Review Price £259.00
Sony Alpha A350 - Sony Alpha A350
The A350 shares the same body as the A200 and A300. It is made of plastic, but the rounded shape feels very strong and build quality is at least as good as any of the competition. It is a relatively small camera, measuring 130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7mm, and at 582g it is less than 40g heavier than the A200. Some of that is accounted for by the monitor screen, which is mounted on a two-way hinge, allowing it to tilt 45 degrees downwards or 90 degrees upward.
The control layout is almost identical to the A200, excepting the addition of a slider switch that activated the live monitor view and closes a shutter inside the viewfinder, and a extra button for the "Smart Teleconverter" mode. This is available only in live view mode, and magnifies the image by either 1.4x or 2x. In other words it's yet another new name for our old friend digital zoom. Given the camera's extremely high maximum resolution it is possible to crop and enlarge the image and still get a good picture, but it's still no substitute for using a higher magnification lens.
The camera handles well and is comfortable and secure to hold, but I do have a couple of comments. The gap between the handgrip and the side of the lens mount is very narrow and anyone with larger fingers (like me) will find it a bit cramped, and will also find that their fingernails leave white scratch marks on the matt black plastic finish. The adjustment wheel, used for altering exposure settings, is quite small and rather stiff, making it difficult to operate quickly and smoothly.
I also found the live view mode to be less useful than I'd hoped. I used it at a local charity fun-run, and found it's downward-tilting ability very useful for shooting over the heads of the crowd, while the upward tilt was useful as a waist-level finder for inconspicuous shooting, however in even moderate sunlight the monitor simply wasn't bright enough to be seen clearly, even with the brightness turned up to maximum.
One potential use of live view is for studio photography with the camera mounted on a tripod, but here too I encountered a problem, and one which appears to be a bit of an oversight on the part of the designers. The monitor view automatically adjusts to preview the effects of altering exposure in manual mode, so an under-exposed shot will appear darker and an over-exposed shot will be lighter. The problem is that when using a separate flashgun in manual exposure mode, as one would normally do in a studio, the exposure settings typically used mean that the view on the live monitor is so dark it's impossible to see anything at all. Unfortunately there is no menu option to disable the exposure preview function, so the A350's live view is useless for studio photography. I really hope this problem can be amended with a firmware update, because it is a major handicap that ruins a potentially very useful feature.
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