UPDATED: New full-size image downloads are included for the Sony A350, Canon 5D and Pentax K20D at a constant f4.0 at all ISO settings. Crops on page 6 are now actual pixels with no size reduction and were extracted from the updated images.

When Sony secured victory for Blu-ray a couple of months ago, it was difficult not to reflect on the Betamax vs. VHS battle that Sony lost many years ago. Those around at the time will remember that Betamax was the superior format but VHS won with licensing, availability, and lower prices. The Blu-ray victory was quite a contrast - this time being promoted by Sony who secured the exclusives they needed to assure Blu-ray the winner. As with VHS, however, it appears in the short term that the inferior format won again as Sony is only now introducing features to Blu-ray playback that were introduced with HD DVD almost two years ago. Those who review technology often see less capable technologies win based on dollars thrown into promoting a product and buying distribution channels.

Why does this matter in the Digital SLR market? It doesn't as far as DSLR reviews are concerned, but it does put into perspective the fact that Sony is a massive player in the electronics arena, and Sony plays (and pays) to win. When Sony absorbed Minolta it wasn't long until the A100 launched the 10MP (megapixel) wars, even though the A100 was in reality a Minolta 5D upgraded with the new Sony sensor. Great things were expected after this first foray, but it took Sony quite a while to begin putting their stamp on the DSLR market.

Last October the A700 prosumer Sony launched with a new 12.2MP CMOS sensor and 5FPS burst speed in a rugged magnesium semi-pro body. The A700 is still based on the Minolta 7D digital SLR but it is more "Sony" than the A100. This was followed at January CES with the A200 update to the A100 - now targeted at a street price of $599 with a kit lens. A month later at PMA, Sony surprised the market with two more entry level digital SLR cameras that feature what we found to arguably be the best Live View in any SLR.

No one else in the DSLR market has introduced so many new cameras in such a short period of time. There are now Sony entry models at $599, $699, $799, and $899. The A700 is $1399 to $1499, and Sony isn't finished yet. A new Pro level 24.6MP full-frame (presumably to be called the A900) will launch later this year. New Sony DSLR cameras are everywhere, and to their credit, Sony has found ways to differentiate the three entry models.


The A200 shipped about a month ago, and today we are taking a first look at the top entry-level Sony called the A350. It is the only entry-level SLR with a huge 14.2MP sensor, but unlike most recent DSLR sensor introductions, this one is CCD and not CMOS. The A350/A300 are also the only entry DSLR cameras with a tilt LCD. This is coupled with fast AF Live View, which moves that feature to a full-time view alternative with fast auto focusing. Most of the recent DSLR cameras feature Live View that was pioneered by Olympus, but Sony takes the feature from checklist novelty to a truly useful viewing alternative. This makes the transition easier for point-and-shoot users accustomed to Live View composing with the LCD screen.

Current Sony Lineup
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  • haplo602 - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Well done on the reshot. The only one lacking is the Canon 5D (should be the same image area) but other than that, quite fine.

    I read through almost all the comment pages and I have a few things to add.

    AT is a page for geeks and enthusiasts that want the best tool for the job. In this case mostly a gaming rig (AT still has gaps in OS, server, workstation reviews). I noticed that you do not want to mimic the other established sites. The problem is, there is not much choice.

    The camera models differ in details that are largely unimportant to the usual AT visitor. And you cannot expect people to ditch an SRL system when they got more than just body+kit lense.

    So I suggest you pick a place that covers what the average AT visitor wants to know - make a POLL/survey about that.

    Pixel peeping is not for normal people. They shoot at max ISO 800 (or whatever the auto iso setting will max at). Mostly leave the photos in digital form to present on web galleries. Hardly anybody does larger prints (beyond 10x15 cm photo). BUT I think they are concerned about ease of use, good camera manual, availability of accessories (lenses, flashes etc.), performance in mostly auto or program mode, JPEG quality and such.

    These are the areas AT should work on. Hardly any serious photo site does review the automated or (idiot) scene modes.

    Truth is, whoever does use scene modes on an SLR shoudl be still using a point and shoot, but there is a group of people that are not satisfied with the limits of P&S cameras, yet they have not mastered the science behind photography. These will be interested in the areas I just mentioned.

    I'd say give it a thought, do a review based on that and see the reactions ...
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Since I have had several requests for same "field of view" images and crops for the Canon 5D I have added a page 7 with two sets of Canon 5D crops and full images.

    One set is taken from the same location with the 50mm lens. That is the set that was already in the updated review an it provides a greater field of view on the 5D than on the 1.5X multiplier cameras.

    The second set of 5D images were shot with the same camera and 50mm lens moved closer to the image to try to maintain the same field of view. Despite the different fields of view, all Canon 5D cropped images are still maintained at 230x300 pixels.

    With both sets of Canon 5D images you should be able to compare the A350 and Canon 5D images as you would like to see them compared.
    Reply
  • danddon - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Thank you for correcting this issue. These crops are better, but not the areas are still identical in size. Perhaps you can improve in your next set.

    Now, then - how about some comments on photosite size discrepancies between the a350 and 5D? Since the 5D has a larger sensor, with a smaller number of pixels, the photosites are correspondingly larger. Hence, for any given light level, these photosites will gather more photons than the a350. This will result in a higher signal to noise ratio, with less noise appearing in the crop.

    Since you are fond of not getting too technical, let's say the photosites are twice as large in the 5D. If so, then should we not be comparing, say, the iso3200 on the 5D with the iso1600 on the a350?

    If you do not like the above numbers, please give us unwashed readers your take on how to account for these differences in sensor sizes. Surely, you want to provide this analysis. Yes?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Since we are still dealing with different sensor resolutions, the same field of view will yield slightly different crops since we are maintaining the same pixel crop size of 230x300. The Canon 5D is 12.2 megapixels and the Sony is 14.2 megapixels. So a same-size crop from an equivalent field of view image on the Canon 5D would still show more area than the same pixel-size crop from the higher resolution A350. To produce same pixel-size crops and take this into account would take endless manipulation with each camera tested that had a different sensor resolution or multiplier.

    The Pentax K20D at 14.6 and the Sony at 14.2 are closer in resolution so the differences are not as great, but there are still differences in the same pixel crops. As we would expect the Sony crop view is a bit wider since it is a bit lower in resolution than the Pentax.

    We could just crop the same area from equivalent field of view photos, as I have seen done in some other photo reviews. However, it is my opinion that is not a fair representation of noise since the crop areas would represent different total pixels. This becomes an interesting problem when you compare a 10 megapixel sensor since the resolution is almost 50% less than the Pentax K20D.
    Reply
  • danddon - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    How about the issue of photosite size?

    From “Digital Photography Review”:

    Canon 5D
    Sensor Size = 35.8mm x 23.9 mm
    Max Image = 4368 x 2912 pixels

    Alpha 350
    Sensor Size = 23.6mm x 15.8 mm
    Max Image = 4592 x 3056 pixels

    Assuming the above numbers are in the ballpark, we get a photosite maximum possible size of:

    5D = 35.8/4368 = 8.196 or 8 microns
    23.9/2912 = 8.207 or 8 microns

    a350 = 23.6/4592 = 5.139 or 5 microns
    15.8/3056 = 5.170 or 5 microns

    Thus the 5D has a photosite area of 8x8 or 64 sq. microns
    Likewise, the a350 has an area of 5x5 or 25 sq. microns

    If we ignore the reductions in these areas due to photosite boundaries, which would be required for light shielding between sites and for electronics, then we can say that the 5D has approximately 2.5 times more photosite area than the a350.

    Thus, everything else being equal and for the same iso setting, the 5D will gather 2.5 times more photons than the a350, with a correspondingly better signal to noise ratio, and less visible noise in the resulting image.

    Therefore, why should one compare iso3200 on the a350 with iso3200 on the 5D, when the 5d would receive 2.5 times more photons in each photosite? Please explain.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    First of all the photosite size for the K20D does not scale as you indicate. One of the Samsung/Pentax big deals is that they say they have reduced the space between photosites to increase the size. They claim the 14.6 megapixel sensor has about the same size photosites as the Sony A700/Canon A300 12.2 megapixel sensor.

    All else being equal the photosite size obviously matters, but all else is never equal. You can can compare the photos and crops for yourself in this review instead of calculating what should and should not be compared. As I have learned in reviewing computer components, assumptions and suppositions often get you in trouble.
    Reply
  • danddon - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Then how does it scale? How about some math instead of words?

    And who even mentioned the K20D? The comparison being discussed is between the a350 and the 5D. Can you read?

    LOL ...

    I have heard enough. And, it was far too little to be of any value. Thanks, anyway.
    Reply
  • danddon - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    This sentence:
    "These crops are better, but not the areas are still identical in size."
    should read:
    "These crops are better, but not the image areas are still not identical in size."

    Sorry for the confusion. My bad.
    Reply
  • danddon - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    This sentence:
    "These crops are better, but not the areas are still identical in size."
    should read:
    "These crops are better, but the image areas are still not identical in size."

    Sorry for the confusion. My bad - 2.
    Reply
  • Maxington - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Just keep improving your reviews and listening to constructive comments Wesley. I appreciate a different take on reviews regardless, you always have to read multiple reviews from multiple people to get a proper take on a product. All of them cover a different aspect that the others didn't take into account.

    There is no perfect way to review cameras, have you seen the DPReview forums? They are pretty much the gold standard for reviews, and after every review, there are dozens of threads decrying the obvious flaws in the testing system! You can't win again people who are far more interested in measurebating the tech specs than taking photos, and there is no way to remove all variances between different cameras, let alone entire brands.

    I tend to feel there is a lot less bias in your reviews than most "camera" sites. A lot of those smack of "If its not Canon/Nikon, its not a camera".

    Hell, most of the issues that the measurebater crowd are niggling at won't even be visible in real life photos.
    Reply

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