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Sony Alpha A230 Digital SLR Review

Sony Alpha A230 Digital SLR Review - Sony finally go it alone with the Alpha A230. Matt Grayson gives his views.

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Sony Alpha A230
Price : £444
Rating :
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Sony continue to challenge their rivals with the release of new DSLRs. The Alpha A230 is an entry level model for users moving up from prosumer compacts.

Sony Alpha A230Sony Alpha A230: Specification
  • Resolution: 10.2Mp
  • Sensor size: 23.6X15.8mm
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Image size: 3872X2592
  • Aspect ratio: 3:2
  • Focus system: TTL phase detection system
  • Focus points: 9 with centre cross sensor
  • Crop factor: 1.5x
  • Lens mount: Konica Minolta/Sony A mount
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-3200 equivalent
  • Focus types: Continuous, single, automatic, manual
  • Metering system: 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC
  • Metering types: Multi, centre weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments
  • Shutter speed: 30sec-1/4000sec & bulb
  • Frames per second: 2.5fps
  • Flash: Built-in (guide no. 10 at ISO100), hotshoe
  • Flash metering: ADI / Pre-flash TTL flash metering
  • Flash sync speed: 1/160sec
  • Image stabilisation: Steadyshot Inside
  • Integrated cleaning: Double anti dust system (anti-static coating and CCD shift mechanism)
  • Live view: No
  • Viewfinder: Fixed eye level system with roof mirror type
  • Monitor: 2.7in Clear photo LCD Plus, 230,400dots ( 76,800px)
  • Media type: Memory Stick Pro Duo, Pro-HG Duo, Pro-HG Duo HX, SD/SDHC
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: InfoLithium battery
  • Size: 128x97x67.5m
  • Weight: 450g
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.

Sony Alpha A230
The command dial is set into the body making the camera smoother and more flush when viewed straight on.
Sony Alpha A230
The back is as simplistic as the rest of the camera in terms of layout.
Sony Alpha A230
A large expanse of space cries out for a button or two.
Sony Alpha A230: Features
Sony appear to be showing a certain degree of maturity with the release of their new equipment and not just in the DSLR arena. At a recent showcase of Sony equipment ePHOTOzine got to see other items that could help with your entire family's photographic needs. The HS-1 Homeshare hub is a 1Tb (terabyte) storage device for everything such as videos and photos. It can then be watched on the television by using your remote control.

The interesting thing about this is it doesn't just take Sony products because you can link any brand camera or camcorder to it as well as it accepting multiple memory cards, not just Sony Memorystick. They've transited this ideology to the DSLRs by making the A230 a dual slot camera. It takes Secure Digital as well as Memorystick. “It's the first Sony capture device to take SD” confirmed Paul Genge, Technical Field Sales Manager for Sony UK, “The dual slot isn't automatic though, you have to switch between the two.” A small switch in the camera slot area chooses between the memory cards and if you choose the wrong one, the camera will flag that it has no card inserted.

Sony are very excited about the new models as they're the first DSLRs to have no design input from KonicaMinolta. It's extremely apparent in the design as the fluid design smooths out the bumpy, ruggedness of the previous models. It's only 9% smaller than the Sony Alpha A200 but looks a lot smaller due to the design such as the grip being chopped off at the top. “It's a design that will help the transition from prosumer compact to DSLR” said Eric Billette, UK DSLR Product Manager “It's lighter, but not much smaller. We've also simplified the GUI to help users who may not know what a shutter speed or aperture does.”

This certainly rings true as the user interface has a cool icon style slider similar to the one found on the Canon EOS 500D. It works by moving an indicator along a slider with icons at either side. The shutter speed has a still person at one end and a moving person at the other. This shows that a higher shutter speed is better for fast moving objects and slower ones for slow or still objects. The aperture slider has the same basis but has a person with a mountain in the background. At the wider aperture the mountain is blurred while at the narrow aperture, it's sharp like the person. It's designed to help you learn how the apertures and shutter speeds work which is a great idea.

Sony Alpha A230
The sliding icons help with developing understanding of how apertures and shutter speeds work.
Surprisingly there's no live view on the A230 as we all thought it was a staple requirement these days. It's funny that Sony consider this camera an upgrade from prosumer compacts (cameras that have a live viewing mode as standard) yet omit this feature from it. “It's a proposal to everyone” continued Eric but when asked if it was to keep costs down, he denied this.

Help screens also help you every step of the way explaining modes and features in good detail including giving an example of when the mode might be useful. This feature can also be switched off in the menu system when you've learned the ins and outs of the camera. When you're reading a help screen, it indicates for you to press ok when you're finished.

Now, the problem I can see is that there isn't an ok button on the camera. It's actually the AF button in the centre of the navigation pad or the shutter release but this isn't explained. While I understand that and the vast majority also understand it, this could lead to confusion in a small minority who aren't used to this type of command execution.

To aid the compatibility of the cameras with everything else in your home, the A230 is Bravia compliant so you can link the camera directly to a Bravia television and control the playback functions with your remote control.

A large command dial sits on the left shoulder which is set into the camera so can only be moved at the edge. The Minolta hotshoe remains sitting behind the built-in flash which is higher than previous models to help reduce red eye. A new small flash has also been introduced for use on any model but is aimed more at users of the A230. It has a guide number of 20, TTL and direct or bounce options. Switching it on is performed by flicking it up.

Sony Alpha A230
The flash sits higher to help avoid red-eye and SAM can be seen on the lens front.
Sony Alpha A230
The card door slides open in true Sony fashion. It uncovers the dual slot and activation switch.
On the opposite side of the prism is the exposure compensation button and shutter button with the power switch wrapped around it. Other than that it's a large expanse of curved black plastic as there's nothing else on top. However this is all part of Sony's plan to make things easier for you as the minimalistic approach to buttons continues on the back. A large function button sits above the navigation pad which also doubles up as direct access to drive, flash, ISO and display options. This is a revamp of the A200 which had more dedicated buttons on the body such as drive and ISO on the top plate. A couple of cosmetic changes have been made such as the resolution being put on the back and Steadyshot Inside logo on the front.

One extra logo present is SAM (Smooth Autofocus Mode) which can be seen on the lens. These are a new type of lenses which have the electronic focusing system inside the lens instead of the camera body making them faster and not needing the connecting lug on the lens mount which has a distinct similarity to a screwdriver and screw head. The lug and connector has remained on the mount to work with the vast back catalogue of KonicaMinolta lenses that are compatible with the A230.

Sony Alpha A230: Build and handling
Despite the different design appearing more organic, it still sits in the hands nicely with all the controls falling nicely in place. Of course that's if you're right handed. 'Lefties' will still have the same problem they've always had with DSLR design and to rub salt into the wounds, Sony have added an accessory to the Alpha range which aids one handed shooting as long as you use your right hand.

Build quality is as good as you can expect from an entry level camera but it doesn't 'look' anything less than the A380. It's easy to fall into a trap of making it look like it's made of cost saving materials but hurrah for Sony, they haven't done with this.

I like the dual slot idea, it helps with the transition from compact to DSLR as most compacts take SD these days. It also shows Sony's willingness to accept that different companies exist. They joined the DLNA (Digital Lifestyle Network Alliance) which creates an open standard. The idea being that if you already have some DLNA gear, seeing the same symbol can give you confidence that you're going to get full compatibility.

Sony Alpha A230: Performance
Sony Alpha A230ePHOTOzine went to see Sony in London where they showed the A230. I managed to get away with it and take a few shots. The colours of the red brick and pale blue sign have come out nicely although I think the camera has under exposed by a fraction, maybe a third of a stop. It's not unappealing to look at and it's something I often do to saturate colours a little anyway.

I shot the wooden door in the three main metering modes available on the Alpha A230. In spot metering, the walls are vastly over exposed due to the camera ignoring them and only concentrating on the tiny percentage in the middle of the frame. There's little difference in centre-weighted and pattern metering but I think there's a little extra detail in the pale patch of wall on the right.
Sony Alpha A230
Pattern metering takes a reading from segments of the image before calculating the exposure.
Sony Alpha A230
Centre-weighted metering takes an average reading from 75-85% of the image giving priority (weight) to the centre of the image.
Sony Alpha A230
Spot metering reads from a tiny percentage (typically 2-3%) of the centre of the frame ignoring everything else around it.
I also tested the new lens and photographed the telephone box at f/3.5, f/11 and f/22 to see if there's any drop in sharpness. The new SAM focusing system is quieter, faster and certainly smoother.  It's done its job with the wide open aperture throwing the background out of focus and keeping the phonebox sharp. The smallest opening of f/22 isn't very sharp and the best result comes from f/11 which is what I'd expect.
Sony Alpha A230
Shot at f/3.5 the image is nice and sharp on the phone box and drops off in the distance as it should.
Sony Alpha A230
Shot at f/11 and is the sharpest image of the three as is usually the case.
Sony Alpha A230
Looking soft at all settings, I first thought the shot was out of focus but it's not.
Sony Alpha A230
Portraits give a balanced skin tone and shadows aren't completely lost.
I like the portrait image because the skint one looks good and there's a nice amount of detail in the hair. Sony's dynamic range optimisation is working by bringing out some detail in the shadow areas of the skin.
Sony Alpha A230
Aspect ratio at 3:2 which is the default setting.
Sony Alpha A230
Converting to wide screen doesn't give a wider field of view but lessens the top and bottom meaning I have to think of extra things to write in the space below.
The Sony Alpha A230 has multiple aspect ratios but here I've illustrated 3:2, which is the default setting, and 16:9 widescreen. It works in a similar fashion to how APS used to make panoramics by cropping the top and bottom off the screen. The APS system was only an optical illusion but this isn't marketed as a panoramic feature anyway.

Back in the studio with the unit and the colour test chart shows that in JPEG, the Sony Alpha A230 has an overly saturated primary blue. Red is a strong contender, as is yellow. The earth brown and forest green colours show a promising result in landscape shots but the skin tone is a little disappointing. There's colour showing in the pale pastels and I like the balance of the mono tones.
Sony Alpha A230
Primary colours have come out nicely as have the earthier colours.Skin tone is a little pale but other tiles look good.
Sony Alpha A230
A little underexposed from the landscape mode although the sun was behind clouds at the time. However it wasn't a dull day.
The landscape image is surprisingly underexposed when taken in landscape mode and while it was overcast at the time of taking the shot, the sun was breaking through the clouds on a regular basis so it was far from dull.

There's a good amount of detail in the foreground and the letters on the balance beam are legible. I used the kit lens set to 50mm for this shot to see if I got any fringing and none is visible even on the high contrast areas such as the trees overlapping the sky.

Sony Alpha A230: Noise test
Sony make their own sensors and supply them to other manufacturers such as Nikon. The noise test images start to get more rough and grainy at ISO400 although it's by no means a problem and it's not until ISO1600 that detail starts to drop from the petals while coloured patches start to become more invasive to the grey card.

ISO3200 is the maximum setting and I think Sony have played a good card capping it there. I don't think the noise reduction systems would be able to cope with the next setting as the sharp lines dividing the black, grey and white boxes are broken up due to disfiguration caused by noise.
Sony Alpha A230
The ISO100 test.
Sony Alpha A230
The ISO200 test.
Sony Alpha A230
The ISO400 test.
Sony Alpha A230
The ISO800 test.
Sony Alpha A230
The ISO1600 test.
Sony Alpha A230
The ISO3200 test.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Sony Alpha A230.

Sony Alpha A230: Verdict
For an entry level model, the Sony Alpha A230 looks pretty good and performs well. I love the UI giving as little masterclass as you use it. It will probably be more subliminal but if it teaches the user more about photography then surely that can ony be a good thing?

It's styled nicely and is smaller and lighter than the previous model, the Sony Alpha A200. While the smoother, more fluid design isn't my personal cup of tea, I can see the appeal to users who like their equipment to be ultra modern.

For users who want to move up from a prosumer or superzoom bridge compact but don't want a huge camera hanging from their necks, this is a perfect solution. 

Sony Alpha A230: Plus points
Nice design
Image stabiliser
Dual slot SD/SDHC & MS
Easier GUI (Graphical User Interface)
Minimalist design to prevent confusion

Sony Alpha A230: Minus points
No OK button despite being asked to use it
No live view

FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL



The Sony Alpha A230 costs around £443.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Sony Alpha A230 & 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT lens

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Photographs taken using the Sony Alpha A230

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Comments


20 Jul 2009 11:44AM
One mistake to correct - SAM is an in-lens electronic focus mechanism like HSM or SSM, the lug and screw type mechanism you mention is the traditional body focus motor connection.

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20 Jul 2009 1:12PM
Hi Matt,
Please let us know, how good it is in terms of metering/white balance as compared to Nikon D60 and Canon 1000D?
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
20 Jul 2009 1:17PM

Quote:One mistake to correct - SAM is an in-lens electronic focus mechanism like HSM or SSM, the lug and screw type mechanism you mention is the traditional body focus motor connection.


Stone the crows you're right, I'll get that corrected. My chat with Eric must've been lost in translation... He is foreign after all. Wink
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
20 Jul 2009 1:25PM

Quote:Hi Matt,
Please let us know, how good it is in terms of metering/white balance as compared to Nikon D60 and Canon 1000D?



I will do when I get the camera in for a proper comparable noise test. Cheers
I agree in general with the above review...i would change "handling" rating of 8 to 6 ;position of the viewfinder also 6!!! Metering i would give a 7 , A mode metering a 6....the underexposed image in the review is not an exception unfortunately..this is only valid for wide landscape shooting; i have had no metering problems with macro or zooming and the colors are really great ; focus, viewfinder (when composing and focusing) and iso are very good too...some shots here Link removed by ePz staff against T&Cs
Without F2.8 or VR lenses i would prefer always a camera with IS inside, a230 is one of them.
26 Aug 2009 1:54AM
Hi matt need some help/advise I've been Reading both reviews the Sony a230 and the nikon d60 2or 3 times and many days of google and other reviews and still can't make up my mind which camera to buy which camera would you buy if you were going to but one of them as you have had them both to use I will be taking pictures of my children in both inside and outside and the odd car show an all rounder really and I am just starting out with dlsr.

Thanks look forward to your/others replys.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
7 Sep 2009 1:39PM
I think the Sony would give you the best results due to being newer. You could take a look at the Nikon D3000 though as it's the newest out from Nikon. Smile
This is my first DSLR. I have to say, I LOVE IT! I like how it teaches me more about photography. Live View is not a big deal for me but, a power cord would be nice Smile In the us it's not sold w/ a cord, only the part that goes into the wall it self. Great review, it helped me make my pick.
12 Jan 2011 5:24AM
Great review, lovely camera for casual walkaround , so light I forget I have it on Smile
And I've used my Zeiss 135/f3.5 and Zeiss Flektogon 35/f2.4 in adaptor on manual for serious shots, so fabulous I had three town shots blown up to 16X20, framed, sold two so far for decent money!
For an entry-level this is a serious camera, it really puts it up to my Canon 40D , in fact I think this Sony is better for portraiture with the Sony Zeiss 16-80 lens.
Definitely better for landscapes especially getting fab blue skies.
And the only place my 40D scores better is for sports coverage, doesn't bother me as I don't photograph fast sports.
And I regards the 40D as better than the 50D. 60D, and even the 7D that my friend a local Press Photographer uses , as they all three have too many pixels packed in and suffer hugely from that, for otherwise excellent cameras.
Today I reckon I'd have to go to the new Nikon D7000 at great financial cost to significantly better this camera.
It shoots well with the old Minolta AF 28-100 too, taking advanatage of the centre sweet spot of that lens , bringing me out to 150mm on auto zoom steadyshot - that's the real beauty of this Sony Alpha range that makes these cameras better, to my mind , more cost-effective than Canikon.
Now let me see, what lens will I get cheap to steady up next, the legendary Beercan of course !
( only gripe is that I got ghosting on the SAM 18-55 kit lens, but only once)
14 Jan 2011 2:14AM
- though it's not exactly better than the Canon 40D.
After all the 40D is a pro camera and feels and acts it too.
And the 40D , always accepted as better than its successor the 50D, is now in January 2011 probably the best Canon crop frame DSLR available.
This is because Canon piled on and overloaded the megapixels on both the 60D and the otherwise fabulous Canon 7D.
But the 40D has all of the 7D features( almost) except that it doesn't run video , three cheers!
But to come back to it , that Sony Alpha a230 is simply amazing value to be able to put it up to these superlative Canons, in the right hands of course!

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