Sony Alpha A300
10.2-megapixel D-SLR with the works.
- Best Live View implementation on the market, good image quality, sensor-based stabilisation, intuitive interface
- Images come out somewhat soft with default lens, resolution a little lower than some of the competition
While some competing units may be better for more advanced users, Sony's Alpha A300 is a compelling option for first-time SLR buyers with its combination of image quality, features and an intuitive menu.
Price$ 999.00 (AUD)
Joining the Alpha A350 in the middle of Sony’s Alpha SLR line-up, the A300 is a fairly similar camera to its big brother. Offering the same improvements over the A200, including Live View and a hinged screen, the only real difference between the A300 and the A350 is the latter’s higher resolution sensor. Still, the A300 is no slouch, offering a huge variety of features, impressive image quality and a straightforward interface that makes it ideal for entry-level SLR users.
With a 10.2-megapixel sensor the A300 sits at the bottom of the current crop of SLRs in terms of pure resolution. That said, it does a pretty solid job all up and will satisfy all but the most discerning image quality purists. We tested with the stock 18-70mm kit lens, which was decent. However, like most entry-level kit lenses it doesn’t really do the camera justice.
It produced pictures that were slightly softer than we’d expect. They were still fine, but some users may wish to apply some post processing to crisp things up. Fortunately, chromatic aberration was pretty minimal with no haloing evident indoors, no purple fringing outdoors and only minor detail loss towards the corners of the frames.
Noise performance was solid. Everything up to ISO 800 is basically flawless, while ISO 1600 should be fine if you intend to make smaller prints or if you can stand a little blotchiness. ISO 3200 ramps the noise up a fair bit and is probably not usable for the most part. The noise performance lags a little behind that of some competing units but it should still be fine for all but the most demanding users.
We found the colour balance to be fairly good, although there was a decent amount of over-saturation noticeable, particularly in shades of red. The overall balance was fairly good though and there are numerous custom white balance options as well as several colour modes if you feel the need to tweak the output at all.
The features are really the big selling point of this unit, as it has one of the most complete sets on offer in this price range. Most notably it comes with Live View, and Sony’s implementation is currently the best on the market. It uses a second sensor to output the image to the LCD, meaning there is no delay when autofocusing. The camera focuses as quickly as it would if you used the viewfinder, allowing you to use Live View more freely and precisely. There is one disadvantage to this system: you don't get 1:1 reproduction, so what you're seeing on the screen isn't exactly what is being captured. We think in most situations the trade-off is worth it, however.
Autofocus is pretty speedy and it is competitive with other entry-level SLRs. Overall performance is just as quick, and the three frame per second burst mode, although not as fast as some other units, does the job.
Other features of note include image stabilisation and dust reduction. As with other Alpha models, image stabilisation is built into the body rather than on the lens, meaning it works with whatever glass you want to use. It isn’t the most effective version on the market but it performs well and will help when hand shooting with larger lenses.
Although dust reduction is no substitute for a proper sensor cleaning, this system will be of benefit to users who routinely change lenses or work in dirty environments.
Also available are the full suite of manual shooting modes, dynamic range enhancement and a host of scene modes. Sony pays more attention to interface and control design compared to other companies: everything is clearly marked, from the Live View switch to the exposure controls and the function menu. For users who are new to SLRs, this is probably the simplest and most intuitive introduction.
The design is bigger and heavier than some competing units, but we liked how it sat in our hands. It is hefty and the grip is large, so it should suit users with bigger hands. The only other design element of note is the LCD display, which flips out on the vertical axis. While this doesn’t offer as much flexibility as a fully rotatable design, it is certainly useful when using Live View and we’re confused as to why more manufacturers haven’t implemented it.
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