Top positive review
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The best entry level DSLR on the market?
on 7 June 2009
DSLRs cost a lot of money. This was the first thought that crossed my mind when I decided to exchange my hard-earned cash for a 'proper' camera. I could have been forgiven for choosing Nikon or Canon without giving further consideration. However the D40 seemed too basic and the D90 well out of my price range, so the D60 seemed like the appropriate choice. However, praise had been given to Sony's new range of alpha cameras, stating that they had the lead in the entry-level market.
Which one then? The A200, A300 or A350? Their prices range from £270 to £400 so which one deserved my purchase? I took the plunge and went for the higher-end A350. In terms of functionality, the A350 is essentially the same as the A300, only with 14.2 mega pixels as opposed to the A300's 10.2 mega pixels. A major selling point of the alpha series is that their Super Steady Shot system is built in to the body, meaning you get SSS on whichever lens you are using. This is great, although having just the one lens didn't make a huge difference for me.
Out of the box, the A350 felt justifiably heavy; the build quality is very good indeed. Other than sliding on the lens, I was able to literally turn the camera on, point it and shoot. It was really that simple. The display is clear with no distracting graphics you get with the D40, just plain and simple information laid out as if it were on a piece of paper. Taking pictures with this camera was what I imagined it would feel like to drive a Rolls Royce: Simply superb. With the camera in auto, it was instantly able to optimise the aperture and shutter values to create the ideal shot, however turning the dial to manual opened up the opportunity to customise the shot to my exact specifications. The auto focus has an impressive 9 areas and Sony brought down the high-torque focus motor from the A700 making it 1.7x faster than the A200. The Eye Start system is quite brilliant; as soon as you bring the camera up to your eye the image is put in sharp focus. The only draw back with this feature is that when resting against your body it thinks it's up against your eye, and the front of the lens jitters back and forth accordingly.
Uploading is very straight forward and the supplied image data converter allows for a selection of tweaks to be applied before saving the final version (this is only possible if the images are taken in raw mode). The battery is stunning and just keeps on going, almost defeating the object of carrying a spare.
The only problems I had with the camera were mainly physical: The flash is so flimsy it could have come from a camera £300 cheaper. Only the slightest accidental force applied will pull it from its housing. The eye start feature can be slightly irritating but is easily turned off. The live view feature on this camera is great since the AF system retains the same speed, however as a result its burst fire speed is brought down from 3 frames per second to a less favorable 2.5 FPS. Despite praise for its good performance in low lighting I still find that images are too noisy at settings ISO400 or above. Other than these relatively minor issues I really can't fault this camera at all, it's simply excellent. Since the sensor on both the A300 and the A350 are the same dimensions, you won't really see much of an improvement in image quality on the A350 unless you purchase a better lens, otherwise I'd stick to getting the A300.
Overall The A350 ticks all my boxes. For the first time I feel that my money has been well spent. I give it 5 stars and ask that you give the A300/350 serious consideration if you are looking for the best entry level DSLR, for which they are both mighty fine contenders!