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a350 first impressions

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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: a350 first impressions
    Posted: 05 February 2008 at 15:12
*************
We have a "sister" forum thread that was used along with this one
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This is a short, diary-like preview of the newly announced Sony alpha 350 camera. The camera shows firmware version v1.0 but it is still a preproduction camera and final products may differ from what I have the chance to experience.

I will not go into details here and please do not expect me to perform any in depth comparisons between a350 and any other model. Making any statements in this regards before the camera is actually in final production stage and on the market can only lead to misinformation.
You are invited however to ask questions about the camera itself in a dedicated forum thread; if you are not asking about pixel piping things I hope I will be able to provide helpful answers.

I can only be subjective when photo equipment is concerned and Iím not even trying to be anything different like that; so please take my opinions with a big grain of salt.

Edited by Kiklop - 08 February 2008 at 22:44
 



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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 February 2008 at 15:51
a350 ISN'T anything like a700; if you ever wondered why should one pay for a700 if he can get a350 for less money and greater resolution sensor then rest assured that a700 outperforms this entry model in almost every aspect: ergonomics, response and capabilities are way better on a700.
The price difference is IMHO very adequate .. a350 seems very capable camera for the money but it is evident that Sony made some efforts in not compromising a700 sales.
****

I got just a short period of sun today but i was able to get out and feel a bit how a350 performs (i didn't used LV for now; i will play with LV latter)

Build quality is quite solid for this class; I can easily say that is close to a700 in overall; at least from the outside. Front dial is small, too small if i may say but the buttons are pretty much as found on a700.

AF performance is very good; impossible to make any final judgment from one short walk but my impression is that AF is up to a700; at least outside with plenty of light. I checked for any BF problems first but didn't found any problem.

I don't have the grip and handling lenses like the CZ 135/1.8 may be a bit problematic due to camera small size. It's great however that unlike with a100 Sony does provide VG for these cameras which will help a lot with bigger and heavier lenses.

Viewfinder is significantly smaller (and darker) than the one found on a700. Most may not se it as a limitation but i really do consider viewfinders as one of the most critical part of any DSLR and personally i would like better viewfinder.

After smaller VF, the second thing i noticed is slower image preview when taking an image; i may try to record some small video to show you this but i did found it as an issue (i'm used to almost instant image preview on a700). This is something Sony should try to improve IMHO.

I didn't found any strange behavior with metering so far; the camera acted just as i expected and i guess Sony did not changed this from a700 (LV uses another metering mode and i will comment this another time)

14MP certainly brings large files. In a raw+jpg mode jpg files are from 2.6 to 7MB !! with the raw file sizes from 11.5 to 18MB. I already experienced this with my a700: processing files large as this certainly puts our computers to challenge.

That's all for now, with just one full size image
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-05-131.html (jpg straight from the camera)


Nothing to do with special a350 capabilities but talking about cameras isn't why we spend our money so at least some snapshots from a short walk








Edited by Kiklop - 09 February 2008 at 16:49
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 February 2008 at 18:15
Some questions were made about quality (durability) of the provided swivel LCD screen. My impression is that this shouldn't be of too much concern since the build quality seems quite solid for an entry level model.










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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 February 2008 at 18:32
IN live view mode, when wide area AF mode is selected, every AF sensor will be illuminated if in focus (green squares)

(you can open cropped but not resized version of this image to see LCD screen in details :) http://www.dyxum.com/photogallery/tmpforum/a350/a700-2008-02-05-17500401380_crop.jpg

What has Sony done great (finally !) was the fact that AF area in focus will illuminate (not only the usual focus OK signal). That will certain help a bit when manual focusing.

What's bad unfortunatelly (but expected :() that they didn't improved viewfinder view in this respect by providing the AF area illumination when using manual focusing (only the usual AF OK signal turns on).


On a side note, ISO value is (again, as expected) NOT displayed in the viewfinder all the time but rather only if you press ISO button.
Sadly Sony missed to fix an irritant issue; when any button is pressed and you DO look trough the optical viewfinder LCD will turn on, just as on previous KM/Sony cameras.
Common Sony .. use that eye sensor and keep the LCD off when having an eye on the viewfinder !
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 February 2008 at 00:22
I got some time and looked a bit better on the images taken today.
First of all; the files are huge; opening a raw file in IDC (the only converter i'm able to use at this moment with a350 raw files takes almost 400MB; export it to photoshop (16 bit tiff) and make duplicate layer and 1.7GB of ram is gone :(
I guess anyone considering a900 should spend quite some money on top hardware i guess (i have intel duo core at 2.8 with 3GB of ram installed) to handle 24MP images (still, with the 2/3GB limit of 32bit operating systems the bottleneck isn't CPU power most of the time but lack of RAM and dependency on slow hard disk I/O)

Anyway, using first grade glass with a350 (at lower ISO) one can get excellent results in terms of resolution. I used CZ135, CZ16-80 and Sony 35/1.4 today and all lenses performed great with a350 (I have some OOF images and will need to test again for BF tomorrow).
In the next few days i will bring some more common lenses including some old minolta ones and the kit lens; just to match a350 with what most users may use with it.

I'm providing you with two more full res samples for download both of these are converted with IDC using default settings and without any further sharpening.


full res image at http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-05-116.html


full res image at http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-05-120.html

I received few mails with some questions. I already answered the Q&A thread but still worth repeating;

a350 doesn't provide MLU. I know this may not be of any issue for most of you but i really can't justify Sony for not implementing it.
Same goes for computer remote shooting; i wish sony has provided the same capability a700 has especially because some competitors at this price do provide the option to control and shoot from PC.
The more i think about it the more i'm of opinion that Sony needed to "upgrade" a little a350; things like MLU, remote shooting, DOF preview, quick navi (as implemeted on a700), 3"LCD ... for 100$ extra i still think many would buy it. This way we may have a bit too big gap between a300/350 and a700 while having too many "same of the kind" models. Just IMHO of course.

btw; my friend who had always found my DSLR equipment too complicated to use has liked LV very, very much. So, as far i'm concerned sony did the right thing despite the way it works will not satisfy all needs (more on LV in the next few days)

Happy shooting

a350 & CZ 135


a350 & CZ 16-80


a350 & CZ 16-80


Edited by Kiklop - 08 February 2008 at 00:38
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 February 2008 at 16:56
Unlike yesterday, when I was using some of the best lenses that can be found for a-mount, I spent some time trying a350 with the cheap kit lens (18-70) and the old 70-210/4. Need I say that one would appreciate lenses like CZ135 or CZ16-80 a ďbitĒ more after trying cheap ones? :)

Before I go in some details just a short digression; the weather today was what I guess may be called London-line conditions; the fog that came few times from the sea isnít so often here.

a350&18-70


a350&18-70


With the reduced lighting, kit lens (55mm, F8, 1/240) and raised ISO (ISO 400 in this case) I got not so impressive results. Here is a 100% vrop from the center of the above shoot (default camera settings, JPG from the camera cropped in photoshop)


Not the best condition for any testing but luckily the sun showed up several times.



With more sun (and lower ISO :)) results are quite better

You can download full rez image (10MB JPG!! ) at
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-06-134.html
And another one (this time, straight from the camera and 6.5MB in size)
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-06-133.html

Few 70-200/4 samples are next to come

Edited by Kiklop - 08 February 2008 at 00:41
 



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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 February 2008 at 19:14
Time for some alcohol i guess and right there in my bag was a beercan waiting to be used.
70-210/4 is one of the most controversial lens for a-mount; many tend to use almost mythical description when they talk about it while other do consider it just an average "consumer grade" lens.
I can personally agree with both :) but since this isn't a beercan review i'll skip my comment of the lens here.

a350 & 70-210/4 at f5.6


On a 14MP APS-C sensor 70-210/4 will still be a solid candidate for anyone looking for cheap and solid tele zoom lens. 14MP provides plenty of room for post processing and if one is more likely to resize images rather than crop them (that's how our cameras should be used IMHO !) the old can can be of great use.


Full size original can be downloaded (12MB !) at http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-06-135.html

And another for all you cat lovers

Full size original JPG can be downloaded (3.5MB) at http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-06-141.html

The last one is taken using live view from a low angle (yes, even beercan can be used this way :))

I have used LV today a bit and this is most likely what i will share here next

Edited by Kiklop - 08 February 2008 at 01:32
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 February 2008 at 01:11
In September 2007, at the press event devoted to a700 announcement I talked with Sony reps and we mentioned the fact that many have expected a700 to have a live view option. At that time, Sony rep stated that Sony decided not to provide live view option until they manage to get it right. Few months later a300 and a350 were announced with the new live view option provided.

Implementing live view on a DSLR isnít a trivial task and if we look at various implementation currently in use itís easy to see that no one has managed to get it perfect (partially because the whole thing is still in early development stage and partially because manufacturers are saving something for future models)
What was (is) the main problem is the mirror in front of the main camera sensor that "splits" the light to the optical viewfinder in one direction and AF system (found on the bottom of the camera) in other.

From various Sony statements (and from the fact that a300/a350 are basically entry level models) it was pretty much clear that what Sony has taken as a priority is to make DSLR as easier to use, especially for compact cameras users. The easy of use on one hand and DSLR advantage of fast TTL (phase) metering on the other a secondary sensor used explicitly for LV was kind of necessity.

Live view as implemented on a300/a350 has been already discussed to death here, so no need to go into details again. I can pretty much agree with what sybersitizen has
sumarized

I would possibly add this as a pro
- the main sensor doesn't get too hot which is most probably good for keeping noise low (this 14MP sensor is benefiting from this believe me)
- saves battery life a bit
- no blackouts except when taking actual image
- those of you that actually use 16:9 ratio will find LV framing easier

The LV sensor it self is not really a high end technology; it is a CCD type with one output channel and with and effective resolution of 648x428.

In a recent (and still open) poll i stated that i wouldn't like the LV as currently implemented on DSLR. Well, i changed my mind and i would like to have it on my a700 for those cases when low angle shoots are difficult to do without it (please note that ISN'T possible to have the same sort of LV implementation on a700 for various technical reasons). Angle finder i have in my bag isn't near that useful.

a350 with 18-70 kit lens


And here is how it looks like taking snapshots for your eyes only   


I wish however that Sony has provided 3" LCD screen as on a700. The difference may not seem big but is noticeable, not only for the size, but also in terms of better anti-reflex protection and resolution.

What i found a bit problematic is AF focus area illumination; when outside on a sunny day seeing the focus points is very hard at times and you don't really have a great feeling where the central point is as when using optical finder. I don't know, maybe those that are used framing with LCD will not find this to be an issue.

LV displays about 90% of the frame. As said in our Q&A thread smart teleconverter is the only aid one can get for manual zooming. This mode however provides only 1.4x and 2x magnification, it is available only if jpg mode is used and image is recorded in cropped (smaller) size.
If the camera is set to RAW or RAW+JPG mode and you press the smart teleconverter button   you get and "invalid operation" message on the screen. This is all but user friendly message. Since Sony has made big efforts to make these entry level cameras as easier and user friendly to use they should start using messages that are concise and understandable.

We can toggle between various LCD screen display modes and one of them is displaying real time histogram. The histogram shows only luminance mode (no separate RGB readings) and i wish it is a bit larger.

Frame rate of the LCD screen in LV mode is very good IMHO. At 10EV and higher the frame rate is about 60FPS. 8-9EV brings 30FPS and when the light drops below 6EV frame rate is about 8fps (which is not so great).

There is noticeable lag between two LV readouts (if you take two images in single burst mode) that some may not like but i guess most users won't take it as an issue.

Power save mode is engaged when using LV (i now .. would be stupid otherwise but it wouldn't be the first thing missed) with the minimum of 1 minute (quite enough)

Sorry for posting these but with the limited time i had and so much to work on i wasn't able to get any better :( Still, you will get a picture about why i personally find this LV implementation very handy to have.

all taken with 350 and the kit lens






Taking verticals is far more harder but once you get used to it can be pretty funny.

No that's not me but rather the guy who taken the former shoot (canon user enjoying a700&cz135 at the moment)

The last picture was taken as my effort to test a so called 1200-zone evaluative metering; unlike the usual honeycomb pattern metering, LV sensor is used for metering in live view mode (using DRO technology). I didn't really succeed to get it worked right (as can be seen) but will test this and comment a bit more tomorrow.

I do suggest two small accessories for any a300/a350 owners; small table tripod and a leveler may be of great help when shooting low angle shoots like these ones.

Happy shooting !


Edited by Kiklop - 11 February 2008 at 14:50
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 February 2008 at 01:18
Oh .. one more thing; please do NOT send me mails asking about high ISO performance. I'm tired to see noise discussed the most every time a new body is released. There are other more important things about any camera than its high ISO performance.
I will eventually come to this (at the end of this report); if you need a great performer "noise-wise" look elsewhere; that's it for now.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 February 2008 at 16:50
As requested, i used minolta 50/1.4 RS lens today for few captures.
This 14MB-lens combo performs just as expected.
f3.2


You can download one full res image (6mb at f3.5) from the camera at
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-07-135.html

Another image with a flat contrast scene and ISO 400 can be downloaded from
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-07-134.html


Edited by Kiklop - 08 February 2008 at 00:43
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 February 2008 at 16:59
As mentioned yesterday that i didn't had too much succeeds with the noticing any metering difference between normal metering mode and 1200 zone one (in live view mode). I tried it today again but didn't made it work :( Using viewfinder or live view, DRO on or OFF didn't make any difference in exposure or final results. Since i didn't received camera manual i may overlooked some setting for this purpose
May be a preproduction camera fault or user error; since i started packaging the camera to send it back i will not have the chance to investigate this issue any further.

Coming next are few more images taken with a cheap (on the second market) minolta 50/3.5 macro lens (with some high ISO shoots taken outside) and some kind of summary.

The whole thread, once finished will be "moved" to a dedicated page on dyxum and then if you need you can share the links outside this forum (large files will be moved to another server to save our bandwidth.



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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 February 2008 at 18:28
**Post updated**
Camera menu doesn't provide "release without lens" option.
I was really disappointed for not being able to use my peleng lens but Michael has
explained
how Sony did implemented this.
Now, this allows us to use this camera with manual lenses but only in M mode which doesn't automatically adjust exposure (metering is working and it's showing in the viewfinder but shutter speed will not adjust automatically).
It is just another forced limitation Sony has implemented in this model.
Once again, i really doubt that excluding useful options that do not cost anything is the right thing Sony should do; they may easily risk advanced amateurs look elsewhere and not all are prepared to pay for a700.

Edited by Kiklop - 15 February 2008 at 23:42
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 February 2008 at 21:21
Minolta 50/3.5 macro lens is very often quite underrated lens. Prior 7D/5D were released Minolta AF lenses were dirty cheap on the second market. I recall seeing this lens (in mint condition) for about 50USD on ebay! Itís not that cheap anymore but still it is one of the best lenses you can get for the money IMHO. I sold mine 2 years ago since I didnít really used it that much but recently I decided to pick up another copy just to have it for a900 :)

I decided to use this (cheap) lens with a350 at higher ISO values to give you a small insight about noise impact on detail.

While walking trough the street of my old town using ISO 800 isn't anything strange.

You can downlaod full res sample (13MB !!) from
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-07-150.html
This is a raw file converted with IDC at default settings (which means a low level of sharpening is applied too) except for the contrast set to -40 to bring up a bit the shadows since this is where noise is. You can see blown highlights here and some deeper shadows as well.
It is important to know that the conversion was done WITHOUT any noise reduction which is leaving some room for post processing.

This is taken only for demonstrative purposes since i didn't really needed 1/4000 shutter speed (and ISO 800) for this shoot.

Full res (5.8MB) jpg can be downloaded from here
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-07-152.html
Straight from the camera with NR option disabled.
As expected, camera does produce somewhat different results than IDC and at default settings (with the NR turned off on both) IDC results are more noisy and a bit sharper.

Another freaky shoot 1/4000 with ISO 1600. I'm pretty much sure this high ISO image is what many have waited for; so here you go.

Full res (5.8MB) jpg can be downloaded from here
http://dyxum.fotki.com/sony-alpha-350/a350-2008-02-07-153.html
Converted with IDC at default settings (NR off) and contrast lowered to -40.

Few more comments using the last image to follow.


Edited by Kiklop - 08 February 2008 at 00:46
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Post Options Post Options   Quote kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 February 2008 at 00:50
I managed to move full res images from dyxum server (link updated without errors i hope).
As far i'm concerned you can share (link) now to this thread if you wish.
Thank you very much for not spreading the links on major forums as i have asked you but 112 MB of download isn't a small amount for our limited resources.

I will add my final comments as soon i get some time.
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