Sony debuts three new entry-level dSLRs

Sony introduces three new consumer dSLRs for 2009 with friendlier interfaces and the usual array of sensor and speed bumps.

Sony Electronics

Look! A hidden SD card slot! Sony Electronics

Sony announced its three new entry-level dSLRs for 2009, the Alpha DLSR-A230, A330, and A380, which replace the A200, A300, and A350 respectively.

The products preserve Sony's three-tier strategy for its low-end SLRs. The cheap A230 differs from the slightly-less-cheap A330 by the viewfinder and the tiltable LCD, plus the A330 will be available in brown. And except for its higher resolution sensor--14 megapixels versus 10 megapixels--the A380 is otherwise identical to the A330. Sony's big marketing points on these models is lighter weight and friendlier, more point-and-shoot-like guided operation.

But perhaps most notably, these models have dual memory slots, one of which takes SDHC cards and the other Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo. I can only imagine the internal politicking it took to pull that off.

Here are the key specs:

 A230A330A380
Sensor10-megapixel CCD10-megapixel CCD14-megapixel CCD
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Viewfinder95 percent coverage
0.83x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.74x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.74x magnification
LCD2.7-inch fixed2.7-inch tiltable2.7-inch tiltable
Live ViewNoYesYes
VideoNoNoNo
Continuous shooting2.5fps2.5fps2.5fps
Autofocus9 points9 points9 points
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.0x3.8x2.75.0x3.8x2.85.0x3.8x2.8
Weight
ounces; add about 1.8 ounces for battery and card
15.917.317.3
Price$549 (with 18-55mm lens)
$749 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)
$649 (with 18-55mm lens)
$849 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)
$849 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,049 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)

In its price class, the A230 bumps up against the Canon EOS Rebel XS (rumors have it in line to be replaced in June) and the very popular Nikon D60. Given Sony's emphasis on size, it's odd that the A230 is actually slightly bigger than the competition, but otherwise offers some strong attractions--a slightly larger LCD and possibly better autofocus system, albeit at the expense of continuous-shooting speed.

 Sony Alpha DSLR-A230Canon EOS Rebel XSNikon D60
Sensor10-megapixel CCD10-megapixel CMOS10-megapixel CCD
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 1,600ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/ISO 3,200 (expanded)
Viewfinder95 percent coverage
0.83x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.81x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.80x magnification
LCD2.7-inch fixed2.5-inch fixed2.5-inch fixed
Live ViewNoYesNo
VideoNoNoNo
Continuous shooting2.5fps3 fps3 fps
Autofocus9 points7 points3 points
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.0x3.8x2.75.0x3.8x2.45.0x3.7x2.5
Weight
ounces; add about 1.8 ounces for battery and card
15.915.916.1
Price$549 (with 18-55mm lens)
$749 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)
$599.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$599.95 (with 18-55mm lens)

On the other hand, Canon and Nikon don't even seem to participate in the $650-ish price segment the A330 inhabits. Nevertheless, it can't compete on size against Olympus' amazing shrinking dSLRs, its viewfinder will look a bit smaller than both thanks to the lower magnification factor and it has a slower burst frame rate. But that 9-point AF has the potential for faster focus.

 Sony Alpha DSLR-A330Olympus E-450Pentax K2000
Sensor10-megapixel CCD10-megapixel Live MOS10-megapixel CCD
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 1,600ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Viewfinder95 percent coverage
0.74x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.92x magnification
96 percent coverage
0.85x magnification
LCD2.7-inch tiltable2.7-inch fixed2.7-inch fixed
Live ViewYesYesNo
VideoNoNoNo
Continuous shooting2.5fps3.5 fpsn/a
Autofocus9 points3 points5 points
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.0x3.8x2.85.1x3.6x2.14.8x3.6x2.7
Weight
ounces; add about 1.8 ounces for battery and card
17.313.418.5
Price$649 (with 18-55mm lens)
$849 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)
$699.99 (with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses)$699.95(with 18-55mm lens and flash)

The A380, however, goes head to head with two of the most hyped consumer SLRs of the year so far, the Nikon D5000 and the Canon EOS Rebel T1i. And it does so with a big hole in its feature set--no video. Nor do the rest of the specifications look particularly compelling against the T1i's lighter body, the D5000's proven AF system (from the D90), and both Canon and Nikon's significantly faster burst shooting and better viewfinders.

 Sony Alpha DSLR-A380Canon EOS Rebel T1iNikon D5000
Sensor14-megapixel CCD15-megapixel CMOS12-megapixel CMOS
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/ ISO 12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/ ISO 6,400 (expanded)
Viewfinder95 percent coverage
0.74x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.87x magnification
95 percent coverage
0.78x magnification
LCD2.7-inch tiltable3-inch fixed2.7-inch articulated
Live ViewYesYesYes
VideoNoYesYes
Continuous shooting2.5fps3.4fps4fps
Autofocus9 points9 points11 points
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.0x3.8x2.85.1x3.8x2.45.0x4.1x3.1
Weight
ounces; add about 1.8 ounces for battery and card
17.316.919.8
Price$849 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,049 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$849.99(with 18-55mm lens)

Sony Electronics

Sony's research shows that most users stepping up to these classes of dSLRs are looking for better photo quality and performance but want to retain the simplicity of the point-and-shoot experience. (A premise I agree with.) Of course, there's always the green Auto mode on every dSLR, but the big challenge is moving users from that to using a lot of the features that make dSLRs a lot better than their old snapshot cameras. For instance, Canon has its Creative Auto mode, described in the review of the EOS 50D. With these cameras, Sony has added online guides to describe the different features, and provides more contextual displays for the settings like shutter speed and aperture.

Sony Electronics

Along with the new cameras, Sony's releasing its first lenses designed specifically for the APS-C size sensors in all its dSLRs but the A900. These include the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses that the company includes in the kits for these models.

Furthermore, Sony seems to be the big innovator in hot shoe flashes these days. Following up its great sideways rotating HVL-F58AM flash, the company has designed an ingenious collapsible flash specifically for consumer dSLRs like these. The $130 HVL-F20AM lives on your camera, crouched down in a low profile until you need it; then you pop it up.

Though everything will become available for preorder this week, you won't actually be able to get your mitts on anything until July.

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