After Nikon and Canon, Sony has planted itself firmly in third place in the DSLR market outselling established brands such as Pentax, Olympus and Fujifilm. Sony has a well-structured range of good quality cameras at relatively affordable prices, ranging from the entry-level 10.2MP up to the 24.6MP full-frame A900, currently selling at just under £1,800 on Amazon without a lense package.
Sony’s new generation of DLSR cameras includes the A330. The new Sony models all share very similar all-new body designs, the A330 shares the same body and features as the more powerful A380, including a 2.7-inch fold-out monitor screen with live view. The new body has sharper edges and broader curves, than previous iterations. The build quality is about standard for an entry-level DSLR. The body shell is plastic and does feel a bit thin in places, although it’s well finished and the controls are solidly and sensibly placed.
The external hardware is also a bit on the average side. The 2.7” monitor has a 400 dpi resolution and a viewing angle of about 160 degrees. The viewfinder is adequate but not up to the quality of Nikon and Canon models in the same price range. It is distinctly tunnel-like, with a very small viewing area.
The A330 has dual card slots for both Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo cards and the more popular SD cards. The controls bear more resemblance to those of a high-end compact than a traditional DSLR, which is a nice feature particularly for those wishing to make the move from a standard compact to a DSLR. The on-screen data panel also offers tips for DSLR novices, as well as a useful chart showing the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and depth of field.
The main shooting mode dial has the usual Auto and P/A/S/M manual modes, but also includes six scene programs. The Function button on the back brings up a brief menu with some creative options. AF mode and area, metering mode, D-Range Optimiser setting and White Balance can be adjusted on screen, and there is some tonal control, with a range of presets that can be customised for contrast, saturation and sharpness. Adobe RGB and sRGB colour spaces are available, and the camera can shoot in Raw and Raw + JPEG modes, as well as Fine or Standard JPEG.
The Alpha A330 does lack a few features. For instance the A330 lacks a 2-second self-timer. It also has no socket for the cheap cable remote that could be used with most of the previous models, although there is an optional £40 wireless remote control. It also lacks a video mode, which is fast becoming the must-have feature for DSLRs this year. The pop-up flash is also underpowered and doesn’t fill the corners of the frame in a normal size living room.
One feature it does have though is Sony’s excellent live view mode. Offering as it does full nine-point phase detection autofocus. It does this by using a second image sensor in the viewfinder/AF light-path to power the live view mode, rather than using the main imaging sensor. The live view mode works really well, providing fast, accurate autofocus and a faster shooting speed.
The lens kit supplied with the A330 is Sony’s new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 standard zoom, which is a significant improvement on Sony’s previous lens, comparable to the 16-80mm Carl Zeiss T* f/3.5-4.5 lens.
Like most DSLRs it starts up extremely quickly in about a quarter of a second, and shuts down again just as fast, although it does briefly run the sensor cleaning system on power-off. The nine-point AF system is nice and fast, and with the focus points well spread over the frame it copes well with off-centre subjects. It focuses well in low light, using a pulsed flash as an AF assist lamp. In continuous shooting mode the A330 maintains 1.25fps, which is pretty slow by comparison to most of its rivals, but it can maintain the same speed in Raw + JPEG mode and also in live view mode.
Picture quality is very good under most circumstances. The built-in sensor-shift image stabilisation system provides a reliable two to three stops of extra hand-held stability, which means sharp hand-held pictures even at around 1/20th of a second. Exposure metering is generally accurate and copes well with backlighting, and the D-Range Optimiser helps with very high contrast situations. Colour rendition is also excellent, but there is visible noise and loss of detail in the darker areas and on areas of gradient tone.
The excellent live view and relatively inexpensive price point means Sony’s A330 is an excellent choice for those upgrading from a compact camera. Experienced photographers with experience of other DSLRs will find the A330’s limitations a little annoying. Even so the A330 makes an excellent choice as a first DSLR or a backup alternative camera for those situations where you don’t want to take your expensive DSLR.