Sony A390 Review

Sony A390 Review

To my considerable delight, we now find ourselves surrounded by a multiplicity of options when facing a choice of camera, especially in the interchangeable lens division.

You want it small? Go for the Micro Four Thirds models or Sony’s NEX duo or Samsung’s clever NX… and it appears Canon will soon dive into this pond too!

However the true DSLR territory is not forgotten either. The Sony A390 model ticks many boxes and hits the market at a gang-busting price too!

Sony A390 1.jpg

Sony A390 Features

For what it’s worth, the A390 is user-friendly or, even more specifically, beginner-friendly: there’s a simple on/off lever; beneath it is the control dial to vary lens and shutter setting; then a clearly labeled switch takes you from Live View to the optical finder; the mode dial gives you the options of auto, Program AE, aperture or shutter priority plus manual; there are six scene modes directly selectable on the same dial; then, unusually, here also is a forced flash off position.

At the back, next to the swing and tilt LCD screen (love it!) is the usual four way rocker. Aside from a menu button, that’s about it.

To augment the few external controls the viewfinder menu will expand your options to alter image size and quality, LCD brightness and some other minor matters. And that’s about it.
The optical finder screen display continues the trend and shows a graphic rendering of the effects of zoom position, lens aperture and shutter speed. What a fantastic aid for a newbie photo-person.

The camera is enjoyably fuss-free, although I must admit I was initially out-foxed after loading an SD into the side compartment and then found I also had to kick a little switch to tell the camera I was using an SD and not a Memory Stick. Strange.


This shot was taken at ISO 400, f7.1 with the zoom at 20mm; shutter speed 1/25 second.

The CCD will capture 14.2 megapixels at a maximum 4592×3056 pixels — or as a 39x26cm print. No movie capture but there is an HDMI output so you can run a slide show on your digital tele.

Another attraction for those who wish to extend their lens arsenal is the SteadyShot image stabilisation system that relies on a moving image sensor to steady your shots, so avoiding the need for this function to be built into the lens.

Finally, there is a 2.5 fps continuous speed setting, which will appeal to those who shoot sports, kids or other unpredictable action.

Sony A390 ISO Tests

Sony A390 ISO 100 f5.6 1:8 sec.jpg

At ISO 100 we’re looking sweet: beautiful detailed quality.

Sony A390 ISO 800 f5.6 1:60 sec.jpg

At ISO 800, still looking good, although with a tiny mount of noise creeping in.

Sony A390 ISO 1600 f5.6 1:125 sec.jpg

ISO 1600: still a great picture, resolution and gradation still good but noise is increased.

Sony A390 ISO 3200 f5.6 1:250 sec.jpg

ISO 3200: still OK quality but noise is now very noticeable. Useable in low light situations.

It’s worth noting that A390 sensor has approximately 15x the surface area of the 10mm sensors commonly used in compact cameras. Hence the excellent high ISO performance.

Startup Time

Real quick: hit the power and start shooting immediately. This is a major strength of a DSLR system.


Blurr 9.jpg

Handheld shot of blurr: ISO 400: f18: 1.5 second. Contrast increased in Photoshop Levels.

Image quality overall: Excellent colour and definition. Surprisingly good for the price.
Why you would buy the A390: you’re a first-timer in DSLR-land.
Why you wouldn’t: you like lots of bells ‘n’ whistles and buttons to fiddle with; you want to shoot HD movies.

Sony A390 Specifications

Image Sensor: 14.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi segment, centre-weighted metering and spot.
Effective Sensor Size: 23.5×15.7mm CCD.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 1:5x.
Compatible lenses: Sony alpha, Minolta and Konica Minolta AF lenses.
Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual, scene modes.
Shutter Speed: Bulb, 30 to 1/4000 second, Bulb. Flash sync: 1/160 sec.
Memory: Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo/HG Duo HX/SD/SDHC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4592×3056, 4592×2576, 3408×2272, 3408×1920, 2288×1520, 2288×1280.
Viewfinders: Optical pentamirror, 6.9cm LCD (230,400 pixels).
File Formats: RAW, RAW+JPEG.
Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 3200.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI, DC input.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 128.1×97.1×83.5 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 549 g (inc battery).
Price: Single lens: Get a price on the Sony A390 DSLRA390L DSLR at Amazon (currently 25% off).

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Sony A390
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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • vijendra January 19, 2012 06:51 pm

    But if you compare from its rival companies like Nikon and Canon, you will definitely overlook this model also if you are ready to pay a high price there. The feel of A390L is also a lot more plastic compared to that of canon or Nikon.
    The best rivals of A390L are Canon EOS 550D and Nikon D5000. But the best part of A390L is that it is comparatively cheaper than those arch rivals and is very easy for use to a newcomer in DSLR cameras also. Most of the retailers are offering this camera with a 18-55mm lens kit.

    So its up to you to decide whether you have a thorough approach over cameras and are you a professional photographer. If yes, don’t go for this one. But if you just want to have some very nice pictures when you go out with your family and friends, A390L is the best for you.

  • Blut00 November 22, 2011 09:09 am

    I bought my A390 less than 5 months ago with 18-55mm kit lens. I added a used Minolta 100-200 and then a Tamron 18-200mm. In good light this camera takes fantastic photo's but it all goes horribly wrong in low light. Auto ISO goes to 400 and then you're on your own jumping to 800, 1600 and finally 3200. There is a good reason for Auto ISO stopping @400, above this level the noise is horrendous and if you switch on the 'long exposure/high ISO' noise reduction your picture will be butchered beyond recognition.
    OVF is very small and makes manual focusing difficult. Articulated screen is useful sometimes but hinders access to the OVF all of the time.
    I almost upgraded to an A65 to solve my ISO problems but took a leap of faith and switched to an EOS 60D only this weekend.
    I have mixed feelings about the A390, but the constant work at manual settings to overcome the ISO performance has thought me a lot about photography. I've shot over 6000 pictures with this camera and have lots to enjoy and post with pride.

  • Ben June 4, 2011 11:33 pm

    For years I used Minolta 35mm SLRs until an untimely incident on vacation in the Dominican Republic - I discovered that cameras & salt water don't mix. I was able to salvage my 50mm f1.2 Maxxum primary lens & 100-200mm f4.5 Maxxum lenses - in the hopes I'd be able to use them on another camera. Much to my surprise, the digital camera revolution was really digging in.
    So I replaced my Minolta 7000 with a digital Canon (Power Shot G3) - there were lenses one could pop on & off the body, but not, in my estimation, with the quality of film 35s with interchangeable lenses. This was approximately 6 - 7 years ago at which time Minolta had some digitals on the market. I waited it out hoping for a DSLR from Minolta. Alas, it was not to be as Minolta was bought by Konica & eventually got out of the camera market. So there I sat with my two genuine Minolta lenses & no place to put them.
    Fortunately Sony bought the rights for the A mount lenses from K-M. I've taken the plunge with the purchase of Sony's a390L. I've no doubt this model will fill the void I've been dealing with over these years.
    IMHO, unless one is a snooty purist looking for top of the line name brand equipment there isn't one reason to dismiss Sony's offerings from the bottom to the top of their line. From my observations, most of the Nikons & Canons I see in use were bought by Joe Average, which is to say they're not pros or highly experienced amateurs. They were persuaded by smooth-talking salespersons at big box stores to opt for Nikon and/or Canon....not knowing or caring that there are other DSLRs suitable for their meager needs (i.e., photos of family outings, vacations, and just foolin' around). If asked about their selection, they'd brag about the name brand but could tell you little, if anything, otherwise.
    Neither Nikon nor Canon DSLRs are that much better that I could justify spending upwards of $2,000.00; besides which if I could justify such an outlay, I'd skip right over Nikon and Canon & spring for either a Leica or (gasp) large format Hasselblad.

  • Alex May 5, 2011 04:13 am

    I had a budget. Reading tests about this 390 made me decide; I know what I buy.. less quality then it's better brothers. BUT.. when I bought this budget wonder, it exceeded my expectations. Compared to my father's a580, my 390 only has little more noise in the colors when the light is dimm. And what I already read in the tests, it is not as good in real dark pictures when you want a clear sight of everything thats dark. When you do, there is noise. That's for certain 2 things where the 390 and the 580 part ways noticeable.
    But, my 390 is twice as cheap. Normal outside daylight pictures 'almost' make no difference to the normal human viewer of pictures. The 580 makes smooth sharp good pictures.. the 390 somewhat less.. well.. don't care. It has enough quality to give you a smile when you are looking at your pictures on your computer. I have a lot of fun with it. For the it !

  • Fred March 18, 2011 10:00 pm

    Getting back into photography after 2 decades without my old Pentax K1000, picked up the A390 w/ 18-55mm & 55-200mm; just ordered the 75-300mm Sony lens. I've already shot about 2200 photos in the past six weeks, mostly local birds & scenery. There is noticeable noise at lower light / higher ISO (overcast day, high shutter speed for in-flight bird photos). Otherwise I have no complaints to speak of with the camera. It's far lighter than my mother's Canon Rebel XTi. I have a hard time keeping my hands perfectly steady, and the camera compensates nicely. Overall, I am very happy with the choice of this model as my first DSLR.

  • John Hyde January 17, 2011 11:20 pm

    Fantastic............OK, I AM a beginner to Digital but did play with SLR's back about twenty years ago.
    I cant fault the lens or the camera. Brilliant results for all aspects and of course the ease of taking a good photo is worth all the £300+ I paid.
    I did exceed my pleasure, however, by adding the Tamron 70-300 Makro from Jessops at less than £100...!
    What a great combination they make. I am well happy and for £400 or thereabouts I feel I have an excellent kit.
    John Hyde

  • EdB October 22, 2010 01:14 am

    Bought this model a couple weeks ago, have been deliberating which beginner/ low end dslr to go for for a while between sony/cannon/nikon. In the end it was the availability of this model with the 18-70mm lens (exclusive to jessops apparently) at the price that swayed it (£379). Only used it a couple of times so far, but so far have been happy :)

  • Marcello October 12, 2010 12:23 am

    Agree with Rabi above... Just compare this review with the Fujifilm Finepix HS10 one.
    Here you have really nice bright 3200 iso tests, in the other one the iso tests are shot with the same subject but a lot less light, with much worse results.

    To be useful as comparative tests pictures need to be taken in the same condition!


  • Jeffrey October 8, 2010 05:30 pm

    Sony is the third largest brand in DSLR world. It's function and performance is between Nikon and Canon. This model is DSLR for beginner and just similar to Nikon D5000 and Canon 550D.

  • Barrie Smith October 8, 2010 10:42 am

    Noise gets worse as the ISO setting is lifted.

  • Winston October 8, 2010 03:41 am

    Is this Sony DSLR supposed to be competitive with the Nikor D5000? They seem similar, but comparing lens quality....???

  • Rabi October 8, 2010 12:52 am

    A comment about ISO tests: do them in low light. I don't care if a camera can shoot at 3200 in good light. Noise gets worse as the light goes down; I am interested in noise performance in the worst scenario, not the best.