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Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 review: Sony Alpha DSLR-A380

Sony Alpha DSLR-A380

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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7 min read

sony-a-alpha-dslr-a380y-digital-camera-slr-14-2-mpix-3-x-optical-zoom-dt-18-55mm-and-55-200mm-lenses.jpg
7.0

Sony Alpha DSLR-A380

The Good

Capable of shooting some very nice photos; fast Live View AF and single-shot performance; tiltable LCD; dual card slots; relatively simple, straightforward operation; built-in wireless flash and image stabilization.

The Bad

Smallish grip; middling viewfinder; color shifts with default settings.

The Bottom Line

While the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 is a solid inexpensive dSLR with a few nice features that will probably satisfy many shooters, it doesn't deliver quite enough on any front to outshine competitors.

When Sony released the Alpha DSLR-A350, it stood out from the crowd primarily for its robust feature set at an aggressive price. A year later, everyone else has caught up, and its successor, the DSLR-A380 isn't quite so novel for the money anymore.

The A380 is nearly identical to its cheaper sibling, the A330. The only difference is the A330's lower resolution, 10.2-megapixel sensor. You can get the A380 in two kits: one with an 18-55mm lens and a dual-lens kit with that lens plus a 55-200mm model. At the moment there's no body-only version of the A380, but one could possibly surface later in its life cycle. As with all Sony dSLRs, you should be able to use any Minolta A mount lens with the camera.

Most of the redesign over its predecessor works for the better, though I do have a couple of quibbles. It's lighter, though it still seems to fall in the middle of the sub-$1,000 dSLR herd for size and weight. The new grip design doesn't work for me, however. It's only three-quarters the height of the body and doesn't feel nearly as secure as full-height grips. I do like the rubberized texture that covers it and the left side of the body, though.

Key comparative specs Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 Nikon D5000 Canon EOS Rebel T1i
Sensor 14.2-megapixel CCD 12.3-megapixel CMOS 15.1-megapixel CMOS
APS-C 23.5mm x 15.7mm APS-C 23.6mm x 15.8mm APS-C 22.3mm x 14.9mm
Magnification factor 1.5x 1.5x 1.6x

Viewfinder (coverage, magnification)

95 percent 95 percent 95 percent
0.74x/0.49x effective 0.78x/0.52x effective 0.87x/0.54x effective
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded)
LCD 2.7-inch tilting; 230,400 dots 2.7-inch articulated; 230,000 dots 3.0-inch fixed; 920,000 dots
Live View Yes Yes Yes
Video No Yes Yes
Autofocus 9 points 11 points 9 points
Battery life (shots, CIPA rating) 510 510 400
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.8 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4
Operating weight (ounces) 19.1 21.6 19.2
Mfr. Price n/a $729.95 (body only) $799.99 (body only)
$849 (with 18-55mm lens) $849.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,049 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses) n/a n/a

The mode dial, which provides the usual access to a handful of scene program modes and the typical manual-, semi-manual, and full automatic exposure modes, sits to the left of the viewfinder, while a large Live View/optical viewfinder toggle switch sits to its right. Also on the top right is a cryptic button for the Smart Teleconverter, a 1.4x or 2x digital zoom that produces results identical to cropping and only works in Live View mode. On a ledge behind it is the exposure compensation button; I don't particularly like its position or feel, though. It's hard to feel and you have to move your whole hand to reach it with your thumb, and I think that will discourage people from using it.

Sony provides both an SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo slot in all its entry-level models, with a manual switch to choose between them, so you don't have to commit to the less popular proprietary format. In an unusual design, the slots and the USB and miniHDMI connectors sit under a sliding door on the left side of the camera instead of the more common right side. (The half-height grip probably necessitated this.) It doesn't seem to affect usability, however.

The back controls are fairly typical for a modern dSLR and will be instantly recognizable to advanced point-and-shoot users. A four-way navigation switch with a center AF button is just below the indented thumb rest. With it, you pull up flash options (including a no-brainer wireless on/off), ISO sensitivity settings, display choices, and drive mode options. The latter includes an interesting 3-shots-in-10-seconds self-timer mode and rather limited bracketing: just exposure, for 3 shots in 1/3 or 2/3 stop increments. Above the navigation switch is the Fn button, with which you access all your frequently needed shooting settings plus some others: autofocus mode, AF area, metering mode, D-Range Optimizer, white balance and Creative Style. There are no novel options here, but in a nice interface touch, some text pops up to clarify the purpose of a setting if you pause for too long without making a selection. You have to go into the menu system to set image quality and toggle the image stabilization, but there's nothing truly buried or misplaced in the user interface. Of course, with the relatively basic feature set, there's not a lot to hide. (For a complete list of features and guide to the camera's parts, you can download the PDF manual.)

It uses the same viewfinder that I complained about in its predecessor. 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. At least the focus lock indicator is close to the middle of the bottom readout.


Sony's newbie-friendly information display attempts a graphical representation of where your settings fall on the possible continuum and the affect they'll have on the photo. The display isn't interactive, however, as it is with slightly higher end models. (Display from the A330.)

The A380 performs fairly well; similarly, but not identically, to the A330, and overall a hair faster than the A350. It powers on and shoots in just 0.5 second, and can focus and shoot in a mere 0.4 second in good light and 0.6 second in dim. Shot-to-shot time is a solid 0.6 second. Flash recycle time is pretty slow for its class, pushing flash shot-to-shot time to 1.6 seconds--that's almost twice that of the D60 and Rebel XS, and just a bit slower than the K2000. Its continuous-shooting speed of 2.4fps is a lot slower than the Nikon and Canon--and marginally slower than the earlier model--and in practice 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 okay, testing out to a savings of about 2 1/3 stops when zoomed out to 200mm.

Despite using a different sensor, the A380's photos display many of the same strengths and weaknesses of the A330/A230. At first glance, I was very impressed by the photos I'd shot with the A380, but they simply didn't stand up to further scrutiny on some counts. At low ISO sensitivities, photos looked sharp and attractive. But like the A330/A230, they suffer from occasionally severe color shifts. 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. While the color shifts are noticeable, however, they're not quite as bad in the A380's photos as the A330/A230's, and its white balance seems a bit better.

The A380 has a fairly typical noise profile that unsurprisingly matches that of the A330/A230--sharpness starts to degrade at about ISO 400, color noise begins to seep in at ISO 800, and by ISO 1600 images become both soft and noisy. But the extra resolution doesn't seem to provide enough extra sharpness to compensate for the A380's softer, noisier results at every level starting at ISO 400.

There's plenty to like in the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380, especially if you're not overly concerned with color accuracy. But like its siblings the A230 and A330, it doesn't really stand out in any particular way that might make it a recommended choice over its competitors.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)
Sony Alpha DSLR-A330
0.4
0.7
0.6
0.3
Canon EOS Rebel T1i
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.3
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350
0.6
0.9
0.6
0.3
Nikon D5000
0.2
0.5
0.7
0.3
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380
0.5
0.5
0.6
0.4
Olympus E-620
1.4
0.5
0.8
0.4

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

sony-a-alpha-dslr-a380y-digital-camera-slr-14-2-mpix-3-x-optical-zoom-dt-18-55mm-and-55-200mm-lenses.jpg
7.0

Sony Alpha DSLR-A380

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Image quality 7
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