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Sony has had a bad year in its LCD TV and games business but seems to have a winner in its DSLR cameras. Supporting this success, the company has fed the market with a stream of models to satisfy a variety of budgets and requirements.
Now three models: Sony Alpha 230, 330 and 380. The 230 is claimed to be “world’s lightest dSLR camera with a built-in image stabilisation system” in the body. Only the 330 and 380 have Sony’s unique Quick AF Live View feature.
The Sony Alpha 380’s 14.2 megapixel CCD has a maximum image size of 4592×3056 pixels or 4592×2576, if you’re shooting 16:9 pictures; print sizes are 39x26cm or 39x22cm respectively. Images are saved to Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo media, SD or SDHC memory cards, thanks to two slots. File formats: JPEG or RAW along with JPEG+RAW.
The CCD has an area of 23.5×15.7mm so a factor of 1.5x can be used to arrive at a 35 SLR figure. The lens supplied with the review camera was a f3.5-5.6/18-55mm objective, so the zoom range can be considered equal to 27-83mm in 35 SLR-speak. Note: this is not a Carl Zeiss lens.
If you need continuous shooting to capture rapid action then this may not be ideal for you: with Live View in play, the maximum speed is 2 fps. Use the optical finder and the speed reaches only 2.5fps. You can store a burst of only three frames in JPEG+RAW but with no limits (aside from card capacity) in JPEG solo.
The optical finder is supported by a rear 6.7cm LCD screen that pulls away from the body and tilts vertically 135 degrees up and down by 55 degrees; you can effectively line up a shot with the camera on the ground or above your head.
Auto focus settings can be used with a matrix of nine areas, a localised single area or a single spot. The lens carries a switch giving access to auto or manual focus. AF can be determined for single shot photography, continuous AF or a mix of single and continuous.
The camera is compact in size and, with the kit lens attached, weighs less than 800 grams.
My first impressions were that the camera has a very user-friendly interface, with an easy to find Live View on/off button sited right next to the power button. Live View can be set to be operative for periods from 20 seconds to 30 minutes.
At left, the mode dial carries settings for normal exposure modes — auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority as well as manual — plus useful scene modes such as sports, macro, portraits etc. Metering can be multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot readings.
The four way control rocker gives access to flash settings, drive mode, display options and ISO settings — from ISO 100 to 3200.
Hinting at the target market for the camera, a new Graphic setting helps explain to entry-level users the aperture/shutter speed relationship and the effect each has on an image. The mode dial has six scene modes: macro, portrait etc. Overall, the number of external buttons and control points is few, so the user is less likely to be bamboozled by a forest of techy tools.
The Auto Brightness Control function monitors ambient light levels and auto boosts LCD monitor brightness. Another attraction is an auto eye-starter function that automatically activates the autofocus when you bring your eye close to the finder.
Although the camera has no video capture function there is an HDMI output so you can run an HD slide show on a compatible tele.
On test, I have to say I was agreeably surprised at the quality of colour and sharpness in the pictures I shot. In a series of shots made with varying ISO settings, I found the upper levels — even ISO 3200 — delivered excellent quality.
A well-priced, fine camera, capable of excellent work. But no video shooting capability!
Body and DT f3.5-5.6/18-55m SAM kit lens: $1499. Body with DT f3.5-5.6/18-55m SAM and DT f4-5.6/55-200mm SAM kit lenses: $1799.
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