Sony DSLR-A350

    leadpic_Sony_A350

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    Sony DSLR-A350

      In summary

      A competitively-priced, feature-rich DSLR with high sensor resolution plus a tilting LCD and live viewing facilities.Announced shortly after the DSLR-A200 model, Sony's DSLR-A350 offers higher resolution and a variable-angle LCD that supports live view shooting. This makes the camera body slightly thicker and heavier than the A200 - although it's still significantly smaller and lighter than the DSLR-A700. Otherwise the two cameras have almost identical control layouts and functions, although we found the A350's grip slightly more solid and comfortable than the A200's. The review camera was supplied with the new Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 ZA lens, which proved to be a much better performer than the kit lens. . . [more]

      Full review

      leadpic_Sony_A350

      Announced shortly after the DSLR-A200 model, Sony's DSLR-A350 offers higher resolution and a variable-angle LCD that supports live view shooting. This makes the camera body slightly thicker and heavier than the A200 - although it's still significantly smaller and lighter than the DSLR-A700. Otherwise the two cameras have almost identical control layouts and functions, although we found the A350's grip slightly more solid and comfortable than the A200's. The review camera was supplied with the new Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 ZA lens, which proved to be a much better performer than the kit lens.

      A350_back

      Back view of the A350 showing the menu system.

      The LCD screen itself is essentially the same as the A200's - and lower in resolution than the A700's. However, on the A350, its mounting pulls out to an angle of roughly 40 degrees from the body and hinges up through about 130 degrees. You can't reverse the screen onto the camera body as you can with a fully articulated LCD but the range of adjustments allows you to use the live view mode for shooting with the camera held above your head, at waist level - or at other angles.

      A350_back_monitor-down
      A350_back_monitor-out

      Two views of the A350 showing the adjustable monitor.

      Unlike Sony's other DSLR cameras, the A350 supports two aspect ratios for image recording: the standard 3:2 and an additional 16:9 format for images that will be viewed on a widescreen TV screen or computer monitor. When you set the camera for 16:9 shooting, the top and bottom of the frame are cropped - and also blacked out in both the viewfinder and on the live view screen, allowing you to see what the shot will look like.

      A350_top

      Top view showing the control layout and the location of the live view slider switch.

      Eye-start autofocusing is carried over from the A100 model, as is the body-integrated Super SteadyShot stabilisation system, which works with all lenses fitted to the camera body. The A100's dust removal technology, which combines an anti-static coating on the low-pass filter with vibration to shake off dust, is also essentially unchanged.
      The following functions are essentially unchanged from the A200:
      - the autofocusing system, which is much the same as the A700;
      - the LCD and Fn. button-based menu system;
      - the Bionz image processing engine and enhanced D-Range Optimiser;
      - the ISO range, which peaks at ISO 3200;
      - the battery indicator icon with percentage remaining display;
      - the auto pop-up flash, which deploys automatically in the auto shooting modes;
      - the Super SteadyShot in-body stabilisation system, which claims to provide between 2.5 and 3.5 stops of extra hand-holding stability;
      - the sensor-shift/anti-static coating dust removal system.
      The table below compares key specifications of the A200, A350 and A700 models.

       

      Sony DSLR-A200

      Sony DSLR-A350

      Sony DSLR-A700

      Effective resolution

      10.2 megapixels

      14.2 megapixels

      12.24 megapixels

      Photosite dimensions

      6.09 microns

      5.12 microns

      5.50 microns

      Image file formats

      RAW, JPEG,
      RAW+JPEG

      RAW, JPEG,
      RAW+JPEG

      RAW, JPEG,
      RAW+JPEG

      Aspect ratios

      3:2

      3:2 and 16:9

      3:2

      Image size options

      3872 x 2592

      4592 x 3056,
      4592 x 2576

      4272 x 2848

      2896 x 1936

      3408 x 2272,
      3408 x 1920

      3104 x 2064

      1920 x 1280

      2288 x 1520,
      2288 x 1280

      2128 x 1424

      Shutter speeds

      30-1/4000 + B

      30-1/4000 + B

      30-1/8000 + B

      ISO sensitivity

      100-3200

      100-3200

      100-1600
      (exp to 80, 2000)

      Burst rate/ Buffer capacity

      3 fps/ 6 RAW,
      unlimited JPEG

      2.5 fps (max)/ 4 RAW,
      unlimited JPEG

      5 fps/ 6 RAW,
      unlimited JPEG

      AF type

      Eye-start TTL
      Phase detection

      Eye-start TTL
      Phase detection

      Eye-start TTL
      Phase detection

      AF area points

      9

      9

      11

      Viewfinder type

      penta-Dach mirror

      penta-Dach mirror

      pentaprism

      FOV coverage

      95%

      95%

      95%

      Monitor size and
      resolution

      2.7-inch
      230,400 pixels

      2.7-inch
      230,400 pixels

      3.0-inch
      921,600 pixels

      Live View

      No

      Yes

      No

      Body dimensions
      (WxHxD in mm)

      130.8 x 98.5 x 71.3

      130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7

      141.7 x 104.8 x 79.9

      Body weight in grams

      532

      582

      690

      As in the A200, the USB port is located in front of the memory card slot and you can only access it when the card compartment door is open. More information on the control layout and camera functions - and also the software bundle - can be found in the review of the DSLR-A200.
      The higher-resolution sensor marginally reduces the number of shots per battery charge, from 750 to 730 when flash is not used. Using the live view mode further cuts the number of shots/charge to around 410. The DSLR-A350 can also accept the same optional vertical grip (VG-B30AM) as the A200. When two batteries are inserted in this grip, it will extend shooting 'stamina' to 1460 shots (820 shots in live view mode).
      An incidental piece of information we picked up online, which will appeal to environmentalists, says the body cap of the A350 is manufactured from polyamide 11, an organic plastic made from castor oil. Sony claims increased use of such plastics can reduce greenhouse gas production and lessen our dependence on crude oil resources.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The A350's 23.5mm x 15.7mm CCD sensor has an effective resolution of 14.2-megapixels. It's partnered with the same Bionz image processor as found in the A200 model. As in other Sony DSLRs, image files can be recorded in JPEG or ARW.RAW format for both aspect ratios. Three image sizes and two Quality (compression) levels are available for JPEG files. Simultaneous RAW+JPEG capture is offered but the image size is fixed at Large and the quality is set to Fine.
      Typical file sizes are provided in the table below.

      Image quality

      Aspect ratio

      Image size

      File size

      Fine

      Standard

      ARW.RAW

      3:2

      4592 x 3056

      14.2MB

      ARW.RAW

      16:9

      4592 x 2576

      13.7MB

      RAW+JPEG

      3:2

      4592 x 3056)

      20.8MB

      RAW+JPEG

      16:9

      4592 x 2576

      19.6MB

       

      JPEG L [10M]

      3:2

      4592 x 3056 (14M)

      6.6MB

      4.7MB

      16:9

      4592 x 2576 (12M)

      5.9MB

      4.5MB

       

      JPEG M [5.6M]

      3:2

      3408 x 2272 (7.7M)

      4.2MB

      3.3MB

      16:9

      3408 x 1920 (6.5M)

      4.0MB

      2.7MB

       

      JPEG S [2.5M]

      3:2

      2288 x 1520 (3.5M)

      2.9MB

      2.2MB

      16:9

      2288 x 1280 (2.9M)

      2.5MB

      2.3MB

      Two types of noise reduction processing are provided, separately covering long exposures and high ISO settings. Long-exposure NR, which is available for exposures longer than one second, uses the dark-frame subtraction method, which roughly doubles image processing times. It appears not to be applied when raw files are recorded, regardless of exposure duration, unless the ISO is set to 1600 or higher.
      High-ISO NR kicks in automatically at ISO settings of 1600 and above and is applied to both raw and JPEG files. It appears to have little effect on processing times. Both noise reduction systems can be switched off manually in the camera menu.

      Live View Shooting
      Sony's Quick AF Live View technology is somewhat different from the systems used by other manufacturers because it relies on a separate sensor in the viewfinder housing. Whereas other systems use the main image sensor to provide the live preview, which means the reflex mirror has to be raised then lowered quickly for metering and autofocusing and raised again to take the shot, Sony's system is simpler and much faster.
      Moving the slider switch on the top panel to the Live View position blocks off the optical viewfinder. A tilting mirror in the front of the pentamirror housing directs the light path to a secondary sensor above the optical viewfinder, which provides the image for the LCD. This means there's no need for the mirror to be raised to provide the live view.
      At the same time, the semi-reflecting main mirror passes light down to the AF sensor below the mirror chamber. This allows the TTL phase-detection AF system to function normally in live view mode, without requiring a separate contrast-detect AF system. The dual sensor design allows the camera's AF system to be as responsive in live view mode as it is when the viewfinder is used for shot composition - as we proved in our performance tests (see below). It can even support focus tracking and predictive focusing.
      Unfortunately, unlike the cameras that use the image sensor for the live view, the Sony system does not display the full imaging area of the sensor. Instead, it covers about 90% of the sensor's field, which is slightly less than the camera's viewfinder. This is fine as long as precise framing is not critical. However, when taking our Imatest shots we found the leeway required to frame shots was slightly greater than in cameras that lack live viewing.
      One of the nice features of the live view mode was the integration with the live viewing function with the on-screen information displays, particularly for autofocusing. Indicators on the screen show the AF points selected, allowing you to recompose shots or adjust lens apertures to ensure the aspects of the subject you want to image sharply are just that. You can also select different shooting modes and see exactly which setting you've chosen while viewing the subject in the background. Some simulated examples are shown below.

      A350_AF_indicators

      The autofocus indicators as they appear in live view mode.

      A350_drive-mode

      Menu settings are integrated effectively into the live viewing system.

      The live view mode has two additional advantages. Instead of the regular 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC metering system, the live view mode brings in a more advanced 1200-zone metering system, which uses the dedicated live view sensor to evaluate light levels and colour distribution. In theory, exposures should be easier to measure accurately with this system.
      Sony has also introduced a Smart Teleconverter function, which is accessed via a button on the top right corner of the rear panel and can magnify images by an equivalent of 1.4x or 2x. The company claims the system does not reduce image quality - although it does reduce the image size. This is essentially a cropping zoom, which resembles the digital zoom function on digicams but appears not to involve interpolation. It only works in live view mode.

      Handling
      Like the A200, the A350 is very straightforward to use. Although its body feels a little more solid and better built than its cheaper 'cousin', accessing the various camera functions is essentially the same in both cameras. Even photographers who prefer to shoot with the viewfinder will find the tilting monitor and live viewing facilities valuable at times.
      Portrait photographers can maintain eye contact with their subjects without the impediment of a camera in front of their face and gain a comfortable perspective by shooting with the camera at waist level. Live viewing is also great for shooting close-ups, particularly of subjects near ground level, where it allows greater flexibility in shot composition than the A200's fixed screen provides. It is also useful for studio photography when the camera is tripod mounted (provided precise framing is not vital).
      Interestingly, the adjustable LCD plus live viewing system works equally well regardless of whether the camera is held horizontally or vertically although, for the latter you must look to the side, instead of down, to compose the shot. Best of all, though is its speed. There's no delay for mirror flip-up and no AF delay while the screen blanks out. Capture lag is virtually eliminated.

      Performance
      Imatest showed the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 ZA lens to be a much better performer on this camera than the kit lens. The combination was capable of very high resolution with only minimal variation in line widths/pixel height figures throughout the ISO range. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

      A350_resolution_vs_ISO

      Colour accuracy was generally good and our Imatest assessments showed skin hues to be almost spot-on. Slight shifts were detected in orange-red, cyan and purple with marginally elevated saturation in purple and slightly depressed saturation in yellow. White balance performance was similar to the DSLR-A200 model, with slight residual colour casts remaining in the auto mode under both incandescent and fluorescent lighting. These casts were adequately corrected with the pre-sets and the manual measurement system and would be equally easy to remedy in editing software.
      The AF system on the review camera was fast and, for most subjects, accurate, although using spot focusing for shooting birds in flight against a blue sky resulted in several missed shots as the camera hunted for focus. (A better option is to use the local or wide area settings with spot metering.) All three metering modes produced accurate exposures under most lighting conditions.

      The Super SteadyShot stabilisation performed well in dim lighting and allowed us to shoot with the camera hand-held at roughly three stops below the normal shutter speed limit. The built-in dust reduction system was less effective than we've seen on competing models although, to be fair, we put the A350 through some severe trials in the course of our tests. Fortunately, the only dust spots we found on shots were easily removed with 'healing' tools in editing software and they were generally few in number. One of our worst dust-affected images is shown below.

      DSC00461-dust

      Dust spots on the above image are encircled with red.

      Low-light performance was very good, with accurate colours in long exposures (up to 30 seconds) and no apparent noise in exposures up to ISO 800. Colour noise became evident at ISO 3200 but at a relatively low level, although some shadow detail was lost with this setting. Neither of the noise reduction processing settings produced visible image softening but they did provide an obvious reduction in both colour and pattern noise.
      The test camera's flash produced even exposures at all ISO settings and was capable of illuminating an average-sized room at ISO 200. Flash shots were essentially noise-free with noise only becoming visible at ISO 3200. The test camera took less than a second to power up and shut down and shot-to-shot times averaged just under 0.5 seconds.
      Other response times were generally fast, especially in live view mode. We compared the live view shooting speed of the A350 with several other DSLR cameras with live view shooting to see whether the A350 was significantly more responsive than its rivals. We repeated each task five times and averaged the results, which are presented in the table below.

      Task

      Sony A350

      Canon EOS 40D

      Olympus E-410

      Panasonic L10

      Capture lag (without pre-focusing)

      negligible

      0.13 sec.

      0.7 sec.

      2.1 sec.

      Shutter lag (pre-focused)

      negligible

      0.1 sec

      0.55 sec.

      0.5 sec.

      Time to process Large/Fine JPEG

      2.8 sec

      3.1 sec.

      6.1 sec.

      *

      Time to process burst of 10 Large/Fine JPEGs

      4.1 sec

      4.4 sec.

      6.8 sec.

      *

      * No indicator display is provided on the camera to show file processing.

      Conclusion
      Sony's A350 DSLR has something to offer to both digicam upgraders who are looking to buy a more sophisticated camera and photo enthusiasts who want a high-resolution camera with all the latest shooting controls. It's a definite step up from the A200 model in both features and performance and represents very good value for money. However, for enthusiasts who want to get the best from this camera, we'd recommend buying the body alone and pairing it with a more sophisticated lens.

      IMATEST GRAPHS

      DSC00083_colorerror
      DSC00083_colors
      DSC00167_YBL76_ca
      DSC00167_YAR28_cpp

      Centre of frame resolution.

      DSC00167_YBL76_cpp

      Edge of frame resolution.

      SAMPLE IMAGES

      A350_awb-tung

      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

      A350_awb-fluoro

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

      A350_shortexp_ISO100

      Short exposure at ISO 100.

      A350_shortexp_ISO3200

      Short exposure at ISO 3200.

      DSC00288-ISO100

      30-second exposure at ISO 100.

      DSC00293-ISO3200

      30-second exposure at ISO 3200.

      DSC00312-steadyshot

      An example of the effectiveness of the Super SteadyShot stabilisation system: this shot was hand-held at 1/8 second.

      DSC00271-A350

      An example of the A350's metering accuracy.

      DSC00424-A350

      Close-up with the 70-300mm kit lens.

      DSC00373-beach
      DSC00438-tree

      Some examples of the A350's reproduction of detail.

      DSC00048-A350

      Skin tone reproduction.

      DSC00453-A350

      Tonal subtlety.

       

      Specifications

      leadpic_Sony_A350

      Image sensor: 23.5 x 15.7 mm CCD with 14.9 million photosites (14.2 megapixels effective)
      Lens mount: Sony Alpha mount (compatible with Minolta lenses)
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: ARW.RAW (12-bit); JPEG; RAW+JPEG
      Image Sizes: 3:2 aspect ratio – 4592 x 3056, 3408 x 2272, 2288 x 1520; 16:9 aspect ratio - 4592 x 2576, 3408 x 1920, 2288 x 1280
      Image Stabilisation: Body-integrated Super SteadyShot CCD-shift type
      Dust removal: Charge protection coating on low-pass filter plus vibration of filter
      Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 second plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/160 sec.
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 0.3-step increments
      Self-timer: 10 sec./2 sec. delay selectable
      Focus system: TTL phase detection with CCD line sensors; 9 AF points
      Focus modes: Single-shot AF, continuous AF, manual focusing; wide and spot focusing modes plus AF point selection
      Exposure metering: TTL metering (40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC), Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot metering modes
      Shooting modes: Auto, Program AE, Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE, Manual, Scene Selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night / Night portrait)
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night View, Sunset, Black and White and Adobe RGB
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100 to 1600 (expandable to ISO 80 and ISO 3200)
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, Colour Temperature / Colour filter, Custom; bracketing of 3 frames (H/L level selectable)
      Flash: Auto pop-up; GN12 (in meters at ISO100); coverage to 18mm; Auto (Flash-off), Auto, Fill-flash, Red-eye reduction, Rear sync, Slow sync, High speed sync, Wireless modes
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 0.3-step increments; bracketing of 3 exposures in 0.3/0.7-step increments
      Sequence shooting: Viewfinder: 2.5 fps max.; Live View mode: 2 fps max.; RAW: 4, RAW+JPEG: 3 images, JPEG to available capacity
      Storage Media: CF Type I, II or Microdrive, single slot; Memory Stick via optional adaptor (FAT 12, 16, 32 compatible)
      Viewfinder: Fixed eye-level penta-Dach-mirror; 95% coverage, 0.74x magnification (with 50mm lens at infinity, -1m-1 ); diopter adjustment -3.0 to +1.0 dpt
      LCD monitor: Variable-angle 2.7-inch type, TFT (Clear Photo LCD) with 230,400 dots
      Live View: Pentamirror tilt system with dedicated sensor
      Playback functions: Single (with or without shooting information, with 4 previous/ following images, RGB histogram & highlight / shadow warning), 4 / 9 / 25 - frame index view, enlarged display mode (Max. zoom - L size: 14x, M size: 11x, S size: 7.2x), Image orientation, Slideshow
      Interface terminals: USB2.0 Hi-speed (mass-storage, PTP); video - NTSC / PAL selectable
      Power supply: NP-FM500H Rechargeable Battery Pack (up to approximately 730 shots per charge with viewfinder; 410 shots with live view)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 582 g (body only)

       

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      Rating

       

      RRP: $1,399 (body only); $2648 (with Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 ZA lens, as tested here)

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9
      • Ease of use: 9
      • Image quality: 9
      • OVERALL: 9

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