Does Sony's latest DSLR offer anything new over the previous A380 model? The What Digital Camera Sony A390 review investigates...
Sony Alpha a390 Review
Sony Alpha A390 review – Performance
The Sony A390 has a 9-point AF system, with the focus points covering a good portion of the frame, including points to the corners of the viewfinder’s central area. This means that picking off subjects outside of the centre area becomes easier, though sometimes the camera will opt to over-consider subject matter beyond where you’re intending to focus; it can be frustrating when unimportant contrast in the sky is opted for focus instead of the main subject. Adjusting the AF area helps to counter this, though many will use the Wide AF selection as standard and this won’t always prove entirely effective.
Sony Alpha a390 review sample image – click for full size gallery
The viewfinder has a 95% angle of view, which is typical of all models at this level and adds a slight area to the edges that can’t be seen during composure. The 0.74x magnification does make the optical image feel a bit distant, and it less than some competitor cameras. An Eye-Start AF system also helps conserve battery by sensing when your face approaches the eye cup, only then activating the full AF capability.
Despite the relatively standard viewfinder, the live view mode is something much more special. Sony’s Quick AF Live View system utilised a second sensor for much faster contrast-detect autofocus – certainly a class-leading standard wherever it’s employed. The LCD screen used for preview is 2.7in however, which does feel slightly small when considering the 3in and larger screens currently on the market. Low-light live view previews can suffer from a low frame rate and considerable grain, but as the mode is only to be used as a guide for framing this isn’t a distinct issue, nor uncommon in any DSLR cameras.
Sony DSLR-A390 review sample image – click for full size gallery
When shooting in low light, despite sensitivity up to ISO 3200, the Sony A390 lacks an AF assist lamp, which is common in many competitor cameras. This can be a frustration as the only way to get an accurate distance read of subjects is by using the flash to rapidly preflash. However this is distracting, noisy and often less accurate then an AF lamp would otherwise be. This is one of the major omissions in many entry-level Sony DSLR cameras.
When shooting the A390 can be quite noisy – the autofocus system moves the lens in a fairly nondiscreet manner and once focus is attained an audible beep is heard (the beep can be turned off however). In usual surroundings this will pose no issue, but if you’re hoping for some near-silent use for discreet work where silence is a necessity then the A390 may not tick this box.
The sensor-based SteadyShot system can be turned on or off at will and is a very effective and functional image stabilisation to have, as proven by its integration in numerous Sony cameras.
Lastly there’s the 2.5fps burst rate which, when using a Class 6 card as per this test, can be maintained for 4-5 frames when shooting Raw (or Raw+JPEG) before it begins to slow down. Shooting JPEG only (Fine setting) maintained the burst rate for 30 frames before there was any sign of slow down.