The 14-megapixel Sony Alpha A350 is a mid-range enthusiasts digital SLR that offers an innovative new approach to live view with the aid of a tilting LCD rear screen.
The A350 is the Sony’s fourth DSLR, and features a 14.9MP CCD sensor giving a 14.2MP effective resolution. The 23.6×15.8mm dimensions of the sensor are the same as that of the Sony A100 and Sony A200, though the extra four million pixels here necessitate them to be made smaller. Theoretically, this limits dynamic range and makes noise more of a concern, but this is only one part – albeit a large one – of how well the camera can handle image capture.
Image Processor and Sensitivity
As has been the case on previous Alpha models, a Bionz imaging processor handles image processing and noise suppression. Both Raw and JPEG recording options are available, as well as the option to use the two simultaneously, with Raw files saved in Sony’s proprietary .ARW format. A choice of the AdobeRGB colour space and seven preset Creative Style settings is offered, while the Dynamic Range Optimiser’s ‘Standard’ and ‘Plus’ settings may be used prior to capture to bring out detail from shadows and highlights, as well as in post-processing via the supplied Image Data Converter SR software. The camera’s sensitivity range covers ISO 100-3200, and is adjustable in one-stop increments. This is complemented by both high-ISO and long exposure noise reduction options, with the former available at sensitivities over ISO 1600 and the latter at shutter speeds over a second.
A 40-zone honeycomb pattern metering system offers multi-segment, centreweighted and spot options, with a -/+2 exposure compensation range selectable in 0.3 stop increments. Bracketing is offered on both single and continuous modes, with two- and ten-second self-timers also provided. The standard PASM quartet, meanwhile, is joined by Auto and six scene modes, all of which are selectable via the mode dial on the top-plate.
Focusing is taken care of by a TTL phase detection system, and offers single-shot, automatic and continuous focusing options. Nine focusing points work in conjunction with the wide, spot and local focusing offerings, in addition to a manual focusing option which is selected via a switch under the lens release.
A Function (Fn) button above the menu pad accesses six main shooting parameters; Flash mode, White Balance, AF mode, AF area and metering, as well as the Dynamic Range Optimiser. Each white balance preset is augmented with six extra stops of adjustment to provide either a little extra warmth or coldness, while a white balance bracketing option is also provided via the shooting mode button.
The rear sees a 2.7in LCD screen with a 230,400dot resolution, and for the first time on an Alpha model, supporting live view. Yet, despite this being Sony’s first foray into offering the function, it has ticked a lot of the right boxes. A pentamirror-tilt mechanism enables autofocusing during live view operation, by directing light to a separate sensor in the viewfinder prism. Not only that, but the use of a second sensor allows for a continuous live view feed between shots, while burst shooting is in operation.
The LCD screen itself may be extended out from the body and adjusted around a 170° angle – 130° upwards and 40° downwards – to further enhance the live-view technology and enable high- and low-level shooting, while a live histogram is also available. With the screen rotating around one axis, it doesn’t quite match the vari-angle capabilities of Panasonic’s L10 and Olympus’s E-3 LCD screens, though it is larger in size and on a much cheaper model.
A continuous shooting rate of 2.5fps is available, though this drops to 2fps when using live view, and although the JPEG burst depth is limited only by the capacity of the card, the camera’s buffer can only manage four RAW or three RAW+JPEG frames before it is exhausted.
Dust Control and Image Stabilisation
The Anti-Dust technology seen on previous models features, utilising an antistatic low-pass filter coating together with a sensor-shift vibrating mechanism to help prevent and dislodge dust. The continuation of Sony’s Super SteadyShot image stabilisation, meanwhile, allows shutter speeds of 2.5-3.5 stops slower than would usually be possible, and is effective when used with Alpha and most Minolta lenses. The supplied InfoLithium battery allows for an impressive 730 shots when using the viewfinder or 410 shots when using live view, though using the LCD screen for image reviewing and general operation will obviously cut these figures down. Nevertheless, the battery helpfully indicates its remaining charge as a percentage.
Gripes and Annoyances
Its specifications may make the camera a logical upgrade for Sony A100 users, but there are a few issues which may bother prospective buyers. The omission of the Depth Of Field Preview button may come as a surprise, while the NP-FM55H lithium battery compatible with the Sony A100 isn’t accepted by the A350, and as such can’t be used as a backup. Also, the mirror lock-up that featured within the Sony A100’s self-timer modes hasn’t been carried over, which is mildly disconcerting considering that the camera is otherwise perfectly suited to still-life and macro work. Admittedly these aren’t major issues in themselves, but nevertheless ones that potential Sony A100 upgraders should be aware of.