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In January last year Sony was one of the first manufacturers to 'diversify' its entry level DSLR offerings when it replaced the DSLR-A100 with not one but three new cameras - the DSLR-A200, A300 and A350. Now, one and a half years later, the product hierarchy in Sony's entry-level segment remains unchanged and the current models are being replaced by the DSLR-A230, A330 and A380 respectively.

On the spec sheet the upgrades are of a fairly minor nature and as before the three models are extremely close in terms of price and features. At the bottom of the line the A230 offers a 10.2 megapixels sensor in a fairly basic body, the A330 adds live view to the mix and the A380 tops it up with a more pixel-dense sensor (14.2 megapixels). All three models are aimed at the first-time DSLR user.

Along with the new cameras Sony has launched a number of new lenses. The DT 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 standard zoom lens and the DT 55-200mm F/4-5.6 tele zoom come in the one- and two-lens kits that each camera can be ordered in, but are also available separately. Additionally there is a new DT 50mm F/1.8 prime lens and a DT 30mm F/2.8 macro.

While the headline specs of the new camera models have hardly changed Sony says it has put substantial work into the cameras' image processing engines. To find out how the A380 performed in our tests and what impact this work has made on the A380's image output read our full review.

A brief history; Sony/Konica Minolta entry level digital SLR series

Compared to Alpha 350 - key differences

When glancing at the A380's headline specification you could be forgiven for thinking that apart from a few cosmetic and minor control layout changes the new model is identical to its predecessor. However, when diving deeper into the tables of the spec sheet you'll discover a few more changes that, surprisingly, in many cases represent a downgrade rather than an upgrade.

  • Smaller and approximately 125g lighter
  • New control layout and fewer external buttons (No AEL and SteadyShot buttons)
  • Re-vamped user interface with on-screen help guide
  • No white balance Kelvin option
  • No white balance bracketing
  • Weaker flash (GN 10 vs 12 on the A350)
  • No spot-metering circle in viewfinder
  • No wired remote terminal
  • Smaller battery (500 shots vs 730 on A350, CIPA standard)
  • SD card and MS Pro instead of CF card storage
  • No optional battery grip

Fast AF Live View

The Sony DSLR-A380 uses the same live view system that we first saw on the A350. Sony's system stands alone amongst contemporary Live View systems in that it does not show the output from the main imaging sensor. Instead there is a second, smaller sensor placed up in the viewfinder tunnel.

Roll your mouse over the above images to see how the light path is redirected between the viewfinder and live view sensor

The advantage of this layout is that, unlike any other current Live View system, the camera can offer live view with the reflex mirror down. This means it behaves just like a conventional DSLR when in Live view mode, only flipping the mirror out of the way when you press the shutter button to take the photograph. The result is to give the most responsive Live View mode on any contemporary camera meaning that essentially you get the convenience of a compact camera with the speed of focus of a conventional DSLR.

All other current systems have to flip the mirror up so that the main sensor can produce the live view image. Taking a photo requires dropping the mirror again to focus or meter, then lift it again to take the actual exposure. Although this mirror flapping makes it slower, using the main imaging sensor offers other advantages. Using the main imaging sensor allows the use of the potentially more accurate and flexible contrast-detection autofocus system. Access to the main sensor also allows a very fine resolution preview for manual focus confirmation. Another disadvantage of the system is a frame coverage of only 90 percent The Sony system offers an excellent level of responsiveness but gives up the precision that macro and studio shooters are likely to need.