Sony Surprises with Quick AF Live View and 14.2 Megapixels

Sony just introduced the A200 at CES about 4 weeks ago. Rumors were floating that even more new Sony models would launch at PMA, but no one really expected the two feature-laden models Sony introduced yesterday.

The A300 and A350 are new models that add Live View to the list of features. It is not, however, Live View like everyone else has recently introduced. The Sony Live View is clearly the best implementation of that feature on any SLR.

Olympus pioneered Live View a couple of years ago with the E-330, an expensive DSLR that enabled Live View with a separate sensor feeding the LCD image. In retrospect this was a superior method of providing a live view to the LCD screen.  It must have also been an expensive solution since Olympus abandoned that method in future versions of Live View. So did every other manufacturer.

Everyone now uses the imaging sensor to provide Live View, and while that method works and is fairly cheap to implement, it does have serious limitations. First, it eats precious power, as the mirror has to be flipped up and held out of the image path during Live View. Second, the camera must flip down the mirror for focus and metering, which slows down shooting and momentarily turns off Live View. This makes Live View more a check-box feature on today’s digital SLRs than something truly like the Live View seen on Point-and-Shoot cameras. Some variations of this exist, such as the Canon Live View system with contrast-detection focusing, but all the Live View systems have been slower and less capable than optical AF.

In the A300 and A350, Sony introduces a totally different Live View System, based on an additional live view sensor and a tilting pentamirror.

In the Sony Quick AF Live View the pentamirror tilts and the optical viewfinder closes during live view. The dedicated sensor enables true TTL (Through The Lens) phase-detection continuous AF during Live View.

The A350/A300 also sport a larger 2.7 inch LCD display that can tilt down 40 degrees or up 130 degrees (180 degrees measured from film plane) to make the Quick AF Live View even more useful. This is not quite as flexible as the Olympus and Panasonic tilt-and-swivel LCDs, but it is a big improvement on flexibility over a fixed-position LCD.

While Quick AF Live View was an unexpected surprise, Sony had another surprise at PMA. The entry-level A300 is utilizes a 10.2 megapixel CCD sensor, but the A350 step up resolution to 14.2 megapixels.

All three new Sony cameras will sell under $1000 in Kits with the Sony 18-70mm (27-105mm equivalent) lens. The A200 kit will sell for $699, the A300 kit for $799, and the A350 kit for $899. The A350 will also be available as body only for $799. All three Sonys can add a battery grip with the same new Vertical Grip VG-B30AM.

Nikon launches D60 Entry DSLR 24.6 Megapixel Sony Full-Frame


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  • AmbroseAthan - Monday, February 4, 2008 - link

    It could brnig a revolution to the point & shoots in the future if other companies follow suit and test the waters.

    For those that don't know of it. The Sigma DP1 is a P&S, but with a DSLR size sensor. Basically, it is the image of a DSLR in a P&S; its capabilities are limited compared to a DSLR, but it is a great picture for a small camera.">
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 4, 2008 - link

    Maybe Sigma will finally find a use for the Foveon X3 sensor that will actually sell. The DP1 was a beta to test the waters, not a production-ready camera, from what Sigma told me atheir booth. The news announcement now says Spring, but when Sigma last promised a camera in about 3 months it was the SD14 and it took 1-1/2 years to show up.

    I think the idea is quite good, but the DP1 is NOT 14 megapixels - it is 4.6 megapixels with 3 sensors per pixel. Even the most enthusiastic reviewers say it is about equivalent to an 7 to 8 megapixel image - not 14 megapixels.

    It is also seriously limited in ISO sensitivity. At low ISO it produces stunning images, but this is hardly the sensor to put in a P&S model unless Sigma can seriously fix many of the current limitations. It is doubtful the DP1 sensor is much iumproved since the Auto range for the camera is specified as 100 to 200. The DP prototype also is equipped with a fixed focal length 28mm equivalent lens with f4.0 speed which will mean the limited ISO and slow lens will make the camera all but useless for indoor shots without flash.

    I do think the idea of a large sensor in a P&S is an interesting idea, but it would be more significant news if it was a model with more flexible sensor technology and a much more capable lens.
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, February 4, 2008 - link

    "I think the idea is quite good, but the DP1 is NOT 14 megapixels - it is 4.6 megapixels with 3 sensors per pixel. Even the most enthusiastic reviewers say it is about equivalent to an 7 to 8 megapixel image - not 14 megapixels. "

    Actually it's nowhere near as simple as that - in a standard 14MP camera you don't get 14MP either, each of those can only measure red, green or blue. To produce the final output the camera mixes thsoe colours together to produce a final 14MP output. The SD14 however measures red, green and blue at each of those sites, it's just unlike a bayer sensor where they are alongside each other they are instead on top of each other. I don't know what reviews you've been reading but I found the average SD14 resolution by reviewers to be estimated at around 10-12MP with 'enthusiastic' reviewers putting it up to the full 14MP. There are some extremely detailed comparisons here with many pictures and analysis:">

    You may be getting mixed up with the older Foveon based Sigma cameras with your 7-8MP resolution comment.

    With regards to the DP1 however I do agree, while I applaud Sigma for trying to do something different in the point and shoot market the Foveon sensor is really the wrong one for the job. I did actually have an SD14 which I primarily planned to use for landscape use but as I shoot in Scotland the ISO sensitivity was a real issue especially as ISO 50 seems to be favoured by most SD14 users. With a compact camera one of the reasons to have a larger sensor for many people is surely the better high ISO sensitivity. I think a 4/3 sensor being the smallest of the SLR sensors would be better for the job, I really think Panasonic should be working on producing a bridge camera and a point/shoot with one of their 4/3 sensors as they're struggling to find a niche in the crowded DSLR market.

    The task Sigma have set themselves is no easy job and similarly I agree that they're not really up to it...I was disappointed by the SD14 body, I felt even entry level bodies were better never mind the semi-pro market the SD14 was competing in. One hope I do have is that even if the DP1 doesn't live up to expectations, if it generates enough consumer attention another company better suited to producing such a camera will take notice and produce a better model.

  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - link

    I wasn't confused with older models in my comments. Popular Photography was one of the few reviews of the SD14 (in July 2007 I believe) and it was fairly enthusiastic compared to the few SD14 reviews that actually appeared. From the PopPhoto SD14 review:

    "Our image quality tests came down in favor of RAW files over JPEGs. In JPEG mode at ISO 100, the SD14 captures detail on par with an 8MP DSLR such as the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT."

    I didn't even mention that the earleir models only did RAW and the SD14 implementation of JPEG is very poor, but that review says it better. I have always been intrigued by the concept of the Foveon sensor as it is very logical, but the implementations have left a lot to be desired - particularly in low-light sensitivity.

    I agree the current E-3 sensor made by Panasonic would be a great sensor for a P&S. It is a CMOS sensor and some reviews found RAW noise at ISO 3200 about as low as ISO 100. The just released firmware update for the E-3 (1.1) has also much improved the JPEG algorythms for that sensor. Another great large sensor choice would be any of the Canon APS C CMOS sensors. A P&S based on any of those sensors would be truly interesting. Either Canon or Olympus could also pair some good optics with the larger sensor.
  • Johnmcl7 - Sunday, February 3, 2008 - link

    It wasn't the E-300 that had the dual sensor liveview, it was the E-330 - while both cameras look similar with their lack of the standard viewfinder 'hump', the E-300 and its Kodak sensor have no liveview facility at all. The E-330 with the Panasonic sensor is the one you are referring to, unlike the Sony though it offered liveview through both the main sensor and the secondary one.

    Regarding contrast detect AF, you've cited Canon who have only announced a camera with this feature (I don't think the 40D has?) despite Nikon and Panasonic both having already released cameras with this feature.

    To be honest, having used various liveview cameras I find the main limitatin of liveview is the lack of articulated screen. I find myself using liveview far more on the E-330 and the E-3 compared to the DMC-L1 and E-510 as it's far easier to use the screen when it can be angled rather than trying to see a fixed screen. I don't miss the secondary sensor in the E-330 nearly as much, for anything at speed I'm generally using the main optical viewfinder anyway.

  • Wesley Fink - Sunday, February 3, 2008 - link

    John -

    The references are changed to E-330, which is of course correct. The new Sony A300 and A350 have Live View AND an articulated screen, which I am sure you saw in the PMA article.
  • Johnmcl7 - Sunday, February 3, 2008 - link

    I did notice the articulated screen but the comments were referring to liveview cameras in general rather than the Sony specifically - none of the Nikon or Canon LV cameras have an articulated screen which I think makes liveview far less useful.

    I guess my point is that I don't think the second sensor liveview system is quite as useful in reality as it seems on paper. The market for this type of liveview is generally thought to be those upgrading from point and shoot cameras but I think most will use the optical viewfinder, it's not really possibly to hold an SLR at arm's length for normal shooting via liveview. I think the main benefit of liveview is shooting for all photographers is using the camera in awkward positions which often means speed isn't really needed but being able to see an articulated screen is very useful.

    The problem with a second sensor liveview system is that it has to be relatively complex, in both the Sony and Olympus it affects the viewfinder, the sensor has to be small which means it breaks up quicker in low light and there's no magnification which means it really needs a liveview option through the main sensor as well.

    Obviously it would be good if someone could work around these problems but I think realistically software is going to be the solution - an SLR that can put its mirror up and function entirely without moving the mirror back down in the same way as a point and shoot doesn't affect the rest of the camera and makes liveview very useful.

  • dblevitan - Saturday, February 2, 2008 - link

    Everytime I read one of these articles I realize how little is actually being said. First, the point of DSLR's is the optical viewfinder - I'm not entirely sure why live view is so amazing. I specifically prefer using a viewfinder instead of an LCD screen because no matter how many pixels you cram into the LCD, the viewfinder will be better. Second, I feel like Wesley did no research into the D60. About the only good feature of the D60 is the Active D-Lighting that's come down from the D3 and the D300 (at least according to Ken Rockwell). I'm not sure how good it is (having never tried it) but it looks interesting. Third, I feel like all Wesley is doing is listing specs. That's great, but has he actually used the cameras. Can he comment on how easy they are to use, how good the actual image quality is, etc...? I've never seen him comment on flash products which are important in a lot of situations. I don't care that one camera has 10 megapixels and the other has 12. That means very little if one camera is impossible to use. I care about how convenient DSLRs are to use and how good their image quality is. I care about how fast the AF system is. This is a hardware review site, not a camera review site, and it shows. Reply
  • whatthehey - Saturday, February 2, 2008 - link

    Wow! Freaking insightful commentary bud! Do you know what the difference is between a review a preview and a tradeshow article? No? I didn't think so. Let me explain quickly. This is NOT a review in any way shape or form. It is a look at a bunch of upcoming camera products that are being shown at the PMA tradeshow. PMA stands for Photo Marketing Association if you weren't aware. So let's all die of shock that a tradeshow report doesn't contain a ton of detailed benchmarks shall we?

    What I'd like to see is a lot more product coverage. A few shots of high end products from Sony, Samsung, Nikon, and then on the last page Lumix. Sweet! I've never heard of Canon, Panasonic, Kodak, Fuji.... Hopefully there are more articles planned from the show that will look at the other options. Also will we ever get point-and-shoot cameras with larger sensors or is that a pipe dream?
  • Lord Evermore - Saturday, February 2, 2008 - link

    Poor writing and editing to not even mention once what PMA stands for. Enthusiasts might know but it's still good practice to spell it out at least once. Reply

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