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Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 and A350: Mirror, mirror

Sony has announced two new entry-level α (Alpha) dSLRs: the A300 and A350. Both boast innovative tilting screens and dual-sensor, dual-mirror live view function

With PMA 2008 kicking off today, the new camera anouncements just keep on coming. Where other manufacturers showed their hands early, Sony has gone right down to the wire with the proclamation of two new entry-level α (Alpha) dSLRs: the A300 and A350.

The A300 is similar to the A200 that took a bow recently at CES 2008, with a new-form 69mm (2.7-inch) screen and live view bolted on. The A300 is a 10.2-megapixel version of the 14.2-megapixel A350.

Both cameras boast live view -- the ability to compose pictures on the camera's screen. Although this is a mainstay of the compact camera and is now virtually ubiquitous on dSLRs, it's still implemented in different ways. Some manufacturers flip the internal mirror up and keep it up to facilitate live view. Sony, meanwhile, has opted for a dual-CCD sensor, with a second mirror that tilts slightly to reflect light either to the viewfinder -- pictured -- or to a secondary sensor that records the image for display on the screen.

The upshot of this is that because there's no time-consuming flipping of the main mirror, the new cameras give you the convenience and flexibility of live view, while still retaining the speed associated with SLR systems. It also presumably saves wear and tear on your mirror, one of the most vulnerable and oft-used moving parts in your camera. It also allows the cameras to continuously focus-track a subject, and even more impressively deliver live view during burst shooting.

Sony is remaining characteristically tight-lipped about UK pricing, but the A300 kit with a DT 18-70mm f3.5-5.6 standard zoom lens will hit the US in April for about $800 (£400). The A350 camera body will be available Stateside in March for the same price, and the A350 kit with a DT 18-70mm f3.5-5.6 3.9x zoom lens will be available for about $900 (£450). No UK prices yet. Click through the links to reflect further on the two new cameras. -Richard Trenholm

Update: Read our full Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 review

Both Sony snappers sport superbly alliterative Super SteadyShot image stabilisation system for snappier shutter speeds. Sony suggests you can save 2.5 to 3.5 stops with this system.

Sony claims a continuous burst of three frames per second for the A300, pictured above. Battery life is said to be up to 730 shots per full charge when using the viewfinder, and up to 410 shots per full charge in live view.

Both the A300 and A350 feature an innovative segmented tilting live view screen. Although we've seen tilting screens before, for maximising the distance and angle you can hold the camera at and still see the screen, they've usually been camcorder-style flip-out jobs. Sony's solution maintains the eye-line through the lens of the camera, in a similar way to the quirky JVC GR-DA20 camcorder we Craved last year.

As well as live view, another increasingly ubiquitous dSLR feature is an anti-dust doohickey. Sony sticks to the standard static-free surfacing and sensor shake system.

According to Sony, the A350, pictured above, churns out 2.5 continuous frames per second when using the viewfinder. Sony has also given us a break on the proprietary format front by including CompactFlash memory card compatibility.