Sony A380 Review
The Sony A380 is a new 14 megapixel DSLR camera featuring a restyled design and user interface to make it easier to use. Replacing the A350 model, the A380 retains all of its predecessor's key features, with a 2.7 inch tilting LCD screen, Live View, anti-dust system, ISO range of 100-3200, anti-shake system that's built into the body, eye-start auto-focus system and Dynamic Range Optimiser. Sitting in the middle of the Sony Alpha range above the entry-level A230 and A330 and below the prosumer A700, the Sony A380 has a street price of around £700 / $850 with the 18-55mm kit lens. Does the A380 offer enough to rival the Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i, Nikon D5000 and Olympus E-620? Mark Goldstein found out...
Ease of Use
In terms of DSLR sales, in the UK at least Sony - a relative latecomer to the party - claims to be snapping at the heels of the traditional 'big two' in Canon and Nikon. So it's worth asking if the 14.2 effective megapixel A380, coming after the A350 and currently the highest specified of a trio of new models, including the 10.2 MP A230 and Jessops exclusive A330 (which looks nigh on identical), has what it takes to consolidate its manufacturer's market position and possibly even leapfrog its closest compact DSLR competitors in the Canon 500D and Nikon D5000?
Like its rivals, Sony's APS-C CCD sensor sporting A380 is targeted at both hobbyist and family user, trying to entice those trading up from a compact or bridge camera with a promise of more professional looking images, ease of use and affordability. At the time of writing retailers were offering the A380 and standard zoom lens for £610, even if Sony's own site was suggesting a less inviting figure of £719.
Although it feels surprisingly plastic in the hand, with a shorter than average grip and lightweight too at 490g, the Sony A380 has retained a couple of neat and sophisticated features. These include an eye level sensor that switches off the rear screen's info display as you bring your eye close to the optical viewfinder, plus a facility that automatically flips the same display through 90° should you turn the A380 on its side to shoot portrait fashion. The LCD display itself eye-catching-ly resembles something from a school science textbook, complete with stick figures to illustrate the effects of shutter speed and aperture.
Size wise, when gripped in the palm the latest Sony A380 is almost a doppelganger for Nikon's 5000, and like that model, features an adjustable rear 2.7-inch LCD, still a relative rarity on a digital SLR. Since this can only tilt up or down to a limited degree, it's not quite as flexible as the Nikon's however, which can also flip around to face inward to the body and swivel to the left and right. By contrast the Sony's screen feels a bit stiff and awkward, even if overall the camera is reassuringly solid with rechargeable NP-FH50 lithium ion battery inserted and the 18-55mm kit lens we were supplied for our test attached.
The advantage of the Sony range over either Canon or Nikon is, of course, the fact that the A380 features built in sensor shift image stabilization - christened 'SteadyShot Inside' - hence no need to spend extra on specialist lenses to combat camera shake. As a belt to this brace, on the Sony light sensitivity stretches from ISO 100 up to ISO 3200, if a continuous shooting speed of 2.5 fps at full resolution (or 2fps in Live View mode) is less to get excited about (though again adequate for its target market). A useful on-board help is the reappearance of Sony's D-Range optimizer function to even out tricky exposures, for example where a bright background would normally throw the foreground into deep shadow.
It has to be said that outwardly we think the A380's design looks a bit basic and, with silver/grey top plate a different colour to everything else, seems to willingly suggest 'budget' model louder than most - even if its price tag says otherwise. A case in point: the sliding switch for alternating between optical viewfinder and Quick AF Live View up top (a bonus for access to that feature, granted), plus sliding door cover for ports to the side more closely resemble something you'd find on a boy's toy than a consumer range topping digital SLR. Plastic, yet not fantastic. More positively, you do get HDMI output in order to hook the Sony up to an HD TV (the cable once again an additional purchase), plus a choice of either SD or Memory Stick to save images to (no CompactFlash this time), alongside the expected USB connection.
From the front then, the Sony A380 certainly looks unthreatening to the novice DSLR user. Apart from the familiar ridge housing the pop up flash above the Alpha lens mount, its most distinguishing feature is the smaller-than-usual leather-look rubberized grip over to the left hand side. While not wholly uncomfortable, it's nevertheless a squeeze to fit three fingers around it, and, if it weren't for the thumb pad found at the rear, it would be tricky to hold the camera completely steady for shooting handheld. Built into the grip itself is a narrow sliver of a window for the remote sensor, should use of one be required as an optional extra again.
Other controls and features however feel more comfortably ergonomic. At the top of this grip, but still at the front, is the camera's one and only control/command dial, situated beneath the main shutter release button and on/off switch, where it falls readily under the forefinger. In the absence of any top-mounted LCD window, users can twist this to rapidly scroll through screen menu options and folders, a task also achieved in slower, steadier fashion by tabbing through the same using the familiar four-way control pad at the rear.
Over at the other side of the lens mount we find a comfortably large button to release the lens, adjacent to which is a self-explanatory slider switch for alternating between auto and manual focus. Sony has subtly incorporated instances of its Alpha trademark 'cinnibar' (orange to the rest of us) colour on the camera, here only visible in the Greek symbol for Alpha that makes up the logo and thin line encircling the lens surround. As regular readers will be aware, the Alpha mount also offers compatibility with A mount lenses from the Minolta and Konica Minolta range, Sony having bought up that company's expertise wholesale in 2005 to launch its own range.
The A380's equally unchallenging top plate features the aforementioned shutter release button encircled by an on/off switch that visually apes the zoom levers found on compact cameras; said button has a definite half way point, focus points (a choice of nine) rapidly illuminating red in the viewfinder and a confirmation bleep signaling focus and exposure has been determined and the user is free to go on and take the shot. Go on to take the shot and with imperceptible shutter delay a full resolution JPEG is committed to memory in just over a second in single shot mode, a Raw file in three.
Interestingly, adjacent to this control we find an oddly placed 'smart teleconverter' or digital zoom button - which, if shooting with Live View and as JPEG only, zooms into (or rather crops) an image to an equivalent of 1.4x with the first press, or 2x with the second. Obviously accessing this function results in a drop in the images' overall pixel count - to 7.1MP or 3.8MP accordingly. The feature feels slightly pointless on a DSLR therefore - surely it was bought to deliver quality first and foremost? - but, on a more positive note, its inclusion contributes to the overall user friendly feel for those trading up from a point and shoot compact.
Next on the Sony A380 we come to the aforementioned and well-labelled Live View/OVF slider switch, nudging against the pop-up flashgun. If choosing 'OVF' with camera set to AF, bringing your eye level with the viewfinder and sensor below will neatly prompt the camera to automatically focus on whatever it's aiming at. Quick it is too, and the optical viewfinder is reasonably large and bright if not patch on Sony's own admittedly higher end A900 model. Switching to Live View automatically blanks out the viewfinder, with the rear screen bursting into life instead; again, so far so user friendly. As expected the Sony's top plate also features a shoe for accessory flash situated just above the optical viewfinder. Curiously though there's no dedicated button to manually release the pop up flash situated just in front.
Over at the far left of the camera's top plate is a shooting mode dial sunk into the bodywork - thus preventing the user accidentally slipping from one setting to another when placing into or retrieving this Sony from a camera bag. Arranged around this are 12 selectable options, running from full auto to the creative quartet of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual, and including pre-optimised scene modes for common subjects such as portraits, landscapes, close ups (macro), sports, sunset and night view. Note that unlike the 'big two' Sony has yet to include video, high def or otherwise, in its Alpha DSLR series.
While that's it for the relatively uncluttered and unfussy top plate, at the rear we find the aforementioned tilting 230,400-dot resolution LCD screen, nestling centre, ranged left, to aid shooting from either high or low angles. With the impressive Quick AF Live View selected it's sufficiently bright and clear to do the job, and of course if harsh sunshine should obscure your view, it can be angled for a better one. While an adjustable screen is undoubtedly a helpful addition, to our minds it could do with being physically more flexible - being able to tilt or rotate it through more than one axis would be a definite boon. Still, perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies. Since the screen sticks out slightly proud of the back plate in its dormant state - and the viewfinder is recessed into the body work just above with the eye relief therefore blending into the body work - the user's nose inevitably butts up against the screen when using the optical viewfinder, smudging and smearing the LCD.
To the right of the viewfinder is a small wheel for dioptric adjustment that for once on a DSLR isn't stiff and rigid. Just below and to the right of this is a dedicated button for adjusting exposure compensation (+/- 2EV) in P,A,S,M modes, that doubles up as a means of zooming into images and magnifying detail when in playback mode. Using the cross keys/control pad at the rear in tandem, you can then pan around said enlarged picture.
Over at the opposite side of the viewfinder we find a fractionally larger button marked 'menu'. Press this and as expected a number of shooting and set up folders appear on screen, with clear black text on a clean white background aiding visibility. The two shooting folders allow users to select image quality and - if JPEG (RAW and RAW+JPEG also available) - compression rates too. Here users can also switch on SteadyShot, long exposure and high ISO noise reduction - all in fact seemingly activated as a default, as is the likes of the eye start feature. One playback and three further set up folders allow the likes of LCD brightness to be adjusted, the help guide to be turned on or off, plus user languages, folders and file numbering to be specified - all pretty run of the mill stuff.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
Top right of the A380's screen we get a further Function ('Fn') button for those details we'd expected to find amidst the menus but didn't. Here for example we find the D-range optimiser, along with auto focus modes (a choice of single shot, auto or continuous), metering (multi segment, centre weighted or spot), white balance (including custom setting), AF area (wide, spot or local), plus Creative Style settings. These pre-optimised user selectable settings run from the default of 'standard' through the self-explanatory vivid, portrait, landscape, night view, sunset and black and white. For each of these creative options, contrast, saturation and sharpness can be individually adjusted.
Beneath the Function button we find a familiar four-way control pad. Ranged around this are settings for switching on or off the on-screen display, selecting from the available flash settings (off, auto, fill in, slow sync, rear sync, or wireless settings), ISO (auto, ISO100-3200), and single shot/ burst capture, self timer or bracketing options (three shots at 0,3EV intervals). At the centre is a 'AF' button that comes in particularly handy when scrutinizing the screen in Live View mode. Press this and, as with a press of the shutter release button, the camera will automatically and rapidly determine a point of focus for you. Underneath these options is a self-evident trash can button for deleting duff images on the fly, and beneath that again a playback button for the review of images. As elsewhere, the A380 responds quickly and accurately to each button press letting the user concentrate fully on the business of taking great photographs.
At the right hand side of the camera - as viewed from the back - is an eyelet for attaching the provided shoulder strap, just beneath which is a plastic cover for a supplementary power port (power adaptor an optional extra). Over at the left side, we discover the aforementioned very plastic feel sliding door that protects four ports. These are a dedicated HDMI connection, USB connection, plus two card slots - for either SD/SDHC or Memory Stick. The camera doesn't automatically register which slot is in use - so a sliding switch is provided here too for the purpose of specifying recording to one or the other.
Flipping the camera over and examining its base we discover a screw thread for attaching a tripod plus a flip open battery compartment. Despite the supplied NP-FH50 battery for the A380 being physically small, it's mighty, delivering up to 500 images if shooting via the optical viewfinder, though a much less impressive 230 if using Live View - less than most compact snapshots in fact.
Giving the impression that the A380 is a beefed up entry level model, it nevertheless has just about every box ticked for those who want to take better looking photographs on an amateur or occasional basis. But what of the photographs themselves? Do the results seem to make the most of the marriage between lens and sensor, does on-board noise reduction work satisfactorily, and can decent results truly be had with the minimum of user input - given the camera's intended audience.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14.2 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6Mb.
When you marry a sensor with a high pixel count to a standard kit lens there's always a question mark over whether the combination is truly capable of resolving all those self same pixels. For us, though there are plenty of subtleties of tone across the images from the Sony A380, occasionally they could do with being a tad sharper.
While such gripes can of course, to an extent, be 'put right' with subtle application of Photoshop's Unsharp Mask at the processing stage - or simply fitting a top-of-the-range Carl Zeiss branded optic - images also suffer from the very common complaints of barrel distortion at the lens' widest setting and pixel fringing, evidenced when zooming in close between areas of high contrast.
Still, when left on its default settings the A380 delivers a naturalistic array of colours, suggesting white balance is reliable, if grey featureless skies will inevitably result in underexposed foreground detail when shooting JPEG.
Considering its target market the Sony A380's ISO performance isn't bad - with on-board noise reduction implemented that is. OK, so image noise is noticeably lurking in the shadows at ISO 800, but by ISO 1600 noise reduction has kicked in, reducing the effects without smoothing out surrounding detail to a ruinous degree. At ISO 3200, as expected noise is more evident again and detail softer, resembling an Impressionist dot painting when zooming right in. But like those self same old masters, draw back from the image and everything comes back into sharp, clear focus. While Sony may not be pushing the envelope like Canon and Nikon when it comes to superior performance in low light, the A380 gives an adequate showing.
There are 6 ISO settings available on the Sony A380. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
ISO 3200 (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)
The Sony A380's 18-55mm kit lens handled chromatic aberrations very wellduring 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)
The flash settings on the Sony A380 are Autoflash, Fill-flash, Rear flash sync., Slow Sync and Wireless. 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)
Flash Off - Telephoto (82.5mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (82.5mm)
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.
|Forced On (100% Crop)|
Auto/Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Sony A380'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 4 seconds at ISO 400. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
This is a selection of sample images from the Sony A380 camera, which were all taken using the 14.2 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Rear of the Camera / Turned Off
Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera
Top of the Camera
Top of the Camera
|Bottom of the Camera|
|Side of the Camera|
|Side of the Camera|
|Memory Card Slot|
OK, so while a resolution of 14.2 million effective pixels for a consumer level DSLR aiming for a mass-market family audience looks a bit like overkill, that level of spec in part justifies the Sony A380's £720 price tag. And set against the asking prices for the Canon EOS 500D and Nikon D5000 mentioned at the outset it compares pretty favourably.
Where Sony's argument falls down perhaps is that it doesn't offer HD video like those rivals - quickly it seems, becoming something of a must at this price. And it's an omission that feels odd given its manufacturer's expertise elsewhere with the moving image. Particularly off putting is the fact that the build of the A380 looks and feels a lot more plastic than its Canon or Nikon rivals.
Perhaps Sony hasn't brought a great deal that's new to the party between the A350 and A380, but at the very least here is a DSLR that you'll be quite happy to take out with you for a day's sightseeing when you might have otherwise plumped for a less satisfactory compact for the sake of its perceived lightness and convenience. With kit lens and strap attached its portability is such that your shoulders and neck won't be aching at the day's end.
If you like the look and sound of the Sony A380 but don't need such a high resolution and would rather spend a little less, then check out the A330 sitting just below it in the range. The cameras are so otherwise identical that they share the same manual.
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||3.5|
Reviews of the Sony A380 from around the web.
One year after the introduction of the DSLR-A350, the time has come for a successor; the Sony Alpha 380. It brings us to the next generation of Alpha Digital SLR cameras aiming at the entry-level market, which is also the market where the large numbers rule. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the emphasis automatically lies on impressive innovations and the latest high-tech functions; instead, features such as user-friendliness and user's ease play an important role.
Read the full review »
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.
Read the full review »
|Sony α mount||YES|
|Compatibility with A-Mount bayonet lenses from Minolta and Konica Minolta||YES|
|All types of Sony α lenses||YES|
|Minolta & Konica Minolta α/MAXXUM/DYNAX lenses||YES|
|Image sensor type||CCD Sensor|
|Image sensor colour filter||R, G, B, Primary color|
|Size (mm)||23.5 x 15.7 (APS-C size)|
|Total sensor Pixels (megapixels)||Approx. 14.9|
|Effective Pixels (megapixels)||Approx. 14.2|
|Automatic White Balance||YES|
|White balance: preset selection||Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash|
|White balance: custom setting||YES|
|White balance: types of color temperature||NO|
|White balance bracketing||NO|
|ISO Sensitivity Setting||ISO100 - 3200 equivalent|
|System: Sensor-shift mechanism||YES|
|SteadyShot INSIDE scale (in viewfinder)||YES|
|Camera-Shake warning (in viewfinder)||YES|
|SteadyShot INSIDE capability||Approximately 2.5 EV - 3.5 EV decrease in shutter speed (varies according to shooting conditions and lens used)|
|SteadyShot INSIDE compatibility||All Sony Alpha lenses and A-Mount bayonet lenses from Minolta and Konica Minolta|
|*SteadyShot INSIDE was previously known as Super SteadyShot|
|Double anti dust system (anti-static coating and CCD shift mechanism)||YES|
Auto Focus System
|TTL phase-detection system||YES|
|Sensor||9 points with centre cross sensor|
|Sensitivity Range (at ISO 100 equivalent); EV||0 - 18|
|Eye Start AF System (on off selectable)||YES|
|AF Area: Wide focus area||YES (auto with 9 areas)|
|AF Area: Spot||YES (center cross sensor)|
|AF Area: Local focus area selection||YES (9 local areas)|
|AF Modes||Continuous, Single Shot, Automatic, Manual Focus|
|Predictive Focus Control||YES (with moving subjects in AF-A and AF-C)|
|AF Illuminator||YES (with built-in flash)|
|AF Illuminator range (meters)||5|
Auto Exposure System
|Light metering type||TTL|
|Light metering cell||40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC|
|Light metering: Multi segment||YES|
|Light metering: Spot||YES|
|Light metering: Center weighted||YES|
|Exposure: Program Auto||YES|
|Exposure: Shutter priority||YES|
|Exposure: Aperture priority||YES|
|Exposure: Scene selection||YES|
|Exposure compensation||YES (+/-2.0 EV, 0.3 EV step)|
|AE Bracketing||With 0.3 EV / 0.7 EV increments, 3 frames; (in "Drive mode setting")|
|Type||Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type|
|Shutter Speed Range (seconds)||1/4000 - 30 and bulb|
|Flash Sync Speed (With Super Steady Shoot Off); second||1/160|
|Flash Sync Speed (With Super Steady Shoot On); second||1/160|
|Built-in-Flash Guide Number (in meters at ISO 100)||10|
|Flash Metering System||ADI / Pre-flash TTL flash metering|
|Flash Compensation||+/-2.0 EV (0.3EV steps selectable)|
|Built-in-Flash Recycling Time (approx. time in seconds)||4|
|Flash Mode||Autoflash, Fill-flash, Rear flash sync. High Speed sync. with optional compatible accessory flash|
|Wireless flash mode||YES (with optional compatible accessory flash)|
|Automatic Flash||YES (with AUTO and Scene selection mode)|
|Type||Fixed eye-level system with roof mirror type|
|Focusing Screen||Spherical Acute Matte|
|Field of View (%)||95|
|Magnification (with 50mm lens at infinity)||0.74x|
|Eye Relief||Approx. 19.7mm from the eyepiece lens|
|Diopter Adjustment||-3.0 to +1.0 diopter|
|Type||YES - Quick AF Live view|
|Other||Smart Tele Converter|
|Screen Size (inches)||2.7|
|Monitor Type||Clear Photo LCD Plus|
|LCD Total Dot Number||230.400|
|Brightness adjustable||YES (Auto Brightness Control available)|
|Tilting screen||YES - 2 way tilt|
|Drive Mode||Single-frame advance, Continuous advance, 10 seconds and 2 seconds Self-timer, Self-timer Continuous, Continuous-advance AE bracketing, Remote commander|
|Continuous-Advance Rate (approx. frames per second at maximum)||Max. 2.5 fps with viewfinder, max. 2 fps in live view mode (approx.)|
|Number of Continuous Advance||JPEG (L size, Fine): Until memory card is full, RAW: 6 images, RAW+JPEG: 3 images|
|Recording Media||Memory Stick PRO Duo™/ Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo™/ Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo™ HX/ SD memory card/ SDHC memory card|
|Recording Format||JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG, 16:9 selectable|
|RAW (pixels)||4592 x 3056|
|Image Size L - JPEG (pixels)||4592 x 3056 (14M)|
|Image Size M (pixels)||3408 x 2272 (7.7M)|
|Image Size S (pixels)||2288 x 1520 (3.5M)|
|Still Image quality||RAW, RAW+JPEG, Standard (JPEG), Fine (JPEG)|
|Noise Reduction (Long exp.NR)||On/Off, available at shutter speeds longer than 1 second|
|Noise Reduction (High ISO NR)||On/Off, available at the ISO set to 1600 or above|
|Delete Function||Single, multiple, or all frames in a folder|
|Color Space (sRGB)||YES|
|Color Space (Adobe RGB)||YES|
|Color mode/DEC/Creative styles||Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night view, Sunset, B/W, AdobeRGB|
|Dynamic Range Optimizer||Off, Standard / Advanced|
|Date/Time Print||With PictBridge|
|White/Black Out Alert||YES|
|Index Playback||YES (25, 9, 4 or 5 last frames filmstrip)|
|Enlarge (Maximum magnification)||L size: 14x, M size: 11x, S size: 7.2x|
|Auto Image Rotation||YES|
|Battery Remaining Indicator||YES|
|InfoLITHIUM Battery Indicator||YES|
|Menu Language||English / French / German / Spanish / Italian / Portuguese / Dutch / Russian / Swedish / Danish / Norwegian / Finish / Polish / Czech / Hungarian|
|PRINT Image Matching III||YES|
|Remote Release Terminal||NO|
|IR Remote Control||YES (with RMT-DSLR1)|
|DPOF(Digital Print Order Format)||YES|
|Indicator of remaining memory space (CF)||YES|
|Beep Sound||On/Off selectable|
|File Number Memory||On/Off selectable|
|Folder Name Mode||Standard and Date|
|Operating Temperature (degrees C)||0 - 40|
|HD/HDMI™ Out||YES, HDMI™ mini connector|
|USB 2.0 Hi-Speed||YES|
|USB Mode||Mass Storage (PC connection) / PTP(PictBridge)|
|Stamina (battery life in CIPA condition)||Approx. 500 images with viewfinder, approx. 230 images in live view mode|
|Weight (g)||Approx. 490|