Additionally, all of Sony's lower-end dSLRs use lines rather than squares for the 9 off-center focus-point indicators. They're very dim and some people may have trouble seeing them. Especially since the A350 has a very low-magnification 0.74x viewfinder.
Sony's 2-sensor Live View implementation harks back to the more seamless approach pioneered--and subsequently discarded--by Olympus. With a secondary sensor dedicated to receiving a preview image off the imaging sensor, there's no need to flip the mirror up for preview and focus, then flip it back down to shoot, proving a more typical snapshot-like experience when framing via the 2.7-inch LCD. In addition, Sony incorporates a flip-up LCD, which makes the feature not just practical, but actually useful (predominantly for overhead and from-the-hip shooting). Like the A200, the A350 also supports wireless flash, uncommon but not unique in this price class, using the same appropriately bare-bones implementation as the A200. Rather than grafting pro multichannel support on the camera, which can be quite confusing to configure, it's basically binary: on or off.
The rest of the specs are typical for its class: sensitivity up to ISO 3200; sensor antidust protection measures; shutter speeds from 1/4000 second to 30 seconds with 1/160 second flash sync; various white-balance presets plus manual and color-temperature chooser; spot, multisegment and center-weighted metering; and spot, selectable spot and wide-area AF. There are also various drive modes including white-balance bracketing. Sony-specific features include the same D-RangeOptimizer as in the A700 and Creative Style presets with editable contrast, saturation, and sharpness. For a full accounting of the A350's features, you can download the PDF manual.
Because it generally costs too much to add faster processing in this price segment, the A350's higher resolution exacts a performance toll. There are a couple of bright spots, but in CNET Labs' tests overall the camera ranks on the slow side. When you take processing and file writing out of the equation, the A350 handily zips past the rest of the pack: shutter/shot lag lasts a mere 0.3 second in optimal conditions and 0.6 second in dim. The rest doesn't look quite so rosy. It powers on and shoots in 0.6 second, kind of slow relative to the rest. Once focused, shot-to-shot time typically takes about 0.7 second for JPEG and 0.9 for RAW, both at the bottom of the class. I will say that it doesn't feel that slow while photographing, and I routinely shoot RAW+JPEG. Adding flash recycling time almost doubles the lag to 1.5 seconds, also at the bottom of the scale for dSLRs. As you'd also expect, the camera is a slow burst shooter as well--2.5 frames per second. Though it can keep that up until your card fills with JPEGs, it maxes out at 4 RAW frames.
As usual, its Super SteadyShot sensor-shift image stabilizer does work well; at the long end of the range for the 70-200mm f2.8 lens (effective focal length 300mm) I successfully shot at 1/10 second, about 4 stops beyond the 1/200-second shutter speed determined by the reciprocal focal-length rule. And speedwise, shooting in Live View with the A350 feels very similar to shooting with a snapshot camera. However, because it uses the two-sensor approach, the LCD only previews 90 percent of the scene compared with 95 percent with the optical viewfinder. Battery life is rated for 730 pictures.
Rating photo quality tends to be difficult, but the A350 was particularly waffle-worthy. It renders good color and dynamic range. Up to and including ISO 800, photos look solid, with a minimal increase in softness. However, at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 color noise kicks in and smeariness from the noise suppression algorithms degrades detail.
With some really expensive lenses--an 85mm f1.4 Zeiss T* lens, 11-18mm f4.5-5.6 lens, and 24-70mm f2.8 Zeiss lens--I got some nice low-ISO shots. But those are lenses you're unlikely to buy for a budget/entry-level camera like this, so I couldn't justify pushing the image quality rating up to an 8. (Unless you have some old, really good Minolta lenses that might be a different story.)
If you need the resolution bump at a low price, the Rebel XSi is probably a better choice than the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350. It lacks in-body image stabilization and the A350's intelligent Live View implementation, but it does have the mode, and Canon offers better comparable kit lenses and a better selection of budget lenses, as well as better photo quality and performance. And if you don't need the resolution, you can save yourself the extra bucks with an A300 and put it toward a good lens.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)