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Sony has introduced successors to its original line-up of compact, APS-C format DSLRs. The new cameras – the Sony Alpha A230, A330, and A380 – are all housed in polycarbonate bodies that are smaller and have lower profiles than the cameras they replace.
The A230 and A330 both share the same 10.2Mp CCD sensor, along with most every other spec and feature. The major difference between the A230 and A330 are a Live View function and the tiltable LCD screen, which are only available on the A330. The Sony Alpha A380 features a 14.2Mp CCD, along with Live View, and a tiltable LCD screen. These differences aside, all 3 cameras are identical.
Compared to the compact DSLRs they replace, the design of the new cameras is 'cleaner' and less bulky, with controls that lie near-flush to the body panels. The camera's 2.7" (230,400-dot) Clear Photo LCD-Plus is easy to read under all but the brightest of viewing conditions, and with the exception of the base model A230, can be tilted upwards of 135° and downward up to 55° for composing and editing purposes using the camera's Live View function (Sony A330 and A380 only).
A Sony BIONZ image processor allows you to capture and process image files as RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG, at speeds of up to 2.5 frames-per-second. JPEG image files can be recorded in a choice of 3 compression ratios onto Memory Stick PRO Duo or SD/SDHC memory cards.
To facilitate sharp, well-exposed images, all 3 cameras utilize a 9-point autofocus (AF) system that can be used in single or multi-shot mode. There's also an 'eye-start' mode which kick-starts the AF system when you raise the camera to your eye. For on-the-nose exposure readings the cameras feature a 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC TTL metering system and Sony's D-Range Optimizer for balanced shadow and highlight details. To thwart dust issues, the new Sony's incorporate a dual dust-reduction system to help keep your image files blemish-free.
As with earlier Alpha-series DSLRs, the new cameras feature a built-in, pop-up flash for indoor snapshots, and for eliminating 'raccoon eyes' when shooting portraits outdoors on sunny days. There's also a hot-shoe for use with Sony's dedicated TTL flashguns and 3rd-party compatible flashguns.
For composing images the new Alphas feature an eye-level pentamirror viewfinder that shows 95% of the total image area. The rear-mounted 2.7" (230,400-dot) TFT Clear Photo LCD allows you to see 100% of the total image area when you play the images back post-capture, or in preview mode when using the camera's Live View function (A330 & A380 only). For image playback on Sony BRAVIA and similarly-compatible HDTVs, all 3 cameras feature an HDMI terminal for large-screen, plug-&-play viewing.
In order to grab customer attention in an already crowded field, Sony's focused their energies on making the new cameras easy to use, with lots of hand-holding offered along the way in the guise of large, easy-to-use and easy-to-read menus. There are also lots of one-line explanations splashed across the LCD every time you change camera settings. Regardless of whether you shoot in hands-on Manual mode or the green, rectangular 'zombie' mode, your every move is illustrated and explained. Even the least tech-savvy user should find the new Sony DSLRs easy to use. (For those who still find themselves stymied after using these cameras, perhaps you should consider picture postcards.)
Each of the new Alpha DSLRs are bundled with a Sony DT 18-55 SAM kit lens, which when in an APS-C format has the field-of-view (FOV) of a 28-82.5mm lens on a full-frame (24x36mm) DSLR. For fuller optical coverage you can also purchase each of these cameras as a 2-lens kit, which in addition to the DT 18-55 SAM zoom includes a Sony DT 55-200mm SAM (82.5-300mm FOV) zoom lens.
As for the quality of the newly-designed optics, the cameras we tested were pre-production review samples, and as such we cannot publish any of our test shots. What we can say is both of these lenses produced extremely nice results. Even when working at close range (and at maximum aperture) both lenses proved to be quite sharp and displayed very pleasing out-of-focus imaging characteristics, a.k.a. 'nice bokeh'. Please note these lenses are new designs, and based on our test results, seem sharper and display fewer optical aberrations than the Minolta-based kit lenses they replace.