The new Sony A300 and A350, based on the A200 chassis, has a robust tilting screen added to the back, and a unique method of autofocusing in Live View.
What is Quick AF Live View, and what’s the difference between AF modes in Live View?
With phase-detect AF, the mirror flips down to use the dSLR’s usual AF sensors located at the bottom of the camera. This means Live View is not available when it focuses, but it’s faster. The Olympus E-410, E-510, E-3, Pentax K20D, Canon 40D, 1D Mk III, 1Ds Mk III, Nikon D300 and D3 use this method.
With contrast-detect AF, the dSLR focuses using the image from the sensor. It is however, very slow and tends to miss unless it’s on a tripod and the object is stationary. I’ve tried it on two Nikon D300 dSLRs and it was horribly slow, tended to hunt and was unreliable (unless of course, you adhere to its name as “Tripod Mode”). I suspect that it should be 4x slower than digicams, which have 4x more crop factor and require 4x less focusing precision and thus focus 4x faster. The Nikon D300, D3, Panasonic L10 and Canon 450D use this method.
With Quick AF Live View on the Sony A300 and A350, it uses a tilting mirror. The mirror either points it to the optical viewfinder… or the CCD above it for Live View. This means switching is almost instantaneous!
(Picture stolen from dpreview.com)
They put a dedicated switch to choose between Live View and OVF on top of the camera. Brilliant move, as it makes it very obvious for beginners (ever tried to find out how to activate Live View on the Nikon D300 and Canon 40D? You have to go through menus.)
It uses the same phase-detect AF sensors at the bottom of the camera. This means you get the speed of phase-detect AF with the flexibility of Live View. Sony said they won’t make a Live View dSLR until they get it right, and boy has Sony got Live View right!
The first Live View dSLR, the Olympus E-330, had a clunkier implementation of this called Live View Mode A. Sony made it so brilliantly simple.
More details on Photoclub Alpha.
The price is interesting, too – it looks like:
A200 (10.2 megapixels, no Live View) – USD600 = RM1999
A300 (10.2 megapixels with Live View) – USD700 = about RM2399
A350 (14.2 megapixels with Live View) – USD800 = about RM2799
The A200 goes against the Canon 400D (no Live View) and Nikon D40x for the cheapest camera. I dare say it has more value for money – more buttons, better grip, Super SteadyShot, and better noise performance (I found its noise to be at Sony A700/Canon 40D/Nikon D300 levels.)
The A300 is the cheaper Live View model. This should pull people in.
“Eh, but if I add RM400 I can get 4 more megapixels!”
That’s where the A350 comes in, against the Canon 450D.
Finally, there’s another button on the right which I guess is the Smart Teleconverter function, for 1.4x or 2x zoom. Knowing Sony’s definition of Smart Teleconverter it means a crop.
Edited 4th Feb 2008: The new Sony HVL-F42AM is interesting – a guide number of 42 meters at 105mm, which makes it weaker than the HVL-F56AM at 56 meters at 85mm. However, it has manual power and a tilt-swivel head just like the F56… and a very interesting automatic WB adjustment with color temperature information. I want one of those! Say goodbye to color temperature gels! Say goodbye to orange backgrounds and pink-colored people! (Picture stolen from CNet.com.)
Notice also, a completely revolutionary method of turning the flash into portrait orientation – it swivels the entire back with buttons and all! This means you can bounce in portrait mode easily while using the built-in bounce card.
I reckon they have a polarizer inside to change the flash temperature, or whatever they put in 16mm F2.8 fisheyes.
Edit 4th February 2008: This may not be the F42 flash, but a later model, as the F42 pictures have already been made public. We can still be hopeful, though.
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70mm F2.8 T* SSM – 1750 USD retail. Quite odd is the AF/MF switch around the focus hold button, a first on A-mount lenses. This might just be there to help the weaning mount jumper who doesn’t know of the superbly placed AF/MF switch at the right thumb, on the back of the Sony A700/A900. (Stolen from dpreview.com.)
Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G SSM – 800USD retail, should be much cheaper once it reaches stores. I’d buy it if it was F4.5 at 200mm, as a replacement for the Minolta 70-210mm F4 beercan. Of course, I’d just be hopeful…
Then there’s the Sony Alpha 900!
Handsome-r after they rounded the A900’s prism shape. The portrait grip is not merged in by default, yay!
Stolen from AlphaMountWorld’s Sony PMA experience is this picture:
Hooray, the mode dial has the classic 123 memory slots. There’s a backlight button for the top LCD. Plus it doesn’t have the tiny top LCD other manufacturers seem to sell to old-timers who think top LCDs are the way to go. The transreflective screen of the A700 is superbly viewable in scorching daylight (I know) so the rear LCD is great for everything.
This shot, taken from dpreview.com, shows the rear of the Sony A900 – it more or less has finalized confidently the new layout.
Interestingly, the portrait grip on the A900 has a D-ring, but otherwise looks identical to the VG-C70AM used on the Sony A700.
And now, for other news:
I’m particularly excited about the Sigma 50-150mm F2.8 II HSM – it’s a beercan-sized F2.8. Relatively compact for its range and brightness! Unfortunately it’s only for APS-C sensors but heck! Amazingly, it also has HSM for A-mount and K-mount – a first for both. Then there’s also the excellent 70-200mm F2.8 making its return to the A-mount.
Sigma 18-125mm F3.8-5.6 DC OS HSM – what’s the point? There’s already a similiar 18-200mm with Optical Stabilizer (for Canon and Nikon). There’s also the 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM and 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM. I don’t know why anybody serious about tele would prefer these over the Bigma (50-500mm) though. There’s the 16 kg 200-500mm F2.8 EX DG for such extreme birders. It includes a matched 2x teleconverter! 1000mm F5.6 anyone?
Tamron is developing a 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 lens. Ultra-wide, and APS-C only. If it’s anything like the Tamron 11-18mm it can be used on full-frame at certain lengths (like 14mm onwards.)
Pentax K20D – They made their own 14.6 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor! Live View with Phase Detect Auto Focus (meaning the mirror flips down to AF, so your Live View is disrupted), a 2.7″ LCD, PC Sync (strangely, this was not on the K10D). The button layout did not change much, and oddly, there is no ISO button despite it having one of the best layouts. Of course, their Auto ISO works great, and we have yet to see how their custom-built CMOS sensor will perform.
Added 4th February 2008: Some new lenses are announced – the 200mm F2.8 SDM, the 300mm F4 SDM, the 35mm F2.8 Macro Limited, an 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 II and a 55-300mm F4-5.8.
Canon EOS 450D – Finally, the entry level model of the EOS series gets a good working and gets some features sorely lacking compared to other brands in the same price range. Spot metering is finally in! (If you’ve ever shot anything with a lot of bright and dark areas you’d know how important this is.) A decent-sized viewfinder (the 400D and before had dark, tiny viewfinders.) Live View with Contrast Detect (you can see the AF happen in Live View, but it is astronomically slow). ISO in viewfinder! Better shaped grip! (On some days, I felt like the 300D/350D/400D was horribly small and shallow in grip.) Also, it gets a SD card slot instead, for some weird reason.
Possibly the best news about the 450D is that it gets the new Canon EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS, which is sharper than the shittily soft 18-55mm F3.5-5.6.
Olympus releases a most interesting firmware upgrade – you can now enter focal lengths for non-Four Thirds lenses on the E-3 and E-510. Focal length is needed for image stabilization, and fitting a M42 or Olympus Zuiko manual focus lens would not get stabilization unless the camera knew what the focal length was! This was seen on the Pentax K100D and K10D, still not seen on any Sony.
Nikon released the Nikon D60 – an upgrade to the 10-month old D40x. Why?!? The Nikon D80 was more wanting of an upgrade, being over the 18-month shelf-life of dSLRs. No, you still need to get a HSM or AF-S/AF-I lens to autofocus on this body, so it still isn’t compatible with the classics like the Nikkor 50mm F1.8 and other cheap lenses. It gets the new AF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 DX VR lens, and a button dedicated to active D-lighting. It also steals Minolta’s eye sensor, which turns off the screen when you raise the camera to your eye.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any more buttons – if you wanna change WB and then ISO and then Drive mode, you’re gonna press a lot of buttons to go through menus. The Sony Alpha 200, Olympus E-510 and Canon EOS 450D are much, much better in this aspect.
Far more interesting is that Nikon released the Nikkor 24mm F3.5 tilt-shift/perspective correction lens. Loads of fun tilting a lens to increase/decrease depth of field and changing perspective. They also have a Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G VR – the answer to the Olympus 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD and the Sony Carl Zeiss 16-80mm F3.5-4.5. Of course, the lens isn’t as bright at 85mm, what a bummer. The CZ is actually most usable of them all, as the Olympus bodies use the Four-Thirds system which would be 1 stop weaker in noise performance.