The A350 is a further step away from the Konica Minolta two-dial control system. Instead it uses a combination of direct access buttons, a function menu page and full menus to give access to all its features. On the whole, this hierarchy of features has been well planned, with the most frequently changed settings being the ones most easily accessible. There are a lot of buttons for a camera of this price but almost without exception, they're buttons you'll be pleased to have.
In your hand
The A350 has a pleasant grip that fits well in the hand and most buttons are within easy reach. The buttons that aren't so accessible with one eye to the viewfinder tend to be those that operate menus, so wouldn't be used in that position. That said, the square shoulders of the camera mean you'll have to adjust your grip to get to the ISO button.
Side by side
The A350 is a moderately sized camera, that immediately seems larger than the entry-level offerings from Pentax, Olympus, Nikon and Canon. It's a smaller than the mid-range enthusiast cameras such as the Canon 40D, Nikon D80 and Pentax K20D, though. This is relevant because its attention-grabbing specifications such as high pixel count, image stabilization and live view make it, on paper at least, a class-leader or competitive with the class above.
(W x H x D)
(inc. battery & card)
|Canon EOS 450D (XSi)||129 x 98 x 62 mm (5.1 x 3.9 x 2.4 in)||638 g (1.4 lb)|
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A350||131 x 99 x 75 mm (5.2 x 3.9 x 3.0 in)||632 g (1.4 lb)|
|Pentax K20D||142 x 101 x 70 mm (5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in)||800g (1.8 lb)|
|Nikon D60||126 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in)||522g (1.2 lb)|
|Olympus E-520||136 x 92 x 68 mm (5.4 x 3.6 x 2.7 in)||490g (1.1 lb)|
Recording mode display
The A350 does not have a permanent, mono LCD status display screen, instead using the color display as in information panel (An old Konica Minolta idea that has spread to most entry-level DSLRs).
Instead the main LCD displays a complete list or subset of shooting parameters (there are two levels of detail) and rotates automatically when the camera is placed in the portrait orientation. Unfortunately, the A350's display can't really be interacted (which it can be on the A700), other than shutter speed and aperture. Instead you are taken away to another screen every time you want to change a setting, even for those settings that have their own dedicated buttons.
A full breakdown of available information is shown in the diagrams below (camera in horizontal orientation on left, vertical orientation on the right). Note that the diagrams are in the most detailed mode.
Information (advanced mode)
The A350 is a big step backwards, in terms of optical viewfinders. The concessions made to provide live view have left it with the smallest viewfinder we've ever seen on an APS-C. An internal shutter closes the viewfinder when live view mode is engaged.
Another problem is that the articulated LCD protrudes some distance from the back of the camera, making it virtually impossible to get your eye close to the viewfinder without first filing down your nose.
The viewfinder is a fairly conventional affair, with markings representing the position of the autofocus points, and a circle showing the limits of the center spot that can be used for metering. There are also guides denoting the limits of a 16:9 aspect-ratio image, for those consumers that like to see the world rather more cinematically and don't want to mess about cropping the edges off their images after they've taken them.
The appearance in Live view is very similar to the viewfinder view (in part because the live view sensor is 'looking through' the same focusing screen as when you use the viewfinder). It takes advantage of the ability to display additional shooting information, though this can be turned off or replaced with a much more helpful live histogram.
The focusing screen image in the above diagrams is simulated.