Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 review: Sony Alpha DSLR-A350

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The Good Sensor-shift image stabilization; useful Live View implementation with flip-up LCD.

The Bad Kit lens could be better; mixed performance; small viewfinder; interface annoyances.

The Bottom Line Unless you're prepared to spend a disproportionate amount of money on a really good lens, the resolution bump offered by the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 isn't worth the price.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

With its 14-megapixel CCD, flip-up LCD, sensor-shift image stabilizer, and built-in wireless flash controller, the feature-packed Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 seems like a cornucopia of photographic goodness for the budget shopper. And you wouldn't be far off the mark: there's a lot to like in the A350, and I suspect it will garner its share of fans. Unsurprisingly, however, Sony made some compromises so that the A350 could lay claim to the title of highest-resolution budget dSLR. Sony does offer an almost identical 10-megapixel model, the Alpha DSLR-A300, which lists for about $200 less.

Sony offers the A350 in three packages: body only, a kit with the SAL-1870 18-70mm f3.5-5.6 lens, which we tested, and a dual-lens kit that adds the SAL-55200 55-200mm f4-5.6 model. Those two lenses, plus the 75-300mm SAL-75300, currently comprise Sony's complete entry-level lens lineup. For other inexpensive alternatives you'll have to turn to compatible A-mount Konica Minolta, Sigma, or Tamron offerings.

A bit heavy at 1 pound, 8-plus ounces, the solid A350 has a solid, rubbery grip that's very comfortable to hold, and the extra heft makes it feel more substantial than competitors such as the Canon EOS Rebel XSi. Another positive aspect of the extra weight: it doesn't get overbalanced when using accessories like the HVL-F42AM I tested it with.

The A350 shares the straightforward layout design of the A200. There are direct-access controls for ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, and drive/bracketing/self-timer modes, while flash, AF, white balance, AF area, and D-RangeOptimizer settings are grouped under a screen pulled up by the Fn button.

Unlike the A700, you can't change settings directly via the information display (Quick Navi). Instead, you have to pull up this screen via the Fn button and dive in to change the settings. I much prefer the Quick Navi approach; this way takes too many clicks to simply change the metering mode.

I had to read the manual to figure out what this button does: it's the Smart Teleconverter, actually a 1.4x or 2x digital zoom which only works in Live View mode. Most cameras let you change the image size--which is what this does--but I guess Sony thinks your need for that is more pressing than for switching metering modes or white balance. Also, the error message that it pops up for it should be more helpful than "Invalid Operation."

Since much of the design matches that of the A200, I have similar complaints about the USB placement as well. The USB connector sits inside the CF card compartment, which means you have to leave the door open while downloading, potentially allowing all sorts of schmutz to get onto the card-slot contacts (and, if you're as accident prone as me, providing a protrusion to hit and hurl the camera to the floor). More important, Sony uses a semiproprietary combo micro USB/audiovisual connector on all its dSLRs, for no reason that I can see other than to force you to buy a cable from them if you lose the bundled one.

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.