I've been on the forums for a while now so i though i would post something useful to our members. Warning, take this review with a pinch of salt, it is based on a beginners opinion. Also, i took time to fully understand and utilize every feature of the camera before writing a review.
Coming from a point and shoot, i didn't know much about DSLR so i opted for the easiest camera to use. I tested each camera in the store and decided the A300/A350 is the easiest to use(with its awesome live view) and not only that, it is also the most comfortable to hold(Not everyone will agree with me but its just my opinion).
After comparing the features i also concluded that it is has the best price to features ratio. Now all i had to do was pick either the A350 or the A300. I went for the latter for several reasons.
Firstly, the extra megapixels don't mean anything to me. The biggest prints i am going to make is A4 size and i don't pixel peep(very often
Secondly, every other feature is exactly the same from the menus, bracketing, spot metering, right down to the tilt-able screen.
Because of that i saved some money and bought a telephoto zoom lens and i get slightly better performance at high sensitivities.
Ergonomics, Handling and features
The A300 feels great in my hands. Its well sized grip gives a feeling of confidence when in use. But in the same time, i would like to see Sony include the A200 and A700's extra little hump(i don't know what to call it. lol) on the grip onto the A300.
It is very solidly build. I only have a slight complain. To me, the A300 "appear" to have a cheap looking outer shell. Maybe its just me (i've been using a canon ixus with its full metal body for a while mind you).
There are many buttons on the A300's body and all(well almost all) are easily in reach. The only button i find a bit hard to reach is the drive mode(which selects single shot, burst, timer and bracketing). Its almost impossible to reach without moving your grip a lil.
These buttons are convenient for changing settings without going through the menus. One thing i would love is to customise the direction pad to access certain funtions more quickly(such as metering mode, white balance) like the canon but i'm just being too picky. xD
There is also a liveview switch on top of the camera to switch from liveview to the optical viewfinder. The liveview is the easiest one to use yet and its great for macro and landscape or when you mounted the camera on a tripod. The screen can also tilt, which further increase the usefulness of the liveview.
Its viewfinder, however, is smaller than the other DSLRs i've tried. Its not an issue unless you're coming from a full frame SLR(film). You wouldn't even notice it after a short while.
As for the menus, they are great! For a beginner its really easy to figure out all the features. Also, it take no time at all to master the menus .With the addition of its liveview, you can see the changes taking place such as the white balance. This way you don't need to do the trial and error method.
To access all the funtions, all you have to do is press the Fn button(funtion) and you will see a 2 by 3 grid of the funtion that doesn't have its own button.
To show its efficientcy and ease of use, i'll compare it with the Nikon D60. With the D60, you have to use your left hand to press the funtion button(which is on the bottom left of the camera) to change the setting and all its functions are there. To me, all that takes too many button presses just to change the ISO or metering mode.( Again this is up to preference)
Another cool feature is the eye sensor. It detects when your face it coming up the the camera's viewfinder and automaticly turns off the LCD screen and focus beforehand. I think Canons has this feature too but for nikon, you have to press the info button everytime you want to see the settings.
Its metering has been spot on. I rarely use spot metering because i don't have to. As for bracketing, you have a choice of -0.7, 0, +0.7 and -0.3, 0, +0.3. For HDR the maximum of 0.7 is not enough. Sony should release a firmware to fix this. For white balance though, its not very good indoors. This is where its liveview comes in. You can change the white balance and see the results instantly.
This camera is a real step up from a Point N Shoot. I mostly shoot macro, landscape, people and events. It does a very good job so far and i have yet to find fault with its low-mid iso pictures(Iso 100-400). Its detail is amazing! Plus its kit lens has an extra reach at the long end.
Sample of landscape HDR shot...
Sample of Fast paced action shot(thanks to its 3 frame per second burst rate and fast autofocus). This one is taken with a 70-300mm.
Sample of a macro shot (with kit lens)
Also taken with the kit lens
Sample of Tamron 70-300mm 1:2 macro
Taken with the same telephoto-zoom lens with macro
Another one with a telephoto-zoom with macro functions
As you can see, alot can be achieved with this relatively inexpensive kit + telephoto zoom set up. If you are still not pleased with the results, you can always buy a dedicated macro lens or a wide-angle lens. There are lots of Sony and Third party lenses available.
As for the occasional high ISO indoor events, noise can be annoying at 800 and above(1600). But its still a big step forward compared to a Point N Shoot which i can only use up to 400 due to noise. When i need important pictures to be noise free, i just shoot RAW and remove the noise with Photoshop CS4. That way i retain most of the detail available so its not really an issue. And by the way, its high iso performance is not as bad as some put it. I've seen some people talk as if its noise performance is going to be the end of the world(sony's world).
Sample of a photo taken at ISO 800! As you can see, there is barely any noise visible(unless you pixel peep!)
Here is the EXIF data to prove its at ISO 800
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nigelchuah ... 8934/meta/
Sony has come up with a real winner. I really like the A300. And Sony already has a compelling lens lineup that will please amateurs to keen enthusiast(Thats you Bjorn! xD) alike. All the issues with this camera are very minor and before long, you will even forget that they are there.
Great handling, great ergonomics, Superb liveview, lots of external buttons, great image quality, longer-than-average kit lens (18-70mm compared to 18-55mm), very easy to use, best price to feature ratio, and Solid build.
Flash a bit low(can cause shadowing) but its common on all DSLRs, its plastic appearance(coming from a full metal point and shoot), a slightly noisier high iso than some(still very very good), and a smaller viewfinder(liveview makes up for it).
Thanks for reading. Remember, take this with a pinch of salt.