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Fast AF Live View

Live View is well on its way to becoming a must-have feature on DSLRs. However, it is a young technology and different manufacturers have different ideas of what it is supposed to be used for. Sony's system stands alone amongst contemporary Live View systems in that it does not show the output from the main imaging sensor. Instead there is a second, smaller sensor placed up in the viewfinder tunnel.

Roll your mouse over the above images to see how the light path is redirected between the viewfinder and live view sensor

The advantage of this layout is that, unlike any other current Live View system, the camera can offer live view with the reflex mirror down. This means it behaves just like a conventional DSLR when in Live view mode, only flipping the mirror out of the way when you press the shutter button to take the photograph. The result is to give the most responsive Live View mode on any contemporary camera meaning that essentially you get the convenience of a compact camera with the speed of focus of a conventional DSLR.

All other current systems have to flip the mirror up so that the main sensor can produce the live view image. Taking a photo requires dropping the mirror again to focus or meter, then lift it again to take the actual exposure. Although this mirror flapping makes it slower, using the main imaging sensor offers other advantages. Using the main imaging sensor allows the use of the potentially more accurate and flexible contrast-detection autofocus system. Access to the main sensor also allows a very fine resolution preview for manual focus confirmation. The Sony system offers an excellent level of responsiveness but gives up the precision that macro and studio shooters are likely to need.

As well as providing a large preview that can be viewed from many angles, thanks to its tilt/flip LCD, the A350's Live View implementation offers the ability to preview the exposure and white balance of the shot you're about to take (though there's no option to stop the aperture down and preview the depth-of-field). Unfortunately, these previewing abilities are offered to the detriment of the optical viewfinder. The addition of the secondary imaging sensor impinges on the viewfinder's space, leaving the A350 with a 0.74x magnification viewfinder that's hard to get your eye to (because of the articulated screen).

Tilting LCD

The A350's live view system wouldn't be nearly so useful were it not for its tilting LCD. The screen has been well designed so that the articulation mechanism is as discreet as possible. Even so, the screen does stick out a considerable distance from the back of the camera which makes getting near the viewfinder pretty tricky. And, despite boasting an anti-reflective coating, the screen is very prone to smearing, and struggles more than most in daylight on even moderately bright days.

The screen can be folded out to 90 degrees upwards and tilted downwards at 45 degrees to provide for waist-level or overhead shooting. It's also quite pleasant when using the camera on a tripod where you can use it a bit like a medium format camera with a waist-level finder and pretend to be David Hemmings in Blow Up. Unfortunately, because it does not rotate at all, the screen isn't terribly useful for taking photos in portrait orientation (though that would engender still more mechanical bulk).

Compared to Alpha 100 - key differences

The A350 is a very different camera to the A100 that it (along with the A200 and A300), replaces. There may be some external similarities but the A350 shrugs off the Dynax 5D heritage that defined the A100.

 
Sony Alpha A350

Sony Alpha A100
Body material • Plastic (interior construction unknown) • Plastic (interior construction unknown)
Sensor • 23.5 x 15.7 mm CCD sensor
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Interline interlaced CCD
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 14.9 million total pixels
• 14.2 million effective pixels

• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD sensor
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Interline interlaced CCD
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 10.8 million total pixels
• 10.2 million effective pixels
Image sizes (3:2) • 4592 x 3056 (L/RAW)
• 3408 x 2272 (M)
• 2288 x 1520 (S)
• 3872 x 2592 (L)
• 2896 x 1936 (M)
• 1920 x 1280 (S)
Aspect ratios • 3:2
• 16:9
3:2
File Formats • RAW
• RAW + JPEG Fine
• JPEG
• RAW
• RAW + JPEG Fine
• JPEG
JPEG compression • Two level
• Two level
Auto Focus • TTL CCD line sensors (9-points, 8 lines with center cross-hair sensor)
• EV 0 to 18 (ISO 100) detection range
• Predictive focus control for moving subjects

• TTL CCD line sensors (9-points, 8 lines with center cross-hair sensor)
• EV -1 to 18 (ISO 100) detection range
• Predictive focus control for moving subjects

AF assist
illuminator
• Via internal flash, must be raised
• 1.0 - 5.0 m range
• Via internal flash, must be raised
• 1.0 - 5.0 m range
Custom modes None None
ISO sensitivities • Auto
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• ISO 3200
• Auto (100 - 800)
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• Lo80 (ISO 80, Low key)
• Hi200 (ISO 200, High key)
Exposure compen. • -2.0 to +2.0 EV
• 0.3 EV steps
• -2.0 to +2.0 EV
• 0.3 EV steps
Bracketing • 3 frames
• 0.3 or 0.7 EV steps
• 3 frames
• 0.3 or 0.7 EV steps
Shutter speeds • 30 to 1/4000 sec
• Bulb
• 30 to 1/4000 sec
• Bulb
Flash X-sync • 1/160 sec
• 1/125 sec (with Super SteadyShot on)
• 1/160 sec
• 1/125 sec (with Super SteadyShot on)
Custom WB memories One One
Color modes • Standard
• Vivid
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Sunset
• Night view
• B&W
• Adobe RGB
• Standard
• Vivid
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Sunset
• Night view
• B&W
• Adobe RGB
Image parameters • Contrast (-3 to +3)
• Saturation (-3 to +3)
• Sharpness (-3 to +3)
(Available in all color modes)
• Contrast (-2 to +2)
• Saturation (-2 to +2)
• Sharpness (-2 to +2)
(Available in all color modes)
Noise reduction • Long exposure for exposures longer than 1 second
• High ISO NR at ISO 1600 or higher
• User controllable: On / Off
• Long exposure for exposures longer than 1 second
• User controllable: On / Off
Continuous

• RAW: 2.5 fps, up to 4 frames
• RAW+JPEG: 2.5 fps, up to 3 frames
• JPEG: 2.5 fps, unlimited
(2fps in Live View mode)

• RAW: 3 fps, up to 6 frames
• RAW+JPEG: 3 fps, up to 3 frames
• JPEG: 3fps, unlimited
Viewfinder • Pentamirror
• Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen (not changeable)
• Magnification approx. x0.74
• 95% coverage
• Eye-relief 20.8 mm from eyepiece
• Pentamirror
• Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen (not changeable)
• Magnification approx. x0.83
• 95% coverage
• Eye-relief 20 mm from eyepiece
LCD monitor • 2.7" TFT LCD Tilt & Shift
• 230,000 pixels
• Anti-reflective coating
• 2.5" TFT LCD ('Clear Photo LCD Plus')
• 230,000 pixels
• Anti-reflective coating
Control dials One One
Video Out • AV (Selectable NTSC or PAL)
• 'PhotoTV' HD settings applied with BRAVIA TV
• AV (Selectable NTSC or PAL)
Storage • Compact Flash Type I/II
• Memory Stick Duo / Pro Duo
(Via optional adapter)
• Compact Flash Type I/II
• Memory Stick Duo / Pro Duo
(Via supplied adapter)
Vertical Grip Optional vertical Grip VG-B30AM None
Dimensions 130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7 mm 133 x 95 x 71 mm (5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)
Weight • No battery: 582 g (1.3 lb)
• With battery: 675 g (1.5 lb)
• No battery: 545 g (1.2 lb)
• With battery: 638 g (1.4 lb)
Other

• Improvements to Super SteadyShot
• RGB histogram in playback mode
• Shadow/highlight warning in playback

 
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