Sony A230 Review

September 14, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


The Sony A230 is a new entry-level 10.2 megapixel DSLR camera, replacing the popular A200 model. Intended to be easier to use for people new to SLR photography, the A230 features a smaller and lighter design and enhanced user interface. The A230 retains all of its predecessor's key features, with a 2.7 inch LCD screen, anti-dust system, ISO range of 100-3200, anti-shake that's built into the body, eye-start auto-focus and Dynamic Range Optimiser. Sitting at the bottom of the Sony Alpha range below the A230 model, which additionally offers Live View and a tilting LCD screen, and the 14 megapixel A380, the Sony A230 has a street price of around £530 / $550 with the new 18-55mm kit lens. Does the A230 offer enough to beat the Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS, Nikon D3000, or Olympus E-450? Mark Goldstein finds out...

Ease of Use

The first thing you notice when picking up the Sony A230 is that the build quality feels cheaper than its predecessor. There is little doubt that at least some of its weight loss comes from the use of less robust materials (which probably helps Sony's bottom line too), and is not only due to the smaller overall dimensions. The right-hand grip has been completely redesigned - for the worse, unfortunately. It is so uncomfortable it makes you wonder if the camera would do better without it (grip-less SLRs were the order of the day for decades, and nobody complained about that). And the grip is but one example where the new design lags behind the old one. The smaller body apparently forced the engineers to re-think the control layout and philosophy of the camera, and this has resulted in a number of questionable design decisions.

For starters, the number of external controls has been reduced, making the A230 less intuitive to use. The A200's separate Drive Mode, ISO and Display buttons are gone, and these functions are now mapped unto the four-way controller. That alone would not be objectionable at all - we have seen similar solutions that worked quite well - but unfortunately Sony's implementation has caused the four-way pad to cease functioning as a quick AF point selector. Now you need to enter the Function menu via the Fn button, navigate to 'AF area', enter, select 'Local', then repeatedly press the left or right arrow button until the desired AF point is highlighted, and finally exit the Function menu. That's about half a dozen button presses (sometimes more) required for something as simple as changing the active AF point!

This effectively means that most people will only use the central AF sensor for focusing, and recompose if needed. This age-old focus-recompose technique is much faster than selecting an off-centre focus point on the Sony A230, and works every time except when dealing with extremely shallow depth of field. To choose the central AF point, enter Fn --> AF area, select 'Spot', exit and don't ever change it again. Alternatively, you can use the AF button in the centre of the four-way navigation pad to focus on whatever is in the centre of the frame, and hold it down not only while recomposing but also while releasing the shutter too (so that pressing the shutter button does not cause the camera to refocus).

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Front Rear

The AEL (auto-exposure lock) button is also gone, as is the highly useful Manual Exposure Shift function we liked so much in the A200 (which allowed you to quickly change the aperture/shutter speed combination without changing the EV in manual exposure mode). Of probably less importance is the omission of the SteadyShot switch - the A230 retains the sensor-shift image stabilisation feature of its predecessor, but now you need to enter the main shooting menu to activate or deactivate it. Given that about the only time you will want to deactivate it is when you mount the camera on a tripod, the omission of an external switch for this particular function seems a logical decision.

The controls that do remain are rather haphazardly placed, with almost nothing falling readily under your thumb or fingers. The new power switch is in a place where you would expect the control wheel to be - in the dark, or with the camera up to my eye, I sometimes switched the camera off accidentally, when my actual intention was to change the aperture setting. The control wheel itself is located further down, and the best thing you can do is try to train yourself to use your middle finger to spin it.

The optical viewfinder (OVF) of the Sony A230 appears to be identical to that of its predecessor, delivering 0.83x magnification and 95% frame coverage. The nine autofocus points are permanently marked on the focusing screen, and are therefore always visible in the viewfinder. The active AF point lights up in red when in use, and if focus is acquired, a green focus confirmation dot appears on the left side of the in-finder LCD; similar to other manufacturers' models. The LCD screen is a fixed 2.7-inch, 230,400-dot affair just like the one in the A200. The brightness of the screen can be set manually, but it can also adapt to ambient light levels automatically. Outdoors visibility is average - we've seen much worse (more reflective) LCDs on some competitors, but would still like to see some improvement to the antiglare coating.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Front Top

The Sony A230 has a pop-up flash with a guide number of 10 (in metres at ISO 100). This is a small step back from the one built into the A200, which had a guide number of 12. Of more importance is its mode of operation. There is no mechanical button to raise the flash, and neither are you advised to raise it by hand. Instead, if you would like to use it, you need to enter the Flash menu by pressing the right arrow key on the four-way pad, choose the required flash mode (Fill, Slow or Rear) and exit the Flash menu. The flash will only pop up when you (half-)press the shutter release. If you don't want to use it any more, it is not enough to push it back - you need to re-enter the Flash menu and select the Flash Off option. Otherwise it will pop up again the next time you hit the shutter button. As with the AF point selection procedure described above, I found this solution to be unnecessarily complicated and in conflict with the A230's billing as an easy-to-use SLR. To be fair though, some shooting modes allow the user to choose an Auto Flash option, which will probably please novice users - but it's no substitute for a well thought-out user interface.

The pop-up flash can also act as a TTL controller for wirelessly slaved external flash units. External flashguns can also be mounted to the camera itself via the hot shoe. Be reminded that it is not of the standard variety - non-dedicated flashguns and other hotshoe-mounted accessories such as PocketWizards cannot be mounted without a separately sold hot shoe adapter.

The A230 has a few niceties inherited from its forebears. These include the sensor-shift image stabilisation system we already touched upon (and which Sony now calls SteadyShot Inside), an orientation sensor that rotates the status display so it remains readable even if the camera is in portrait orientation, a pair of eye proximity sensors beneath the viewfinder that automatically shut down the LCD when raising the camera to your eye, and Minolta's legacy Eye-start AF technology. In the field, I found the eye-start autofocus system to be somewhat useful, though not necessarily faster than the more traditional solutions.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Pop-up Flash Rear

As far as the anti shake system goes, it works very well for providing camera stabilisation at relatively slow shutter speeds - see a demonstration in the Image Quality section of this review - but it's less effective at the other function Sony has tasked it with; namely, shaking off any dust particles that may have settled on the sensor during a lens change. Apparently the anti shake system was simply not designed to move the sensor fast enough to shake off the dust - this will be evident if you look at some of our samples that clearly exhibit a few dust spots.

New to the Alpha A230 - and also to its bigger brothers the Alpha A330 and A380 - is a so-called help guide display, which teaches beginners about the effects of aperture and shutter speed, both by way of a text guide and via icons such as stick figures. This approach is certainly better than simply throwing in an auto mode and a host of scene modes, which is not to say the A230 lacks any of these, but the inclusion of the help guide does mean it goes a step further.

The Sony A230 has slots for both SD/SDHC and Memory Stick PRO Duo memory cards. Dual card slots are always welcome, though the A230 unfortunately has one of the least useful implementations of the concept we have seen to date. The camera cannot record simultaneously on both cards, cannot copy images from one to the other, and cannot even switch automatically to the second card when the first one fills up. To do that, you need to open the sliding cover that hides the memory card compartment and manually move a small mechanical switch to the desired position. The same compartment that houses the memory cards gives shelter to the USB and HDMI OUT ports too.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

In use, the Sony Alpha A230 proved to be fairly quick, putting aside the operational glitches and design flaws described above. Start-up was nearly instant, autofocus with the kit lens was fairly speedy if not quite as quiet as with an SSM lens. The camera's burst mode was an unimpressive 2.5 frames per second. Image playback speeds were more acceptable. Magnifying into an already captured image does take a couple of seconds though. Maximum image magnification is 12x, but there is little point in going beyond the default 6.1x setting as the image progressively falls apart at higher values.

To round it off the Sony DSLR Alpha A230 has a few features that put it ahead of its immediate competitors, such as an Eye-start AF option for when shooting with the optical finder and eye proximity sensors that automatically shut down the LCD when lifting the camera up to one's eye, but it has a few comparative disadvantages too, namely no Live View, no video mode, and no tilting LCD screen. It's actually a step back from its predecessor the A200 in terms of ergonomics and handling, which ultimately leads to a less pleasant shooting experience.

But handling, features and performance are only one side of the coin - the other one is image quality. Read on to find out how the Sony Alpha A230 measures up in that area...

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 10 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 4Mb.

During the review the Sony A230 produced images of very good quality. The pictures exhibit a pleasing combination of nice colours and wide dynamic range. Noise is not a real problem up to ISO 800, though it does become rather noticeable at ISO 1600 in the form of blotchy chroma noise that the in-camera noise reduction cannot remove well. Loss of overall saturation is not a problem though, even at the highest setting of ISO 3200. Sharpness, while not bad, is only so-so with the 18.55mm kit lens, meaning you will be wise to save up for better optics, but it did handle chromatic aberrations very well. General exposure accuracy with matrix metering is good though not outstanding. Flash exposure accuracy - and consistency - was, on the other hand, best in class with the pop-up flash; thanks to the Advanced Distance Integration (ADI) system inherited from Minolta. Another Minolta legacy is the sensor-shift anti shake technology, called SteadyShot Inside by Sony, which really helps with shutter speeds that are critically slow for the focal length used. The D-Range (Dynamic Range) Optimiser is quite effective for revealing more detail in high contrast, backlit scenes.


There are 6 ISO settings available on the Sony A230. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:



ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

File Quality

The Sony A230 has 2 different JPEG image quality settings available, with Fine being the highest quality option. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options.

10M Fine (100% Crop) 10M Standard (100% Crop)
10M RAW (100% Crop)  


Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting. You can change the in-camera sharpening level if you don't like the default look.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Sony A230's 18-55mm kit lens handled chromatic aberrations very well during the review. There's slight purple fringing between areas of high contrast, but it's only noticeable on really close inspection, as shown in the example below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The flash settings on the Sony A230 are Off, Auto, Fill, Slow Sync and Rear-curtain Sync. Red-eye Reduction is also available in the main menu. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (27mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (27mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (82.5mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (82.5mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Forced On setting or the Auto/Red-eye Reduction option caused any amount of red-eye.


Fill (100% Crop)

Auto/Red-eye Reduction

Auto/Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Sony A230's maximum shutter speed is 30 seconds and there's also a Bulb mode for longer exposures, which is great news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 20 seconds at ISO 100. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Anti Shake

The Sony A230 has an anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti-shake turned off, the second with it turned on. Here is a 100% crop of the image to show the results. As you can see, with anti-shake turned on, the images are much sharper than with anti-shake turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length Anti-Shake Off (100% Crop) Anti-Shake On (100% Crop)
1/8th sec / 27mm
1/10th sec / 82mm

Dynamic Range Optimizer

Sony's D-Range (Dynamic Range) Optimiser adjusts brightness or contrast across the whole scene and is claimed to be particularly effective for high contrast, backlit scenes. When shooting in either JPEG or RAW, this mode improves shadow detail using standard gamma curves. The A230 has a simpler system than its big brother, the A700, offering 3 different DR settings (Off, Standard and Advanced).




Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Sony A230 camera, which were all taken using the 10 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample RAW Images

The Sony A230 enables users to capture RAW and JPEG format files. We've provided some Sony RAW (ARW) samples for you to download (thumbnail images shown below are not 100% representative).

Sample Movie & Video

Product Images

Sony A230

Front of the Camera

Sony A230

Front of the Camera / Pop-up Flash

Sony A230

Front of the Camera

Sony A230

Front of the Camera

Sony A230

Isometric View

Sony A230

Isometric View

Sony A230

Rear of the Camera

Sony A230

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Sony A230

Rear of the Camera / Turned On


Sony A230

Rear of the Camera / Main Menu

Sony A230
Rear of the Camera / Quick Menu
Sony A230
Top of the Camera
Sony A230
Bottom of the Camera
Sony A230
Side of the Camera
Sony A230
Side of the Camera
Sony A230
Front of the Camera
Sony A230
Front of the Camera
Sony A230
Memory Card Slot
Sony A230
Battery Compartment


The A230 is the third and final new entry-level Sony DSLR that we've reviewed, and as with the more expensive A330 and A380 models, it's a clear step backwards when compared with its predecessor, the A200. Offering no significant new features and featuring a less usable design, it seems that the A230 has favoured form over function, with all three of our reviewers questioning the logic of Sony's re-design.

The Sony A230's immediate forebear, the Alpha A200, was a somewhat chunky but generally well designed DSLR that offered good handling and ease of use thanks to its sensible user interface and intuitive ergonomics. With the arrival of the Alpha A230, it has been replaced by an undeniably smaller and lighter but at the same time much less conveniently designed camera that is frankly uncomfortable to hold and sometimes frustrating to use. That's a real problem for a camera which promises to offer improved ease of use and handling.

The A230 also suffers in comparison to its bigger brother, the A330. If you do actually like this camera's design (definitely try before you buy), then the A330's excellent Live View system and tilting LCD screen are well worth the slight price premium, despite the slightly reduced optical viewfinder coverage. For us the A330 hits the sweet spot between the value of the A230 and increased megapixel count of the A380, although we still can't strongly recommend it as all three models share the same handling flaws.

As with the A330, instead of purchasing the new Sony A230, you'd be much better off tracking down its predecessor the Alpha A200 or its higher-resolution sibling the A350, which offer the same or better features in a well-designed and ultimately easier-to-use body. The Sony A230 is clear proof that new does not always equal better...

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 3.5
Features 3.5
Ease-of-use 3.5
Image quality 4
Value for money 4

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Sony A230 from around the web. »

As a replacement to the Alpha A200, the A230 sits in line with the Nikon D60, Olympus E-450, Pentax K-m and Canon EOS 1000D. All share the same resolution of 10Mp but the Sony sits a little slower in the drive mode at 2.5fps. The others have at least 3fps which is an extra five shots in a ten second period. However, not all cameras share the image stabilisation, in fact only Pentax K-m has image stabilisation built-in. The Nikon D60 has lens based VR (Vibration Reduction) which comes with the kit lens.
Read the full review » »

A modest update to its predecessor, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A200, the Alpha DSLR-A230 offers essentially the same feature set in a redesigned body with sufficient quality- and performance-enhancing firmware tweaks to merit the term 'upgrade'. Like its predecessor, the result is a generally solid, if not stellar, entry-level dSLR option.
Read the full review »



  • Diopter Adjustment : -2.5 - +1.0m-1
  • Eye relief : Approx. 16.5 mm from the eyepiece / 10.9 mm from the eyepiece frame at -1 diopter
  • Field of View : 95%
  • Focusing Screen : Spherical Acute Matte Screen
  • Magnification : 0.83x (with 50mm lens at infinity)
  • Type : Fixed eye-level, penta-Dach-mirror

LCD Display

  • Brightness Control : Selectable in 5 steps
  • Coverage : 100% (Playback)
  • Type : 2.7” TFT Clear Photo LCD (230,400 pixels)

Operating Conditions

  • Operating Temperature : 32 - 104 degrees F (0 - 40 degrees C)

Service and Warranty Information

  • Limited Warranty Term : 1 Year Parts & Labor

Weights and Measurements

  • Dimensions (Approx.) : Approx. 128 x 97 x 67.5 mm (W/H/D, excluding protrusions)
  • Weight (Approx.) : Approx.452 g (without battery, memory card, accessories)


  • Battery Type : NP-FH50
  • Number of Shots : Approx. 510 images with viewfinder, approx. 230 images in live view mode (CIPA standard)


  • Flash Compensation : ±2EV (in 0.3-stop increments)
  • Flash Coverage : 18mm in focal-length of lens attached
  • Flash Metering System : ADI flash (automatic change for Pre-flash TTL)
  • Guide Number : 10 (in meters at ISO100)
  • Modes : Auto, Fill-flash, Red-eye reduction, Rear sync, Slow sync, Hi-speed sync*., Wireless
  • Recycling Time : Approx. 4 sec.
  • Type : Auto Pop-up

Inputs and Outputs

  • HD Output : HDMI
  • Memory Card Slot : Dual memory card slot: Memory Stick PRO Duo™ media SD and SDHC memory card
  • Tripod Mount : Yes, 1/4"-20
  • USB Port(s) : USB2.0 Hi-speed (mass-storage, PTP)


  • Anti-dust function : Charge protection coating on low pass filter and image-sensor shift mechanism
  • BRAVIA® Sync™ : Yes, via HDMI with compatible BRAVIA HDTV
  • Color Mode(s) : Display color (Black, White, Brown, Pink)
  • Creative Style : Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night view, Sunset, B/W Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness
  • Scene Mode(s) : Scene selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night portrait/Night view)
  • User Interface : "Easy-to-understand Graphic Display and on-screen Help Guide User-friendly function menu"


  • Camera Type : Sony α Digital SLR camera with built-in flash and inter-changeable lenses
  • Color Filter System : RGB primary color filters
  • Effective Picture Resolution : Approx. 10.2 megapixels
  • Imaging Sensor : APS-C size CCD sensor (23.6x15.8mm)
  • Lens Mount Type : Sony α lens, Minolta and Konica Minolta AF lens
  • Pixel Gross : Approx. 10.8 megapixels
  • Processor : BIONZ™ image processor
  • Recording Media Type : Memory Stick PRO Duo™ media / , SD and SDHC memory card,
  • Recording Mode : RAW, RAW+JPEG, Fine, Standard
  • Still Actual 16:9 : L size: 3872x2176 (8.4M) M size: 2896x1632 (4.7M) S size: 1920x1088 (2.1M)
  • Still Actual 3:2 : L size: 3872x2592 (10M) M size: 2896x1936 (5.6M) S size: 1920x1280 (2.5M)


  • Operating System Compatibility : Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional Windows XP*SP2 Windows Vista Mac OS X(v10.1.3) or later
  • Supplied Software : PMB (Picture Motion Browser) Image Data Converter SR Image Data Lightbox SR


  • AF modes : Single-shot AF, Automatic AF, Continuous AF, (AF/MF selectable)
  • Drive Mode : Single-shot, Continuous, Self-timer, Self-timer Continuous, Bracketing, Remote Commander
  • Exposure Compensation : ±2EV (in 0.3 EV steps)
  • Exposure settings : Auto, Auto Flash Off, Program Auto (P), Aperture priority (A), Shutter priority (S), Manual (M)
  • Focus Area : Wide (Up to 3 active focus points glow), Spot, Local (9 local areas selectable)
  • Focus Features : Predictive control, Focus lock, Eye-start AF, AF illuminator (Built-in flash, Range: approx. 1-5m)
  • Focus Points : 9 points
  • Focus Sensitivity : EV0 - 18 (ISO100)
  • Focus System : TTL phase detection system
  • ISO : Auto, 100 to 3200 (in 1 EV steps,Recommended Exposure Index)
  • Metering : TTL metering w/ 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC
  • Metering Modes : Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot
  • Metering Sensitivity : EV1 - 20 at ISO100 with F1.4 lens, (EV3 - 20 in spot metering mode)
  • White Balance : Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom

Your Comments

Loading comments…