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Sony are one of the newest companies to venture into the world of DSLR`s, having been producing some quite excellent point and shoot cameras for many years this is a move that most people in the photography world had expected to happen a long time ago and a lot had feared the day it did happen too.
The reason many photographers feared Sony entering the DSLR market is simply that it would be hard not to get drawn into what they had to offer but they feared that Sony might find the market too challenging and bale out leaving many photographers with cameras that they could not upgrade and would struggle to find lenses and accessories for.
When buying a point and shoot camera you are spending in the region of between 100 and 200 pounds for a top of the range model, whilst when purchasing a DSLR camera you could be looking at spending twice or three times that for an average one, so you can understand the concern of people that Sony might abandon the market as soon as they had joined it, it would not be the first time Sony have pulled the plug on something that just wasn't going how they had foreseen it.
However the Sony A350k now see`s Sony bring out there fourth DSLR in quick succession and it would seem with the effort being put into these cameras and the brilliance of them that Sony are here to stay. So when you think about DSLR cameras you now have to think seriously about Sony. They have not only hit the ground running they have hit the ground overtaking some of the most respected names in the world of DSLR cameras.
The first Sony DSLR was the Sony A100 which was very quickly superseded by the A200 which was outdone by the very quick arrival of the A300 and less than 2 years down the line here we have the Sony A350 to put all the others into the background. The A100 was a fairly impressive beast itself but maybe a little over looked because of the afore mentioned fears of using Sony and also that the somewhat bulky appearance of it put people off a little. I used the A100 on over 300 test shots and it never let me down once, producing some very good images and leaving me well impressed.
When I was asked to test the A200 I could not wait to get my hands on it and again I was more than just a little impressed by what it had to offer. I did not test the A300 but have used it and to me it lacked a little of the sleekness the A200 had and really seemed a bit of a pointless release to me. A few weeks ago I was given the task of testing out the A350 and this was a different story, I can see exactly why Sony released this and I can also see what they have tried to change and why. Have they now ironed out any small wrinkles in their early models and released a DSLR that truly can turn the heads of even a professional photographer? Read on to find out!
The Sony A350 has a huge 14.2 megapixels rising above the 10.1 offered in the earlier models, mega pixels are not the be all and end all but having more of them rather than less is always an advantage. Having 14.2 megapixels at your finger tips allows you to crop tiny portions out of your original image without losing clarity on your finished picture.
More and more photographers these days are finding pictures within pictures once they get the images on a pc screen. Just the other day I took what I thought was a marvellous picture of a busy street in the rain but when I put it on the computer I realised that within this I had an even better picture of an old man and lady cuddled up on a bench under an umbrella. I cropped it and because I had been using a camera with a huge megapixel I was able to remove this section from the picture with ease. So that is Megapixels taken care of let's move on.
A huge part of buying the correct camera for you should go on how it looks and how it handles and
the Sony A350 looks and handles brilliantly. It has the sleek and classy look of a camera much more expensive than it actually is and when in hand it feels heavy enough to be reassuring but not so heavy that it begins to feel awkward. Obviously being a DSLR camera it has interchangeable lenses so the weight of the camera will differ depending on the lens being used but even with a large telephoto lens this is still a comfortable weight.
The controls are all easily accessible and easy to use when shooting so you do not need to take your eye of the subject to fiddle with buttons or dials and the grip on the camera feels comfortable and will suit a small hand as well as a large, if you do not feel comfortable with your equipment you will not take good photos.
Another big thing when buying a DSLR camera is the availability of lenses and accessories for your unit. The Sony A350 has an A-mount for lenses making it not only compatible with the Sony lenses designed for it but also with older Minolta lenses which can be found second hand in many places allowing you the possibility of building up a good lens collection without parting with thousands of pounds.
The Sony A350 is typically sold with the Sony DT 18-70mm lens. This is the same model supplied with the A100, and offers a slightly longer range than the typical 18-55mm lenses supplied in other kits. This will do the average photographer for a bit and allow them to get used to their new equipment but like most kit lenses, there's not much of a manual focusing ring to speak of and you will find yourself screaming out for bigger and better lenses to take your photography to the next level.
Other accessories for this camera are becoming more widely available now with Sony producing new Flash units to bolster the cameras performance and other companies that build Flash units and Macro rings and the likes now taking Sony into consideration when they design them. The new world of Sony DSLR is becoming very interesting indeed.
One of my favourite things about this unit is the fact that it has a built in image stabilisation system so instead of having to buy very, very expensive image stabilising lenses, every lens you use will be able to take advantage of this system at the simple flick of one switch. Image stabilisation is a very important thing if you are shooting in poor light therefore using long shutter opening times or if you are shooting at a strong zoom which picks up movement much easier. Simply switch on the stabilisation system and get much clearer images, even us professionals use this type of thing you know.
Moving swiftly on and we come to yet another thing this camera has that makes it a joy to own. When you have a DSLR and you are using different lenses each lens change will allow tiny particles of dust onto your CCD sensor, no matter how careful you are. Cleaning a sensor is scary thing to undertake yourself so it usually after a period of time means spending money to have a professional do it for you.
The dual anti-dust system in the Sony A350 eradicates this problem. At the point of the camera powering down, the A350's sensor automatically vibrates to shake off any dust that is present on the sensor and as a further measure to defend against the dreaded dust particles that will show up as tiny dots on you're zoomed in images, the 14 megapixel CCD sensor's filter sports an anti-static coating. Together these seem to work very well because after deliberately changing the lens several times in windy conditions and leaving lenses off for much longer than we would normally we found no trace of dust on the sensor.
As well as the things I have pinpointed and given special mention to the Sony A350 also has al the usual specifications you would expect from a DSLR such as, a built in flash as well as a hot shoe to allow you to connect external flashes, continuous burst which allows you to take continuous pictures by keeping the shutter button pressed, some cameras will only take set amounts but this one will allow you to take as many a your memory card can hold if you wish and if you are using an external flash gun there will be no flash lag either so you could use this function even in poor or virtually no light.
There are also all the usual options such as manual setting of apertures, ISO settings, white balance, exposure and the likes as well as the added option of using the camera in semi-automatic, most of you will have used a point and shoot camera and some may have already dabbled with DSLR`s, whilst most point and shoots will offer you manual or automatic DSLR`s often have an in-between offering allowing you to practice certain elements of adjustment yourself whilst allowing the camera to handle the rest.
The Sony A350 has this and it works very well, it also allows you to change which elements are handled by you and which are handled by the camera whilst shooting. You really do have lots of options with this unit, you can pick it up switch it to auto and start taking much better photos than you have done with other cameras or you can dive into the deep end and try setting everything up for yourself so the image really is personal to you or you can meet in the middle and share the work with the camera.
So if this camera is so good you will be wanting to know a bit about the image quality I would imagine, well let me tell you it is mostly if not always fantastic. If you have read any of my point and shoot digital camera reviews you will have heard me often say that although a certain camera may have certain settings and options that they don't actually work too well and the images suffer when they are used. This is rarely the case with DSLR`s because they are designed to be used manually and it is certainly not the case with this unit. Every function offered works brilliantly to produce stunning images.
To make some comparisons I went out and about with this unit as well as a Canon 400D and a Nikon D60, I took a photo using the same lens type on each camera in fully automatic mode and when the images are compared the one from the Sony A350 is clearer, sharper and all together more impressive, I then began to manually set settings (the same for each camera of course) and the only time the Sony was beaten and even then only just was when the Nikon D60 produced better results in poor light with a long shutter time. So here we have a camera made by a company who have basically just entered the DSLR market and it is showing up cameras like the 400D and the D60 which are made by companies that have been producing cameras like this for years and are seen to be market leaders. Watch out guys Sony is coming!
I was so impressed with the images turned out by this unit that I just can't wait to get my hands on its big brother the Sony A700, the only reason I have left this camera out of my review so far is that it is for the higher end of the market and out of the price range of the others mentioned so far. It has been around slightly longer than the A350 but has struggled to be taken serious because of Sony being new comers and because of its price tag.
Hopefully my revelation to the photography world as well as the many other reviews being done on Sony DSLR`s can change this.
Other things you will probably like to know before rushing out to buy yourself one of these will be that it uses a compact flash memory card or a memory stick duo and can handle ones up to 8GB, it uses a rechargeable lithium battery (NP-FM500H) which will allow you to take aprox 730 pictures between charges, it has a video out jack as well as
Pictures of Sony a (Alpha) DSLR-A350K
How the A350 looks in hand
a USB and it also has a jack to allow the shutter to be used by remote control and one of my favourite little things about the camera is its tilting LCD screen which allows you to position the screen away from bright lights and eliminates that problem of not being able to fully see what you are shooting.
All of these things and many others go a long way to making this one of the best introductory DSLR cameras I have ever used.
Sony α mount Compatibility with A-Mount bayonet lenses from Minolta and Konica Minolta
All types of Sony α lenses Minolta & Konica Minolta α/MAXXUM/DYNAX lenses
Double anti dust system (anti-static coating and CCD shift mechanism)
ISO Sensitivity 100 - 3200
Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec - 30 secs
Continuous Burst Speed 2.5 FPS
LCD screen size 2.7 inches
Size 130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7 mm
Weight (body only) 632 g
So you now have my opinion on the camera and a little look at what the camera has to offer so now how about where it can be bought and how much will it cost?
Ok well firstly when it comes to buying it you will be able to find it in almost every camera store and it can also be found in Argos and online at Amazon as well as dozens of other places. When it comes to price it is a bit trickier to buy a DSLR than a point and shoot because they can be bough as body only (no lens) or as part of a package deal containing one or more lenses. So you need to weigh up what lens or lenses you are being offered and does it make more sense to buy the body only and choose your own lenses or is there a package deal out there that suits your needs.
The average deal is the camera plus an 18 - 55mm lens which can be found on Amazon for the very reasonable sum of £419.45, it is also on Amazon with the slightly better 18 - 70mm lens for £457.56, both these options come with free delivery. Jessop's were offering this camera with a pair of lenses (18 - 55mm and 70 - 200mm) for £550 which was a very good offer but now seems to have been withdrawn.
Basically you have to put plenty thought into what you need from your lens and also search everywhere for the best deal because the options on ways to buy this camera are endless and can be a bit confusing.
So with all the pros taken care of and the price roughly explained I will give you the cons of this camera (there are a few).
No facial recognition was a bit of a letdown for me, this is a useful setting that the camera would benefit from in my opinion but if you have a good enough lens you can live without it, although this unit will allow you to take a huge amount of shots on continuous shooting mode its speed of continuous shooting is fairly slow at only 2.5 frames per second, there are cameras out there reaching 30 frames per second and finally the in camera picture sharpening could do with a boost, although it is not a widely used function when it is needed this one probably won't give as strong a sharpening effect as what will be needed.
Puting those minor blemmishes aside this camera remains one of the best introductory DSLR`s I have used and I would happily shout from the rafters about it to anyone who was willing to listening. Compared to previous models the A350 is way better than the A100 and slightly better than the A200 and 300 so it was definitely worth bringing out, compared to other manufacturers in the same price range it is very competitive and has given me better images than most so I think Sony is going to be the next big thing in the world of DSLR cameras and it is certainly the one I will be recommending to people for the foreseeable future.
WHATS IN THE BOX
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 Body NP-FM500H rechargeable battery BC-VM10 battery charger Video and USB cables Shoulder strap with eyepiece cap and Remote Commander clip Body cap Software/USB Driver CD-ROM