|Carl Zeiss DT 16-80 mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA lens
During testing the Alpha 350 I used a Carl Zeiss DT 16-80 mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA lens. It is a beautiful lens and the name Carl Zeiss make high expectations arise. As far as sharpness is concerned the lens certainly lives up to my expectations. Only at the minimum apertures and maximum aperture sharpness decreases in the corners. Striking is the fact that even in maximum wide angle at maximum aperture a nice sharpness is obtained. When ISO value increases, sharpness decreases due to a clearly present noise reduction. It also shows in the sample pictures but it is not all that disturbing. A pity is the lens's chromatic aberration or coloured edges at high contrasts. I find this disappointing for a lens of this type, even more so because the lens is specifically developed for the APS-C sensor. On the other hand, the deviation is consistent and minimal. Some slight deviation is visible in the 18mm mode.
ISO values & Noise
I have briefly mentioned the decrease of sharpness when sensitivity increases. This is partially due to the noise reduction but the increase of noise itself is not adding. The curves for ISO sensitivity that we make in the DIWA Lab show a clearly decreasing line. Even at ISO 200 noise increases, to become clearly visible at ISO 800, yet dropping quickly after. So far the technical results but also the pictures taken in practice show this result. You have to always compare theory to practice. I tend to avoid ISO 800 and higher if I have the chance. The claim that the Sony A350 is capable of ISO 3200 is more of a marketing statement, and it seems unlikely that this sensitivity could actually be useful for the photographer. Noise appears mainly in the form of colour noise, which doesn't add to the beauty of the picture.
Sony A350 Dynamic range
The dynamic range shows a similar curve. Up to and including ISO 400 there is no problem and the range is fine. Over ISO 400 it diminishes and at ISO 3200 it is no more than average. The increasing noise does play a role in this of course.
|The technical measurements have been carried out without activating Sony's D-Range Optimizer (DRO). When this function is activated, mainly the lighter areas benefit from it. There is more detail visible, which prompts me to standard activate the DRO function at high contrasts. When you shoot mainly in RAW format, and you use the Sony software you can always increase the dynamic range afterwards. You will be dumbfounded as to what you can still get from a picture in relation to detail and information.
Precise sensor sensitivity
Sony deserve praise for the sensor's sensitivity. It hardly deviates from the claimed figure. We have experienced otherwise with other manufacturers. To be more specific; I have never seen any sensor working better than the one inside the Sony A350. It requires correct light metering though. I have the impression that the Sony Alpha 350 reacts strongly to the light areas in a picture. Pictures with snow in the background tend to be underexposed. At all costs Sony obviously want to prevent the lighter areas from bleaching completely.
Automatic & Manual white balance
Another important setting is the white balance. Most people will work with the auto white balance. I guess that is because they don't know what a white balance does exactly. In daylight this is no problem and the white balance is pleasantly consistent throughout the entire sensitivity range. There are many situations however where a manual white balance would be better or selecting one of the preset ones. To obtain a manual white balance you have to do some extra work but it is certainly worth the trouble. Especially when you work under incandescent circumstances, in which case the deviation of the auto white balance will be rather large. This remains a (small) problem. So my advice is to take along a white sheet of paper or, even better, a grey card.
Good backround blur & Colour reproduction
Despite a few remarks, mainly based on the technical DIWA Lab tests, the Sony A350 delivers excellent pictures in practice. Details are considerable thanks to the 14 Megapixels. The background blur of the Carl Zeiss lens is beautiful and the colour reproduction is excellent providing the correct white balance has been selected. This is partly a matter of taste too of course, and you can also adjust the white balance in the camera if you like. I myself prefer softer tones; you can always harden them afterwards.
Sony Super Steady Shot system
What I also like a lot is the Super Steady Shot system. I am already familiar with it because of previous Sony models but it keeps surprising me every time to see how well the system works. Also minimum focal lengths benefit from image stabilization. Think of making a picture in a museum. Of course it does not prevent blur from a moving object, although that can also turn out to be very nice. Sony did not only apply the moving sensor to compensate for jitter, but also to remove dust from the sensor. And that makes a real difference. Despite the fact that I dismounted the lens from the camera frequently and zoomed in often, (zooming is a main source of getting dust on your sensor) I did not have to retouch one picture to remove dust.