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

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.

One of the A350's image-quality problem comes from pairing a middling lens with a high resolution sensor. On the left is the 18-70mm kit lens on the A350; on the right, the lens on the 10-megapixel A200. The A350's version looks more magnified, but perceptibly softer.

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.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)