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DCRP Review: Sony Alpha DSLR-A350
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 19, 2008
Last Updated: September 6, 2008

Front view of Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

The Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 (priced from $799) is a midrange digital SLR, whose biggest claim to fame is "live view" on its tilting 2.7" LCD, with super-fast autofocus speeds. The A350 also features a whopping 14.2 Megapixel sensor, Alpha lens mount, image stabilization, dust reduction, full manual controls, and the performance and expandability that you'd expect from a D-SLR. The A350's little brother -- the A300 -- is nearly identical, with the main difference being its lower resolution 10.2 Megapixel sensor.

Sony has quite a few entry-level to midrange D-SLRs, which can be a bit confusing to a new user. I put together the table below to help clear things up:

Feature DSLR-A200 DSLR-A300 DSLR-A350 DSLR-A700
List price (with one lens) $599 $699 $899 $1499
Resolution 10.2 MP 10.2 MP 14.2 MP 12.2 MP
AF points 9-point center-cross 9-point center-cross 9-point center-cross 11-point center dual cross
LCD size 2.7" 2.7" 2.7" 3.0"
LCD resolution 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 921,000 pixels
LCD position Fixed Tilting Tilting Fixed
Live view No Yes Yes No
Viewfinder magnification/coverage 0.83X / 95% 0.74X / 95% 0.74X / 95% 0.90X / 95%
ISO range 100 - 3200 100 - 3200 100 - 3200 100 - 6400
Burst rate (LV off) 3.0 fps 3.0 fps 2.5 fps 5 fps
D-Range Optimizer options Basic Basic Basic Advanced
PC control available No No No Yes
Remote shutter options Wired Wired Wired Wired, wireless
Memory card slots CF CF CF CF + MS Duo
HDMI output No No No Yes
Battery life
(CIPA standard)
750 730 730 650
Battery grip supported Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions (W x H x D) 5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 5.6 x 4.3 x 3.3 in.
Weight 545 g 582 g 582 g 690 g

Either that cleared things up for you, or now you're really confused.

Ready to learn about the Alpha DSLR-A350? The keep reading, our review starts right now!

Due to the similarities between the two cameras, I will be reusing portions of the DSLR-A200 review here. The lens displayed in the product photos is optional.

What's in the Box?

The DSLR-A350 is sold in three kits. You can buy it body-only ($799), with an 18 - 70 mm lens ($899), or with that lens plus a 55 - 200 mm one for $1099. Here's what you'll find in the box for all of those:

My A350 review unit didn't come with either of the available kit lenses, but I have used the 18-70 before. It's not the greatest lens, with a cheap, plastic feel, and it produces images with noticeable softness in the corners. I am yet to try the 55 - 200. If you have any other Minolta/Sony A-mount lenses laying around, they'll work just fine with the A350.

Digital SLRs never come with a memory card, so unless you have a CompactFlash card laying around, you'll need to buy one. The A350 supports both Type I and the thicker Type II CompactFlash cards, and I'd recommend 2GB as a good starter size. Spending the extra money on a "high speed" memory card is definitely a good idea on D-SLRs. If you want the fastest card money can buy, then you can pick up a "UDMA" CompactFlash card, which offers write speeds of 45MB/sec.

The DSLR-A350 uses Sony's NP-FM500H InfoLithium rechargeable battery. With a whopping 11.8 Wh of energy in its plastic shell, you should expect great battery life from the camera. Thankfully, Sony delivers just that:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel XSi ** 500 shots LP-E5
Nikon D60 500 shots EN-EL9
Olympus E-520 */** 650 shots BLM-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 */** 450 shots DMW-BLA13
Pentax K200D */** 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 */** 730 shots NP-FM500H

* Built-in image stabilization
** Live view support

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the A350's battery life is best-in-class. Don't expect those kinds of numbers if you're using live view mode, though -- Sony estimates that you'll get 410 shots per charge in that case. One nice thing about the InfoLithium battery is that it can tell you exactly how much battery life you have left.

I should point out a few issues regarding the proprietary batteries used by the A350 and cameras like it. First, they're really expensive -- an extra one will set you back at least $50. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the rechargeable dies, as you could with an AA-based camera (and the only one available is the Pentax K200D). Some cameras can use AA batteries via their optional battery grips, but the A350 isn't one of them.

DSLR-A350 with battery grip
Photo courtesy of Sony Electronics

Speaking of battery grips, above you can see the optional VG-B30AM grip. This grip, which is priced from $229, takes two NP-FM500H batteries, allowing you to take nearly 1500 shots -- nice! The grip also has extra buttons and dials for when you're shooting in the portrait orientation.

When it's time to charge the NP-FM500H battery, you can just pop it into the included charger. It takes a while to fill up this powerful battery, with a typical charge requiring around 175 minutes. This isn't one of those battery chargers that plugs directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable.

Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the DSLR-A350 supports plenty of accessories. Here's a summary of what's available:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The A350 supports all Konica Minolta and Sony lenses that use the Alpha mount
External flash

HVL-F36AM
HVL-F42AM
HVL-F56AM

From $152
From $299
From $295
You'll get more flash power and less chance of redeye with an external flash.
Sync terminal adapter FA-ST1AM From $179 Hot shoe to flash sync port adapter
Macro twin flash kit HVL-MT24AM From $475 For taking close-up flash photos
Angle finder FDA-A1AM From $158 For looking through the viewfinder from above
Wired remote control RM-S1AM
RM-L1AM

From $52
From $55

Basically a shutter release button on a cable. The S1 has a short cable, while the L1's is quite long (5 meters)
Battery grip VG-B30AM From $229 Get double the battery life and a comfortable vertical grip
AC adapter / Dual battery charger AC-VQ900AM From $103 Power your camera without draining your batteries; can also charge two batteries (though not simultaneously)
Soft carrying case LCS-AMA
LCS-AMLC3

From $37
From $80

Soft and leather cases for the camera and a lens
Accessory kit ACC-AMFM11 $100 Includes a canvas camera bag and extra battery
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

The nice thing about digital SLRs is that if you can think of an accessory, it probably exists!


Picture Motion Browser for Windows

Sony includes several software products with the A350. The first one is Picture Motion Browser, and it's for Windows only. PMB can be used for acquiring photos from the camera, organizing them, and performing basic editing tasks.

Photos can be viewed in the traditional thumbnail view, or you can jump to photos taken on a certain day in calendar view. Whichever view you're using, you can print photos, e-mail them, or burn them to a CD or DVD. Photos can also be quickly rotated, and a slideshow features is also available.


Edit screen in Picture Motion Browser

Editing options are fairly limited in Picture Motion Browser. Tools include auto enhancement, brightness, saturation, and sharpness adjustment, redeye reduction, and cropping. You can also adjust the tone curve, or print the date on your photo.

While Picture Motion Browser can view RAW files, you can't actually do anything with them. For that, you'll want to fire up one of the following programs.


Image Data Converter SR

Image Data Converter SR 2.0 is your main RAW editing application. It works on both Mac and Windows, and it seemed relatively quick at performing edits. If you can imagine an image property to edit, chances are that IDC can do it. Some of the highlights include D-Range Optimizer adjustment, noise reduction, tone curves, and staples like white balance and exposure. A "version stack" option lets you go back in time through your various adjustments. Users can also save processing formulas, which can be applied to other images with the click of your mouse. Finally, there's a one-push "send to Photoshop" button, which exports the file to TIFF format and opens it up in Adobe's photo editor.

Speaking of Photoshop, you can open up the A350's RAW files if you're using version 4.4.1 or greater of the Camera Raw plug-in.


Image Data Lightbox SR

A related program is known as Image Data Lightbox SR. This is an image browser that lets you select up to four images and view them zoomed in and side-by-side so you can compare details. The "synchronous" option moves the images you're comparing at the same time, which can be quite handy.

Oh, and if you have no idea what RAW is, I'll tell you. In a nutshell, RAW files contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process them on your computer before you can do anything else with them, but this process allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction, without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. The downsides to RAW include the much larger file sizes (which means longer write times, and smaller bursts) and the post-processing requirement.

One feature not supported on the A350 is remote camera control. You'll have to shell out the big bucks for the top-of-the-line DSLR-A700 for that feature.

Sony includes a fold-out Quick Start guide as well as a full printed manual with the DSLR-A350. The main manual is fairly easy to read, with a good layout and a minimal amount of fine print, though it doesn't go into as much detail as I would've liked. The documentation for the software I just described is installed onto your computer's hard drive.

Look and Feel

From most angles, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 looks identical to the entry-level DSLR-A200. The major difference between the A200 and the A300/A350 twins is the LCD -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. The A350 may be fairly inexpensive, but you'd never know it when you pick up the camera -- it's very solid. It's not what I'd call a "small" D-SLR, and that's fine by me. The camera has a good-sized, rubberized right hand grip, so you can hold it with confidence.

As D-SLRs go, the DSLR-A350 doesn't have too many buttons. Everything is logically laid out, so you don't need to read the manual in order to figure out the camera. My only complaint in this department is that there's only one command dial -- adjusting manual exposure settings is a lot easier when you have two.

With that out of the way, we can take a look at how the A350 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 475 g
Nikon D60 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 495 g
Olympus E-520 5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 52.5 cu in. 475 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 5.3 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 62.4 cu in. 480 g
Pentax K200D 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.9 in. 55.8 cu in. 630 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 57.7 cu in. 582 g

The DSLR-A350 is toward the upper-end of the size/weight spectrum, with only the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 above it. Despite that, I never found the A350 to be a burden to carry on my shoulder.

Okay, enough about that, let's start our tour of the camera now!

Front of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

Here's the front of the DSLR-A350, without a lens attached. The A350 uses the Alpha (α) lens mount, which was first developed by Minolta. That means that your old KM lenses will work, plus the 20+ Sony-branded lenses that are now available (many of which are just rebadged Minolta lenses). There's a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio, so a 50 mm lens has the field-of-view of 75 mm. To remove a lens from the camera, you simply press the button to the immediate right of the lens mount.

Two important camera features are hidden behind the mirror you see in the above photo. First is the A350's image stabilization system, which Sony calls Super SteadyShot. Sensors inside the camera detect the "camera shake" caused by the tiny movements of your hands, which can blur your photos, especially in low light, or when using a telephoto lens. The A350 "shifts" the CCD sensor in the opposite direction of the shake, which reduces the likelihood of a blurry photo. Sony says that the A350's IS system can give you a 2.5 to 3.5 stop advantage over unstabilized cameras. Do keep in mind that image stabilization can't work miracles. It cannot freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for multi-second exposures without the use of a tripod.

Want to see how the SteadyShot system performed? Have a look at this:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Each of the photos above was taken at 1/10th of a second. As you can see, you get a much sharper photo with Super SteadyShot on than you do when it's off. And, since the camera has IS built right into the body, every lens you attach will have shake reduction.

The same system that reduces blurry photos is also used to remove dust from the CCD sensor. Whenever you turn off the camera, the sensor is vibrated rapidly, which helps to "shake" dust off of the low pass filter. This same low pass filter is statically charged, to help dust from settling there in the first place. As someone who has had his share of dust problems, this is a feature that I always like to see on a D-SLR.

Directly above the lens mount is the A350's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100, which is the same as it was on the A100. Checking the competition, the Canon Rebel XSi and Pentax K200D have a GN of 13, the Nikon D60 and Olympus E-520 have GN's of 12, and the Panasonic DMC-L10 scores an 11. If you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a bit.

The A350's flash is also used as an AF-assist lamp. When the flash is raised, the camera will send out rapid pulses of light, which help the camera's autofocus sensor quickly and accurately lock focus. If you don't actually want to take a flash photo, you can lower the flash after focus is locked. While these flash-based systems are more effective than a dedicated AF-assist lamp, your subjects may find all that light to be a bit annoying.

The last thing to see on the front of the A350 is the self-timer lamp, which is located at the top of the grip.

Back angled view of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

Undoubtedly, the biggest feature on the DSLR-A350 is its 2.7", tilting LCD display with live view. Live view allows you to compose your photos on the LCD, just like you would with a compact camera. The tilting LCD isn't quite as useful as a rotating one, but it still allows you to shoot ground level and high angle shots with ease. Like many of its competitors, the A350 can autofocus while using live view. What makes it different is that focus speeds are just as fast as using the optical viewfinder -- there's no mirror-flipping or sluggish sensor-based AF here.

So how did Sony pull off the best live view system in the business? They owe a lot of it to Olympus, who started the live view "revolution" with the E-330 several years ago. The DSLR-A350 has a lot in common with the E-330's live view system, but there are some significant improvements that allow for a much better LV experience. Here's how it works:


Image courtesy of Sony Electronics

As it does on all D-SLRs, light coming through the lens hits a mirror, where it is split into two paths. One path travels down to the AF sensor, while the other goes up toward the optical viewfinder. In the viewfinder chamber, Sony added a second, small CCD sensor to provide live view, just like the E-330. Unlike that camera, however, the DSLR-A350 does not split the light between the two -- it directs it to the LV sensor or the viewfinder (but not both) using a tilting mirror. This allows for a brighter viewfinder, and a sharp, fluid live view.

In case you've forgotten, the main mirror is still down at this point, sending light to the AF sensor. This allows the camera to use its native phase difference AF system, without having to flip the mirror, or rely on sluggish contrast-detect AF. This allows the camera to focus as quickly in live view mode as it does with the optical viewfinder.

The quality of the live view itself is very good. Images are sharp, and motion is fluid. Low light visibility is not great, however, as the image on the screen does not brighten up very much.

I do want to mention a couple of downsides about Sony's version of live view before we continue the tour. First, you don't get a 100% view of the frame when using live view -- in fact, you see just 90% of it. Second, there's no way to digitally enlarge the frame, which comes in really handy when taking macro shots. Third, the camera's burst rate drops a bit when you're using live view. And finally, as I mentioned before, battery life takes a considerable hit when using LV. Despite all that, I still think that Sony's implementation of this feature is currently the best out there.

Back of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

Here's the back of the camera with the LCD in a more "traditional" position. I've described it pretty well above, but here are a few more pieces of information. It's 2.7" in size, with 230,000 pixels, so everything on the screen is nice and sharp. I was disappointed with its outdoor visibility -- I found it quite difficult to see, which doesn't make the live view feature terribly useful in those situations.

Basic version of info screen... ... and the detailed one

Since there's no LCD info panel on the top of the camera, the main LCD has to pick up the slack. As you can see above, plenty of data is available, and if that's too much, a simpler view is also available. If you have the camera in the vertical orientation, that the data on this screen will be rotated appropriately. Unlike on the more expensive DSLR-A700, you cannot navigate through this info screen to quickly change settings. However, the function menu (described below) combined with the various direct buttons on the camera make changing commonly accessed settings fairly easy.

Directly above the LCD is the A350's optical viewfinder, which displays 95% of the frame. All the mechanical parts required to make the live view feature happen took a toll on the viewfinder size: with a magnification of 0.74X, it's the smallest you'll find in this class. Thus, it might be a good idea to get your hands on the A350 before you drop nearly a grand on one. Below the field-of-view is a line of data that displays things such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure meter, shots remaining, and "camera shake".

On the bottom of the viewfinder are the sensors that make up the camera's EyeStart AF system (a feature inherited from Minolta). When the camera detects that your eye is again the viewfinder, it activates the autofocus system. I have always found this feature to be a bit annoying, and turn it off right away. At the top-right of the viewfinder is the diopter correction knob, which you can use to focus what you're looking at.

Immediately to the left of the viewfinder is the power switch. On the opposite side, we find buttons for adjusting exposure compensation or aperture (depending on the shooting mode) as well as for AE lock. The A350's exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments. Continuing to the right, we find the "Smart Teleconverter" button, which only works in live view mode. Press it once and the camera turns on 1.4X digital zoom -- press it again and it goes to 2X. Normally that would degrade image quality, but since the A350 lowers the resolution to 8 and 4 Megapixel (respectively), that doesn't happen.


Function menu

Moving downward, we find the Function button, which opens... the function menu! Here you can adjust these commonly used options:

The first thing to mention here is that the DSLR-A350 supports wireless flashes, with the three Sony external flashes listed earlier being fully compatible. I'm not sure how many wireless flashes can be used -- the manual barely mentions this feature in the first place.

What are those autofocus modes? AF-S will lock the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release. AF-C keeps focusing, even when the shutter release is halfway-pressed -- great for action shots. AF-A is automatic: it switches between the two modes based on subject movement.


Setting white balance by color temperature

There are numerous white balance options to choose from on the DSLR-A350. First, there are the usual presets (e.g. daylight, cloudy, tungsten), and each of those can be fine-tuned in the red or blue direction from -3 to +3, except for fluorescent, which is -2 to +4. You can set the color temperature, with a range of 2500K - 9900K. Or, if you wish, you can use a white or gray card with the "custom" option. Finally, a color filter option (attached to color temperature) lets you tweak the color in either the green or magenta direction.


Selecting the D-Range Optimizer option

The DSLR-A350 has the same dynamic range optimizer feature as the A200 that I recently reviewed. Standard DRO is basically just auto contrast. Advanced DRO is more interesting: the camera divides the image into smaller parts, and adjusts the brightness and contrast for each of those sections. You can also turn the whole DRO system off, though I'm not sure why you'd want to.

Here's how the Palace of Fine Arts looks at each DRO setting (click the DRO mode to change the image):

DRO Off
View Full Size Image
Standard DRO
View Full Size Image
Advanced DRO
View Full Size Image

You should be able to notice a difference between all three settings. Going from no DRO to Standard DRO brightens up the shadow areas of the photo a bit. Advanced DRO doesn't brighten things much more than Standard DRO, though it does a better job with the contrast in the sky.

Below the Function button is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, selecting a focus point, and moving through photos in playback mode. Underneath that is a switch for turning image stabilization on and off. You'll probably want to turn it off when the camera is on a tripod.

Moving now to the left side of the LCD, we find these four buttons:

Those shouldn't need any explanation, so let's move on to the top of the DSLR-A350!

Top of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

The first thing to see on the top of the DSLR-A350 is its mode dial, located at the left side of the photo. It has these options:

Option Function
Auto mode Point-and-shoot; camera does not store settings when turned off
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but camera stores settings when it's powered off. A Program Shift option lets you select various shutter speed/aperture combinations
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used.
Shutter priority mode You choose shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec.
Manual mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above). The manual shift feature lets you adjust the shutter speed and aperture, while keeping the exposure you just set. A bulb mode will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is pressed.
NIght view / portrait These are all scene modes
Sunset
Sports action
Macro
Landscape
Portrait
Flash off

As you can see, there are full manual controls on the DSLR-A350. One thing you won't find (that many other D-SLRs offer) is the ability to save your favorite settings to a spot on the mode dial. Those of you moving up from point-and-shoot cameras will be pleased that the A350 also has a useful set of scene modes.

Next up, we have the A350's hot shoe. If it looks a bit unusual, that's because it's the same proprietary Konica Minolta shoe that's been around for decades. That means that an external flash with a "standard" mount won't work. The A350 will sync best with the three Sony flashes I described in the accessories section: you'll get TTL metering, high speed flash sync, and wireless support. Other flashes may need to have their settings adjusted manually. For non-Sony flashes, the maximum flash sync speed is 1/160 sec.

To the right of the hot shoe is the "drive" button. The options here include single-shot, continuous, self-timer (2 or 10 sec), two types of exposure bracketing (single and continuous), and white balance bracketing. Let's start with continuous shooting, for which I've summarized the results below:

Quality setting Burst rate, LV off Burst rate, LV on
RAW+JPEG 2 shots @ 1.7 fps, then 1.3 fps 2 shots @ 1.4 fps, then 1.0 fps
RAW 7 shots @ 2.3 fps, then 1.3 fps 11 shots @ 1.7 fps, then 1.1 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited shots @ 2.3 fps Unlimited shots @ 1.6 fps

This is probably stating the obvious, but there is a noticeable decrease in the burst rate when you use live view. The LCD does keep up quite well with the action, though, so following a moving subject shouldn't be a problem. When shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, the burst rate will slow down after the first couple of photos. However, it may speed back up after the camera has had a chance to clear the buffer memory. Oh, and that 2.3 fps frame rate is a bit below the 2.5 frames/second that Sony claims.

The two exposure bracketing modes take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. The interval between shots can be 0.3 or 0.7 EV, and you can take them one at a time, or in a burst. The white balance bracketing feature works in a similar way, though only one exposure is actually taken. You can select "lo" for a 10 mired interval, or "hi" for 20 mired.

Above the drive button is the switch that activates the live view feature. When you switch into live view mode, a door over the optical viewfinder closes, to keep ambient light from getting into the viewfinder chamber.

Continuing to the right, we find the ISO button. You can select from Auto (100-400), 100. 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200. We'll see how the A350 performs at those settings later in the review.

The last items of note on the top of the camera are the shutter release button and command dial. You'll use the latter for adjusting things like shutter speed and aperture.

Side of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

On this side of the A350 you'll find the focus mode switch (auto or manual) and two of its I/O ports. The ports, which are protected by a plastic cover, are for the optional wired remote control and AC adapter.

Side of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

On the other side of the camera you'll find the memory card slot and the USB + video out port. Both of these are protected by a plastic door of decent quality. That slot can hold both Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, which includes the Microdrive (if anyone uses those anymore).

I can't say I'm a fan of having to open the CF door to get at the USB/video out port. I don't know why they couldn't put it on the other side of the camera, with the rest of the I/O ports.

Bottom of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. The plastic door over the battery compartment could be a little sturdier, though I appreciate the locking mechanism.

The included NP-FM500H InfoLithium battery is shown at right.

Using the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

Record Mode

The DSLR-A350 is ready to shoot a fraction of second after it's been turned on.

Focusing speeds were lightning fast in most situations -- even with live view. Typically you'll wait for between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds for the camera to lock focus, even at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing was less impressive, with the A350 often taking more than a second to lock focus in those situations (even with the AF-assist feature).

Shutter lag wasn't an issue, nor would I expect it to be on a digital SLR.

Shot-to-shot delays were minimal. You can literally shoot as fast as you can compose your shots, or at least until you hit the buffer limit (which takes some work).

You can delete a photo after you've taken it by pressing -- get ready -- the delete photo button!

Now, let's take a look at the numerous image size and quality choices on the A350:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB CF card (optional)
Large (14 MP, 3:2)
4592 x 3056
RAW+JPEG 27.0 MB 74
RAW 21.7 MB 92
Fine 4.9 MB 405
Standard 3.5 MB 565
Large (12 MP, 16:9)
4592 x 2576
RAW+JPEG 26.3 MB 76
RAW 21.7 MB 92
Fine 4.3 MB 467
Standard 3.1 MB 644
Medium (7.7 MP, 3:2)
3408 x 2272
Fine 3.7 MB 540
Standard 2.7 MB 738

Medium (6.5 MP, 16:9)
3408 x 1920

Fine 2.8 MB 715
Standard 2.1 MB 947
Small (3.5 MP, 3:2)
2288 x 1520
Fine 2.1 MB 941
Standard 1.7 MB 1196
Small (2.1 MP, 16:9)
1920 x 1088
Fine 1.9 MB 1047
Standard 1.5 MB 1309

As I mentioned back in the software section of the review, the DSLR-A350 supports the RAW image format. You can take a RAW image by itself, or along with a Large/Fine JPEG. Two aspect ratios are available on the camera: standard 3:2, and widescreen 16:9.

The DSLR-A350 names its files DSC0####.JPG where # = 0001 - 9999. As you'd expect, the numbering is maintained until you choose to reset it.

The A350 has a stylish, fairly easy-to-navigate menu system. It's divided into four tabs, covering record, custom, playback, and setup options. Here's what you'll find in each of those:

Recording Menu
  • Image size (Large, medium, small)
  • Aspect ratio (3:2, 16:9)
  • Quality (RAW, RAW+JPEG, fine, standard)
  • Creative Style (Standard, vivid, portrait, landscape, night view, sunset, black & white, Adobe RGB) - see below
  • Flash control (ADI flash, pre-flash TTL) - how the flash metering works
  • Flash compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3-step increments)
  • Priority setup (AF, release) - whether the shutter will release if focus isn't locked
  • AF illuminator (Auto, off)
  • Long exposure noise reduction (on/off)
  • High ISO noise reduction (on/off)
  • Record mode reset
Custom Menu
  • EyeStart AF (on/off) - whether camera focuses when you put your eye against the viewfinder
  • AEL button (AEL hold, AEL toggle) - whether you need to hold the AE-Lock button to lock exposure
  • Control dial setup (Shutter speed, aperture) - what the control dial, well, controls
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Auto review (Off, 2, 5, 10 secs)
  • Auto off w/viewfinder (on/off) - whether the LCD info screen turns off when you use the viewfinder
Playback Menu
  • Delete (Marked images, all images)
  • Format
  • Protect (Marked images, all images, cancel all)
  • DPOF setup (Marked images, all images, cancel all)
    • Date imprint (on/off)
    • Index print (Create, delete)
  • Playback display (Auto rotate, manual rotate) - whether portraits are automatically rotated)
  • Slideshow
    • Interval (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 secs)
Setup Menu
  • LCD brightness (-2 to +2, in 1-step increments)
  • Info display time (5, 10, 30 secs, 1 min) - how long the rec info display is shown
  • Power save (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language
  • Date/time setup
  • File number (Series, reset)
  • Folder name (Standard form, date form)
  • Select folder
    • New folder
  • USB connection (Mass Storage, PTP)
  • Audio signals (on/off)
  • Pixel mapping - "maps out" hot pixels from the sensor
  • Cleaning mode - flips up the mirror so you can use a blower to clean off any leftover dust
  • Reset default


Creative Styles menu

The only feature above I want to describe is called Creative Styles, which is similar to "Picture Styles" on Canon SLRs, and "Picture Control" on Nikon SLRs. There are eight presets to choose from, ranging from standard (default) to vivid to black and white. There's also an AdobeRGB option, if you want to shoot in that color space. For each of those presets you can adjust contrast, saturation, and sharpness.

Believe it or not, that's all I want to say about the A350's menu options, so let's move onto our test photos now. All of the test photos were taken with the Sony F3.5-4.5, 24 - 105 mm lens. Since that's not one of the A350's available kit lenses, I did not perform the distortion test.

I have no complaints about the macro test shot. The A350 produced a very smooth-looking photo of the figurine, and there's enough detail captured to make out individual dust particles. Colors are nice and saturated, too. I see no evidence of noise or noise reduction artifacting here.

The A350's minimum focus distance will depend on what lens you have attached. If you plan on doing a lot of close-up photography, then you may want to consider getting a dedicated macro lens. Sony makes two of them, with focal ranges of 50 and 100 mm.

I've had a lot of trouble taking the night test shot with the two Sony D-SLRs I've reviewed this year (the A200 and A350). After many trips out to my "spot", I got some good results -- more-or-less. I shot these photos in full manual (M) mode, as shutter priority mode used smaller apertures than I wanted. As a result, the A350 took in just the right amount of light. The center of the frame is quite sharp and detailed, though you'll notice that things get softer as you move toward the edges. Purple fringing is strong here, though I imagine it would go away pretty quickly if you closed down the aperture some more. There's no noise or noise reduction to be found at this sensitivity.

I have two ISO tests for you in this review, and the first one uses the night scene you see above. Each of the photos below were taken at a different ISO sensitivity. Both high ISO (which kicks in at ISO 1600 and above) and long exposure noise reduction was turned on. Be warned that something odd happened with the ISO 200 shot -- it appears to be slightly out of focus -- I apologize for that.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Ignoring the out-of-focus issue, the ISO 200 shot shows just a bit of noise and noise reduction artifacting. I did take the shot in RAW mode as well, and it's a big sharper-looking. Noise reduction becomes more noticeable at ISO 400, though a small or midsize print is still easy -- and larger prints may be available if you shoot RAW and use noise reduction software. Details really start to get muddy at ISO 800, and I included a RAW image to show you just how much noise reduction Sony is using here. Things continue to get worse at ISO 1600 and 3200, leaving me to wonder: is this a digital SLR, or a compact camera? Other high resolution D-SLRs, such as the Canon EOS-40D or Nikon D300, easily out-do the DSLR-A350 in this area.

There's very very slight redeye in the flash photo, but not enough to cause concern for me. The A350's flash doesn't pop up quite as high as most D-SLRs, so that may explain the result.

Here's that second ISO test I promised you. This one is taken in the studio, and the results can be compared to those from other cameras I've reviewed. Let's begin:


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion (with ACR)

ISO 3200

The ISO 100 and 200 shots are as smooth as butter. You can see a slight amount of noise at ISO 400, but it's not enough to concern me. At ISO 800, the image softens, and noise reduction artifacting becomes more noticeable. If you flip over to the EOS-40D and D300 reviews, you'll see that the A350 is noticeably behind in terms of image quality at this point. Detail-smudging continues to worsen at ISO 1600, and again, you can see the advantage of shooting in RAW mode -- you get back some of the detail that Sony's noise reduction system is removing. Same thing goes for the ISO 3200 shot (which also has a drop in exposure), though it makes a decent 4 x 6 inch print if you shoot RAW and run it through something like NeatImage.

Overall, the DSLR-A350's photo quality is somewhat of a mixed bag. The camera tends to underexpose, usually by around a third of a stop. The metering system did some strange things -- a photo I took one day was underexposed by over 1 stop. I went back a few days later and, with the same lighting conditions, took a shot that needed only a third of a stop of exposure compensation. I took quite a few other photos that were dramatically underexposed, and I'm not sure if it's just my camera, or a more widespread issue. Colors looked good: they were accurate and vivid at the same time. Photos are on the soft side -- too soft for my taste. You can get sharper photos by shooting in RAW mode, or by cranking up the in-camera sharpening using the Creative Styles feature. The only place I saw significant purple fringing was in the night scene (see above). However, there's some strong reddish fringing on the flagpole in this shot.

While noise isn't a huge problem for the A350, I do think that Sony is applying too much noise reduction to photos. This gives them a soft appearance (compared to RAW), and as the ISO climbs, details start to get smudged. This is especially the case in low light. As I illustrated above, shooting in RAW will give you some detail back, but other D-SLRs perform better than the A350 at high ISOs.

As always, don't take my words as gospel. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few of the images if you can. Then you should be able to decide for yourself if the A350's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

Digital SLRs do not have movie modes.

Playback Mode

The DSLR-A350 has a pretty basic playback mode. You get slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, image rotation, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 14X, and then move around in the enlarged area -- perfect for verifying focus or sharpness. You can also move from image to image -- keeping the same zoom and location -- by using the command dial.

The camera doesn't have any photo retouching or editing functions, unlike SLRs from Nikon and Olympus. The only thing you can do to photos is rotate them.

One feature that I do like is the ability to delete a bunch of photos at a time, instead of one or all of them. You do have to back out to thumbnail view manually when using this feature, though.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the Display button and you'll get a lot more, multiple histograms.

The DSLR-A350 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

The Alpha DSLR-A350 is the middle child in Sony's 2008 digital SLR lineup. The A350 has a lot to offer for $799 (body only), including image stabilization, the best live view system on the market, responsive performance, class-leading battery life, and sturdy build quality. In terms of photo quality, the A350 has some work to do -- like most of Sony's recent models, there's just too much noise reduction applied to photos. The A350 is a decent enough digital SLR, but I think its 14 Megapixel sensor is overkill for most folks. You can get the same features and better performance from Sony's DSLR-A300, and you'll save $200 to boot.

The DSLR-A350 is a midsize SLR with a sturdy metal frame. Combine that with a hefty grip, and you'll probably agree that the A350 feels "just right" when you're holding it. The camera has more than its share of buttons, some of which are placed in awkward locations. It would've been nice to have a second command dial as well, maybe instead of that digital zoom button that most people will never use. The A350 has the same sensor-shift image stabilization system as Sony's other D-SLRs. This does an effective job of reducing blurring photos due to "camera shake". This same system is also used to keep dust from accumulating on the sensor.

The biggest feature on the A350 is its innovative live view system. Improving on the design first developed by Olympus, Sony has managed to deliver a live view system that makes you feel like you're using a point-and-shoot camera. The thing that sets Sony's system apart is the ability to use the camera's AF sensor without having to flip the mirror down first. This allows the camera to focus just as quick as it does without live view turned on. You'll preview your shots on a sharp 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 pixels which can be tilted for easier viewing. I did find the screen to be difficult in general to see outdoors. You may have difficulty seeing things in low light when using live view, as the screen does not "gain up" very much. And that brings up some of the other negatives about live view. You only see 90% of the frame, so what you see is not what you get. There's no way to digitally enlarge the frame, which comes in handy when you're using a tripod. Two areas of camera performance -- namely continuous shooting and battery life -- both drop when using live view. And finally, the design of the LV system has made the optical viewfinder quite small.

The A350 has features for both beginners and enthusiasts alike. If you want point-and-shoot, you've got it, with an auto mode plus six scene modes. The live view feature will make those of you moving up from compact cameras feel even more at home. If you want manual controls, you'll find plenty, ranging from aperture and shutter speed to white balance (which can be fine-tuned). The Creative Styles feature lets you tweak the contrast, saturation, and sharpness for various situations (e.g. portrait, night scene). The camera's D-Range Optimizer feature helps improve contrast levels in your photos, but it's not nearly as effective as the "manual" version found on the more expensive DSLR-A700. As you'd expect, the DSLR-A350 supports the RAW image format, and Sony gives you some good software to work with those photos. One popular D-SLR feature that's not supported is remote capture -- you'll need to pony up for the A700 if you want that feature.

Camera performance was excellent in most areas. The DSLR-A350 is ready to start taking pictures as soon as you flip the power switch. The camera focuses very quickly, except in low light, where things were a little sluggish. Shutter lag wasn't an issue (even when using live view), and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The A350's continuous shooting speeds depend on a number of factors. With live view off, you can take an unlimited number of JPEGs at 2.3 frames/second. With LV on, the frame rate drops to 1.6 fps. If you're shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG, you can expect to take anywhere from 2 - 11 shots in a row (at frame rates ranging from 1.4 - 2.3 fps) before things slow down. The A350's battery life is exceptional, and you and double it by purchasing the optional battery grip. As you'd expect, the camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

Photo quality was generally good, though I ran into several issues while testing the camera. On the positive side, the camera took photos with pleasing, vivid colors, minimal purple fringing, and very little redeye. Photos are on the soft side though, especially if you're shooting JPEGs. The A350 consistently underexposed by about 1/3-stop, and a few times the metering system was totally off (though this may be a flaw with my camera, since I could not replicate the problem). Noise isn't a problem until ISO 800, but that's because of the heavy-handed noise reduction that Sony has been using on all of their recent cameras. In good light, you won't really start to see the effects of the NR until ISO 800 and above. However, in low light, you'll see it as soon as you hit ISO 200. Shooting in RAW is a good idea, as it takes noise reduction out of the equation entirely. The A350 definitely lags behind other high resolution D-SLRs (namely the Canon 40D and Nikon D300) in terms of high ISO photo quality, in my opinion. Still, these issues won't be apparent unless you're making (very) large prints, or viewing the photos full size on your computer screen.

There are a few other issues that I want to mention before I wrap things up. While the A350 offers a hot shoe (and also supports wireless flashes), it's the old proprietary Minolta design, so a "standard" external flash won't work. Second, the 18 - 70 mm kit lens isn't great -- it's very "plasticky", and has a lot of corner softness. I'm not a fan of the placement of the USB + A/V port (behind the door covering the memory card slot) either. Finally, the A350's manual isn't detailed enough for this complex camera.

The Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 has a lot going for it. It has an impressive (but not perfect) live view system, image stabilization for every lens you attach, plenty of manual controls, and great battery life. It also has some usability issues that I don't care for, including a small viewfinder, poor LCD visibility outdoors and in low light, and a few too many buttons. In addition, its photos have quite a bit of detail loss at high ISO settings. While other cameras will deliver better photo quality than the A350, none approach its live view capabilities. Thus, it's worth a look if live view is an important feature for you. Since the typical shooter doesn't need 14 Megapixels, I think most folks will be better served by the less expensive DSLR-A300, though.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Some other midrange D-SLRs to consider include the Canon EOS Rebel XSi, Nikon D60, Olympus E-520, Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, Pentax K200D and, of course, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A300.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSLR-A350 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the DSLR-A350's photo quality in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have questions about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

Want another opinion?

You'll find additional reviews of the DSLR-A350 at CNET and Imaging Resource.

 

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