Boasting the same Quick AF live view system of its predecessor, what else does the latest Alpha model provide for the entry-level consumer?
Sony A380 – Design
With the A380, Sony has taken quite a departure from the design of the previous models. The more traditional arrangement on the rear of the camera, with a column of buttons on the left hand side and the rest around the top and right of the LCD, has been simplified so that there are just five buttons and a menu pad. The menu and exposure compensation buttons sit almost at a right angle to the back of the camera, on a slanted ledge leading towards the top-plate of the camera, on which there is a switch for alternating between the live view and viewfinder together with a standard mode dial, shutter release and Sony’s Smart Teleconverter. The Function button (Fn) has remained from previous models, while each direction of the menu pad accesses a different function such as ISO or flash mode.
Some of these changes are welcome. Powering up the camera, which was previously done via a separate switch on the rear, is now done via the collar around the shutter release; not only is this a more economical use of space, but it makes powering up the camera slightly easier and therefore faster. The disappearance or reassignment of certain controls has made the camera less intimidating and easier on the eye, too, though accessing the menu and exposure compensation buttons is made more difficult due to their awkward positioning on the camera. Also, while the Smart Teleconverter button has remained on the camera’s top-plate from the A350, the flash and AE lock buttons have disappeared. I imagine keeping these two buttons and sacrificing the Smart Teleconverter button would have been the prefereable option for most users.
Handling is problematic given the changes Sony has made to the grip. I assumed after prolonged use this would be something I would get used to, but sadly I found this not to be the case. Essentially the top quarter or so has been sliced off, making it harder to hold the smaller grip adequately, and every time I wanted to turn the command dial around the front I would find my middle finger in the way. Furthermore, when using a heavier lens it was harder to support the camera properly, meaning I would have to carry it around by its lens rather than its body, if I was to be sure it wouldn’t drop while carrying it. Clearly the entry-level market isn’t the prime target for heavy, wide-apreture lenses, but it would still be nice for a little extra ‘growing room’. If you only intend to use the kit lens or a small prime lens, for example, this won’t be as great an issue, but, ultimately, these inconveniences outweigh the minor gains over previous models for the sake of having a slightly smaller and lighter camera.
The menu system is much the same as on previous Alpha models, with recording, custom, playback and setup settings arranged over four tabs. The interface may be set to one of four colour palettes, while the aforementioned Fn button now brings up its six options each with a coloured icon, making it easier to find what it is you need. As before, theste settings access AF Mode, AF area, metering, white balance, Dynamic Range Optimiser and Creative Style options, with no option to customise these, nor to create a personalised menu with your own commonly-used settings.
Opening the smart sliding door around the side of the camera reveals USB and mini HDMI ports, together with slots for both Sony’s proprietary MemoryStick and SD/SDHC media, and a switch to alternate between the two. Sony dropping the CompactFlash support of previous models is in line with other manufacturers who have recently done the same, given the better performance, higher capacity and lower price of SD media which has made CompactFlash almost redundant on models of this sort.