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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
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:
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:
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.
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:
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: