Today, I spent some hands-on time with the Sony A350 today at Sony’s like.no.other commercial and ad shoot in downtown Miami, Florida (We’ll have more about the shoot itself in a later post.) After a few hours of shooting, I’ll have to say that I’m very impressed with this newcomer from Sony. There are a few features and functions that really set this camera apart from other entry-level offerings.
Sony has truly revolutionized the use of Live View with the fast and accurate phase difference autofocus (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry – just understand that it’s really fast) during the Live View shooting mode. I had high hopes for this feature and, based on my short hands-on time, I can say that Sony delivered on those hopes.
This feature alone will move the Sony A300 and A350 off the shelves. While many current DSLR users say that Live View is unnecessary or even downright silly, it is a feature that will put DSLRs into more consumers’ hands (and with this innovation, those DSLRs may very well be Sony).
Live View is something every casual shooter is used to. It’s a comfortable feeling to see the entire image on their LCD screen prior to pressing the shutter release. While Olympus, Canon and Nikon have all been incorporating limited Live View features into their most recent DSLRs, Sony has set a new standard.
Be forewarned, you will be seeing soccer moms and dads on the sidelines holding a DSLR at arms’ length very soon. And, you know what? They’ll get better images than their point & shoot cameras because of faster AF, larger sensor size and imperceptible shutter delay.
The new adjustable display on the A300 and A350 works hand-in-hand with the Live View function. Prior to leaving the hotel for the commercial shoot this morning, I took the new Nikon D60 for another spin. While shooting, I wanted to capture a landscape image from a low point of view. In order to properly frame the image, I laid down on the ground with my eye to the viewfinder and then took my shot.
While at the commercial shoot, I captured similar images with the Sony A350. The difference, however, was that I simply folded the LCD panel out, knelt down, framed and snapped away. Again, this is a rock star feature when combined with the Live View function. Landscapes and macro shots just got a lot easier and cleaner for the photographer.
My only complaint with the LCD is that Sony didn’t take the screen’s mobility to the next level. Shooting over my head, I felt like the LCD would’ve worked better if it had tilted down a few more degrees. Obviously, the higher I held it, the more tilt that I could have used. Additionally, the fold out function is really only helpful if you are shooting in a landscape-oriented format. I simply could not shoot from some of the same angles when I framed images vertically. A fully articulating LCD panel in the next Alpha models from Sony would be very welcomed.
The menus and display features are very intuitive. Sony has done a great job of making the most used options accessible via a function button on the back that is well within reach of your thumb. Additionally, Sony has incorporated an ISO button on the top near the shutter release, which is quite useful. I was able to snap several sample shots for an ISO comparison with ease. A big thumbs up on the menu design and navigation.
The Sony A350 feels a bit larger in my hand than the Nikon D40-D60 and the Canon Rebel XT and XTi. It’s certainly not a large camera though. Personally, I think the Canon and Nikon cameras are a bit too small. The A350 seems to have less of a “plastic” feel, which I think of when holding the Nikon and Canon entry-level cameras (granted, I have not laid hands on the new Rebel XSi, which features a refined grip, among a number of updates). I prefer this more solid body and grip. It just feels more like a real photographic tool to me. However, grip and size are more of a personal preference and you should certainly try out your camera of choice to make sure it “fits” your own hands.
As noted above, the menu is easily accessible and the button and switch layout is intuitive. However, I caught myself sticking my eye to the viewfinder a few times before switching the view mode back to the optical view finder. The optical viewfinder is completely blacked out during Live View mode. The Live View switch is on the top near the shutter release, so it remains quite accessible as well. After a couple of hours, I was starting to get used to this switch. I imagine that a regular user would have this down to a routine after a few hours of use.
So, do I like the new Sony A350? You bet. I can’t wait to get my production model from Amazon, which I pre-ordered the day it was announced. When it arrives, you can expect a full review shortly thereafter. For more on the A350, you can check out Photography Bay’s Sony A350 Reviews and Resources page. Also, stay tuned for tons of sample images from the A350 and any other cameras that I can get my hands on this week.