344 x 1872,
      2288 x 1280

      4912 x 2760, 3568 x 2000,
      2448 x 1376

      Max. burst speed

      7 fps

      10 fps

      Buffer capacity

      16 Large/Fine JPEG; 7 ARW.RAW

      35 Large/Fine JPEG; 20 ARW.RAW

      Battery capacity

      Approx. 270 shots with EVF / Approx. 340 shots with LCD

      Approx. 330 shots with EVF / Approx. 380 shots with LCD

      Body dimensions

      Approx. 124.4 x 92 x 84.7 mm

      Body weight

      Approx. 433 grams

      Approx. 441 grams

      RRP (body only)



      Build and Ergonomics
      A detailed coverage of these characteristics of the SLT-series cameras has been provided in our review of the SLT-A55V model so we’ll cover only the main differences provided with the α33 here. Even though the bodies of both models are identical, the α33 is eight grams lighter than the α55, which is barely noticeable and is probably accounted for by the GPS unit in the latter.

      Owners of the α33 who wish to geotag photos can do so with an external GPS data logger. However, it’s less convenient than the built-in system and requires software to track and calculate the location where images and video clips were recorded. If geotagging is important for your photography, you would be better off paying extra to buy the α55.

      Aside from the model name, which appears on the front panel between the command dial and the lens mount, both cameras look the same. The illustrations below show the front, rear and top panels of the SLT-A33 model.


      Front view of the Sony α33 with the SAL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM kit lens and pop-up flash raised. (Source: Sony.)


      Rear view of the α33 with the LCD monitor positioned for low-angle shooting. (Source: Sony.)


      Rear view of the α33 with the LCD monitor reversed onto the camera body. (Source: Sony.)


      Top view of the α33 body showing the control layout. (Source: Sony.)

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The α33’s EXMOR CMOS sensor measures 23.4 x 15.6mm and has 14.6 million photosites with an effective output resolution of 14.2 megapixels. Since the a55’s sensor is the same size but supports 16.2 megapixel resolution, the differences in photosite sizes are small – but significant.

      The a33 has a pixel pitch of 5.08 microns, whereas the a55’s is 4.77 microns. This disparity could account for some of the performance differences we found in our tests, especially since the a33’s sensor comes with the same on-chip, column parallel, analogue/digital noise reduction converters that were introduced with the DSLR-A900 model in late 2008.

      The BIONZ image processor is the same as in the α55 and features special algorithms to support high-speed continuous shooting. It also covers sensitivity settings up to ISO 12,800 without requiring a reduction in image sizes and includes an auto ISO setting that ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 1600.

      The α33 also comes with Sony’s sensor-shift image stabilisation system which, although marginally less effective than lens-based stabilisers, claims a shutter speed advantage of between 2.5 and 4.0 EV, depending on the lens used and the shooting conditions. It has the benefit of working with all lenses fitted to the camera.

      Like the α55, the α33 provides few noise-reduction processing adjustments. Long exposure NR can only be switched on and off, while the only settings for high ISO NR are ‘auto’ and ‘weak’.

      As in other Sony DSLRs, still images can be captured as JPEG or ARW.RAW files. Two compression levels are provided for the former, while the latter can be captured with or without a JPEG file. Raw files are compressed losslessly and the image is fixed at 4592 x 3056 pixels.

      Two aspect ratios are selectable via the menu system: the normal 3:2 or widescreen 16:9. When raw files are recorded in widescreen mode, the longer sides of the image are cropped but the file size remains at 4592x 3056 pixels (3:2 aspect ratio) with the cropped areas shown in black. Typical image sizes for all still capture modes are shown in the table below.

      Image size


      Aspect ratio

      Approx. File size




      4592x 3056





      4592x 3056



      L: 14M

      4592x 3056




      M: 7.4M

      3344 x 2224



      S: 3.5M

      2288 x 1520



      L: 12M

      4592 x 2576




      M: 6.3M

      3344 x 1872



      S: 2.9M

      2288 x 1280



      Panorama (max. size, Standard mode, Horizontal)

      8192 x 1856

      4.4:1 (approx.)


      Panorama (max. size, Standard mode, Vertical)

      3872 x 2160

      1.8:1 (approx.)


      Panorama (max. size, Wide mode, Horizontal)

      12,416 x 1856

      6.7:1 (approx.)


      Panorama (max. size, Wide mode, Vertical)

      5536 x 2160

      2.56:1 (approx.)


      The α33 provides the same video recording modes as the α55 with three resolution settings: 1920 x 1080 pixels; 1440 x 1080 pixels and 640 x 480 pixels. Full HD clips are interlaced and recorded in the AVCHD format at 50 fields/second, which equates to 25 frames/second (the traditional movie frame rate). Soundtracks are recorded in Dolby Digital audio format.

      Progressive scanning is used for other resolutions, which have a 4:3 aspect ratio and are recorded in MP4 format at 25 frames/second with AAC audio. Typical recording times for a 4GB memory card are shown in the table below.



      Aspect ratio

      Frame rate

      Recording time on 4GB memory card


      1920 x 1080 pixels


      17 Mbps

      28 minutes, 30 seconds


      1440 x 1080 pixels



      41 minutes, 40 seconds

      640 x 480 pixels



      2 hours, 31 minutes, 10 seconds

      The TMT viewing system enables ‘real-time’ phase-detection AF in movie mode, with focus readjustment while clips are recorded. While this feature is sure to be appreciated by parents who wish to take videos of children playing sport, it requires the lens to be set at maximum aperture – which may not provide the correct exposure levels in very bright conditions. It also eliminates one of the main advantages of shooting video with a DSLR: the ability to control depth-of-field through aperture selection.

      Recording Modes
      Essentially, these are the same as in the a55, although with no built-in GPS receiver, the associated geotagging functions are not supported – unless you import the data separately post-capture. Consequently, the a33 provides all the multi-shot modes (Sweep Shooting, Continuous Advance Priority AE and Auto HDR) that make the SLT-series cameras so attractive to photo enthusiasts. The ‘Digital Level Gauge’ is also available to help you keep horizons straight.

      We’ve covered the many shooting modes in our review of the a55 so we won’t repeat the details here. However, whereas the 3D Panorama mode was inaccessible on the a55, we have been able to test it in the a33 camera. After using it we’ve come to the conclusion it was a last-minute add-in driven by the release of Sony’s 3D-capable Bravia TV sets and, although you can record stereo pairs, the 3D functionality isn’t particularly well implemented.

      It’s tricky getting into (and out of) this mode. With the camera powered-up, you must set the mode dial to the Sweep Shooting mode and then, as soon as this mode is displayed on the monitor, press the AF button in the centre of the arrow pad. This lets you toggle between normal and 3D sweep shooting.

      3D panorama stills are recorded in the standard MPO (multi-picture) format, which consists of separate JPEGs for the left and right images. When you open an MPO file in compatible software, each image in the pair can be seen and either image can be extracted for viewing separately.

      You can only record 3D pans with horizontal sweeps because the viewing systems can only support horizontal images. The a33 supports three sizes in 3D Pan mode:
      3D 16:9 with 1920 x 1080 pixels,
      3D STD (Standard) with 4912 x 1080 pixels, and
      3D Wide with 7152 x 1080 pixels.

      Unlike Fujifilm’s dedicated cameras, the a33 provides no parallax adjustments and very little in the way of shooting tips that might help you to record usable 3D stereo pairs. We found it impossible to shoot 3D pans that lined up perfectly to produce totally sharp 3D images, although with care during the shooting process, it was possible to produce a few usable shots.

      3D panoramas work best when subjects are at least 2.5 metres from the lens and immobile (or moving VERY slowly). Pans must be smooth and reasonably fast. (The camera posts a warning message if you move too quickly or too slowly and nothing is recorded.)

      You can’t adjust lens apertures, shutter speeds or ISO settings in this mode. Focus, exposure and white balance are fixed at the beginning of the sweep and any deviations in the subject won’t be taken into account. 3D pans work best with wide-angle lenses.

      No facilities are provided for viewing 3D images in-camera – and the supplied software doesn’t support 3D viewing or editing. However, you can download Stereo PhotoMaker, a free application that supports MPO viewing and editing, from


      Viewing the left and right images – plus the combined 3D pan – with Stereo PhotoMaker software.


      Shooting 3D pans too close to the subject produces images that can only be combined successfully at one point, providing less-than-ideal viewing.

      Users with 3D-compatible TV sets (most brands) can play the MPO back by connecting the camera via an HDMI cable (sold separately). However, unlike Fujifilm’s 3D cameras, the a33 and a55 can’t record movie clips in 3D so you can only record and view stills.

      The Continuous Advance Priority AE (high-speed burst) mode, which is located between the Sweep Panorama and M modes on the mode dial, is a bit slower than the a55’s mode, recording at approximately seven frames/second. However, it’s much faster than similarly-priced cameras and useful for photographing fast -moving subjects like children and pets. In this mode, you can adjust image size and quality settings (including selecting ARW.RAW and RAW+JPEG) and set ISO, white balance, colour space and exposure compensation.


      The Continuous Advance Priority AE mode, which records at seven frames/second is useful for capturing fast-moving subjects like children and pets. (55mm focal length, 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO1000.)

      If the AF mode is set to Continuous AF, focusing and exposure will be adjusted as you shoot. In Single-shot AF mode, focus is locked with the first shot. Face Detection AF is not available for high-speed bursts, although Auto HDR adjustments will be made when this setting is selected.
      Playback and Software
      The α33 provides the same suite of playback modes for still images and video clips as the a55. We’ve covered these in our review of the DSLR-A550. The supplied software disk is the same as the a55’s and both models share the same user manual, which is provided in PDF format on the software disk.

      We conducted most of our shooting tests with the SAL1855 kit lens supplied with the camera. This lens has been reviewed with the DSLR-A380. Relatively compact and light weight, this lens is also comparatively slow – although fairly typical of cheaper standard zooms.

      Throughout most of the review period, the weather in Sydney was dismal, which made shooting conditions more like Northern Hemisphere lighting than a typical Aussie spring. On the few occasions when the sun emerged, we found the camera’s auto exposure system to be slightly better balanced than the a55’s, although there were a few occasions where the D-range adjustments were required to record details in highlights. Otherwise, metering was mostly accurate, including in the burst modes and when shooting video clips.

      The AF system on the a33 was as fast and accurate as we found with the a55 and the review camera was just as able to keep focus on moving subjects – as long as they weren’t moving really fast. We found a similar slight tendency to hunt in low light levels and with low-contrast subjects.

      For our Imatest testing, we used the SAL35F18 35mm f/1.8 lens, which was also supplied with the camera, although it’s not included in any camera-plus-lens bundles. Not unexpectedly, test shots from the review camera were similar to those taken with the a55 we reviewed in August, although the slightly warm colour cast we noticed in the a55 shots was much less evident.

      Imatest showed the review camera to be capable of matching the resolution expected for a 14-megapixel camera when shooting JPEGs. As we found with the a55, the supplied Image Data Converter SR software delivered 16-bit TIFF files with slightly lower resolution than the JPEGs straight from the camera. However, we obtained higher resolution than expected with ARW.RAW files when we converted them with Adobe Camera Raw 6.2 so we’ve based our assessments on these files.

      Resolution with both file types declined gradually at sensitivity was increased but remained pleasingly high at the top sensitivity setting of ISO 12,800. The results of our tests are shown in the graph below.


      Interestingly, the highest resolutions were obtained with the ISO 200 setting, although the ISO 100 figures were only marginally lower. There was little decline until ISO 1600, when a gradual downward trend began. JPEG resolution at ISO 400 and 800 was slightly higher than we found for the a55and converted raw files were very close to the values we obtained for the same ISO settings with the a55.

      Resolution remained similar for both file types right up to ISO 12,800. Given the effective resolution of the a55 is roughly 12% higher, this says a lot about the benefits of having slightly larger photosites in the a33.

      Long exposures at night were almost noise-free up to ISO 3200 and shots taken at ISO 6400 were free enough of noise to be printable at A5 size. At ISO 12,800 images were liberally sprinkled with coloured dots and colour reproduction was affected – but not enough to prevent the files from being usable at small output sizes, should the need arise. In-camera noise-reduction processing tended to blur image detail without significantly reducing the effects of the image noise.

      Auto white balance performance was similar to the a55 and the a33 provides all the same in-camera adjustments. Two levels of WB bracketing are available. When Lo is selected, the colour is shifted by 10 mired, while the Hi setting changes the colour balance by 20 mired.

      The kit lens was susceptible to veiling flare in many backlit situations, although it coped quite well with contre-jour shooting when the subject obscured the light source. Coloured fringing was noticeable when wide-angle shots were magnified but barely visible at the 55mm focal length.

      Video clips were as good as those obtained from the a55 – and a cut above most other DSLRs, thanks in part to the speed and accuracy of the phase-detection AF system. Unfortunately, the sound of the AF motor in the kit lens was recorded and wind noise was an ever-present issue when shooting video outdoors.
      It took just under one second to power-up the review camera and shot-to-shot times averaged 1.3 seconds. We measured an average capture lag of 0.2 seconds, indicating faster-than-average autofocusing speeds. This was reduced to a consistent 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Both JPEG and ARW.RAW files were processed in 1.8 seconds, while a RAW+JPEG pair took 2.7 seconds.

      In the Continuous-High shooting mode, the review camera performed to specifications, capturing seven JPEG frames in one second. Swapping to the Continuous-Low mode enabled the camera to record 10 JPEGs in 4.2 seconds. It took 4.2 seconds to process each burst.

      The same capture speeds applied when the Continuous-Low mode was used for ARW.RAW file capture, although it took 7.5 seconds to process a burst of 10 frames. With RAW+JEPG recording, the buffer memory is limited to seven pairs, which were recorded in 2.9 seconds. It took 10.8 seconds to process this burst.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You’re looking for an affordable, lightweight DSLR that can shoot high-resolution stills and Full HD video clips.
      – You’re prepared to shoot and edit both JPEG and ARW.RAW images.
      – You could utilise some of the multi-frame and high-speed shooting modes.
      – You want body-integrated image stabilisation that works with all lenses.

      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You’re a point-and press photographer who isn’t prepared to explore the camera’s full capabilities.
      – You want a built-in GPS receiver.
      – You don’t like electronic viewfinders.

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      JPEG images


      AWR.RAW images converted in Photoshop CS5 with Adobe Camera Raw





      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens; 18mm focal length, 1/250 second at f/10; ISO100.


      A crop from a 100% enlargement of the above image showing coloured fringing near the edge of the frame.


      55mm focal length, 1/350 second at f/10; ISO100.


      A crop from a 100% enlargement of the above image.


      Sweep Shooting using the Standard mode; 18mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/6.3; ISO100.


      Comparison of the Sweep Shooting modes: the top picture shows the Standard mode, while the lower picture shows the Wide setting at the same width. (28mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/9; ISO100 for both shots.) Note the degree of cropping required to produce the Wide panorama.


      One application for the Sweep Shooting mode is to cover angles-of-view wider than the camera’s lens. However, the field-of-view is severely cropped and, although the exposure settings can accommodate a reasonably wide dynamic range, the end result may not include everything you wish to record. (18mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/3.5; ISO1600.)


      Dynamic range with no D-range adjustments; P mode, 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/7.1; ISO100.


      The same subject photographed without (left) and with (right) the Auto HDR shooting mode. (18mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/8; ISO100 for both shots.)


      30-second exposure at ISO 100; 35mm focal length, f/4.


      20-second exposure at ISO 3200; 35mm focal length, f/14.


      10-second exposure at ISO 6400; 35mm focal length, f/14.


      6-second exposure at ISO 12,800; 35mm focal length, f/18.


      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.


      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/5.6; ISO 800.


      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/6.3; ISO 6400.


      Flash exposure; 55mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/9; ISO12,800.


      Veiling flare with a strongly backlit subject; 55mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/7.1; ISO 100.


      Close-up; 50mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/7.1.


      Still frames from 1920 x 1080 pixel HD video clips.




      Still frames from 1440 x 1080 pixel video clips.


      Still frames from VGA video clips.




      Image sensor: 23.4 x 15.6mm Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor with 14.6 million photosites (14.2 megapixels effective)
      A/D processing: 12-bit
      Lens mount: Sony A-mount (accepts Minolta and Konica Minolta AF lenses)
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: Stills – ARW.RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG; Movies – AVCHD/MP4
      Image Sizes: Stills – 3:2 aspect: 4592x 3056, 3344 x 2224, 2288 x 1520; 16:9 aspect: 4592 x 2576, 3344 x 1872, 2288 x 1280; Movies: 1920 x 1080 (50i recording, 25 fps image sensor output / Average bit rate 17 Mbps); 1440 x 1080 (25 fps / Average bit rate 12 Mbps), 640 x 480 (25 fps / Average bit rate 3 Mbps)
      Image Stabilisation: Body-integrated image-sensor shift; approx. 2.5 to 4 stops decrease in shutter speeds (varies with conditions and lens used)
      Dust removal: Charge protection coating on low pass filter and image-sensor shift mechanism
      Shutter speed range: 30 seconds to 1/4000 second plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/160 second
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments
      Exposure bracketing: 3 continuous exposures in 0.3 or 0.7-stop steps
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
      Focus system: TTL phase-detection system using CCD line sensors; wide area / 15-point local frame selection / fixed centre spot focus, predictive AF for moving subjects, auto-tracking focus point, focus lock
      Focus modes: Single-shot AF, Auto AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus
      Exposure metering: 1200-zone evaluative
      Shooting modes: Auto, Advanced (Auto+), Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Sweep Panorama (2D/3D), Continuous Advance Priority AE; Scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night view / Night portrait, Hand-held Twilight)
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, B/W
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100 to 12,800 (in 1-stop increments)
      White balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash), Colour Temperature (2500 to 9900K with 19-step Magenta / Green compensation)
      Flash: Built-in Auto Pop-up, GN 10 (metres at ISO 100)
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments
      Sequence shooting: Up to 7 fps in Continuous Advance Priority AE mode, up to 6 fps in Continuous mode; max. 16 Large/Fine JPEGs, 7 raw frames
      Storage Media: Single slot that accepts SD/SDHCSDXC or Memory Stick Pro Duo cards
      Viewfinder: 1.2 cm colour EVF with 100% FOV, 1.1x magnification, approx 19mm eye relief, dioptre adjustment from -4.0 to +4.0 dpt
      LCD monitor: 3.0-inch (100% field of view), 921,600-dot TFT, Xtra Fine LCD with TruBlack technology
      Live View modes: Quick AF Live View using translucent mirror mechanism
      Data LCD: No
      Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (4 or 9 frames), Enlarge (7.2x to 14x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), Shooting information
      Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini), Mic. terminal, remote controller, Bravia synch
      Power supply: NP-FW50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 270 shots (EVF) or 340 shots (LCD)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 124.4 x 92 x 84.7 mm
      Weight: Approx. 433 grams (without battery, memory card or accessories)





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      RRP: $949 (body only); $1,099 with 18-55mm lens.

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.8
      • Image quality: Stills – 9.0; Video – 9.0
      • OVERALL: 9.0