Sony recently announced three new DSLRs, but the middle one is exclusive only to Jessops. What does it offer that the others don't?
Sony Alpha A330: Specifications
- Resolution: 10.2Mp
- Sensor size: 23.6x15.8mm
- Sensor type: CCD
- Max. image size: 3872 x 2592
- Aspect ratio: 3:2, 16:9
- Focus system: TTL phase detection
- Focus points: 9
- Crop factor: 1.5x
- Lens mount: Sony A, KonicaMinolta A
- File type: JPEG, RAW
- Sensitivity: ISO100-3200
- Focus types: Single, continuous, automatic, manual
- Metering system: 40 segment honeycomb SPC
- Metering types: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
- Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
- Shutter speed: 30sec-1/4000sec
- Frames per second: 2.5fps (2fps in live view)
- Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
- Flash metering: TTL, GN 10 (ISO100)
- Flash sync speed: 1/160sec
- Image stabilisation: Image sensor shift system
- Integrated cleaning: Charge protection coating on low pass filter, sensor-shift system
- Live view: Yes
- Viewfinder: Optical fixed eye level penta-Dach-mirror
- Monitor: 2.7in LCD 230,400dot
- Media type: Memorystick, SD, SDHC
- Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
- Power: Infolithium
- Size: 128x97x71.4mm
- Weight: 490g (excl. battery and card)
The Sony Alpha A330 costs around £449 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT lens. It offers 10Mp on a APS-C CCD sensor, 3in articulated, camera based image stabilisers and dual memory slots. In the same price band is the slightly older Panasonic Lumix G1 & 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6
at £489 which is on the Micro FourThirds system, has 12Mp, a 3in fully articulate screen, lens based image stabilisers and single memory card slot.
Alternatively to get a similar camera in specification and being a current model, you have to go higher such as the Canon EOS 450D &18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
lens. It has 12Mp, 3in fixed screen, lens based image stabiliser system and a single memory card slot.
Sony Alpha A330: Features
I expected to be looking at a clone of the Sony Alpha A230
when I first opened the box and there are trace elements of a similar styling to the camera. Slightly different areas are the grey patch on the top right shoulder and crosspatch design on the grip. It gives the camera a more futuristic look as I think it resembles carbon fibre from a distance.
The articulating screen is limited to up and down but a welcome change nonetheless.
A similar layout to the A230 awaits you.
More than one card can be accepted into the A330 and the HDMI port can be seen above.
The live view switch is in the distance while the extender effect button sits behind the shutter release.
The command dial sits flush with the body which makes it thinner and harder to use than a standard version.
Other differences that can be seen at a glance are the articulating screen and live view/optical viewfinder switch on the top plate. There's also a smart teleconverter button which is used in live view. It works by cropping into the frame by 1.4 or 2x and gives the same effect of having a teleconverter attached to the lens.
Full size image capture is 3872x2592 and switching to 1.4x crops the image to 2768x1840 (5Mp) while cropping in at 2x uses a resolution of 2032x1360 (2.7Mp). So while this works well in theory, it's at a loss of image quality. If you're not going to enlarge the picture, this may not be much of an issue but it's worth keeping in mind.
On the back, the layout is the same as the A230 but with the addition of the movable screen so you can see image from more oblique angles such as with the camera overhead or low to the ground. It also helps if sunlight is directly hitting the screen.
To the side is the memory card slot and one thing I'm impressed with (and I mentioned this on the Alpha A230 review) is that Sony have demonstrated a degree of maturity by including an SD/SDHC slot for users who may be wanting to invest in a Sony DSLR but have previously used a compact with SD compatibility. They've realised that not everyone in the world uses only one brand and I think it's quite a brave thing to do.
In addition to the USB 2.0 port, there's also a HDMI port for viewing HD quality on a HD television. Further to this is Bravia compliance which means you can link the camera directly to a Sony television and get one-touch set-up and you can view the images using the remote control.
Complimenting the EXMOR sensor is the BIONZ processor which Sony manufacture. Every new camera release sees an improvement in speed, efficiency and colour performance. It also deals with the D-Range optimiser which is Sony's version of a dynamic range damping system similar to Nikon's D-Lighting.
Sony are extremely proud of the Steadyshot Inside system that they incorporate onto their DSLRs. So much so that on the new range, they've moved the resolution badge onto the back of the camera and put the Steadyshot Inside badge on the front so it can be seen on a shop window. This shows a shift in psychology from the company as they're obviously now less bothered about resolution and more bothered about features that can help make sharp pictures. Considering the Sony Alpha A900
was pushed hard as the camera with the highest resolution in any DSLR, it demonstrates how quickly the focus can shift from area to area (no pun intended).
Similar to the Alpha A230, the Alpha A330 has a graphic user interface with the sliding scales to help visualise what your picture will look like and also help train you in the way a camera operates. It's a really useful tool if you're new to photography and while this idea has been done before, it wasn't quite as clear as the Sony is.
Sony Alpha A330: Build and handling
At this price point it's unlikely to get a camera with metal under the skin but it certainly feels tough enough. I like the shape of the grip and also the feel of the rubber material and design. The shutter release button has been shifted to a more accessible area which was something I thought a design flaw of the earlier models such as the Alpha A100
The built in flash is designed to raise higher than previous versions to eliminate red-eye.
Sony use the Infolithium batteries in their DSLRs and the Alpha A330 is no exception. It gives a more precise calculation of when the battery needs recharging and doesn't succumb to “memory” or “peaking” meaning that you can put the battery on charge and leave it alone.
The battery door is solid and the memory card door is a sliding type so doesn't fall foul of getting snagged which isn't a bad idea.
I think some of the buttons could be easier to use, they're designed to sit as flush with the body as possible to try and smooth the camera out. This is a good idea but it doesn't cut the mustard when I'm trying to frantically get into the menu while the fleeting moment I'm trying to capture is petering out.
The command dial is on the left shoulder and sat in the body instead of on top. It makes it a little harder to use than others but you can soon get used to it and the settings are firm and sure.
Sony Alpha A330: Performance
Jessops wrongly state that the camera can manage 3fps (frames per second), the user manual says 2.5fps so I'd be inclined to follow that instead. However in my tests, I never got this result. Sony do say it's in their own clinical conditions and my more “real life” tests gave results nearer 1.5-1.7fps. That's nearly ten less images over a ten second period which could be make or break in the right (wrong?) situation.
Understandably in the colour test chart, the primary colours are more saturated than the others around it but what surprises me is by how much the warmer tones jump out of the picture. They're normally suppressed more than blue or green but here red is a dominant force while all the orange yellow shades in the bottom right corner are richer.
Forest brown looks a little off but the earth green looks good as do the mono tones. I'm also unsure about the main skin tone to the right of brown as it looks quite pale but moving on to the portrait test and the results are quite promising.
In portrait mode, the skin tone is balanced and relatively true to life and there's still a degree of detail in the shadow areas. In aperture priority, the shadows are a little darker suggesting the D-Range optimiser is used in scene modes. Using flash has alleviated the problem of shadows on the skin but has created it's own on the wall behind. The shadow is quite far down suggesting a high positioned flash and that's what Sony was going for. Red-eye is a simple pre-flash.
A portrait in portrait mode uses a hint of D-Range optimisation to boost the shadow area.
Taken at f/8 in aperture-priority, shadows are darker but otherwise remain unchanged.
Adding flash eliminates shadows and adds catchlights to put a sparkle into Dan's otherwise lifeless eyes.
Dynamic Range optimiser boosts detail into shadow area and caps highlights to prevent bleaching out.
Pressing the function button on the back of the Sony Alpha A330 opens up the function menu which gives access to focus modes, focus areas, metering modes, white balance, creative styles and the D-Range optimiser.
This feature is similar to Nikon's D-Lighting where it uses a wider dynamic range to add detail to the shadows and stop burn out in the high lights. There are three settings of High, Standard and Off. I photographed this toy truck before my son got jealous and carted it away so I could highlight what the feature does.
It's very subtle in the way it adds the detail but if you're taking a shot of the kids, you don't want that ethereal look that HDR photography gives. Looking at the image, the parts of black plastic in shadow under the truck are a fraction lighter as the setting is turned on then up.
Staying in the function menu, the creative styles are there as manual back up options to the scene modes. They work in PASM only and add colour or styles to the shots such as vivid colour, black & white. Sunset or portrait options are also available as is a landscape mode.
Normal colour setting of some grass.
Changing to vivid really boosts the colours.
Landscape mode should add blue and green.
Sunset mode warms the whole image to help with setting sun shots.
I've included one or two of the more interesting ones as I photographed this grass. The sunset mode warms the image while the blue ball in the background punches out in vivid mode.
Sony Alpha A330: Focus and metering
We were just looking in the function menu and apart from macro on the command dial and the manual focus switch on the front of the camera, all the focus options are within the menu. In focus mode, you get to select the type of focusing you'd like the camera to perform. AF-S is single shot which will lock focus while the shutter is halfway depressed. AF-C is continuous so the camera will continue to focus which is useful if you have a moving subject. AF-A is a hybrid of the two as the camera decides which focus type should be used depending on the scene.
Selecting local in the focus options allows for off centre focusing.
You can also choose the focusing area such as wide, spot and local. Wide takes a general reading from where it thinks you want to focus while spot will only focus on the centre point which is a cross sensor type for more precise focusing. Local allows you to manipulate which focus point you'd like the camera to use which is great for off centre shooting but the non-cross type sensors aren't as precise so will need a relatively stronger contrast area to see.
In metering, you can choose from three separate types of exposing your images. Pattern metering splits the frame into several sections, takes a reading from each and, using a complex algorithm, determines the best exposure from the general reading. It's hardly ever wrong and is now the preferred metering mode over centre-weighted which was the darling of 35mm up until the mid to late nineties. It works by taking a reading of around 80-85% of the frame with most of the priority, or weight, going to the middle. It's a clumpy sort of metering as a bright window or light can fool it into under exposing everything completely. That can also happen on pattern as it isn't perfect but it depends on how many of the segments the light covers.
If it becomes too much of an issue, you can always switch to spot metering. This works by taking a reading from the centre of the frame, usually around 2-3% and it ignores everything else. It's useful for backlit subjects if you don't want to use flash as it meters off the subject that would normally be a silhouette.
Sony Alpha A330: Noise test
I don't normally get bowled over by noise performance as it's such a bug bear for me but the performance of the A330 in the noise tests is very very good. I don't see an issue with noise until ISO3200 where colour invasion becomes aggressive and there's a distinct softening of detail.
The softening starts at around ISO800 but is so well controlled, if I didn't have all the images next to each other for comparison at full magnification, I wouldn't notice.
Sony Alpha A330: Verdict
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
So the Sony Alpha A330 was squaring up to be a distinctly average camera then it came to the noise test and blew me away.
It's an interesting design with the materials that have been used and I can't help but think it's more style than function. Especially with the adverts trying to sell lenses as lifestyle accessories. Still, it looks good and works well which is the main thing, it fits nicely in the hands and I got some nice shots with it.
I really like the noise test results, I think it takes good portraits and the colour test chart provided fruitful. If I was in the market for a mid-range DSLR, this would be in my top three.
Sony Alpha A330: Plus points
Good price point
Excellent noise control
Nicely boosted colours
Sony Alpha A330: Minus points
Not a fully articulated screen
Buttons can be tricky
The Sony Alpha A330 costs £449 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT lens and is exclusive to Jessops. You can see it here:
Sony Alpha A330 & 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT