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Sony Adds Live View to New Alpha 300 & 350 DSLRs

Sony has added live view to the new 14.2-megapixel $900 DSLR-A350 and 10.2-megapixel $800 DSLR-A300. Both allow the user to preview images in the LCD screen. The live view is made possible by a separate CCD imager built into the viewfinder prism.

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Jan. 30, 2008 – Sony has added an intriguing new feature to the α (alpha) digital SLRs announced at the PMA show in Las Vegas: live view. The 14.2-megapixel $900 DSLR-A350 and 10.2-megapixel $800 DSLR-A300 both allow the user to preview images in the LCD screen. The live view is made possible by a separate CCD imager built into the viewfinder prism. 

Both cameras have live view-enabled tilting 2.7-inch LCD screens with 230,000 pixels. According to Sony, the new feature (which they call Quick AF Live View) is made possible by a redesigned viewfinder and a separate image sensor that produces only the live view. This also allows the cameras to focus without having to flip up the mirror: other DSLRs that offer live view have to flip up the mirror, then focus the lens, which leads to a noticeable delay. The new Sonys can use this secondary image sensor to focus, so the lens is already focussed when the lens flips up tot take the photos.

Sony is following in the footsteps of other DSLR manufacturers, who have included the live view to attract point-and-shooters who are growing out of their compact cameras. Olympus was the first to offer live view in its E330, released in 2004.

"Mainstream users stepping up to DSLRs are looking for a similar experience to their point and shoot cameras, but without compromise in speed or performance," said Phil Lubell, director of marketing for digital cameras at Sony Electronics, in today’s press release. "Quick AF Live View gives these new models a familiar shooting style without compromising speed – ideal for the growing market of first-time SLR users."

The Sony α DSLR-A350 and A300 both have dust reduction and Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization systems built into the camera bodies. They have nine-point autofocus systems similar to those included on the A100 and A200. They run off a 750-shot lithium-ion battery and record images to CompactFlash media. Memory Stick Duo cards can also be used with a converter.

The Sony α DSLR-A350 has a slower burst rate of 2.5 frames-per-second (fps) in comparison to the A100, A200, and A300’s faster 3 fps burst rate. Other features of the new models include the dynamic range optimizer, which brings out details in highlights and shadows, high-definition output capability, and "creative style" settings that simulate different kinds of film.

Sony has been expanding its DSLR lineup drastically in the past few months. In late 2007 the company followed up its A100 solo model with the A700, a 12.2-megapixel DSLR with a gorgeous 921,000-pixel, 3-inch LCD screen. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Sony announced the 10.2-megapixel A200, which has many of the same features as the older A100. Today’s announcement brings Sony’s total DSLR count to five, although the A100 will be phased out with the release of the A200.

All of the Sony α DSLRs have similar looks and bodies reminiscent of the Konica-Minolta DSLRs; indeed, Sony bought the company’s technology in 2006. The Sony α DSLR-A700 is the top of the range with its magnesium alloy body and superior features, like 5 fps Burst mode and 11-point autofocus; it retails for a pricier $1,399.

Sony’s α (alpha) lineup of DSLRs have Minolta A-type bayonet lens mounts on them. They accept old Konica-Minolta glass, as well as Sony’s proprietary lenses and higher end Carl Zeiss glass. In late 2007, Sony announced two new lenses to its portfolio: the DT 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for $579, and the DT 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 lens for $549.

Today Sony is announcing two more lenses. The first is the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 G SSM, set to debut this spring for $799. The second is the Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA lens with its constant aperture. That high-end feature makes for a big price tag of $1,749; it will also hit store shelves in the spring.

When Sony officially entered the DSLR market in 2007 with the A100, one of its biggest advantages was its in-camera image stabilization. This is a direct advantage over manufacturers like Canon and Nikon, which implement image stabilization in the lens elements rather than on the image sensor, as found on Sony’s DSLRs. Sony argues its sensor-shift stabilization makes its lenses less expensive because it doesn’t have to put that technology into them. However, Sony’s compatible lenses have proven to cost just as much, if not more, than competitors’ lenses.

For instance, the Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA lens costs $1,749 – pricier than Canon’s EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, which retails for $1,349, and Nikon’s AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8D IF-ED lens, which sells for less than $1,600.

The Sony α DSLR-A300 will sell with an 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 kit lens for $799 in April. The A350 will go on sale in March for $799 body only or $899 for the kit.