Sony DSLR-A230

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      An entry-level DSLR with straightforward controls and body-integrated image stabilisation that works with all lenses.Sony’s Alpha DSLR-A230 is a modest update of the A200, which we reviewed in January 2008. Although this camera was one of three models announced in mid-May, it has taken until mid-September for a review unit to reach us, which is a pity as we were able to review its ‘sister’ model, the A380 back in July. (Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long to get the A500, A550 and, importantly, the 24.6-megapixel A850, all of which were announced in late August.) . . [more]

      Full review


      Sony’s Alpha DSLR-A230 is a modest update of the A200, which we reviewed in January 2008. Although this camera was one of three models announced in mid-May, it has taken until mid-September for a review unit to reach us, which is a pity as we were able to review its ‘sister’ model, the A380 back in July. (Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long to get the A500, A550 and, importantly, the 24.6-megapixel A850, all of which were announced in late August.)

      In its latest releases, the Sony influence is beginning to overtake the original Minolta DSLR design. The new models have a more rounded look than earlier Alpha DSLRs with an oval camera body and what the designers describe as ‘flowing lines’. The basic feature set in the A230 is essentially unchanged from the A200, although there have been a few tweaks to the firmware. Neither Live View shooting nor video recording is supported.

      The A230 is being offered as a single- or twin-lens kit (currently there’s no body only option). For this review, Photo Review was given the twin-lens kit, which contains the SAL1855 all-purpose lens plus the lightweight SAL55200-2 telephoto zoom lens. Kit prices have been reduced since the release of the A200 and the twin lens kit is $200 cheaper.

      The camera is supplied with lots of printed material, covering registration incentives, extended warranties and catalogues of lenses and accessories. There’s also a brief, fold-out Quick Start guide with four 104 x 148 mm pages plus a 162-page printed manual with a small typeface and poor-quality indexing to help users explore the camera’s potential. (It would have been nice to have a better-quality user manual in electronic form on the bundled software disk.)

      The entry-level sector in the DLSR market is currently quite competitive, with major manufacturers offering similar models that differ in relatively subtle ways. Although more of a cosmetic upgrade than an upgrade in imaging capabilities, Sony’s DSLR-A230 has the lowest RRP for current entry-level DSLR single-lens kits.

      The table below compares the A230 with competing models from Canon, Nikon and Pentax. (We’ve omitted Olympus and Panasonic because the sensors in their cameras are significantly smaller). In this table we’ve highlighted the main differences between the four models, all of which have 10-megapixel image sensors and all support shutter speeds ranging from 30 to 1/4000 second plus Bulb exposures.


      Canon EOS 1000D

      Nikon D3000

      Pentax K-m

      Sony DSLR-A230

      Sensor type





      Sensor size (mm)

      22.2 x 14.8

      23.6 x 15.8

      23.5 x 15.7

      23.6 x 15.8

      Focal length crop (cf 35mm)





      Storage media




      MS Duo

      Image size options

      3888 x 2592

      3872 x 2592

      3872 x 2592

      3872 x 2592/
      3872 x 2176

      2816 x 1880

      2896 x 1944

      3008 x 2000

      2896 x 1936/
      2896 x 1632

      1936 x 1288

      1936 x 1296

      1824 x 1216

      1920 x 1280/
      1929 x 1080

      Lens mount

      Canon EF & EF-S

      Nikkor AF/ F

      Pentax KAF

      Sony AF

      Image stabilisation

      Lens-based only

      Lens-based only

      Yes (in body)

      Yes (in body)

      ISO sensitivity


      100- 3200



      Burst rate/
      Buffer capacity

      3 fps/ 514 frames (JPEG)

      3 fps/
      100 JPEG

      3.5 fps/
      4 RAW or 5 JPEG

      2.5 fps/ 6 RAW, unlimited JPEG

      Built-in flash GN





      AF type

      TTL-CT-SIR with CMOS sensor

      Nikon Multi-CAM1000

      SAFOX (TTL phase-matching)

      Eye-start TTL Phase detection

      AF area points



      5 cross sensors



      35-zone TTL

      3D Matrix Metering II

      16-segment TTL

      40-segment TTL

      Custom functions




      8 Creative Styles

      Viewfinder type/
      FOV coverage

      pentamirror/ 95%



      penta-Dach mirror/95%

      Monitor size/

      230,000 pixels

      230,000 pixels

      230,000 pixels

      230,400 pixels

      Live View



      No (but digital preview)


      Body dimensions (WxHxD in mm)

      126.1 x 97.5 x 61.9

      126 x 97 x 64

      122.5 x 91.5 x 67.5

      128 x 97 x 67.5

      Body weight in grams





      Current RRP
      (with one lens)

      (with IS lens)

      (with IS lens)



      Build and Ergonomics
      Many of the changes introduced with the A380 (which we reviewed in July 2009) can be found in the entry-level model. The body of the A230 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.


      Front view of the Sony DSLR-A230 without a lens, showing the metal mounting plate. (Source: Sony.)

      Front panel controls are limited to a slider just below the lens release button that selects between auto and manual focusing. No AF-assist lamp is provided. The redesigned body is marginally smaller and lighter but nevertheless feels a quite solid although it looks just as plasticky as its predecessor. Unfortunately, carving off the top notch on the hand grip has made it a bit less comfortable to hold and the camera doesn’t feel as secure when it’s held with one hand – despite the nice rubber coating. The grip is also rather shallow for users with average-sized hands.


      Angled front view with the 18-55mm kit lens, showing the redesigned grip. (Source: Sony.)

      The control layout has changed slightly since the A200, with most buttons being moved to the rear panel. As in the A380, the mode dial is now recessed into the left side of the top panel instead of sitting proud. Sony’s standard 12 shooting modes are provided: Auto, Auto with Flash Off, Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual; Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night view and Night portrait.


      Top view of the A230 showing the mode dial. (Source: Sony.)

      The on/off switch is now a lever ring surrounding the shutter button, while the pop-up flash rises automatically when the appropriate shooting and flash modes are selected. (Backlight detection raises the flash when Fill Flash is selected via the settings on the arrow pad.) The flash head also rises slightly higher than in previous models to help minimise red-eye. A hot-shoe is provided for accessory flashes.


      Rear view showing the graphical user interface, which is introduced with the new models. (Source: Sony.)

      The finder in the A230 appears similar to the previous model. It’s not over-bright but covers a 95% field of view with 0.83x magnification. This is higher magnification than the A380’s finder but provides 3.2 mm less eye relief (which is pretty shallow). Dioptre adjustment is also reduced.

      The same paired sensors engage eye-start AF below the eyepiece and nine AF points are superimposed on the screen. The active AF point glows red when focus is acquired and a green confirmation dot appears on the left side of the finder’s data display.

      The top panel steps down a notch to accommodate the rubber-covered viewfinder surround. Buttons for accessing the Menu and exposure compensation/playback zoom functions are located on this ledge. The rear panel carries the same array of button controls as the A380, along with the same 2.7-inch, 230,400-dot, Clear Photo TFT LCD monitor. Unlike the A380, the A230’s monitor is fixed in place.


      Some of the new Help Guides that describe various Scene modes.

      Sony’s new graphical user interface (GUI) and on-screen Help Guides, which were introduced in the A380, are also provided on the A230. So is the memory card compartment, which is located behind a sliding cover on the left side panel. Like the A380, the A230 has dual slots for Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD/SDHC cards, with a slider for selecting which card is in use.

      Also in the memory card compartment are USB and mini-HDMI out ports, the latter for connecting the camera to a HD TV set. An AC-in port (for connecting an optional external power adapter) is located beneath a rather difficult to lift cover on the opposite side of the camera.

      The base plate carries the battery compartment plus a metal-lined tripod socket, which is centrally located on the line of the optical axis. The NP-FH50 battery is the same as the A380’s, with the same CIPA rating of approximately 510 images per charge.

      The control suite on the A230 is very similar to the A380 and the functions offered are typical of most entry-level DSLRs. Despite the sparse array of buttons, most key camera settings can be accessed with just a couple of button presses. The same basic menu settings are provided as on the A380.

      The separate buttons for Display, ISO and Drive settings have been dispensed with and these functions are now accessed via the arrow pad which also controls the Flash settings. This change means the arrow pad can’t be used for manual AF point selection unless you first press the Fn (Function) button. The other omission is the SteadyShot stabilisation switch, which was a slider below the arrow pad. Now it must be switched on and off via the main menu.
      Pressing the Fn button opens a menu list covering six functions: Autofocus mode, Metering mode, White balance, AF area, D-Range Optimiser and Creative Style. Selecting the AF area options sub-menu lets you choose between Wide, Spot and Local AF patterns. Clicking on Local allows the arrow pad to be used for AF point selection, after which you press the Fn button again to exit the Function sub-menu.

      The problem with this system (and other controls accessed through the Fn button) is they increase the amount of button pressing required to change camera settings. Dedicated direct buttons – as found on the previous model – are quicker and easier to use (maybe Sony doesn’t expect its customers to use the A230 in any mode other than full auto with the default Wide AF pattern).

      Three AF modes are accessed via the Fn button: AF-S, AF-Auto and AF-C and you can Metering patterns include the standard multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot options. White balance choices are extensive and include Auto plus presets for Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Flash, all of the latter adjustable across +/- three steps. Custom measurement is also supported, with a Kelvin temperature display showing the measured colour temperature. However, Kelvin settings are not provided. As in the A380, three D-Range Optimiser are provided: off, standard and advanced

      The Creative Style sub-menu accesses seven pre-sets: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Sunset and B/W. You can adjust contrast, sharpness and (where relevant) saturation by +/- three steps for each setting. We weren’t very impressed with the default settings provided and would only consider using the B/W setting when we were sure that only a monochrome image would be required. (All other adjustments would be better done on a computer.)

      As in the A380, the Adobe RGB colour space setting is returned to the main menu, where it sits at the top of page two of the shooting controls (just above the two noise reduction settings). Users can choose between it and the default sRGB colour space.

      In addition to the record and play menu pages, a page of Custom settings covers eye-start AF, control dial prioritisation, red-eye reduction form flash, auto review time and auto off with viewfinder. 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.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The sensor in the A230 has the same resolution its predecessor but it’s partnered with a more up-to-date 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. Typical file sizes are provided in the table below.

      Image quality

      Aspect ratio

      Image size

      File size





      3872 x 2592




      3872 x 2176




      3872 x 2592





      3872 x 2176



      JPEG L [10M]


      3872 x 2592




      3872 x 2176



      JPEG M [5.6M]


      2896 x 1936




      2896 x 1632



      JPEG S [2.5M]


      1920 x 1280




      1920 x 1088



      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.
      Continuous shooting speeds are slightly slower than the A200 with a top burst rate of 2.5 frames/second (the A200 offered three frames/second). Buffer capacity is unchanged, offering space for only six ARW.RAW files or an ‘unlimited’ number of JPEGs.

      Playback and Software
      Playback options are essentially the same as those provided for the A380. We’ve covered them in the review of that camera. 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 Lenses
      We’ve already covered the SAL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens in our review of the DSLR-A380 so we’ll focus on the lightweight SAL55200-2 DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM lens in this section of the review. Designed by Sony, it features the same Smooth Autofocus Motor (SAM) as the shorter zoom lens and is built from lightweight polycarbonate and smoothly finished to match Sony’s camera bodies.

      Overall build quality is reasonable even though this lens is totally made from plastic, right down to the mounting plate. The optical design consists of 13 elements in nine groups but Sony doesn’t state whether aspherical or ED elements are included. The lens covers angles of view ranging from 29 degrees to 8 degrees, which equates to 82.5-300mm in 35mm format.

      Maximum and minimum apertures are shown in the table below.







      Maximum aperture






      Minimum aperture






      Physically this lens has an external diameter of 71.5 mm and is 85 mm long at the 55mm focal length setting, extending to 120mm at 200mm. Weight without lens hood and end caps is 305 grams. The lens is supplied with a cylindrical hood that attaches (rather tightly) via a bayonet mounting. End caps are also provided.

      Mid-way long the barrel is a 40 mm wide zoom ring, which has a 34mm wide, narrowly-ridged rubber coating to provide a secure grip. The trailing edge of this ring carries engraved settings for the 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm focal lengths. Zoom adjustments are internal so no-re-setting is required when angle-critical filters are used and focal lengths are changed.

      In front of it lies a narrow, un-ridged focusing ring, which moves the inner barrel when the switch on the camera body is set for manual focusing. It moves through approximately one third of a turn in MF mode. Turning the focusing ring moves the front element, requiring readjustment of angle-critical attachments (filters). The closest focusing distance is 95 cm, where it provides a magnification of 0.29x. Nine iris blades close to a circular aperture. The lens accepts 55 mm diameter filters.

      Pictures from the test camera were similar to our test shots from the A200, with natural-looking colours and an attractive tonal balance. Raw files were clean and easily adjustable in both the supplied Image Data Converter SR application and the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. The bundled application produced files that gave similar Imatest results to the camera’s JPEG files but ACR delivered superior resolution so we’ve used them as samples for our Imatest tests.

      Colour accuracy was generally good, with slightly elevated saturation in JPEG files and minor shifts in reds, blues and cyan revealed in our Imatest assessments. Raw files produced colour accuracy figures that were only a little better but in both cases skin hues were slightly warm.

      The DRO control allowed us to take shots in bright, outdoor lighting that retained some traces of detail in the brightest highlights. An example is shown below.


      Dynamic range improvements resulting from the D-Range Optimiser on the Standard setting: Full image, 18-55mm lens at 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/16.


      100% crop from the above image showing the effect on highlight details. (No post-capture sharpening has been applied.)
      Imatest showed the camera to be capable of the resolution expected for 10-megapixel cameras with JPEG files. ARW.RAW files delivered slightly higher resolution than expected. However, edge softening was detected with both kit lenses. Graphs showing the results of our Imatest tests on each lens are shown below.


      The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens.


      The DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM lens.

      Image noise was negligible up to ISO 400 and relatively low at high ISO settings, even with the in-camera noise-reduction processing turned off. By ISO 3200, pattern and colour noise had become obvious in long exposures. Flash shots were noise-affected but less obviously. Resolution tailed off gradually as sensitivity was increased, although shots taken at ISO 1600 were of printable quality – but only at snapshot size. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.


      Lateral chromatic aberration was mainly in the ‘low’ band, although both lenses strayed into the moderate band with some aperture/focal length combinations. Best results were obtained for the 55-200mm lens at wide lens apertures where CA was negligible for most focal length settings. Graphs showing our Imatest results are reproduced below.


      18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens


      DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM lens

      The test camera’s flash performance was similar to the previous model. We found no evidence of vignetting in flash exposures with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and exposure levels were even across its focal length range. With all ISO settings, the flash had sufficient power to produce correct and evenly-balanced exposures.

      Some flare spots could be seen in contre-jour shots and contrast was occasionally reduced in backlit shots when the sun was just outside the area covered by of the lens. However, neither issue presented major problems. Vignetting in exposures without flash was low enough with both lenses to be of minimal concern to potential purchasers. (Examples of maximum aperture files straight from the camera are shown below.)


      18-55mm lens, vignetting at 18mm, f/3.5.


      18-55mm lens, vignetting at 55mm, f/5.6.


      55-200mm lens, vignetting at 55mm, f/4.


      55-200mm lens, vignetting at 200mm, f/5.6.

      The white balance system had the usual problems with incandescent lighting but produced acceptable colour rendition under fluorescent lights. The tungsten pre-set over-corrected the orange cast of the incandescent lights but the manual measurement system produced neutral hues under both types of lighting.

      Overall response times were mostly good for an entry-level model and autofocusing in bright light was fast and accurate. However AF speeds slowed noticeably as light levels decreased and both lenses showed a tendency to hunt in near darkness.

      It took less than half a second to power-up the camera for the first shot. We measured an average capture lag of 0.3 seconds, which reduced to less than 0.1 seconds when shots were pre-focused. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.5 seconds for JPEGs and 0.7 seconds for raw and RAW+JPEG images without flash but just over 1.5 seconds whenever flash was used.

      In the continuous shooting mode, the test camera recorded 10 high-resolution JPEGs in 3.6 seconds, which equates to 2.7 frames/second. This was marginally faster than the 2.5 fps burst speed claimed for the camera. A burst of six ARW.RAW files was recorded in exactly two seconds, while six RAW+JPEG files took 2.3 seconds to record. It took 3.7 seconds to process and store the JPEG burst and 5.4 seconds and 7.3 seconds respectively for the other two bursts.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You want an affordable interchangeable-lens camera with fast autofocusing in bright light.
      – You want body-integrated image stabilisation that works with all lenses.
      – You’d like a wide range of user-adjustable controls and functions.
      – You’re interested in shooting raw files and are prepared to edit them in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You want a Live View system similar to those on most digicams.
      – You’d like the ability to shoot both still pictures and HD video clips.
      – You require high burst speeds and buffer capacity.
      – You require high resolution and low noise levels at ISO settings over 800.

      JPEG images


      Raw images converted in Adobe Camera Raw 5.5




      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens at 18mm; ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/16.


      18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens at 55mm; ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/16.


      DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM lens at 55mm; ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/16.


      DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM lens at 200mm; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/16.


      Long exposure at ISO 100; 24mm focal length, 30 seconds at f/5.6.


      Long exposure at ISO 400; 24mm focal length, 30 seconds at f/11.


      Long exposure at ISO 3200; 24mm focal length, 10 seconds at f/18.


      Flash exposure at ISO 100; 55mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/5.6.


      Flash exposure at ISO 400; 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.


      Close-up with 55-200mm lens; 200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/30 second at f/5.6.


      Close-up with 18-55mm lens; 55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/15 second at f/9.


      Close-up with 55-200mm lens; 200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.


      Backlighting; 18-55mm lens at 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/9.


      Backlighting with 55-200mm lens; 55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/40 seconds at f/16. Note the slight veiling flare.


      Flare spots are just visible at the top of this image; 18-55mm lens at 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/30 second at f/11.


      18-55mm lens; 20mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/16.


      55-200mm lens; 55mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/6.3.


      55-200mm lens; 135mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/4.5.




      Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.8mm (APS-C type) CCD sensor with 10.8 million photosites (10.2 megapixels effective)
      A/D processing: 12-bit
      Lens mount: Sony Alpha series (compatible with Minolta and Konica Minota lenses)
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: JPEG (Exif 2.21); ARW.RAW, RAW+JPEG
      Image Sizes: 3:2 aspect ratio: 3872 x 2592, 2896 x 1936, 1320 x 1280; 16:9 aspect ratio: 3872 x 2176, 2896 x 1632, 1920 x 1080
      Image Stabilisation: Image-sensor shift mechanism (approx 2.5-3.5 stops advantage)
      Dust removal: Charge protection coating on low-pass filter plus sensor-shift vibration
      Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 second plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/160 second
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments
      Exposure bracketing: Ambient light: 3 shots in 0.3EV steps; Flash: 3 shots in 0.7EV steps
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 second delay
      Focus system: TTL phase-detection system with CCD line sensors; 9 points, 8 lines with centre cross-hair sensor
      Focus modes: Single-shot AF, Auto AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus
      Exposure metering: 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC; TTL metering (Multi Segment, Centre-Weighted, Spot)
      Shooting modes: Auto, Auto with Flash Off, Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual; Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night view, Night portrait
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night view, B/W
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      Custom functions: n.a.
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100 to 3200 in 1-stop increments
      White balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash), Custom
      Flash: Built-in, auto pop-up, GN 10 (m/ISO 100); 18mm lens coverage; recycle time approx. 4 seconds; Auto (Flash-off), Auto, Fill flash, Red-eye reduction, Rear Sync, Slow sync, High-speed sync; wireless synch with compatible external flash
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments
      Sequence shooting: Up to 2.5 frames per second; unlimited JPEG; 6 ARW.RAW frames
      Storage Media: Memory Stick Pro Duo plus SD/SDHC
      Viewfinder: Fixed eye-level, penta-Dach-mirror; 95% field of view, 0.83x magnification; approx. 16.5mm eye relief; dioptre adjustment -2.5 to +1.0 dpt
      LCD monitor: 2.7-inch (100% field of view), 230,400-dot TFT, Clear Photo LCD
      Live View: No
      Video Capture: No.
      Data LCD: Integrated into main monitor
      Playback functions: Single-frame, Enlarge (6.1x to 12x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (luminance and RGB available), Exposure warnings, Shooting information, protect, delete, DPOF tagging
      Interface terminals: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (mini B), HDMI (type C mini-jack)
      Power supply: NP-FH50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 510 shots/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 128 x 97 x 67.5 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 450 grams (body only)





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