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Sony Alpha DSLR-A230 Gordon Laing, November 2009
   
 

Sony Alpha DSLR-A230 verdict

Sony’s Alpha A230 is the cheapest of three models in the company’s consumer DSLR range, featuring 10.2 Megapixel resolution and built-in image stabilisation which works with any lens you attach. It’s a fair specification for the price, although one which shares a great deal with its predecessor, the Alpha A200 – indeed as we mentioned at the start of this review, the internal specification is almost identical, with most of the changes being external.

This is an interesting strategy since the majority of new rival DSLRs look pretty similar to their predecessors on the outside but normally feature significant internal enhancements. Always fond of bucking the trend, Sony has opted for the opposite strategy here, keeping most of the internals of the A230 unchanged from the earlier A200, but housing them in a significantly redesigned body with a revamped user interface.

Sony has done this in an attempt to appeal to those buying their first DSLR, who have previously been put off by large cameras and tricky controls. Clearly convinced it had the internal specification right on its previous generation, Sony’s instead concentrated on shrinking the body and making it easier to use here – and it both respects it’s succeeded.

Sony Alpha DSLR-A230



The Alpha A230 is indeed a little smaller than its predecessor and comfortably lighter too when both are fitted with their respective batteries. The user interface is also much friendlier than before, with help at every turn and icons representing how changes in the aperture and shutter speed will affect depth of field and motion.

As for the internal specification, most of what we said about the earlier A200 applies here: the 10.2 Megapixel sensor is capable of delivering good-looking images at lower sensitivities and the built-in stabilisation provides around three stops of compensation against camera-shake. And before you think Sony’s resisted the temptation to keep all the electronics the same, the A230 does now feature an HDMI port and a switch from Compact Flash to SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo media.

So far so good, but the A230 is not without its downsides. First let’s look at the new stuff, starting with the redesigned body. It’s certainly smaller and lighter than the earlier A200, but it remains larger than key rivals including Canon’s EOS 1000D / Rebel XS. Sony could argue this is due to its built-in stabilisation, but the Olympus E-620 features both this and a fully-articulated screen, while coming in smaller.

 
Sony Alpha DSLR-A230 - top view
 

Of greater concern, much of the A230’s weight loss is thanks to a less powerful battery which in turn has reduced the number of shots per charge – and there’s no optional battery grip either. Physical design is always a personal thing, but we’re not fond of the redesigned body which looks and feels more plasticky than many rivals, while employing an uncomfortable sawn-off grip. Of course it may feel great in your hands, and as always we’d recommend picking it up in person, but it just didn’t feel right to us.

Sticking with the new specs a little longer, the HDMI port is a welcome addition, but it’s come at the cost of a standard composite TV output, which means owners of older TV sets without HDMI connectivity won’t be able to play slideshows. We’re all for looking to the future, but this seems a daft omission, especially as the A230 is a budget model who's owners may not own an HDTV. And while it’s not surprising to find a Memory Stick Pro Duo slot next to the new SD slot, Sony could have earned brownie points and boosted sales of its own format by allowing the camera to record to both cards simultaneously for backup, or to automatically switch when one’s full.

There’s also a new kit lens, with a slightly shorter 18-55mm focal range than before, but a new Smooth Autofocus Motor, or SAM for short. Anyone hoping this will be quick and quiet though will be disappointed to find it focusing at roughly the same speed and volume as rival 18-55mm kit lenses, although the optical quality is at least respectable.

As for the parts inherited from the earlier A200, the sensor still suffers from more visible noise artefacts than rivals at higher sensitivities, and continues to deliver fairly soft output using the default settings. This is a camera that performs best at 400 ISO or below, and with the image processing tweaked to deliver punchier photos more suited to its target audience of DSLR-beginners. Continuous shooting was also disappointingly slower at just 2fps in our tests, which rules it out for serious action photography.

It should also be noted that by sharing essentially the same electronics as its predecessor, the A230 also misses out on Live View and any kind of video recording facilities. Video may not be offered on other budget DSLRs at the moment, but Live View is featured on at least one key rival, and has been identified as an important factor for those upgrading from a point-and-shoot. It's a serious omission from any DSLR aimed at someone upgrading from a point-and-shoot. So before our final verdict, how does the Alpha A230 measure-up against the competition?

Compared to Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS

 
 
Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS review
 
 
Canon’s EOS 1000D / Rebel XS is the company’s entry-level DSLR and arguably the biggest rival for both the Alpha A230. Both the 1000D / XS and the A230 share 10 Megapixel resolution, 18-55mm kit lenses and image stabilisation of some description. So far so similar, but look a little closer and there are a number of key differences.

In its favour, the Alpha A230 has built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, a slightly larger 2.7in screen and an HDMI port. Its AF system also employs nine points to the Canon’s seven. Depending on where you shop, the A230 is also comfortably cheaper. It sounds like a win for the A230, but the 1000D / XS has several advantages of its own.

In its favour, the EOS 1000D / XS has slightly faster continuous JPEG shooting, optical stabilisation which you can see through the viewfinder, a slightly more powerful internal flash, a standard TV output, and most importantly of all, a Live View system with 100% coverage and magnified focus assistance, along with free remote control software for PCs or Macs; there's also an optional battery grip. In our tests the real-life detail at low sensitivities may have been roughly similar, but beyond 400 ISO the Canon took the lead in noise levels. Traditionalists will also prefer the Canon’s ergonomics.

There’s pros and cons to both, although the A230’s built-in stabilisation, HDMI port and cheaper price tag are big advantages over the Canon. Some will however prefer the EOS 1000D / XS’s Live View capabilities along with a number of smaller other advantages listed above. See our Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS review for more details.


Compared to Nikon D3000

 
 
Nikon D3000 review
 
 
Nikon’s D3000 is the company’s latest entry-level DSLR, and another key rival for the Alpha A230. Again like the Canon and Sony bodies, the D3000 offers 10 Megapixel resolution, an 18-55mm kit lens and image stabilisation of some description. Like the A230 (but unlike the Canon), the D3000 also doesn't have Live View capabilities, although again dig deeper and more variations become apparent.

In its favour, the Alpha A230 again has built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, an HDMI port and a comfortably cheaper price tag. It sounds like another win for the A230, but the D3000 sports a number of advantages, a few of which are shared with the Canon 1000D / XS.

In its favour, the D3000 has on-demand grid lines in its viewfinder, slightly faster continuous JPEG shooting, a larger 3in screen, a slightly more sophisticated AF system (11-points versus nine), optical stabilisation which you can see through the viewfinder, a slightly more powerful internal flash and a standard TV output. Both the D3000 and Alpha A230 are aimed at DSLR beginners, but Nikon’s model is friendlier in operation with its new Guide mode and also boasts superior metering. In terms of image quality, the D3000 may take a fairly laid-back approach to processing by default, but it can be sharpened-up if desired, and crucially it also offers noticeaby better quality at higher sensitivities. In terms of ergonomics, the Nikon is also preferred.

So once again Sony scores with built-in stabilisation, HDMI and a cheaper price, but the D3000 remains a classy entry-level model. The absence of Live View on both models remains unforgiveable for their target market, but with superior AF, ergonomics, friendlier operation and one of the most foolproof metering systems on the market, the D3000 will be popular with DSLR beginners. See our Nikon D3000 review for more details.


Compared to Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 and A380

Sony’s own Alpha A330 and Alpha A380 are of course the closest rivals to the A230, as all three are based on the same camera with only subtle variations between them. The A330 is essentially the A230 with Live View and a tilting screen, while the A380 is simply the A330 with four extra Megapixels. Look closer and there are differences in the finish and continuous shooting speeds, but basically it boils down to weighing up resolution and Live View capabilities against their prices.

Sony’s effectively created three versions of the same DSLR, allowing you to choose the model which best suits your budget and requirements. This strategy also maximises exposure for the Alpha range in stores, and it’s one the company repeated more recently for the mid-range A500 and A550 models which feature twin Live View systems and faster continuous shooting.

Returning to the entry-level threesome though, the A330 hits a sweet spot between features and price in our view. Unless you really don’t see the point of Live View, it’s worth paying the extra over the A230, and in our tests the A380 lost any resolution advantage by suffering more at higher sensitivities. See our Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 review and Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 review for more details.

Sony Alpha DSLR-A230 final verdict

When Sony announced the Alpha A230 (and its siblings the A330 and A380), it wasn’t hard to understand why many enthusiasts were disappointed. Most have become accustomed to new cameras featuring more powerful specifications such as higher resolutions, quicker shooting and bigger, more detailed screens, not to mention the adoption of modern gadgetry, like movie modes.

With the new entry-level Alphas though Sony completely avoided that route, instead opting to keep essentially the same electronics as their predecessors, and simply house them in a redesigned body with a revamped user interface. Sure, there’s a switch from Compact Flash to SD / Memory Stick Duo and a new HDMI port, but in terms of major specifications, there’s little change.

But that’s not to say the A230 is a failure. Sony’s done its homework and is squarely targeting its revamped entry-level threesome at confirmed DSLR beginners. In order to appeal to these buyers, it’s gone for a much less intimidating user interface and a distinctive body design, and while we weren’t personally fond of the latter, it certainly stands out among the competition.

The absence of Live View is however problematic for a target audience upgrading from a point-and-shoot. They’ll be used to framing with a screen and will miss it on the A230. But then Live View isn’t a foregone conclusion at this price point. Nikon’s entry-level model, the D3000, is a key rival but one which also doesn’t offer Live View. Indeed of the current batch of budget DSLRs, only Canon’s EOS 1000D / XS offers the facility.

For its fairly basic appearance and operation, the Sony A230 also has two important advantages over most of its rivals: first it has built-in stabilisation (also offered on Olympus and Pentax models, but at a higher price), and secondly it’s by far the cheapest of the current crop. Depending on where you shop, the Alpha A230 could cost up to 25% less than the cheapest models from Canon or Nikon.

These are critical points which will see the A230 snapped-up by price-conscious buyers. Indeed you can forgive a lot of its shortcomings at this price, and as such we can recommend it to those who are looking for a new DSLR on a tight budget.

Ultimately while the A330 enjoys the sweet-spot in price and features of the budget Alpha threesome, the bottom line is the A230 is simply one of the cheapest DSLRs on the market right now. Sure it doesn’t have Live View, movies or a big screen, but it does have 10 Megapixels, a friendly user interface and built-in stabilisation – not at all bad for the money.



Good points

Built-in IS which works with any lens.
Beginner-friendly user interface.
One of the cheapest DSLRs around.

Bad points
More noise than rivals at high ISOs.
Slow continuous shooting.
No live view or movie mode.
Body shape may not be to all tastes.



Scores

(compared to 2009 budget DSLRs)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

16 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
15 / 20
18 / 20

81%



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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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