Two new consumer dSLR models ask potential buyers to evaluate trade-offs they shouldn't need to consider.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
2/1/2008: Thanks to lack of sleep and rusty HTML skills, the previous table entries for the A700 were incorrect. Sorry for my own addition to the confusion. Fixed now. Lori.
I suppose it was inevitable. With its latest camera announcements, Sony brings its scorched-earth camera marketing philosophy--blanketing each price segment with multiple choices in hopes that one combination of design and features hits pay dirt--to consumer digital SLRs. Today's announcement of the Alpha DSLR-A300 and A350 brings Sony's total number of dSLRs in the $700 to $900 range to three. The models, despite some really nice feature sets, have just enough significant trade-offs to engender frustration rather than delight at the variety.
First, here's an overview of the new consumer lineup:
11-pt AF two cross-type sensors in center (one f/2.8)
$699 (w/ 18-70mm lens)
$799 (w/ 18-70mm lens)
$799 (body only); $899 (w/ 18-70mm lens)
$1,399 (body only)
End of February
End of April
All the models have Super SteadyShot sensor-shift image stabilization and support sensitivities that range from ISO 100-3200, as well as the typical array of firmware-based features, such as Advanced Dynamic Range Optimization. With the A300 and A350, Sony also introduces Live View shooting mode to its dSLRs. Sony's 2-sensor 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 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). We would prefer a flip-and-twist display, like that found on the Olympus E-3, but hey--you can't have everything.
So the extra $100 you pay to go from the A200 to A300 gets you Live View. Or Live View, plus higher resolution but minus a lens, 1 frame-per-second continuous shooting speed, and a significantly lower-magnification viewfinder (A200 to A350). Between the A300 and the A350, which have the same tiny viewfinder and Live View, for the same $799 you have to decide whether you want the lens kit, or higher resolution and slower speed. You could opt for the Canon EOS Rebel XSi, which competes directly against the A350 at that $799 body-only price, but which delivers a better combination of resolution and performance for the money.
Also debuting at PMA, Sony introduces a pair of lenses: a pricey-but-probably-yummy Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA ($1,749) and a basic telephoto zoom 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 G SSM ($799). Both will be available this spring.