Like many budget dSLRs, the viewfinder isn't very good--it's small and it's hard to see the focus dots blink red, especially against dark objects--and it has an even lower magnification than its predecessor. At least the focus lock indicator is close to the middle of the bottom readout. There's also a SteadyShot scale, which helpfully tells you when you're at your least shakiest; a digital level, which other manufacturers have begun providing, would be a nice complement for that.
Overall, the A330 is reasonably fast. It powers on and shoots in just 0.4 second, and can focus and shoot in a mere 0.3 second in good light and 0.6 second in dim. The latter is a big improvement over its predecessor. Usually raw shot-to-shot time is virtually the same as for JPEG, but the A330's 0.7 second for raw is slower than its 0.5 second for JPEG. Flash recycle time is pretty slow for its class, pushing flash shot-to-shot time to 1.5 seconds--that's almost twice that of the D60 and Rebel XS, and just a bit slower than the K2000. And while its continuous-shooting speed of 2.4fps is only fractionally slower than the Nikon and Canon--and oddly slower than the earlier model--in practice it still feels too slow to keep up with kids and pets.
The AF system is surprisingly fast for its class, especially in Live View, which tends to be one of the Achilles' heels of dSLRs. As a result it delivers a more point-and-shoot-like experience. However, you only see 90 percent of the scene, compared to 100 percent for most other cameras; that's even lower than the 95 percent viewfinder coverage. The LCD also seems to be the same one as on the previous generation of cameras, because I had the same difficulty viewing it in direct sunlight, even when tilted at various angles. The image stabilization works OK, testing out to a savings of about 2 1/3 stops when zoomed out to 200mm.
I'm on the fence vis-à-vis the photo quality. Part of the problem is Sony's choice of default values, especially in its Creative Styles. As Pentax does with its K2000 Sony's attempt to provide more "consumer-friendly" images with its default Creative Style settings results instead in poor color rendering--too cool outdoors and too warm indoors--which makes you think the white balance is off. Unfortunately, you can't tell that's what's happening because there's no "natural" or its equivalent, and Sony doesn't tell you what the contrast, saturation, and sharpness settings are for each style; they're all listed as 0, from which you increase or decrease. So if you know enough to change the settings, or shoot only raw, you can get some very nice photos out of the camera. But that's not the likely buyer for this model. However, it's also probably fixable via a firmware update if Sony chooses.
By the rest of the image-quality metrics--noise, exposure, sharpness--the A330 renders decent photos for its class. The Dynamic Range Optimizer brings out a bit more detail in shadows and midtones and brings back some clipped shadows and highlights; in general, you shouldn't regret leaving it enabled. I'm a bit disappointed by the kit lenses, which don't match the sharpness of similar models from Canon and Nikon. The A330 delivers a fairly average noise-suppression profile for its class. Sharpness starts to degrade at about ISO 400 and color noise begins to seep in at ISO 800; you really don't want to use ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, where images are both soft and noisy.
Given that the A230 has a better viewfinder, unless you really want the Live View shooting, it's a better deal than the Sony Alpha DSLR-A330. But you can also get some significantly better cameras--higher resolution, with better noise qualities and faster performance--for just $150-$200 more.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)