Sony DSLR-A300 Review

Camera Reviews / Sony Cameras / Sony Alpha i Preview

Your purchases support this site

Buy the Sony DSLR-A300
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha DSLR-A300
Resolution: 10.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
(23.7mm x 15.6mm)
Kit Lens: 3.88x zoom
(27-105mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 3200
Extended ISO: 100 - 3200
Shutter: 1/4000 - 30 seconds
Max Aperture: 3.5 (kit lens)
Dimensions: 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in.
(131 x 99 x 75 mm)
Weight: 20.5 oz (582 g)
MSRP: $800
Availability: 04/2008
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony DSLR-A300 specifications
Sony Alpha (Minolta A) APS-C
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha DSLR-A300
Front side of Sony DSLR-A300 digital camera Front side of Sony DSLR-A300 digital camera Front side of Sony DSLR-A300 digital camera Front side of Sony DSLR-A300 digital camera Front side of Sony DSLR-A300 digital camera

Sony A300

by Shawn Barnett
Preview Date: January 30, 2008

Note: We have reviewed both the Sony A200 and Sony A350, with full test shots, analysis, and user reports. Because the A300 is essentially an A200 with the extra Live View features of the A350, we recommend that you look at our Sony A200 review for its test images and analysis, and then check out our Sony A350 review for the User Report.

Perhaps it was a feint, perhaps it was just a matter of introducing the right camera to the right audience, but Sony's Alpha A200 introduced early this year was a very minor upgrade to the A100. The real news came with Sony's announcement of the Alpha A300 and A350. Both incorporate a new Live View mode, with a unique mechanism that no one has yet tried: moving a mirror inside the pentamirror arrangement to point the image at a secondary sensor above the optical viewfinder.

While the A300 is essentially an A200 with an articulating screen and Live View mode, the A350 also raises the resolution from 10 megapixels to 14.2 megapixels.

Like the A200, Sony says that improvements to the A300 and 350's AF will make focus acquisition 1.7 times faster, thanks to the high-torque AF motor and improved AF sequence borrowed from the A700. Autofocus in Live View is also as fast as it is in optical viewfinder mode, thanks to the new system.

Shaped to better match the sensor's 3:2 aspect ratio, the Sony A200's 2.7-inch "Clear Photo" LCD has an anti-reflective coating for easy viewing in the sun, and 230,000 pixels, but the version on the A300 and A350 tilts up and down for easier viewing while shooting low or overhead.

The same LCD-based function menu that appeared on the A200 earlier this month replaces the old dial-based function menu on the A100, and many of the menu functions and systems from the Sony A700 have made their way into the Sony A300 and A350.

The Sony A300 and A350 also have a new pop-up flash, rather than the old "pull-up" type. Now these consumer cameras can deploy the flash in auto modes when necessary. Like most other digital SLRs, the user deploys the flash with a button on the left side of the lens mount housing, by the big orange Alpha logo.

The old battery icon has been augmented with a "percent remaining" indicator on the Sony A300 and A350, which would read "100%," in addition to displaying four bars to indicate battery status. Sony's new vertical battery grip (VG-B30AM) already announced for the Sony A200 also works with the new digital SLR cameras, duplicating many of the controls necessary for vertical shooting, and holds two InfoLITHIUM batteries, making all three cameras capable of shooting up to 1,500 shots.

Eye-start Autofocus, also from the A100, starts up the autofocus system so the camera's ready before you even match your eye up to the frame in most cases. Super SteadyShot stabilizes images with any lens mounted. Sony claims up to 3.5 stops of extra exposure with their body-based image stabilization system. Anti-dust is also built in, with a static-free coating on the CCD's filter that is shaken each time the camera is powered off.

Expected to ship in April or March, the 10-megapixel Sony Alpha A300 will retail for $799 with the 18-70mm lens. The 14-megapixel Sony Alpha A350 will sell for $799 body only and $899 with the 18-70mm lens.

Sony A300/A350 Walk-around

The Sony Alpha A300 and A350 measure 5.25 x 4 x 3 inches (130.8 x 98.5 x 74.7mm), and weigh 20.5 ounces (582g). That's just a little heavier than the Sony A200.

Look and feel. As on the Sony A200, a Function button on the back of the A300 and A350 brings up a simply worded Function menu for easy access to commonly changed items. The A100 had a Function dial on the top deck that was a little more difficult to use. Now you just press the Fn button and the menu appears on the LCD.

Another new button on both the Sony A350 and A300 is the Smart Teleconverter 2x zoom button. Active only in Live View mode, pressing this button first zooms the live view by 1.4x, then to 2x. According to Sony literature this gives the camera's 70mm kit lens the equivalent of a 200mm zoom. Essentially, it's cropping the image from a 14.4megapixel image down to a 7.7-megapixel and 3.5-megapixel image, respectively without incurring the blur normally associated with digital zoom. In our pre-release version of the A350, the button does nothing else in regular Record mode or Playback mode.

The LCD is a little wider to match the 3:2 aspect ratio of the Sony A300 and A350's sensor. Note the new battery indicator icon with the numerical percent-remaining display. This LCD also swivels out away from the body to tilt down or up for easier overhead or low-angle shooting.

Essentially identical to the Sony A200, the top deck of the Sony A300 and A350 have one unique feature: the Live View/OVF (Optical ViewFinder) switch. This switch engages the Live View mode by moving the front element of the Pentamirror forward (see illustration below).

Sony A350/A300 Live View

Sliding that Live View switch forward does several things at once. First, it moves the mirror to reflect the light to the secondary sensor inside the pentamirror housing. Second, the same motion closes a shutter inside the optical viewfinder to prevent stray light from entering and affecting either the Live View image or the exposure. Other manufacturers have this as an optional separate step, which I think is a mistake, because it's too easy to forget to close the shutter. Finally, it turns on the Live View sensor and the LCD to give you a real-world live image that will make you want to slap your forehead for not thinking of it yourself. The beauty of the system is that the Sony A300 and A350 only use the secondary sensor to get a live image to the LCD. Since it happens in the normal SLR pathway, the normal autofocus system is not interrupted as it is on Live View systems that use the main capture sensor, so there's no blackout, and autofocus is as fast as the system can produce regardless of the viewfinder mode.

Optical Viewfinder. A normal pentamirror arrangement reflects the light out the optical viewfinder eyepiece. Sony Live View mode. With a simple shift of one of the mirrors, Sony deflects the image up to another optic that reflects the image onto a secondary sensor. Because no partially silvered mirrors are used, the image is fairly bright.

The only disadvantage could be if the Live View sensor or its optical components are slightly out of alignment with the main sensor, what you see might not be what you get in the final image.

Sony A300/A350 Swiveling LCD

Sony Swivel LCD. Though it's a shame it doesn't face more angles, the Sony A350 and A300's LCD is very sturdy, while most Live View digital SLR cameras don't even have a swiveling LCD; certainly none in this price range.
The other major difference between the Sony Alpha A300 and A350 is that they both have tilting LCD. First it tilts down not quite 45 degrees, then it tilts up beyond 90 degrees. It's not as nice as some models that also swivel left, right, and even forward, but the cameras it comes on are quite affordable.

Like all Live View SLRs, I'm surprised when I actually use the feature, and pleasantly so when I remind myself that a given camera has a swiveling LCD. The truth is that up and down are the main ways you're going to shoot with Live View, at least in horizontal format, and the Sony A350 delivers good results.

Storage and Processing. The Sony A300 and A350, use a compact flash card for memory storage. At left you can see the USB port, which is only revealed with the card door open.

The top ISO setting on the Sony A300 and A350 is 3,200. Sony says that their new Bionz processor helps deliver lower noise at all ISO levels. See our test shots with the 14-megapixel A350 to decide for yourself by clicking on the A350 Samples tab.

The Sony A300 and A350 apply noise reduction in the RAW file at both ISO 1,600 and 3,200, according to Sony, and then applies it again after the usual image processing. Noise reduction is not applied to RAW images at lower ISOs. This might be undesirable for those shooting RAW as their main mode of storage.

Shooting with the A350

Having reviewed several digital SLRs in the past few months, I can summarize the Sony A200, A300 and A350 in two sentences: They're simple to use and take good pictures, and you don't have to wade through complicated menus to use them. It's refreshing.

They're both improvements over the A100 in a number of ways, producing better images and adjusting to my needs more quickly thanks to the new Function button menu.

The Sony A350 feels very solid, just a little more so than the A200, and its Live View mode is actually useful. Better, you don't have to choose which one you want, or how you want it to work. You have one choice: it works the same way you're used to when you look through the optical viewfinder.

An image of the AF points is displayed on the LCD, and when you half-press the shutter button, the chosen AF points get surrounded by green brackets. It works like a digicam does, and it works like and SLR does. There is no alternate mirror-flip-up mode where the phase detect AF takes a stab at focusing while the screen goes blank, and you don't have to wait for Contrast detect to work, either. There is no Contrast-detect. Instead, Phase detect is always available in the usual way: through the partially-silvered main mirror, which reflects light via a secondary mirror to the AF sensor below the exposure chamber. (See the diagram above.) This new system makes autofocus in Live View as fast as AF through the optical viewfinder. Sony has found the holy grail of Live View mode, and built it into their latest digital SLR cameras.

Preliminary analysis. The Sony A300 and A350 are more significant upgrades to the company's consumer line than the Sony A200 announced earlier this year. The best news is that despite the new features, the A300 and A350 are simple designs that are easy to use and understand. As often happens as technology advances, the A300 and A350 have a few more desirable features than their semi-pro brother, the A700, which has neither Live View nor a 14-megapixel sensor.

Note: We have reviewed both the Sony A200 and Sony A350, with full test shots, analysis, and user reports. Because the A300 is essentially an A200 with the extra Live View features of the A350, we recommend that you look at our Sony A200 review for its test images and analysis, and then check out our Sony A350 review for the User Report.

Sony A300/350 Major features:

  • 10.2-megapixel and 14.2-megapixel Super HAD CCD
  • Expanded ISO Sensitivity: 100 to 3,200
  • New Live View mode
  • Super SteadyShot in-camera image stabilization offers from 2.5 to 3.5 stops of compensation
  • Bionz Image Processor
  • Dynamic Range Optimizer: Normal DRO improves detail using standard gamma curves for fast shot-to-shot response time. Advanced DRO adjusts dynamic range area-by-area.
  • Anti-Dust Technology
  • Auto Pop-Up Flash
  • Eye-Start Autofocus System
  • 9-Point Center Cross AF Sensor
  • 40-segment honeycomb metering system
  • Scene Selection Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset and Night Portrait/Night View situations
  • Creative Style Settings
  • 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD Screen
  • Index and Slide Show Display
  • High-Resolution Thumbnails for PhotoTV HD Viewing
  • Function Guide Display
  • Continuous Burst Mode at two frames per second for the A350, three for the A300

Click here to visit B&H's website

Sony DSLR-A300

Your purchases support this site

Buy the Sony DSLR-A300

Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate