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Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

Sony DSLR-A380 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardVividPortraitLandscape
NightSunsetMonoAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

Like many cameras in its class the A380 struggles slightly with white balance under artificial light. Using presets produces more accurate results than Auto mode and annoyingly not even the custom WB setting delivers perfect results (we tried with a variety of gray cards and other white balancing devices). Therefore shooting RAW and correcting the results in the conversion is your only resort if you require perfect white balance results.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.9%, Blue: -10.4%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 3.9%, Blue: -6.6%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.6%, Blue: -12.1%, Average
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 6.1%, Blue: -7.3%, Average

Flash

The A380's built-in flash unit performed pretty well, delivering good exposure and color accuracy on both the test chart and the skin tones in the portrait shot. The flash is, for a DSLR, pretty low power though and because of its small extension we're also worried that larger lenses may cause shadowing in flash images. If you do a lot of flash photography an external flash gun may be a sensible investment.

D-Range Optimizer

Like most cameras in its class the A380 comes with a dynamic range enhancement feature. The Sony variant is called DRO - Dynamic Range Optimizer. There are two modes of DRO - Standard and Advanced Auto. In standard mode, the camera will try to reduce the contrast of the image when it identifies very high contrast in the scene being shot. This tries to ensure that the highlight and shadow detail aren't all pushed to white and black and that image more accurately represents what the photographer saw. Advanced Auto takes this a little further and, upon being confronted with a contrast with extremes of light and shade, tweaks the brightness and gradation in different parts of the image to give a balanced result. This second option is much more like Nikon's "D-lighting" feature. (And this isn't surprising, since both manufacturers state that their features use technology from the company Apical).

However, we've found it quite hard to provoke the system to activate, despite intentionally trying to photograph scenes with extremes of light and shade. On the occasions it did kick-in, the Advanced Auto mode gave the best results - lifting detail out of the shadows.

DRO doesn't appear to to interact with the camera's exposure metering, so it makes no additional attempt to retain highlight information - it's all about the shadows. As a result, users who shoot exclusively in RAW mode will not see any effect of DRO (it's a post-shot processing step so it only appears in JPEGs). The included software doesn't allow you to simply apply the same DRO effects to RAW files, instead giving two sliders to control its effects on shadows and highlights.

DRO Off DRO Advanced Auto
100% crop 100% crop

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

At base ISO the A380 performs very well and delivers good detail and natural if slightly vivid colors. Default output is a little soft. Shooting in RAW can definitely gain you some extra detail, especially in low contrast areas of the frame where some careful sharpening in RAW conversion will get you a good amount of additional detail. The Sony's dynamic range is in line with the competition in this class. It delivers a decent amount of highlight range and blown highlights weren't more of a problem on the A380 than on other cameras in the upper entry-level segment during our sample shoots.

Where the camera starts to struggle is at higher sensitivities. It's not horrible in low light but it's not on the same level as its current direct competitors. That's not really a surprise as the A380's sensor and imaging pipeline are virtually identical with the A350's which was launched in January 2008 - an eternity in digital imaging terms. The sensor is noisier than the competition to start with and this is exacerbated by the A380's heavy-handed approach to noise reduction which blurs a lot of detail but also results in unsightly chroma noise blobs. You can get better results by shooting RAW and optimizing your own noise reduction but the outcome will generally still be inferior to a camera that generates less noise in the first place.

All in all, if you don't do a lot of low light photography, you won't have any reason to complain about the A380's image quality but if you do you might want to have a look for alternatives.

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