Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Sony A350 and A300 DSLRs and two new lenses!

As it was rumored for a while now, Sony introduced two new Alpha DSLRs, the A300 and the A350. These two make things a lot more interesting in the world of the Sony-Minolta mount, but before we get there, first let's take a look at the two new DSLRs!

Sony press release at the Imaging Insider. Details of the announcement at dpreview. Also, a brief hands-on preview of the Alpha A350 at dpreview. And another brief hands-on preview at Imaging Resource. More at the Adorama News Desk.

Meet the Sony A350
The highlight of this DSLR is a brand new Sony 14mp CCD sensor. And what makes this quite interesting is that the differences between these two DSLRs stem from the differences of the sensors themselves.

The price is $900 (pre-order, Amazon) and this includes the 18-70 DT kit lens. This "crowns" the A350 as the DSLR with the most megapixels under $1000, a crown that could prove thorny once the pixel peepers put its high ISO pictures under the e-microscope.

The A350 is also available as body-only ($800, Amazon pre-order), and bundled with the 18-70 DT and 55-200 DT lenses for $1100 (Amazon pre-order)

The cameras have the SLR features you would expect in this range, ISO 3200, 1/4000 to 30 second shutter speed range, pentamirror, PSAM, 9pt AF with center cross, dust bunnies (dust cleaning mechanism of sorts), RAW and RAW+JPEG.

Did we mention Super Steady Shot which is the Sony blanket term which in this case refers to their sensor shift image stabilization.

Sony is trying to differentiate this DSLR duo with its own approach to Live View with a tilting 2.7" LCD to go with it. And it's not a surprise that it would take an electronics company, not a traditional SLR company to push the envelope on making Live View on DSLRs almost as functional as that on $100 entry-level P&S digicams.

Check the websites above and below for detailed diagrams on how Sony's new Live View with Quick Autofocus works. Basically they have a mirror that directs the incoming light to either the traditional optical viewfinder or the bonus sensors that is used for Live View purposes.

Because the camera hardware has to carry a bigger anthill, populated by 14 million ants (read: pixels), the burst mode is a turtlesque 2fps, which makes the 3fps of the Pentax K20D look not as bad. This buffer is 6 RAW files deep, or 3 RAW+JPEG deep. The price you pay for a 14mp sensor. Compare and contrast that with the 60fps 6mp Casio EX F1 which uses a Sony sensor as well. Granted this is an apples and oranges comparison, and if we go on, we could make a refreshing fruit salad :)

Meet the Sony A300
The DSLR is very easy to describe. Same as the A350, except it features a 10mp Sony CCD sensor of the DX (APS-C) variety. The price is $800 ($100 less than the A350), and it also includes the 18-70 DT kit lens. Because this camera's hardware only has to carry an anthill of just 10 million ants, it is able to shoot faster, at 3fps instead of 2fps. The buffer size however remains the same.

As you can see, Sony was perhaps smart in trying to capitalize on sales to both users who appreciate as many megapixels as they can get their hands on and users who want enough megapixels to get things done and have a decent burst mode.

You can pre-order the A300 in two configuration, with the 18-70 DT lens ($800, Amazon pre-order) or with a 2-lens kit (18-70 DT, and 55-200 DT) ($1000, Amazon pre-order)

Throwing all the Sony DSLRs in the hat
Now if these two were the only Sony DSLRs, it would look great for those interested in buying. But things are a whole lot more complicated. Buyers have a choice of 5 DSLRs, and the differences sometimes cannot be found without digging knee high into the spec sheets. For one thing, there's the "original" Sony A100 which is now going for around $600 (or less) for body only.

Then you have the brand new Sony A200, also at 10mp, but with a fixed LCD, and at about $700 with the 18-70 DT lens. And then we have the new 12mp Sony A700 which is at the top of the price tier because of its more advanced features. But perhaps because of the other new DSLRs announced, the A700 is sliding in price, currently at under $1300 for body only.

So price-wise, we have a stair-case, with each step worth about $100 more. First the A100, then the A200, then the A300 and then the A350. From there, we take a big jump to the A700. With these in mind, and the new Sony 25mp CMOS sensor just announced, Sony and Minolta fans are at the edge of their seats, hoping and waiting for word from Sonolta on the Sony A900, be it a development notice, or even an informal notice to expect it at Photokina 2008.

Meet the new Sony and Zeiss zoom lenses
We cover them in their own post!

What are the Gadget and Electronics blogs saying?
Lori Grunin of CNet points at the Sony's confusion of DSLRs. Meanwhile, Gizmodo focuses on the live view and tilting LCDs with lots and lots of pictures of the cameras. Ubergizmo has posted a photo gallery of pictures of the camera, not pictures from the camera.

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