Sony Alpha a230 review
Design & Performance
Sony Alpha a230 review - Design
The new design of both the A230 and A380 models has met mixed reviews among users. While most would agree that in looks they are much improved, the handling and usability has generally been regarded to have suffered. The major issue is with the grip; this has been made shallower and shortened into a sweep at the top, thus only leaving room for two regular sized fingers with any purchase on it. The old model gave a deep and spacious grip but at a cost to the look of the camera.
Overall the design is very clean and buttons are well spaced, bordering on scarce. The positioning of both the Menu and the compensation/Av button on the sloping edge rather than the back makes them difficult to access without adjusting your grip from either reviewing or shooting stances. Though some functions can be accessed from the Fn (function) button and the four-way dial, many other useful modes require a full menu navigation, including the shake reduction and file type options.
Even changing the focus point selection between the nine AF points requires at least three button presses.
There are some good points, however; the overall size of the camera is fairly compact and it is light in the hand. The ports are all housed together beneath a hard plastic cover that slides back into the camera when opened - which looks very slick - and also reveals the clever inclusion of dual memory card slots for both MemoryStick Duo and SD types. There's even a switch to allow you to swap quickly between the two - though this doesn't then offer the option to split image types between the two cards, as with more advanced cameras such as the Nikon D300s.
In all, the A230 may seem a little light and plasticky for some, but considering this is an entry-level model the overall package is pretty impressive. The handling, however, could do with a few tweaks.
Sony Alpha a230 review - Performance
In terms of focusing, the nine AF points do a decent job of covering the main areas of the screen, despite the slightly unconventional layout that sees a cross format and one in each corner of the central area as opposed to the diamond layout used by other cameras. Focus locks on fairly quickly too, especially when using the central cross-type point or the wide area setting. However, the motor housed in the SAM kit lens - designed to improve focus speed - is far from silent, whirring loudly as it travels through the range to find focus.
The metering system errs on the side of underexposure under extreme conditions but generally gives a balanced tonal range. The D-range optimiser system offers a standard and advanced setting, which can have beneficial results for high-contrast scenes, though this can be quite subtle on regular shots.
Continuous shooting is delivered at a fairly paltry three frames per second, though this is standard for an entry-level model. This does mean, however, that it is capable of extended numbers of shots. Using a 1GB Panasonic Gold Class SD card we achieved 11 shots in Raw+JPEG, 32 shots in Raw, and using the Fine JPEG option the camera continued to shoot until the card was full - writing files in 2sec, 1.5sec, and 1sec respectively.
As there are no fancy features such as movie or live view on this model, the battery life is pretty impressive. The spec sheet suggests an approximate 510 shots on one charge, which seems fair given our experience. This is, however, a lot fewer than the 750 shots approximated for the older A200 model.
The LCD screen is very standard by all accounts - at 2.7in and 230k dots it's by no means large or high resolution - but it is clear enough to read in bright conditions and has an excellent angle of view.
The kit lens is an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM lens. This comes in line with the standard offerings of the competition, which is a shame because the 18-70mmm focal range offered on the A200's kit lens was a nice extension. What this lens does have, however, is the new SAM (Smooth Autofocus Motor), which aids focusing speeds, if a little noisily. There is still a lens motor in the body, though, for older lenses, thus allowing full compatibility with the entire Alpha/Dynax range.