Sony DSLR-A300

      Photo Review 8.8
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      leadpic_Sony-A300

      In summary

      A competitively-priced, feature-rich DSLR camera with a tilting LCD and live viewing.Sitting between the DSLR-A200 and DSLR-A350 models (both of which have been reviewed on this website), Sony’s DSLR-A300 offers the resolution of the A200 model plus the Live View system of the A350. Initially the company had no plans to release the A300 in Australia but it obviously saw a need to compete with other manufacturers that offered live viewing in their entry-level models. . . [more]

      Full review

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      leadpic_Sony-A300

      Sitting between the DSLR-A200 and DSLR-A350 models (both of which have been reviewed on this website), Sony’s DSLR-A300 offers the resolution of the A200 model plus the Live View system of the A350. Initially the company had no plans to release the A300 in Australia but it obviously saw a need to compete with other manufacturers that offered live viewing in their entry-level models.
      The table below shows the main differences between the three models (otherwise their specifications are identical).

       

      A200

      A300

      A350

      Sensor resolution

      10.2 megapixels

      10.2 megapixels

      14.2 megapixels

      Image sizes

      3872 x 2592, 2896 x 1936, 1920 x 1280

      3872 x 2592, 2896 x 1936, 1920 x 1280

      4592 x 3056, 3408 x 2272, 2288 x 1520

      Continuous shooting speed

      Max. 3 fps for 6 RAW, unlimited JPEG

      Max. 3 fps for 6 RAW, unlimited JPEG

      Max. 2.5 fps for 4 RAW, unlimited JPEG (2 fps with Live View)

      LCD monitor

      Fixed 2.7-inch TFT with 230,000 pixels

      Tilting 2.7-inch TFT with 230,000 pixels

      Tilting 2.7-inch TFT with 230,000 pixels

      Live View

      no

      yes

      yes

      Body dimensions

      130.8 x 98.5 x 71.3 mm

      130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7 mm

      130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7 mm

      Body weight

      Approx. 532 g

      Approx. 582 g

      Approx. 582 g

      Current RRP for single-lens kit

      $899

      $999

      $1249

      As you can see, the bodies of the A300 and A350 models are identical and the addition of the tilting LCD monitor and Live View functions adds 3.4mm to the depth of the A200 camera body and 50 grams to its weight – as well as $100 to its price tag. For most potential purchasers we suspect the additional $100 on the price of the A200 will be a small price to pay for the convenience of the adjustable LCD and live viewing facilities.

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      A300-front-no-lens

      Front view of the A300 showing the lens mount and mirror box.

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      A300-back-w-menu

      Rear view of the A300 showing the on-screen menu system.

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      A300-back-LCD-out

      The LCD monitor pulls out and swings up and down to support high- and low-angle shooting.
      All three models support two aspect ratios for image recording: the standard 3:2 and an additional 16:9 format for images that will be viewed on a widescreen TV screen or computer monitor. When you set the camera for 16:9 shooting, the top and bottom of the frame are cropped – and also blacked out in both the viewfinder and on the live view screen, allowing you to see what the shot will look like.

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      A300-widescreen

      The 16:9 format crops the image top and bottom to provide an aspect ratio that suits ‘widescreen’displays.

      Sony’s body-integrated Super SteadyShot stabilisation system is standard, along with dust removal technology, which combines an anti-static coating on the low-pass filter with vibration to shake off dust. Eye-start autofocusing is carried over from the A100 model and all three models feature phase detection AF with nine selectable AF points.
      The pentamirror viewfinder used in the A200 and A350 models is also provided in the A300, as is the the Bionz image processing engine and enhanced D-Range Optimiser. Other features that are essentially unchanged include:
      – the LCD and Fn. button-based menu system;
      – the ISO range, which peaks at ISO 3200;
      – the Dynamic Range Optimiser (DRO) system;
      – noise reduction processing with separate modes for long exposures and high ISO settings;
      – the battery indicator icon with percentage remaining display;
      – the auto pop-up flash, which deploys automatically in the auto shooting modes
      – playback modes.
      All three models use CompactFlash memory cards and have a mini-USB port in front of the memory card slot that can only be accessed when the card compartment door is open. The adjustable LCD plus live viewing system is the same as the A350’s. (See below for details.)

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The A300’s sensor is the same as the A200’s. Measuring 23.6 x 15.8mm, the A300’s image sensor produces high-resolution images with 3872 x 2592 pixels, giving each photosite a surface area of 6.09 microns, which is the same as the A100 and A200 models – and also Nikon’s D40X, D80 and D200 models.
      Image files can be recorded in JPEG or ARW.RAW format. Three image sizes and two Quality (compression) levels are available for JPEG files. Simultaneous RAW+JPEG capture is offered but the image size is fixed at Large and the quality is set to Fine. Typical file sizes are shown in the table below.

      Image quality

      Aspect ratio

      Image size

      File size

      Fine

      Standard

      ARW.RAW

      3:2

      3872 x 2592

      12.2MB

      ARW.RAW

      16:9

      3872 x 2176

      12.0MB

      RAW+JPEG

      3:2

      3872 x 2592

      18.2MB

      17.7MB

      RAW+JPEG

      16:9

      3872 x 2176

      18.0MB

      17.5MB

       

      JPEG L [10M]

      3:2

      3872 x 2592

      6.2MB

      4.5MB

      16:9

      3872 x 2176

      5.3MB

      4.2MB

       

      JPEG M [5.6M]

      3:2

      2896 x 1936

      4.0MB

      3.2MB

      16:9

      2896 x 1632

      3.7MB

      2.9MB

       

      JPEG S [2.5M]

      3:2

      1920 x 1280

      2.7MB

      2.4MB

      16:9

      1920 x 1088

      2.6MB

      2.1MB

      Live View Shooting
      Sony’s Quick AF Live View technology is somewhat different from the systems used by other manufacturers because it relies on a separate sensor in the viewfinder housing. Moving the slider switch on the top panel to the Live View position blocks off the optical viewfinder. A tilting mirror in the front of the pentamirror housing directs the light path to a secondary sensor above the optical viewfinder, which provides the image for the LCD, eliminating the need for the mirror to be raised.

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      A300-viewfinder-diagram1
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      A300-Live-View-diagram1

      The diagrams above show the differences between viewfinder (left) and live viewing (right).
      (Source: Sony.)

      At the same time, the semi-reflecting main mirror passes light down to the AF sensor below the mirror chamber. This allows the TTL phase-detection AF system to function normally in live view mode, without requiring a separate contrast-detect AF system. The dual sensor design allows the camera’s AF system to be as responsive in live view mode as it is when the viewfinder is used for shot composition. It can even support focus tracking and predictive focusing.
      Unfortunately, unlike the cameras that use the image sensor for the live view, the Sony system does not display the full imaging area of the sensor. Instead, it covers about 90% of the sensor’s field, which is slightly less than the camera’s viewfinder. This is fine as long as precise framing is not critical. However, when taking our Imatest shots we found the leeway required to frame shots was slightly greater than in cameras that lack live viewing.
      One of the nice features of the live view mode was the integration with the live viewing function with the on-screen information displays, particularly for autofocusing. Indicators on the screen show the AF points selected, allowing you to recompose shots or adjust lens apertures to ensure the aspects of the subject you want to image sharply are just that. You can also select different shooting modes and see exactly which setting you’ve chosen while viewing the subject in the background. A simulated example is shown below.

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      A300-Live-View-1

      The live view mode has two additional advantages. Instead of the regular 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC metering system, the live view mode brings in a more advanced 1200-zone metering system, which uses the dedicated live view sensor to evaluate light levels and colour distribution. In theory, exposures should be easier to measure accurately with this system.
      Sony has also introduced a Smart Teleconverter function, which is accessed via a button on the top right corner of the rear panel and can magnify images by an equivalent of 1.4x or 2x. This is essentially a cropping zoom, which resembles the digital zoom function on digicams but appears not to involve interpolation. It only works in live view mode.

      Software
      The bundled software disk contains Picture Motion Browser Ver. 2.1.02 for Windows, Image Data Lightbox SR Ver. 1.0 for Windows and Macintosh and Image Data Converter SR Ver. 2.0 for Windows and Macintosh. Picture Motion Browser is a general-purpose downloading and image organiser application with basic editing facilities and support for printing images and burning them to optical disk.
      The application initially requires you to ‘register’ folders of images. It will then display thumbnails in calendar form and you can select months and days by clicking on thumbnails. It will even show the time of day in which shots were taken.
      Editing facilities include an automatic correction (which covers brightness and colour balance), brightness, saturation sharpness and tone curve adjustments and red-eye correction. You can also run slideshows of shots in selected folders.
      Image Data Converter SR is a better-than-average raw file converter that supports a wide range of adjustments. It also lets you change the Creative Style settings, adjust the DRO parameters and apply colour and edge noise-reduction processing before converting raw files to TIFF or JPEG format. TIFF files can be saved in 8- or 16-bit format. You can also apply several special effects, including B&W and sepia conversion, solarisation and negative conversion.
      Image Data Lightbox SR allow users to display and compare raw and JPEG images recorded with the camera and rate them on a scale of one to five. It also provides a seamless interface with Image Data Converter SR for raw file conversion.
      Performance
      The review camera was supplied with the new Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70mm F/2.8 ZA, which has an RRP of $2,699 and is a significantly better performer than the kit lens. (This high-performance lens has already been reviewed separately on the Photo Review website. Click here) For an indication of the probable performance of the kit lens on the A300 body, check out the review of the A200 model, which has the same image sensor. Click here.
      Pictures from the test camera had a slightly warm hue but otherwise colours were natural looking and the dynamic range in shots was relatively wide. Applying in-camera Dynamic Range Optimiser adjustment produced obvious improvements in both highlights and shadows, as shown in the images below.

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      A300-no-DRO-adjust

      Without Dynamic Range Optimiser adjustment.

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      A300-DRO-adjustment

      Dynamic Range Optimiser adjustment applied.

      Imatest showed the camera to be a capable performer with the supplied lens and revealed little difference between JPEG and ARW.RAW files, although resolution was slightly higher in the latter. The graph below plots the results for our tests on JPEG images, providing centre and edge resolution at different lens apertures for four focal length settings.

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      A300-res-vs-FL-graph

      Despite some evidence of edge softening, resolution was retained right up to ISO 1600 and only declined slightly at ISO 3200, as shown in the graph below. Flare was negligible with the supplied lens and the test camera’s spot metering system provided correct exposures with strong backlighting.

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      A300-res-vs-ISO-graph

      Colour accuracy was similar to the A200, although the hue shifts were slightly greater for a few colours. Saturation was similar in both cameras. Slight coloured fringing was observed when shots were magnified to 200%. Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible with the test lens, as shown in the graph below.

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      A300-CA-graph
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      A300-fringing

      Coloured fringing was negligible.

      White balance performance was slightly better with fluorescent lighting than we achieved in our tests on the A200. Colour rendition was close to neutral with the auto setting under fluorescent lights but we found the usual problems with incandescent lighting. The tungsten pre-set slightly over-corrected the orange cast of the incandescent lights while the manual measurement system produced neutral hues under both types of lighting.
      Image noise was generally low up to ISO 800 where traces of noise became apparent. By ISO 3200, noise was obvious and we observed colour shifts and sharpness had deteriorated noticeably. Flash performance was similar to the A200. With all ISO settings, the flash had sufficient power to produce correct and evenly-balanced exposures.
      The test camera took less than a second to power up and shut down and shot-to-shot times averaged just under 0.5 seconds. We measured an average capture lag of 0.1 seconds, and there was no delay when the lens was pre-focused. It took 3.6 seconds to process a Large/Fine JPEG file and just over four seconds to process a raw file.
      The burst mode recorded ten Large/Fine JPEGs in five seconds and three RAW+JPEG images in 1.2 seconds. Raw capture rates slowed slightly after seven shots. It took 2.6 seconds to process the burst of ten JPEGs and 3.8 seconds to process three RAW+JPEG files using a Lexar Professional UDMA 2GB CompactFlash card.

      IMATEST GRAPHS

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      A300-DSC00045_colorerror
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      A300-DSC00045_colors
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      A300-DSC00045_YBL73_ca
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      A300-DSC00045_YAR27_cpp
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      A300-DSC00045_YBL73_cpp

      SAMPLE IMAGES

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      A300-awb-tung

      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

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      A300-awb-fluoro

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

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      A300-wide

      24mm focal length setting

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      A300-tele

      70mm focal length setting.

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      A300-DSC00155

      1/1600 second at f/6.3, ISO 400; focal length – 70mm.

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      A300-close-up2

      Close-up at 70mm.

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      A300-backlighting

      Backlighting; exposure set with spot metering.

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      A300-portrait1

      Indoor portrait with available light; ISO 400, 1/20 second at f/2.8.

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      A300-ISO100-night

      Long exposure at ISO 100.

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      A300-ISO400-night

      Long exposure at ISO 400.

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      A300-ISO3200-night

      Long exposure at ISO 3200.

       

      Specifications

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      leadpic_Sony-A300

      Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD with 10.8 million photosites (10.2 megapixels effective)
      Lens mount: Sony Alpha mount (compatible with Minolta lenses)
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: ARW.RAW (12-bit); JPEG; RAW+JPEG
      Image Sizes: 3:2 aspect ratio ““ 3872 x 2592, 2896 x 1936, 1920 x 1280; 16:9 aspect ratio ““ 3872 x 2176, 2896 x 1632, 1920 x 1088
      Image Stabilisation: Body-integrated CCD-shift type
      Dust removal: Vibration of optical low pass filter in front of sensor; charge protection coating on filter
      Shutter speed range: 1/4000 to 30 sec plus Bulb; X-synch at 1/160 sec.
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in increments of 1/3EV
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 sec. delay
      Focus system: TTL phase detection with CCD line sensors; 9 AF points
      Focus modes: Single-shot AF, continuous AF, manual focusing; wide and spot focusing modes plus AF point selection
      Exposure metering: TTL full-aperture metering with 40-segment honeycomb pattern SPC; multi-segment, Centre-weighted, Spot metering
      Shooting modes: Program AE, Shutter-priority auto, Aperture-priority auto, Manual; six Scene Selection modes (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night Portrait)
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night View, Sunset, Black and White and Adobe RGB
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: ISO 100-3200
      White balance: Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash; colour temperature setting; bracketing in increments of 3 frames
      Flash: Built-in flash GN 12 (ISO 100 in metres)
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2 EV in 0.3 EV increments
      Sequence shooting: 3 fps to memory capacity with JPEGs; 6 RAW frames or 3 RAW+JPEG frames; 2 fps in Live View mode
      Storage Media: CF Type I, II or Microdrive, single slot; Memory Stick via optional adaptor (FAT 12, 16, 32 compatible)
      Viewfinder: Eye-level penta-Dach-mirror; 95% coverage; approx. 0.74x magnification; 16.7mm eyepoint; dioptric adjustment -2.5 to +1 dpt
      LCD monitor: 2.7-inch TFT LCD with 230,400 pixels
      Live View: Pentamirror tilt system with dedicated sensor; 1200-zone evaluative metering; 0.90 field of view
      Data LCD: Integrated into main monitor
      Playback functions: Single image (image only, image + information, image + information + histogram), index (4 / 9 / 25 images), tabbed browsing
      Interface terminals: USB 2.0 Hi-speed, Video Out (PAL/NTSC)
      Power supply: NP-FM500H rechargeable lithium-ion battery (up to 750 shots per charge)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 582 grams (body only)

       

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      Rating

       

      RRP: $999 with Sony DT 18-70mm lens (twin lens kit – $1149)

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9.0
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Image quality: 9.0 (with supplied lens)
      • OVERALL: 8.8

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