Sony Alpha A380 DSLR Review

Sony Alpha A380 DSLR Review

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.

Sony Alpha A380 Review

Sony Alpha A380 Features

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.

Sony A380 face ahead.jpg

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.

Sony A380 LCD display

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!

Sony Alpha A380 Specs

  • Image Sensor: 14.2 million effective pixels.
  • Metering: Digital ESP, centre-weighted; spot.
  • Sensor Size: 23.5×15.7mm.
  • 35 SLR Lens Factor: 1.5x.
  • Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/4000 second.
  • Memory: Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD and SDHC.
  • Image Sizes (pixels): 4592×3056, 4592×2576, 3408×2272, 3408×1920, 2288×1520, 2288×1280. Movies: 1280×720, 640×480.
  • File Formats: RAW, JPEG.
  • ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 3200.
  • Interface: USB 2.0, AV, HDMI.
  • Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery.
  • Dimensions: 128x97x71.4 WHDmm.
  • Weight: Approx. 490 g (body only).
  • Price:Sony Alpha A380L with 18-55mm ($799.99)Sony Alpha A380Y with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses ($999.99)

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.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

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

Some Older Comments

  • Susie December 14, 2010 04:19 am

    My camera gives me camera error on my screen when I try to take a picture..but it only happens sometimes...but it is gettting to be more often and annoying to turn on and off the camera.
    Anyone knows what can be the problem?

    Thank you

  • Anders October 17, 2010 04:28 pm

    Sophie, your camera cannot control a studio flash wirelessly this way - that is not how it works.

    The Aurora will fire when it sees a flash of light so you need to set your on-camera flash to work manually and on its lowest setting to prevent the light from the on-camera flash to be visible in the picture.

    Running your on-camera flash in auto mode will cause it to do some pre-flashes to evaluate the need for light and that will trigger (and deplete) the Aurora, meaning that it will not fire when the picture is actually taken. Some studio flashes can be told to ignore the preflashes but the problem with having the light from the on-camera flash present in the picture is the same.

    Alternatively you could (and probably should) look into e.g. Elinchrome Skyports, Pocket Wizards or a similar product if you want to fire your studio flash wirelessly. There are several eBay-triggers on the market (cheaper alternatives to the two above) but not all are reliable - make sure you do your research.


  • Sophie October 16, 2010 11:12 am

    Hi, I need help.... I have a sony alpha 330 and just got a flash unit aurora orion 400 and I can't get them to work together, the camera is set to wireless flash but when I take the picture, it's very dark even if the flash unit flashed.
    If anyone can tell me what I'm doing wrong I would appreciate it.

    Thank you

  • Sophie October 16, 2010 11:08 am

    I need some info if anyone can help, I have a sony alpha 330 and just got a flash unit aurora orion 400 but I can't seem to have the camera and the flash working together, and I even put the camera on wireless flash.

    Please if any of you have the information or can tell me what I'm doing wrong I would appreciate it a lot


  • Ben July 9, 2010 05:40 pm

    For Eshwin, could it be ur shutter speed is too fast that not enuf light is being passed through into ur sensor? u might be underexpose too much tat it is very dark or black. if ur shutter speed is too slow, u might get an overexpose picture or a bright or white picture.
    Try to adjust ur shutter, iso, aperture until the exposure meter is +/- 0.

    Correct me if i'm wrong, as i'm only 6 months into this DSLR thingy...

  • Eshwin May 4, 2010 11:26 am

    HELP ME PLEASE! I am very new to the camera profession/hobby, and I recently got an A380. I found out how to adjust the shutter speed so I could take action/sports photographs, but when I did, my viewfinder went black, as did my photos. I upped the ISO to the max, but I could still not get a very bright image. I am shooting indoors.

    What am I doing wrong? How can I take photos indoors with a high shutter speed?

  • Pravin February 10, 2010 11:13 pm

    I have just acquired a Sony alpha 330 and would like to know if you have ever reviewed this particular model and I'm planning tp purchase a 70 -200m lens, do you think its worth it?

  • Heather Hawkins October 22, 2009 05:30 am


    According to Popular Photography magazine, Sony does, in fact, produce Nikon sensors.

  • Joseph Rey Alcala October 22, 2009 03:35 am

    @barryl. To change the shutter speed while in shutter priority mode, you need to turn the wheel that's placed near your right index finger, you'll not see much difference in the brightness of the photo since the camera would automatically adjust the aperture.

  • BarryL October 21, 2009 08:55 am

    I have the Sony 330 and am pretty new to digital. Finding it easy to navigate. One thing I don't understand is how does one cahnge the shutter speed, or is the camera doing it automatically? I was using shutter priority.

  • LenDog October 17, 2009 03:01 am

    Sony is in the camera business to stay. I own an A330 with the kit lens, the only difference between that and the A380 is megapixels, and I like what I have.
    The good - Very simple controls, easy to learn where to go to quickly adjust settings. I use the viewfinder 99% of the time, but I tilt the LCD every time I use it, great feature. Cost - not an expensive body for the features.
    The bad: The mode switch on the left side is easy to bump and change accidentally, I have to check the mode constantly to make sure I'm still where I think I am, maybe due to my grip. Worst: The kit lenses are junk, don't buy them, invest the few extra bucks you save and then some in real glass.

  • Dee Zepp October 14, 2009 05:41 am

    As you can tell from my email address I am a realtor, I bought the Sony 300A, and it has live view. I am trying to find a CD for this model and can only find the 100, which has no live view. What do you recomend? If I tried the 330 or 380 CD would that be close enough for me to be able to get at least the basis for learnig this camera. The manuel is written in Greek I think. Would welcome any suggestions. Dee

  • peter k October 11, 2009 04:48 am

    The new A380 looks interesting, but not enough to convince me upgrade from my A350. Maybe the A550, but, for the moment, I'ld rather have the 70-200 f2.8 instead of thinking about an upgrade (it's not only the camera, is also the memory card switch from CF to SD).
    About Sony's future?...I think we already can see it...They will only get stronger. With KM's experience and tradition, with Carl Zeiss top quality glass, with their own glass improving from day to day, with their prices and with the huge number of KM lenses on the market...what else might be ?!!!

  • Richard October 11, 2009 12:23 am

    "Sony’s way ahead of you there, mate. They’re already #3, and they’ve already started to take some marketshare from the big two."

    Yes, Sony is #3 but their marketshare is single digit compared to Canon's and Nikon's ~40% each. Sony is nowhere near to being a major DLSR player.

  • Dom October 10, 2009 06:54 am

    let me clarify the above post - I know that Sony produce Nikon's sensors. What I was saying was that Nikon don't design them - Sony do, then they sell them to Nikon. That's why the A700 has the same sensor as the D300, and the A200 has the same sensor as the D60, and the A900 has the same sensor as the D3X.

  • Dom October 10, 2009 06:52 am


    "Nikon’s sensors are actually Nikon-designed, Sony-produced."

    and where exactly did you here that? Because it's wrong, BTW. Does Nikon use the 350/380 14MP CCD? No. So why would they design it, then not use it themselves? Also, what about the new Exmor R CMOS sensors Sony are making for their camcorders and compacts? Funny how none of Nikon's compacts have this tech yet, and how Nikon don't make camcorders.

  • Dom October 10, 2009 06:49 am


    "I predict that in a few short years, Sony will start to steal marketshare from CaNikon and become the third major player in the DSLR market."

    Sony's way ahead of you there, mate. They're already #3, and they've already started to take some marketshare from the big two.

  • Dom October 10, 2009 06:44 am

    @gary. They're absolutely not in the camera or lens business? tell that to owners of the class-leading Carl Zeiss 135mm F1.8. Or the £4k 300/2.8 G. To say "oh no, they're an electronics company, they're obviously just gonna drop out when it suits them" Is ridiculous. Companies planning a clean exit strategy don't produce £4000 pieces of glass, or enlist the design skils of Carl Zeiss.

  • Joseph Rey Alcala October 10, 2009 03:33 am

    I'm an Alpha 200 user and so far it hasn't failed me yet. Although I'm not really a professional.

    I was able to try out the Alpha 380 in a Sony center and I guess my only problem with it is the grip. I don't have that large of a hand but the right hand grip of the camera feels too small.

    Sony is probably here to stay but I hope they put more support here in the Philippnes. Im really finding it hard to find accessories for my DSLR.

  • Richard October 10, 2009 12:18 am

    Sorry, but the A850 has no improvement over the A900. See here and here. The A850 has:

    3 fps instead of 5
    98% viewfinder instead of 100%
    optional IR remote instead of being included in the box
    list price of $2000 instead of $2700

    That's it! Price is the only advantage.

  • donnie October 9, 2009 08:41 pm

    I own the sony a900, and the carl zeiss 1.4 85 mm lense, and the zeiss 24-70 2.8 lense.....Yep,I also want the 16=35 mm, the 135 mm, both zeiss...and the 70-200 g lense.....this camera is awesome, i shoot with pros who use their nikons and canons...they rave about the sony, but since they have vested tons in lenses, they will stay where they are....However, if you are starting fresh....take a look at the's not for everyone, but thats why there are 3 choices....

  • JT October 9, 2009 08:50 am

    I own the Sony A100, A700 and looking forward to getting the A850 that just came out. The A850 has a few more improvements to it that the A900 does not have, it is identical to the A900 except has some better enhancements.

  • Richard October 9, 2009 08:00 am

    If I didn't have my 40D and various lenses, I'd seriously consider going Sony. My ideal rig? The Sony A900, plus Vario-Sonnar 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 G (or 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G), and Vario-Sonnar 16-35mm f/2.8. Excuse me for drooling...

    What other lenses could I possibly want? The above is a very dreamy setup. Much more expensive than my 40D setup. If only I were rich...

  • Richard October 9, 2009 07:52 am

    I'm a big Canon fan (I own a 40D), but I'm very impressed with Sony's A900 and A850. When they lick the high ISO noise issue (and they definitely will), their DSLRs will compete very well with Canon and Nikon. In fact, I predict that in a few short years, Sony will start to steal marketshare from CaNikon and become the third major player in the DSLR market. As others have noted, they have deep pockets and a long-term vision. Look how they stubbornly stuck with the PS3, and now with the PS3 Slim, Sony is poised to have a winning Christmas season.

  • Nils October 9, 2009 05:18 am

    I did have a chance to handle this camera. The menu system is laid out very well. However, the grip was a little akward for my big hands. Also the viewfinder was probably the smallest of that price range. It did take very good pictures and I was impressed with the quality when I was able to focus correctly. Good entry level-DSLR that is on par with the Nikon D3000.

  • Meng October 8, 2009 03:23 am

    "I would never touch it. Might be great cameras, but Sony is absolutely not in the camera or lens business. What happens when after a couple of tough quarters they decide to exit the business? I would use their point and shoot but not their SLR’s."

    Really? Because the fact that Nikon uses Sony produced sensors, and have the backing of Konica-Minolta and their users. I'd say Sony is here to stay in the DSLR business. Minolta has produced some amazing glass in their past time (which luckily all Sony needed to do was just rebadge them).

  • Ryan October 7, 2009 08:55 pm

    Sony will be in the camera business as long as Nikon is, being that Nikon's sensors are actually Nikon-designed, Sony-produced. Plus, like Kevo, one would assume that in the world of electronics (yes, cameras and other optics fall in this category) Sony has one of the richest bankrolls in the business.

  • Kevo October 7, 2009 11:54 am


    I don't believe Sony will exit the camera business, and although its brand is new on the market, they have incredibly deep pockets, 100+ years of camera business behind them (Konica-Minolta) as a strength, and have the facilities to create the sensors and hardware anyways (and produce sensors for Pentax, too). Sony may be a new player to the camera market, but think of it in the same was as Microsoft being new to the console market - their deep pockets have kept them in the game.

    Is it just me or does the grip not look as big as it was on the older models? I also don't know if I like the look of it as much as the older ones, but it's always hard to tell with internet pictures so I'll have to check one out in person.

  • Jeremy October 6, 2009 07:24 pm

    Seems like a competitor for the Nikon D5000. Tilt screen, live view and graphic interface directed at entry-level photographers.

  • E.G. October 6, 2009 09:08 am

    RE AF/MF: "I assume from the picture the camera does too? Would be pretty bad design to not control this on the body"

    I believe that this Sony has it on its body. My older (A200) Sony does. But, some Sony lenses (e.g. the new 50 mm f/1.8) have a switch on the lens body. In that case, the lens switch seems to take priority to some extent.

    Thanks for the review... looks like a nice camera.

  • Memoria October 6, 2009 08:56 am

    I looked at this very camera this morning at a camera store! I'm in the market for a Nikon or Canon, but I wanted to see a 50mm lens in action (instead of the kit lens), and the worker there said that the only 50mm lens available in the store was the Sony. So, he let me handle the Sony Alpha A380. I took a bunch of pictures, and the photos were as you stated - vibrant, clear, etc. I was very surprised at the quality of the photos. I'm still going to get a Nikon or Canon because of the price and familiarity, but for anyone considering this camera, it seemed very nice. Just so you know, though, I'm far from being an expert on DSLRs.

  • Anders C. Madsen October 6, 2009 05:59 am

    – isn’t the print size determined by what size you get the image printed at?

    This would be at 300 dpi, which sounds like a reasonable resolution for print this size.

    – I assume from the picture the camera does too? Would be pretty bad design to not control this on the body

    I've got at Canon EOS 30D and that (and any other Canon I know of) does not have any means to control AF on the body. I don't really know why I would want to do that when I have the AF/MF-switch on all my lenses?

    – How do you mix single and continuous AF?

    Single AF until the object starts moving, then the camera switches to continous automatically. "AI Focus" in Canonese.

  • Gary October 6, 2009 05:37 am

    I would never touch it. Might be great cameras, but Sony is absolutely not in the camera or lens business. What happens when after a couple of tough quarters they decide to exit the business? I would use their point and shoot but not their SLR's.

  • João Gomes October 6, 2009 05:18 am

    When you say:
    "In a series of shots made with varying ISO settings, I found the upper levels — even ISO 3200 — delivered excellent quality"

    You'd say that is better when compared with the previous A350?

    Because, quality at high ISO was one of the weakest features of A200/A300/A350, and I thought they had only changed the design of the cameras when they launch the A230/A330/A380.
    So, I'm wondering if in fact they have improved the quality at high ISOs.

  • Buddy Lindsey October 6, 2009 04:49 am

    Can you write a review for the Sony A230. I can't afford anything really above the $500 range. However, I can't seem to find a good review for it since it is still so new.


  • Eric October 6, 2009 04:20 am

    print sizes are 39×26cm or 39×22cm respectively
    -- isn't the print size determined by what size you get the image printed at?

    in 35 SLR-speak
    -- 35mm equivalent

    lens carries a switch giving access to auto or manual focus.
    -- I assume from the picture the camera does too? Would be pretty bad design to not control this on the body

    mix of single and continuous.
    -- How do you mix single and continuous AF?