An entry-level DSLR with features that can help novice photographers to discover the benefits of SLR photography.Sony's DSLR A380 is the top model in a suite of three Alpha DSLR cameras that were announced in late May. Ninety-two grams lighter than its predecessor, the 14.2-megapixel A380 replaces the DSLR-A350 in Sony's line-up. The new camera has been designed for newcomers to SLR photography and boasts a 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD screen, SteadyShot INSIDE in-camera image stabilisation and dual slots that accommodate Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD/SDHC memory cards (Full functionality is not guaranteed with Memory Stick Duo cards). . . [more]
Sony's DSLR A380 is the top model in a suite of three Alpha DSLR cameras that were announced in late May. Ninety-two grams lighter than its predecessor, the 14.2-megapixel A380 replaces the DSLR-A350 in Sony's line-up. The new camera has been designed for newcomers to SLR photography and boasts a 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD screen, SteadyShot INSIDE in-camera image stabilisation and dual slots that accommodate Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD/SDHC memory cards (Full functionality is not guaranteed with Memory Stick Duo cards).
Many of the specifications of the new model replicate those of its predecessor - which was reviewed by Photo Review in February 2008. Click here to read the review. - and the RRPs of both cameras appear to be the same. Both models feature the same sensor resolution, dust reduction system and body-integrated image stabiliser.
The AF system, sensitivity, exposure compensation and white balance presets are unchanged, although the A380 lacks the Kelvin adjustments of its predecessor. Shutter speeds are the same in both models. Both models offer Sony's Quick Autofocus (AF) Live View technology, so users can frame shots on the camera's LCD screen as well as in the optical viewfinder and enjoy fast autofocusing when shooting in Live View mode.
One noteworthy feature that makes the A380 a camera that novice buyers can ‘grow' with is the A380's new graphical user interface (GUI). As well as being easy to read, it includes a built-in on-screen Help Guide that shows users the effect of changing aperture and shutter speed settings when the camera is set to the OVF (optical viewfinder) mode. (For details see Shooting Controls below.)
Like its ‘sister' models, the DSLR A380 will be sold as three kits:
- A380 single lens kit with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens: RRP $1499
- A380 single lens kit with GPS travel unit: RRP $1,649
- A380 twin kit (with 18-55mm + 55-200mm SAM lenses): RRP $1,799
The camera body will not be available separately.
The Sony DSLR A380 twin lens kit. (Source: Sony.)
Build and Ergonomics
The body of the A380 is made from black polycarbonate with a rubber-like coating over the front panel to provide a secure grip. The lens mount appears to be made from stainless steel and carries eight pins for transferring data between camera and lens. Interestingly, the kit lens supplied with the review camera had a plastic mount. Details of this lens can be found below.
Front view of the DSLR A380 with the 18-55mm lens. (Source: Sony.)
The viewfinder in the A380 is slightly smaller than its predecessor with less eye relief but otherwise identical. It seems Sony thinks most users will favour the Live View shooting mode and, while this may be true for novice users, more experienced photographers will probably be disappointed they didn't see some improvement in viewfinder usability. The paired sensors that engage eye-start AF can also be seen below the eyepiece in the new model. The pop-up flash rises automatically - but only when the auto or flash-on setting is selected via the arrow pad. A hot-shoe is provided for accessory flashes.
The tilting LCD monitor, which makes it easier to shoot with the camera held high or low, is carried over unchanged from the A350. Another opportunity for improvement has been missed here as, unfortunately, screen resolution remains relatively low.
Rear view of the A380 showing the new Graphic Display on the monitor. (Source: Sony.)
Rear view, showing the tilting LCD screen set for low-angle shooting. (Source: Sony.)
Some subtle differences in the A380's control layout make it a little different to use from its predecessor. The mode dial on the top panel is now recessed into the camera body where it is less likely to be accidentally re-set. The vertical line of buttons on the left side of the monitor is gone and the buttons are re-distributed for easier access. The AE lock button has been eliminated.
The On/Off power switch has also been relocated and now surrounds the shutter button, while the Menu button has been moved to replace it just above the top left corner of the LCD screen. The re-design of the shutter button sees the command dial shifted from the top panel to the front of the camera, just below the shutter button, where it's easier to access. (As in the A350, only one dial wheel is provided.)
Top view of the DSLR A380 showing the revised control layout. (Source: Sony.)
The slider that switches between the optical viewfinder and Live View has been moved into the right side of the viewfinder housing and no longer competes with the drive button, which is re-located to the arrow pad. Other functions allocated to the arrow pad are the display, flash, ISO and autofocus buttons. Below the arrow pad are buttons controlling the playback and delete functions.
On the right side of the camera body, the strap lug as been moved down and back, leaving no space for a memory card slot. Instead, the A380 has a single port bay, covered by a rigid sliding panel, which houses the dual card slots and the USB and HDMI out connectors. The cover slides forward into the camera body.
An AF/MF slider is located just below the lens release button. It's used for lenses without focus mode switches and left in the AF position for other lenses. The battery fits into a compartment in the base plate, which also carries the tripod socket. It's a standard mounting that's located on the optical axis mid-way between the front of the lens mount and the rear of the LCD panel surround.
Finally, unlike some recently-released DSLR (and MFT) cameras, the A380 does not support video capture.
Sensor and Image Processing
As mentioned above, the sensor in the A380 is effectively unchanged from its predecessor and boasts an effective resolution of 14.2-megapixels. It's partnered with Sony's Bionz image processor. As in other Sony DSLRs, image files can be recorded in JPEG or ARW.RAW format and the camera supports two aspect ratios; 3:2 and 16:9. 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.
Compression ratios are higher than in the A350. Typical file sizes are provided in the table below.
4592 x 3056
4592 x 2576
4592 x 3056)
4592 x 2576
4592 x 3056 (14M)
4592 x 2576 (12M)
JPEG (M )
3408 x 2272 (7.7M)
3408 x 1920 (6.5M)
2288 x 1520 (3.5M)
2288 x 1280 (2.9M)
Two types of noise reduction processing are provided, separately covering long exposures and high ISO settings. Long-exposure NR, which is available for exposures longer than one second, uses the dark-frame subtraction method, which roughly doubles image processing times. It appears not to be applied when raw files are recorded, regardless of exposure duration, unless the ISO is set to 1600 or higher.
High-ISO NR kicks in automatically at ISO settings of 1600 and above and is applied to both raw and JPEG files. It appears to have little effect on processing times. Both noise reduction systems can be switched off manually in the camera menu.
When you power-up the A380, the display on the LCD monitor will depend on whether you've set the camera to Live View or OVF (optical viewfinder mode). If you've chosen the latter, you can toggle between two display types, using the Display button. Both display modes show the same array of functions, although in the auto or scene modes, only the functions that can be adjusted are revealed.
The Graphic Display carries graphs that show how the exposure system works. The upper graph plots shutter speed while the lower shows the aperture setting. At the end of each plot are icons representing the subject types that best suit the settings near that point. As you change camera settings, vertical indicators show the effects of the changes, enabling users to see clearly the relationship between both settings.
The Graphic Display.
The Standard Display shows the full shooting data, including selected mode, aperture, shutter speed and other functions - depending on which shooting mode is set.
The Standard Display.
Further assistance is provided for novice users through the on-screen Help Guide, which displays a brief text explanation whenever the shooting mode is changed. For the scene modes, a thumbnail illustration is also provided. Experienced photographers can turn off the Help Guide for faster transitions between shooting modes.
Two of the Help Guides that can be displayed when using the Creative Style and Scene modes.
The mode dial on the A380 carries the same shooting modes as its predecessor: Auto, P, A, S, M plus six scene pre-sets and a flash-off setting. The scene pre-sets include: Night View, Sunset, Sports Action, Macro (close-up), Landscape and Portrait. The camera sets exposure parameters automatically in the scene modes and functions like exposure compensation, ISO and flash may be inaccessible.
The auto warning that appears when a function is inaccessible in the set shooting mode.
We've already covered Sony's Quick AF Live View technology in our review of the DSLR-A350 so we won't elaborate on it here. Suffice it to say that, unlike other systems, it relies on a separate sensor in the viewfinder housing. Moving the slider 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. This means there's no need for the mirror to be raised to provide the live view, making Sony's system much faster.
Unfortunately, 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.
Pressing the Fn (Function) button in shooting mode opens a menu list covering six functions: Autofocus mode, Metering mode, White balance, AF area, D-Range Optimiser and Creative Style. The latter replaces the Flash mode settings provided in the A-350, making the Creative Mode settings (which were formerly accessed via the Menu button) more accessible. As in the A350, users can fine-tune the contrast, sharpness and saturation of relevant Creative Mode settings.
Settings accessed via the Fn button.
The Adobe RGB setting has been moved from the Creative Style menu to the main menu, where users can choose between it and the default sRGB colour space. This leaves the A380 with seven Creative Style settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night View, Sunset and B/W. You can adjust contrast, sharpness and (where relevant) saturation by +/- three steps for each setting. As in the A350, three D-Range Optimiser are provided: off, standard and advanced.
Examples of Creative Style settings: top row from left: Standard, Vivid; bottom row: Sunset, B/W.
The arrow pad buttons access the Display, Flash, ISO and drive settings, while pressing the AF button in the centre of the arrow pad gives you a quick focus on a subject without the need to raise the camera to your eye.
Continuous shooting speeds are unchanged from the A350 with a top burst rate of 2.5 frames/second when the viewfinder is used or two fps in Live View mode. No limit is specified for JPEG capture but only six raw files or three RAW+JPEG pairs can be recorded in each burst. Exposure bracketing is also supported for three frames with the EV shifted by a single step up and down.
Drive mode settings.
You can assign either the aperture or shutter speed setting to the control dial via the main menu. You can also display or hide the Help Guide and set the display colour to black, brown or pink if you don't like the white default setting.
In addition to the record and play menu pages, the A380 has a page of Custom settings covering eye-start AF, control dial prioritisation, red-eye reduction form flash, auto review time and auto off with viewfinder. Thirteen options are covered in these sub-menus.
Playback and Software
Sony has removed the 'film strip' playback option that was provided on the A350, leaving the A380 with three playback displays: image only, image plus basic shooting data and image plus full shooting data and RGB and brightness histograms. A highlight limit warning flashes to show over-exposed areas.
Pressing the magnify button lets you zoom in with up to 14x magnification and you can view thumbnail indexes by pressing the Fn button. In index playback you can select specific folders for display and play slideshows of recorded images in order. No transition effects are available but you can specify the intervals between shots.
Images can be rotated, protected or deleted individually or you can delete all images in a specified folder or all images on a card. DPOF tagging for automated printing is also available. Owners of HDTV sets can playback shots at 'optimised Full HD' quality by connecting the camera to the set via an HDMI cable (not supplied). BRAVIA Sync compatibility increases convenience for users with Sony's HDTV sets.
The supplied software disk contains Sony's standard software applications: Image Data Converter SR and Image Data Lightbox SR. We've already covered these applications in our review of the Sony DSLR A900.
The Kit Lens
The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens (model SAL 1855) that will be supplied with the camera body is a second-generation kit lens that replaces the Minolta-designed 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens supplied with earlier Sony DSLRs. Designed by Sony, it features a new Smooth Autofocus Motor (SAM), which Sony claims provides faster and quieter autofocusing.
Like its predecessor, the new lens is built from lightweight polycarbonate and smoothly finished to match Sony's camera bodies. Overall build quality is quite good for a lens that is totally made from plastic, right down to the mounting plate.
Not unexpectedly, the new lens is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, measuring 69 mm long and extending a further 12mm at the 18mm and 55mm positions, with a diameter of 69.5 mm. The reduction in the overall zoom range may account for part for the smaller size - and also the lighter weight (at only 210 grams, it is 30 grams lighter than its predecessor).
The optical design has been pared back to eight elements in seven groups but Sony doesn't state whether aspherical or ED elements are included (a possibility as the previous lens had one of each). Maximum apertures range from f/3.5-5.6 and minimum apertures extend from f/22 to f/36. The table below shows maximum apertures for the five focal length settings.
A narrow, un-ridged focusing ring, located on the inner barrel, lies just behind the front element. It moves through about 1/6 of a turn in MF mode. Behind it is a 25mm wide zoom ring with a 16mm wide ridged rubber grip that moves through roughly a third of a turn. Turning either ring moves the front element so you must re-adjust polarisers and graduated filters when changing focus or focal length.
The trailing edge of the zoom ring carries engraved settings for the 18mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm and 55mm focal length settings. There's no aperture ring, no distance scale and no stabilisation (it's built into the camera body). The only control provided is a slider on the side of the lens barrel for moving between auto and manual focusing - and you can't focus manually when it's set to AF.
The closest focusing distance is 25 cm (13 cm closer than its predecessor), where it provides a magnification of 0.34x. Seven iris blades close to a circular aperture. The lens accepts 55 mm diameter filters. No lens hood was supplied with the review camera.
Compared with the ultrasonic motor on Canon and Nikon kit lenses, the SAM motor on the review lens was relatively noisy. Moderate barrel distortion was evident at the 18mm focal length. This had changed to slight pincushion distortion by the 55mm setting, with the flattest field occurring at 35mm. Vignetting at wide apertures was close to negligible at all focal length settings. Bokeh was typical of cheaper kit lenses and not overly attractive.
Like the A350, the review camera was very straightforward to operate, regardless of whether the viewfinder or LCD monitor was used for composing shots. With normal light levels, autofocusing was generally fast and accurate but in dim lighting, finding focus was something of a hit-and-miss exercise. Focusing for flash shots was more efficient because the camera uses the flash as an AF illuminator.
Live View shooting was particularly good when the tilting LCD was angled up or down. It also worked well when the camera was held vertically. Metering was close to spot-on in a wide variety of light levels. The built-in image stabiliser proved effective in dim lighting; we estimate it can provide up to 3EV of shutter speed advantage for experienced photographers.
Subjective evaluation of test shots showed plenty of detail was recorded and colours looked natural in bright sunlight, although slightly cool in shady conditions. The D-Range Optimiser function produced some subtle - but noticeable - changes, mainly in shadowed areas. Examples of the three settings are shown below.
Dynamic Range Optimiser examples: from left D-R off, Standard D-R, D-R+ Advanced.
Photo Review's Imatest testing showed the sensor/lens combination to be capable of slightly higher resolution than expected with best performance between f/3.5 and f/8. The graph below shows the results of our tests at different aperture and focal length settings.
Resolution remained relatively high throughout the review camera's sensitivity range and ARW.RAW images produced slightly higher resolution figures than JPEGs (although the difference was less than we've seen with some cameras). The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Colour accuracy was generally good, although Imatest showed skin hues to be slightly off the mark and revealed elevated saturation in blues when JPEG images were measured. With raw files, it was possible to suppress this shift when converting them to TIFF files, although this raised red saturation slightly.
Lateral chromatic aberration was mostly low, although it increased to moderate with longer focal lengths, particularly when the lens was stopped down. This increase was confirmed by increasing visibility of coloured fringes in test shots. In the graph below, the red line marks the boundary between 'negligible' and 'low' CA while the green line separates 'low' and 'moderate'.
Low-light performance was very good, with accurate colours in long exposures (up to 20 seconds) and no apparent noise in exposures up to ISO 400 but increasing progressively thereafter. Colour noise was evident at ISO 3200 and some shadow detail was lost with this setting. Neither of the noise reduction processing settings produced additional image softening but they did provide an obvious reduction in both colour and pattern noise.
The test camera's flash produced even exposures at all ISO settings and was capable of illuminating an average-sized room at ISO 100. Flash shots were essentially noise-free with noise barely visible at ISO 3200. However sharpness deteriorated slightly at this sensitivity setting.
White balance performance was similar to the A350, with residual colour casts remaining in the auto mode under both incandescent and fluorescent lighting. Both pre-sets over-corrected slightly but the manual measurement system delivered images free of colour casts. No in-camera correction facilities are provided but these casts would be easy to remedy in editing software.
The test camera took less than half a second to power up and shut down and shot-to-shot times averaged just under 0.4 seconds without flash but around 2.5 seconds with flash. We measured an average capture lag of 0.2 seconds, which reduced to less than 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. It took just under four seconds to process and store each JPEG image, 4.3 seconds for a raw file and 4.5 seconds for a RAW+JPEG pair. Shooting times were only marginally longer when the live view mode was used.
In the continuous shooting mode, the camera was able to record a burst of 10 frames in 5.2 seconds when the viewfinder was used or 5.7 seconds when live view was used. Processing appears to be on-the-fly as it took 4.8 seconds to finish storing the burst.
When shooting ARW.RAW files, a burst of 10 images was recorded in 6.7 seconds, with capture rates slowing after six shots. Processing the burst took 16.3 seconds. For RAW+JPEG files, a burst of seven shots was recorded in 5.7 seconds, with significant slowing after four shots. It took 19.8 seconds to process this burst.
The kit lens was relatively flare-free in typical backlit situations. However, it was possible to force it to flare when the sun was just outside the subject frame. Bokeh was pretty ordinary.
Buy this camera if:
- You're looking for a small, light DSLR camera with good performance as an upgrade to an advanced compact camera.
- You want a Live View system that can support fast autofocusing.
- You'd like a camera with plenty of adjustable controls and an interface that will encourage you to learn more about photography.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You'd like to shoot video with your camera. The A380 doesn't support video capture.
- You require faster continuous shooting speeds than 2.5 frames/second and rapid image processing times.
- Close-up shots are important to you.
JPEG image files
Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Close-up; 55mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/640 second at f/5.6.
Long exposure at ISO 100: 35mm focal length, 30 seconds at f/4.5.
Long exposure at ISO 3200: 35mm focal length, 10 seconds at f/14.
Flash exposure at ISO 100: 55mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 3200: 55mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
18mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/160 second at f/13.
55mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/200 second at f/13.
24mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/320 second at f/13.
55mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/320 second at f/13.
Crop from the above image, enlarged to 100%, showing coloured fringing.
Flare: 18mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/320 second at f/13.
30mm focal length, ISO 100: 1/160 second at f/103.
35mm focal length, ISO 200: 1/10 second at f/5.6. (Hand held.)
55mm focal length, ISO 400: 1/20 second at f/6.3.
Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.8 mm Interlace scan Primary Colour CCD sensor with 14.9 million photosites (14.2 megapixels effective)
Lens mount: Sony Alpha, Minolta and Konica Minolta AF lenses
Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
Image formats: JPEG (Fine, Standard), RAW, RAW+JPEG
Image Sizes: 3:2 aspect ratio: 4592 x 3056 (14M), 3408 x 2272 (7.7M), 3408 x 2272 (3.5M); 16:9 aspect ratio: 3872 x 2576 (12M), 2896 x 1920 (6.5M), 1920 x 10280 (2.5M)
Image Stabilisation: SteadyShot INSIDE body-integrated image stabilisation
Dust removal: Charge protection coating on low pass filter and image-sensor shift mechanism
Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 second
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 0.3EV steps
Exposure bracketing: +/- 2EV in 0.3EV steps
Self-timer: 2 or 10 second delay
Focus system: TTL phase detection AF with CCD line sensor; 9 AF points, 8 lines with centre cross-hair sensor
Focus modes: Single-shot AF, Automatic AF, Continuous AF, (AF/MF selectable)
Exposure metering: TTL metering with 1200-zone evaluative system; Multi-segment, Centre-weighted, Spot metering
Shooting modes: Auto, P, A, S, M; Scene selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night portrait/Night view)
Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night view, Sunset, B/W Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness Creative Styles
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
Custom functions: 13
ISO range: Auto, 100 to 3200 (in 1 EV steps)
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom
Flash: Auto Pop-up flash; GN 10 (meters at ISO100); 18mm lens coverage; flash modes: Auto, Auto (Flash-Off), Red-Eye, Slow, Red-Eye Slow, Rear curtain, wireless synch
Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 0.3EV steps
Sequence shooting: 2.5 frames/second (2 fps in Live View mode)
Storage Media: Dual slot: Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD/SDHC
Viewfinder: Fixed eye-level, penta-Dach-mirror; 19.7mm eyepoint, 95% field of view, dioptre adjustment of -3.0 to +1.0 dpt , magnification 0.74x with 50mm lens at infinity
LCD monitor: Adjustable 2.7-inch TFT Clear Photo LCD (230,400 pixels)
Live View modes: Quick AF Live View
Video Capture: No
Data LCD: No
Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (4/9/25 frames or 5 last frames filmstrip), Enlarge ( 7.2x to 14x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), White/Black Out Alert, Shooting information
Interface terminals: USB 2.0 Hi-speed (mass-storage, PTP), HDMI, video (PAL/NTSC)
Power supply: NP-FH50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 510 images with viewfinder, approx. 230 images in live view mode
Dimensions (wxhxd): 128 x 97 x 71.4 mm
Weight: Approx. 490g (without battery and card)
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RRP: $1499 (as reviewed with 18-55 lens)
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