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.
Design And Performance
Similarities to A200
Despite the extra technology incorporated in the A350 over its younger siblings, Sony has done a good job of keeping its size and weight down. Aesthetically, the camera is a tweaked version of its Sony Alpha A200 sibling (tested in last month’s issue), weighing only slightly more and bearing almost the same dimensions. Much of the camera’s design has also kept true to its roots, though there are a few evolutionary differences. On the topplate, the mode dial is positioned to the left of the rear, with the other side playing host to shooting mode and ISO buttons, as well as a switch for changing between the viewfinder and live view. Directly below these on the rear, are exposure lock and compensation buttons, also allowing for zooming in and out of images.
The thickness of the LCD screen protrudes slightly and, as such, can make the four small buttons along the left-hand side a little awkward to press. Conversely, the Function button above the menu pad is not only logically placed but makes changing key shooting parameters a doddle.
Given the model’s similarity to the Sony Alpha A200, I half expected the same handling issues here. Carrying the camera around for some time highlights the shallowness of the grip, though this, and other issues such as accessing certain buttons, are less of an importance here than on the A200, as the camera’s live view and tilting LCD allow for it to be used in various shooting positions, and so, understandably, only a compromise can be struck.
Start Up Speed
As soon as the camera is turned on, it’s ready for action. The familiar displays and menu interfaces make changing settings easy and clear, with the graphic user interface rotating to the correct shooting orientation and the Eye Start focusing feature (if activated) kicking the autofocus into play. The design of the live view system means that autofocusing can be employed without the need for any mirrors flipping up or temporary blackout, with its speed more-or-less equal to that when using the viewfinder.
Ease of Use
Having the separate Fn button makes changing settings such as white balance and metering easy and fast, and negates a trawl through the menu to find the one thing you need to change. It would have been even better to see a customisable menu option included – such as Canon’s My Menu – to further speed up operation, but then you can’t have everything.
Overall operation speed is generally fast, but images can take a while to display on the LCD post-capture. A larger buffer or faster processor would therefore have sat as a better complement to the improvements Sony has made with overall focusing speed.
Given that the only differences between the A350 and its 10MP launch partner the A300 are its resolution and burst rate, it stands to reason that it’s the extra resolution that’s slowing the latter down here. And, though the A350’s maximum burst rate of 2.5fps is disappointing, Sony has at least provided the faster A300 alternative – even if it can only manage a maximum 3fps.
The A350’s unique secondry sensor and extendable LCD screen means the camera suffers from none of the issues or problems commonly associated with the more traditional combination of a fixed LCD screen and tardy autofocus. In fact, the only issue we encountered with the A350 was when trying to frame portrait shots, where we realised how beneficial a multi-angle LCD screen would be. Anyone who has used a viewfinder for a prolonged period while composing a image will know how much strain can be put on the eyes, however the competence of the A350’s system resulted in its use for much of time.
The only other niggle is that the live-viewing of images can’t be conventionally zoomed in to; the only way to do this is via the Smart Teleconverter, which either refocuses when you zoom back out or takes the zoomed image at a lower resolution. The other option is to use the Smart Teleconverter while manually focusing, but with just 1.4x and 2x magnification options it’s a little limiting.
JPEG File Size
Once opened, JPEGs measure around 40MB in size. This is a fairly substantial file size, and means that images can withstand some pretty brutal cropping. On the other hand, the closed files will fill up your memory card quickly, so for general snapshots that you’re not likely to post-process, it may be a better idea to lower the resolution a notch to 7.7MP.
One final point is that the viewfinder is a little on the small side. We would imagine this is due to the secondary sensor inside the viewfinder prism providing the live-view feed.