Lets cut to the chase, I bought a new camera system, no, not just a new camera, but a whole set of camera system, and it is SONY. I found this very irresistible deal in a local buy/sell trade forum and immediately contacted the seller. Upon further inspection, the items were in VERY good conditions, looking almost like new, so I made the purchase.
I got the following items:
1) Sony Alpha A350 body
2) Sony 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens
3) Sony 50mm F1.8 lens
4) Original Battery Grip for A350
5) Sunpak TTL Flash (guide number 42) and
6) two original Sony batteries.
I got the whole system for a dirt cheap price, not even sufficient to buy even the cheapest currently available entry level DSLR body on the market, say a Nikon D3200 body. Yes, ALL that system (camera body, 2 lenses, flash, battery grip and batteries) costed me less than the cheapest entry level DSLR body, no joke.
My new camera, Sony A350, with the 50mm F1.8 lens attached
WHY BUY NEW CAMERA SYSTEM?
As most of you know, my main camera system at the moment, also my workhorse is the Olympus DSLR E-5, and a plethora of Zuiko Digital lenses, which I adore very much, and have very little complains about. The Olympus system has never failed me before, and I shall continue to use them as my primary weapon for assignment or serious shooting. I love Olympus waaaaaaay too much to give it up just yet, and I believe Olympus system has its own strong advantages which all other competitors lack.
Now, if I were to be taking in more and more paid assignment (I have a few wedding jobs coming and some event coverage as well), any working professional will give you a very prudent advise: you MUST have a backup camera system. Currently I do have a back-up camera, the Olympus E-520, an aging, yet still functional camera body. I have to admit, the old E-520 is showing signs of dying, and might not survive much more beating and abuse from my very heavy camera usage. After all the camera is more than 4 years old now, and have been serving me very well under all the tortures on many paid assignment and shutter therapy sessions. Now, how can you have a back-up camera that is dying? I need something that is reliable enough, should something happen to my main system (E-5) I will need a secondary system that can fully stand on its own and deliver.
My main issue now is budget constraint, if you have not figured it out. If money is not an issue surely a D800 and some nice Nikon primes would be great to kick start that new camera system, perhaps even to replace my current Olympus system altogether. But the camera body alone can feed me for months, and being a poorly paid and overly abused, under-appreciated engineer in Malaysia, there is no way my income can allow me to spend RM10,000 just for a camera body alone. All things considered, having all the essential components of a full camera system (body, lenses, flash) for a bargain of less than the price of the cheapest beginner DSLR body you can find, I believe this is the wise solution for my back-up system (or the only solution, if you see it from another way) that I have.
All images in this entry were taken with Sony Alpha A350 and Sony DT 50mm F1.8 lens.
All images were shot in JPEG and minimal post-processing applied.
Endless Bottles. ISO400
Cool to the Touch. ISO800
By the stairs. ISO800
Night Performer. ISO800
WHY SONY? WHY A350?
Of all the camera systems out there to choose from, the choice of Sony was straightforward. I needed a system rather similar to Olympus: offering built in body Image Stabilization, having Live View capability, and decent image quality. Sony immediately came to mind, and no surprise, after doing my own research and reading on online reviews (DPReview has published their full review for A350, with "recommended" rating) I have found the Sony A350 to be fitting into my needs and requirements for a back-up camera.
Here is the thing, I do not need a camera that can give me ridiculously high ISO performance, if that was what I wanted, I would have at least considered a full frame camera (Nikon D600, Canon 6D or that awesome Sony Alpha A99). I wanted something cheap, reliable, efficient and "good enough". Sony A350, though the camera is now 4 years old (its release was in 2008), is no slouch. It may never be able to compete in terms of overall performance and image quality with even the newest entry level DSLR today, but I strongly believe that learning the camera system, knowing how to optimize the output of the camera, working around its weaknesses while exploiting its strengths, one can make the camera work wonders. I have had many friends who use Sony DSLR, NEX and SLT systems religiously and they have always sung praises, claiming how much they love their camera system. I am not expecting the Sony A350 to give me results similar to my Olympus E-5, but I sure expect A350 to at least match the E-520, or better.
WHAT ARE MY EXPECTATIONS FROM A350?
1) Image quality to be as good as Olympus E-520, or slightly better. I am not having high expectations, but the extra 14.2 Megapixels can be advantageous in some situations, and having a larger sensor size (1.5 crop factor vs 2x) should bring in some benefits.
2) Great color output, considering it is using CCD image sensor. Now lets see what everyone is raving about the CCD color vs CMOS color.
3) Fast and reliable AutoFocus performance, since A350 uses the same focusing system as its higher grade brother, the A700. I expect the AF to be superior to the slow and clumsy Olympus E-520, but not the E-5. AF is VERY important to me, even for my shutter therapy sessions.
4) Good camera handling, since it is a DSLR, with substantial hand-grip and overall good ergonomics.
5) Optical Viewfinder and Fast Live View focusing. I always loved using an optical viewfinder. Also, Sony played a very important part alongside Olympus to popularize the live view on DSLR.
BUT THAT CAMERA IS A DINOSAUR !!
You may have a hard time believeing me spending money on an old camera system, something that most people would have hesitate to throw the idea away. However, do hear my thoughts. A DSLR is still a DSLR, and is very capable of delivering high quality images, if the photographer knows what he is doing. The camera may be old, but it still uses large sensor, producing DSLR image quality, and utilizing large, capable glasses. Yes, the new DSLR today has 24-36MP, can shoot ISO1000000000000 and have 1000 frames per second (ok sorry for the exaggeration), but let me share a very honest opinion: spending more money on that "perfect" gear wont improve your photography. I know this truth well enough, so if I were to focus on improving the art, why not sacrifice something that cost far less? The tool is a great necessity, but it also depreciates and will eventually give way one day.
The way I see it, minimize the current cost, and maximize the benefit in the long run. You do not need the best gear and the latest technology to be a better photographer.
I know you may find this contradicting to my constant blog updates on latest gear reviews, but do you see me shooting for my personal photography sessions as well as paid assignment with latest gear? I use the same camera system faithfully for YEARS and never changed. I am still loyal to that same Olympus system. Just that now, perhaps it would be great to discover what Sony can offer, and work with it side by side to complement my current Olympus system. Stay faithful to your gear, refrain from upgrade or buying frenzy and you will find your faithfulness be rewarded one day.
Joy of Being Photographed. ISO400
Back Pain. ISO3200
Compact camera is not dead. ISO800
Digital world. ISO800
Standing on the walkway. ISO1600
Sweet Corn seller. ISO800
I actually just met up with the seller earlier this evening after work, and the seller traveled all the way down from Ipoh to KL, just to make this transaction. Thankfully he has charged the camera batteries full. After the purchase, I went to meet up with Luke Ding, Nick Wade and Joe and we attacked the Bukit Bintang streets like we have never before (or at least it was true on my part). Well, this was my first run with the camera, I was a little excited, and went clicking all the way.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS ON A350
No, you will not find me doing a review for this Sony A350, the web is full of reviews, from both professional sites and personal opinion. I shall write about what I think of this old A350 and how it compares with my E-520. After all, Sony was the other alternative in my list of considerations of DSLR system, before I decided on Olympus. Also, I have only used this Sony A350 for ONE session, a shooting session that lasted about 2 hours only. It takes a lot of time to understand the camera behaviour, getting accustomed to the settings and know how to work the camera to your bidding. Not knowing the camera well enough, I shall refrain myself from making any rash conclusions. Instead, I shall note down my experience and observations. Please give me time to use the camera more extensively!!
Very Good Handling
Being a DSLR, I find myself right at home with the A350, in fact the feeling is very much the same as I was using the Olympus E-520. I had the Sony 50mm F1.8 on the camera at all times, hence it was a fixed focal length, much similar to my shooting style all this time.
One annoying issue I had with the camera was the inconsistent metering. I have tried both center weighted and matrix/pattern evaluative metering, and they gave me very unreliable readings as I shot with Aperture Priority mode. There are a few instances I got away with very dark, underexposed shots, due to even that not so bright car headlight, or street lap shining in the background. The metering averaging calculation in the camera was overly sensitive to the bright light in the background. I had to resolve to spot metering in a few shots, which was not very convenient, because I never changed the metering settings unnecessarily. I have tried the exposure compensation, and even when I boosted +2.0EV on the underexposed shots, it was NOT sufficient to provide me with the balanced exposure that I had in mind. I know I am still terribly new to the camera, hence more experimentation and trials should be carried out, and I am sure I can work around this issue, due time.
Now this is a very subjective thing to talk about, and can be sensitive. To be entirely honest, it was not the right place to test what the camera is truly capable of, since I was shooting on the street at night where I had to use ISO800 and above, kicking in noise reduction, smearing details and producing generally soft output, with traces of chroma noise in the photographs. ISO performance was not my priority when getting the camera, and as expected, I find the camera to be usable up to ISO800 only. It is best to avoid ISO1600 and beyond, and use only for emergencies. I am fairly pleased with the color so far, the in camera JPEG engine did a good job in maintaining good color balance even in very challenging mixed lighting conditions on the street. Skin tone was very pleasing (my preference to Olympus skin tone, but so far A350 is not bad either) and overall color looked very lively. Resolution wise, I shall comment when I shoot on another session under plenty of sunlight, utilizing much lower ISO settings.
Some may say that it was shooting in the most challenging situation that you can truly test the capability of the camera. I do like the images I am seeing (all shown in this entry) so far, with acknowledged limitations of the camera (well, the camera is 4 years old, lets cut it some slack). For convenience, I shot everything in JPEG. We all know we can squeeze out more detail and have better noise control at high ISO when shooting RAW. Lets do that some other day. As for now, the JPEG engine works just fine.
I find the focusing on the Sony A350 to be favorably fast and reliable in most shooting conditions, but it does struggle in dimmer light, as anticipated. Focusing is not just camera, but also lens dependent. I have only tested one lens in this shooting session, the 50mm F1.8, and it has locked focus successfully, with relatively short time without much hunting. The Sony A350 can be considered much better in focusing in comparison to my old Olympus E-520. However, my workhorse Olympus E-5 is still miles ahead in AF reliability, but lets not compare apples to oranges. I am happy with what the A350 can do with the 50mm F1.8, even in very challenging lighting for now.
Viewing Difficulties. ISO800
Something UP there !! ISO800
BBQ corn. ISO1600
Slow Walk. ISO3200
Buried Deep. ISO800
It was drizzling. ISO3200.
I was in the bar with Nick and he was asking why do I have to leave so early (it was 10.30pm). I said I have to work tomorrow. Then he was asking what time I started work, and I said 8am. His next comment was one of the most striking thing I have heard in a while "I don't understand, how can a single guy be working everyday, as early as 8am????" I guess there is a strong truth in what he says. Something is definitely not right with the working system of 8-5pm jobs, weekdays. It just, sucked everything out of your life, leaving you with very little freedom or energy left to do anything else. I guess, the workaholic culture in big cities like Kuala Lumpur can get depressing at times.
Frankly, the other truth was, I needed to head home earlier for two main reasons: 1 the the last train was 11.30pm, hence I needed to be at the train station by 11.00am. Secondly, the MOST important reason actually, was that I had in my mind to rush home to that I can unload the photographs, see how the results are from my new Sony A350, then process them, and now, blog about it here. Call me a freak, but it just does not feel right if I did not push this blog out before I sleep.
Someone should be shooting me from my behind. ISO800
Luke Ding's Noodles. ISO800
Weekend is coming. Can't wait to bring the Sony A350 for street hunting under morning light, where I do not need to push up the ISO.
Any Sony users out there? Share your thoughts on your Sony system, why you love them, and what do you think of my current setup. I do not plan to invest much into Sony for now (who knows what will happen in the future hey) but I am keeping my mind open for ideas and suggestions. I would love to hear what you have to say !!