Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha DSLR-A380
Resolution: 14.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
(23.7mm x 15.6mm)
Kit Lens: 3.00x zoom
(27-83mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 3200
Extended ISO: 100 - 3200
Shutter: 1/4000 - 30 sec
Max Aperture: 3.5 (kit lens)
Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.8 in.
(128 x 97 x 71 mm)
Weight: 26.9 oz (762 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $849
Availability: 06/2009
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony DSLR-A380 specifications

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Imaging Resource rating

3.5 out of 5.0

Sony A380 Overview

Reviewed by Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells, and Zig Weidelich
Preview Posted: 05/18/09
Review Posted: 10/31/09

Bucking the trend toward greater complexity and higher resolution, Sony has revamped their consumer digital SLR line with a new focus on even greater simplicity, lower-cost cameras, and more affordable beginner optics. Indeed, the three new SLRs, the Sony A230, A330, and A380 share more specifications in common with their predecessors than they do differences, with the main changes occurring in the size, weight, and shape categories.

Resolution for all three bodies is unchanged. The Sony A230 and A330 both have a 10.2-megapixel sensor, and the A380 has a 14.2-megapixel sensor. And though the A330 and A380 both have the fastest Live View mode available, they have no built-in movie mode in any model.

The Sony A380's new body design features fewer buttons to avoid confusing the user, and a few tweaks to the Function menu and the Status display. All three cameras are also bundled with a new 18-55mm lens to replace the 18-70mm lens previously used as a kit lens. The new lens design is shorter and lighter, and is the first of the company's new SAM lens line. Standing for Smooth Autofocus Motor, the new electronically linked lenses are designed to be less expensive than Sony's current offerings, while still offering high optical quality.

The Sony A380 includes support for both Memory Stick Duo and Secure Digital cards, with a manual switch to select between the two. Gone is support for CompactFlash, as is now true for most consumer SLRs.

A new Help system joins the improved DRO brought over from the A900 and the Sony A380 and its new brothers have the SteadyShot Inside feature. There are a number of other feature improvements in the Sony A380, including bigger AF points, a new self-timer mode, and even a new optional flash, all of which we'll get to in the User Report below.

The Sony A380 started shipping in June 2009, initially priced at $849 with the 18-55mm kit lens, and $1,049 with the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses, covering an 11x zoom range. Be sure to check prices by clicking on the links above right and in the shopping pods below for the latest prices on the Sony A380!

Note: Because these three cameras -- the Sony A230, A330, and A380 are so similar, each of their reviews is a slight rewrite of the other. All test and gallery shots, however, are from each camera. Oddly enough, it turns out that they're each pretty unique in their color rendering, autofocus abilities, and a few other aspects. Of the three, we found the Sony A330 to be the best overall choice.


Sony A380 User Report

by Shawn Barnett

It's been just over a year since Sony shipped their last trio of consumer Alpha digital SLR cameras, the A200, A300, and A350, and already they've revamped the line with a new external design and a greater emphasis on economical features and accessories. The revamped models are the Sony A230, A330, and A380.

Company representatives told us that extensive focus-group research revealed that people wanted simpler SLRs that didn't cost too much, and were lighter and easier to bring along. And among those who bought an SLR, many expressed a desire to buy at least one additional lens for their fancy interchangeable-lens digital camera, but few ever made the purchase, largely due to cost.

These studies clearly had an effect on the company's plans for their consumer digital SLR line, because the new cameras reflect significant change in the areas of weight, size, and simplicity, while the internal specifications remain mostly the same. Company representatives also noted that nearly each item in the cameras was redesigned to improve efficiency and reduce weight, and though the sensors are indeed the same, the new Alphas include a new image processing system.

Revamped: Side-by-side, it's easy to see how the new small Alpha body and lens are different from the old, largely Konica-Minolta-based Alphas. The grip is smaller, the lens shorter (in both size and focal length), and the shutter button is further back on the camera's top deck.

Competitive: Sony has achieved their goal of making the new Alphas smaller and lighter than their predecessors, though they are not significantly smaller or lighter than the competition. Fortunately for Sony, Canon and Nikon's latest consumer SLRs have gotten taller, so the Sony Alphas look shorter overall, and the new lens brings the camera's length front-to-back closer to the Canon T1i.


Look and feel. The flagship of Sony's consumer line, the Alpha A380 is the same weight and size as the A330, and weighs about 40 grams more than the A230. The weight is well-balanced, partly thanks to the new lens, but the bodies feel somewhat hollow compared to other digital SLRs in this class.

Much of the weight reduction is due to the significantly trimmed grip on the Sony A380, as well as its smaller Lithium-ion battery. Unlike most SLR grips, the Sony A380's stops well short of the camera's shutter release, and the shutter button now appears on the camera's top deck. Everyone on the staff but me disliked this new design; and I only accept it because you can easily adjust your grip by balancing the camera's base into the palm of your hand, which puts your index finger in better position to reach the grip, while your pinkie and ring fingers curl around the grip. After a bit of use with one of the heavier Sony lenses, like the Carl Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8 lens, though, I can tell you it puts a strain on these latter two fingers, and makes you miss the rest of the grip. If you don't hold the Sony A380 as I outline above, getting your index finger up to the shutter button is a strain.

It seems Sony was aiming for a more retro look with this design, harking back to gripless film SLRs of days gone by, with their metallic tops and leather-covered bodies. The look is appealing once you get used to it, and those who use a camera strap and the new light SAM lenses will hardly notice the smaller grip.

The Control dial now faces forward, just beneath the Sony A380's Shutter release button. The lens release button and AF/MF switch are in the same positions relative to past models. The Sony A380's Alpha logo is now smaller, embossed into the gunmetal-colored top of the two-toned body design. Above that, the mode dial is partially concealed, recessed into the top deck to reduce the chance of accidental activation.

There is still no depth-of-field preview button on the Sony A380.

The Sony A380's new shorter lens includes a bayonet mount for a lens hood, but Sony did not include a lens hood in the samples we received. The mode dial is only accessible from the rear and left side of the Sony A380. Sony moved the Power switch from the rear left of the camera's back to a better position surrounding the Shutter release button, a method also used by Nikon and Pentax on their SLRs. Gone is the flash activation button to the left of the lens mount, where it appears on most other digital SLRs. Sony said too many customers never thought to look there, so they've moved it to the rear navigation disk. It's a little more cumbersome to activate now: you have to press the flash button (the right side of the nav disk), then use the up and down arrows to select an active flash mode. Then, once you half-press the shutter release, the flash will pop up.

Also note the Live View/Optical Viewfinder (OVF) switch, which manually moves the front mirror of the pentamirror arrangement inside the Sony A380 optical viewfinder assembly, directing the light to the Live View sensor inside. A shutter also covers the optical viewfinder at this point, preventing light from entering and affecting the light meter. More on this in the Live View section below.

Just right of that switch is the Smart Teleconverter button, which activates the Sony A380's digital zoom, only available in Live View mode, which zooms the view by 1.4x and 2x with successive presses of this button. The resulting image is cropped from the full image when it is saved to the card, but not upsampled, resulting in a smaller, pre-cropped image.

Note also the substantial thumb grip, which really does help when holding the Sony A380 as I've described.

What also helps your grip is the soft taper Sony applied to the bottom right of the A380, which makes resting the camera in your palm more comfortable.

The back of the Sony A330 shows just how far Sony has gone toward simplifying the interface of these new cameras. The Display, Drive mode, ISO, and Flash buttons are now integrated into the four-way navigator, and the AE-Lock button no longer exists. That's a clear sign that these cameras are aimed at consumers.

The rubber eyecup looks more integrated into the body, but it's still removable like any other eyecup, with an upward tug. The infrared sensor is also still in play, offering both the option to turn off the display when you bring the Sony A380 to your eye, as well as to start up autofocus before you even press the shutter button.

Recessed more deeply into the back of the Sony A380, the articulating LCD tilts a little further up and down than it did on previous models. The card write lamp now juts out left of the LCD. Though it's an odd position, it beats being under the thumb, as it was on the A350. Note also the ambient light sensor on the lower right of the tilting LCD, which reads the light directionally and turns up the LCD's brightness in bright sunlight.

On the LCD itself is the new display screen, designed to help new users understand the relationship between shutter speeds and aperture.

Ports. All but the power port on the Sony A380 are on the camera's left side, including the HDMI Out and USB ports, as well as the SD and Memory Stick HG Duo card slots. Note also the Memory Stick/SD switch, a manual-only switching method. The whole array is concealed by a sliding pocket door that ducks down and slips inside the Sony A380's body.

Having the memory card slots on the left makes inserting and removing cards a little easier, because you don't have to let go of the grip to make the change, as you do on nearly every other digital SLR on the market. The choice of a pocket door also makes using the video and USB port much easier, thanks to the lack of a rubber door. It's also worth considering, though, that the door is not weather-sealed.

On the camera's right is another port door, covering the DC-IN port. It's much more difficult to open than the pocket door, being of the rubber variety. Note also the camera strap lug, recessed so that it doesn't stick into the palm of your hand.

Viewfinder. Optical viewfinders are usually preferable on most digital SLRs, but the Sony Alpha series has had its shortcomings, most notably it's difficult-to-see AF points. I've always liked how they were angled to match the orientation of each autofocus sensor, but that also made them harder to see in some situations.

Sony has replaced them in the new SLRs, though, with larger round dots. The array is the same, but the visual effect is quite different, and it's now easier to see each point illuminate to indicate the in-focus areas.

Because of the secondary live-view sensor, the Sony A380 and A330's viewfinder magnification is smaller than the A230's: 0.74x vs 0.83x, respectively.

Live View. But you can also turn to the Live View mode by sliding the switch on the top deck, which, thanks to the interplay of mirrors and lenses, grabs the exact view from the viewfinder and displays it on the LCD. As I mentioned above, the view can be zoomed with the Smart Teleconverter button on the top deck; though it's important to remember that this mode will crop your image, not just zoom in to aid in focus, as we often see on other live-view SLRs.

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, though not as sharp as competing designs.

Because the Sony A380's Live View is through-the-viewfinder and through-the-lens, there is no delay for the mirror to flip down to autofocus, nor is there a longer delay while the camera employs contrast-detect autofocus on the scene. Autofocus and metering are just as fast as they are while you're looking through the optical viewfinder.

Live View is a little softer than it could be, as it was in the A300 and A350, especially in low light. Also, there is some manufacturing variability inherent in the A380's Live View system, and if the mirrors, lens, or sensor are out of perfect alignment, what you see in Live View can differ from the optical viewfinder and the captured image; as it is, the view is clipped even from what you see through the optical viewfinder. Still, it's hard to discount the advantage you get with the A380's version of Live View in terms of performance.

One disadvantage to Sony's current Live View design is that they weren't able to add a movie capture mode to the new cameras. Current manufacturers making digital SLRs that record movies, Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic, all draw their Live View record mode displays from the actual imaging sensor, so it's less mechanical and programming work for them to repurpose their live-view feed for video recording. Sony's viewfinder sensor is of fairly low resolution, and would also record the AF points, since the sensor is behind the focusing screen.

That's not to say that Sony couldn't add a movie mode by simply introducing a new mode that flips up the mirror and uses contrast-detect to focus, but they haven't chosen to do that.


Sony A380 Interface

Menu. The Sony A380's menu is very easy to use, functioning like a tabbed menu and a scrolling menu. When you get to the bottom of the first tab's list, it automatically switches to the top of the next tab. This design makes it easy to scan through the items looking for what you need. If you see that a given tab isn't what you need, regardless of where you are in the list, you can press the left or right arrow to move between tabs. It's a little confusing if you've been using a Nikon, where pressing the right arrow often selects a menu item, but it's not hard to get used to using the center button instead.

Live View LCD. In Live View mode, the viewfinder shows most of the information that the optical viewfinder shows, but since there's more room, the information is spread out over more of the screen area, rather than only across the bottom. The most critical component, besides the shutter speed and aperture, is the Super SteadyShot meter, which appears in the lower right corner of the screen, just as it does in the viewfinder.

Pressing the Display button brings up the histogram view, which includes a small, semi-translucent histogram in the lower left corner along with basic information across the bottom. There's also a mode with almost nothing overlaying the image area.

Function Menu and Help Guide display. Pressing the Fn (Function) button brings up a simple menu for adjusting most of the important items in both Record mode and Playback. Just use the Arrow pad to navigate to the desired option and press the center button to select your mode. If you stay on a given item for a moment, a plain-text explanation of each item pops up.

Likewise, as you turn the Mode dial, an onscreen display wheel appears on the left, with text and a sample image to explain each mode. The Help Guide display can be disabled in Setup menu 1.

Status display modes. Sony has also added several display modes to the Status display. In addition to the standard display, which includes a large selection of camera settings, the Sony A380 has a simplified version, available when in full Auto modes, giving you only the small amount of information you need. (Screenshots at right were taken from the HDMI output, so they appear different from some of the others here.)

A new graphical display on the Sony A380 attempts to illustrate how moving in either direction on the shutter speed or aperture scale will affect your images, with a scale that changes in size from large to small as you move from long and large settings to shorter and smaller settings, respectively. You can also change screen colors. Finally, when you turn the Sony A380, the display rotates with it, re-orienting the entire arrangement (not shown).


Sony A380 Lens options

The Sony A380 is compatible with an array of new Sony lenses, and also with all Maxxum and Alpha lenses.

Twenty-six, plus two, plus four. Sony Alpha cameras are backed up by 26 current lenses, plus two teleconverters. This photo doesn't include the four new lenses announced with these cameras, three of which appear below.

The three, plus yet another. Sony has announced four new lenses, labeled SAM for their Smooth Autofocus Motor. They're marked with a silver band around the barrel. Only three of the lenses are new: the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 50mm f/1.8 (expected to retail for $150); the 55-200mm f/4-5.6 is a re-release of an older lens. Not pictured is the 30mm Macro lens.

Accessories. Sony has also continued to expand their accessory offerings for the Alpha line, with new cases, wraps, lens bags, grip straps, an LCD cover, and an LCD shade.

New Alpha accessories.

Our favorite accessory is the new small flash, which lays flat across the camera top for easy storage, and powers on when flipped up. The flash head inside the unit turns to face upward for bounce shots, and a diffuser pivots into place for wider shots. Called the HVL-F20AM, the new flash retails for $129, and uses two AAA batteries to keep the weight down. The Sony Alpha cameras have full control of the flash for through-the-lens exposure.

Another good idea is the thick cloth wrap with a shock cord that protects the camera while it's in a bag. Just lay the camera in the cloth with the lens facing the corner with the shock cord, and start folding the rear and side corners in. Finish with the shock cord, and wrap it around the back, under the body and stretch it around the lens. Viola! A protected camera. I think I'll buy several of these to protect review cameras, as well as my own personal cameras.

The lens cap pocket seems a little fastidious to me, but it's not a bad idea if you like a place for everything and everything in its place. The handstrap is probably the most important new accessory, given the Sony A380's minimized front grip. It's quite similar to a camcorder handstrap, with a soft, spongy fabric against the back of your hand; the only bit I don't like is the large mounting block that screws into the tripod socket on the bottom, which makes the A380 a little less stable when placing the camera on a flat surface.

Missing from the accessory list for the new cameras is any mention of a battery grip, and there are no additional contacts up inside the battery compartment. That's unfortunate, because battery life from the internal battery has dropped compared to the Sony A350, due to a new, smaller NP-FH50 battery pack. CIPA rating for the A380 is 500 shots with the optical viewfinder, and 230 when using Live View. That's down significantly from the A350's 730 shots with the OVF and 410 in Live View.


Shooting with the Sony A380

Good color. Not oversaturated.

After spending a little time with all three of Sony's consumer Alphas, I was more impressed with the pictures than I was with the user experience. It's not that it was a bad experience. There's a lot I like about the Sony A380 from a design perspective, like the recessed Mode dial, the power switch surrounding the shutter button, and the fairly simple button layout. And the card/connector door on the left side is inspired. Overall it's a simple camera to use.

But getting the flash activated is about as cumbersome as I've ever seen, and Menu and AV buttons are mounted on the slant between the back panel and top deck, requiring you to adjust your hold completely and use your right or left index finger to activate them.

Though I do appreciate the light weight of all three cameras, they also feel hollow and plastic, not the more rock-solid feel I'm used to from other digital SLRs in this class. The shutter sound is at least quiet, and the shutter button breaks nicely, so you can feel when its about to go off.

The Sony A380's tilting screen is handy at times, but because I shoot vertically most of the time, I really couldn't use it as often as I'd like. The screen shiny outer bezel is also prone to scratching.

Telephoto. The Sony 55-200mm vignettes a fair bit at 200mm, and there's a little lens flare, but it's not bad for an inexpensive lens. I was surprised by the sharpness of my soccer shots.

While it is tighter, the Sony A380's viewfinder worked fine; and when I needed a larger view, I just switched to the Sony A380's Live View mode. Here's where the Sony A330 and A380 really shine, because their Live View modes introduce almost no autofocus shutter lag. And thanks to the built-in Super SteadyShot image stabilization, you can feel comfortable holding the A380 out in front of you, because the camera will make up for a good deal of the unsteadiness you'd otherwise get.

In the lab we discovered that the Live View mode shows less of the image area even than the optical viewfinder, which is a first. Because Live View is usually drawn from the actual imaging sensor, it's usually 100 percent. The Sony A380's optical viewfinder shows 95 percent of the image area, and the Live View shows only 92 percent. Both the viewfinder and the Live View were also tilted relative to the sensor, which should vary by sample, but will certainly make it harder to get a straight horizon line.

The grip is just fine once you learn to rest the right side of Sony A380 in your right palm and wrap your last two fingers around the grip. Fine, that is, with the reasonably lightweight 18-55 and 55-200mm kit lenses. Snick on something heavier, and you'll quickly be looking around for a monopod to support the imbalanced combination. So if you're thinking of one of those nice Carl Zeiss optics, check out the Sony A500 or A550, whose bodies are larger and have a full grip.

I shot a little soccer with the camera, and its maximum framerate of 1.7 frames per second was too slow for the job. It's amazing how much slower 1.7 is than the 5 and 8 fps I'm used to shooting. You can't get even the same formation as kids move across the field at that speed, and these are five-year-old kids. The camera just wasn't built for that, and you won't really find much better performance at the competition's 3 fps, so let's just say that these cameras really aren't meant for sports photography. You can do anything if you're good, of course, and have excellent timing, but if you're looking to catch the right moment by holding down the shutter, you'll be disappointed.

Autofocus did fairly well tracking my soccer subjects. There were a few blurry moments, where the camera focused on the background, but surprisingly few compared to some cameras I've used.

The autofocus system was reasonably good at getting the AF point right in most of my shots, but we didn't have as much luck in the lab, where a few targets had to be reshot over and again to get the focus set properly. Not only did the Sony A380 have a tendency to back focus by an inch or two, it also jumped around randomly.

Exposure. This shot came out slightly underexposed thanks to the brighter background, but it's a good demonstration of the 55-200mm telephoto lens's ability.

My shooting around town was easy and relatively predictable. I like the menus and general ease of the Sony Alphas. They just work and get out of your way. The menus are straightforward, tabbed designs that work just a little differently than some, but though they're tabbed, they also wrap around to the next tab once you get to the bottom of the first; it functions like one long menu.

Regardless of your mode, the Sony A380 is easy to shoot with. Eye-start AF, while a smart feature that turns on the autofocus system as you bring the camera to your eye, just wastes battery when I use the camera, because I either hold it in my right hand or switch from left to right, which keeps the lens buzzing to life all the time. Thankfully you can turn it off.

I'm happy that they changed the AF points inside the viewfinder, because they're much easier to see. They used to tell you something about the orientation of the outer points, which was technically helpful, but they were harder to see. When you're trying to compose an image, nothing's more important than positive confirmation of focus before you press the shutter.

The new 18-55mm kit lens is a closer match to the competition's lens, and reduces the overall length of the Sony A380 when compared to the old kit with the 18-70mm lens, but I do miss the optical quality of the older lens. We got three different copies of the 18-55mm lens, and one stood out with better performance in the corners and the center, so naturally I shot with that one.

Ultimately, I think the Sony A380 is a pretty good starter digital SLR, though I think the A330 is probably still the sweet spot in terms of price and performance. Given the retail price of $799 for the A380, the Sony A500 might be a better deal for the enthusiast photographer. Starting at $750 it has a better grip and still includes Live View and the tilting LCD, along with a few more advanced modes; though you'd take a step down from 14 megapixels to 12. Still, if you want the highest resolution with the added convenience of Live View in a lightweight body, the Sony A380 is a good choice.


Image Quality

Most digital SLRs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so I like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600 with the extra noise reduction off. Recent advances in sensor technology and noise reduction have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also chose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at this level when indoors and at night, and I prefer to do my noise reduction on the computer.

Sony A380 versus Canon T1i at ISO 1,600

Sony A380 at ISO 1,600

Canon T1i at ISO 1,600

The Sony A380 has trouble with overaggressive noise reduction starting at ISO 800, even with the extra noise reduction off, so it's no surprise to see that it's a little softer than the 15-megapixel Canon XS at ISO 1,600. Despite its efforts, the Sony A380 still shows quite a bit of chroma noise, especially in the dark areas and shadows. The Canon takes a less aggressive approach, and seems to start out with finer-grained noise coming from the sensor, resulting in greater detail overall.

Sony A380 versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

Sony A380 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600

The Nikon D5000, 12-megapixel digital SLR, eliminates most chroma noise, even with its extra noise suppression turned off. Though it's lower resolution than the 14-megapixel Sony A380, the Nikon captures more detail in the tone-on-tone areas of the image.

Sony A380 versus Sony A330 at ISO 1,600

Sony A380 at ISO 1,600

Sony A330 at ISO 1,600

Comparing the Sony A330 to the 14.1-megapixel A380 reveals some interesting information. Though the A380 technically records more data per image, the overall quality isn't that much better at ISO 1,600. In fact, some of the data, like the red swatch, has less of the original detail thanks to overactive noise suppression in the red channel. In the shadows and darker areas, the A380 may do a little better suppressing chroma noise, but the detail in color areas is not so much better that you couldn't get the same result by simply raising the resolution of the A330's images, at least at ISO 1,600.

Detail: Sony A380 vs Canon T1i, Nikon D5000, and Sony A330

Sony A380
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Canon T1i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Nikon D5000
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Sony A330
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Detail comparison. An ISO 1,600 comparison is only so helpful; a camera's ISO 100 performance is also of value, as is its ISO 3,200 detail, so I've pitted the same set of cameras against each other in the high-contrast detail department. At ISO 100, the Sony A380 does a good job rendering the lines inside the letters without significant oversharpening. The higher-resolution Canon T1i does the same with a little better contrast, but it also oversharpens noticeably. The Nikon D5000's detail is a little softer overall, with only some of the lines showing up on its 12-megapixel image. The Sony A330 also finds some of the lines with its 10-megapixel sensor, though it's clear that this part of the image could not be magnified to equal the ISO 100 shot of the A380.

At ISO 3,200, the Sony A380 renders the black letters with lots of demosaicing errors, which shows up as chroma noise inside those letters. The Canon T1i does a little better, but color noise is still present, and the detail of the red letters on top is better. The Nikon D5000 also produces slightly smoother detail, though the lens are harder to make out. And the Sony A330 can no longer find the lines, but the demosaicing error still produces color noise inside the letters.


Sony A380 Print Quality

The Sony A380's printed output is surprisingly good, with a fairly even approach across the ISO spectrum. ISO 100 shots are quite good at 16x19, great for wall display.

ISO 200 shots are softer, and though they're still fine at 16x20, they look better at 13x19 inches. ISO 400 shots also looked good at this size. ISO 800 shots are also quite usable, if only a touch soft at 13x19, though with a smattering of chroma noise in the shadows. Not bad for wall display, though. They look better at 11x14.

ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 11x14, but the chroma noise gets quite a bit larger and more noticeable; going down to 8x10 is much better. ISO 3,200 was a little rough at 8x10, though, yet quite usable at 5x7.

So overall, the Sony A380 made very good quality prints with low noise and good color, coming out significantly better than we expected from the onscreen analysis.

For more on image quality, see this review's other tabs, particularly the Image Quality and Optics tabs.


Analysis. Describing the Sony Alpha A380 and its siblings comes down to a relatively short list of what's new: a smaller, simpler body design, a new kit lens, a few tweaks to the menus and display screens, a new Self-timer mode, and a few other feature tweaks, plus some new accessories pretty well sums it up. The most surprising omission from Sony, one of the world's largest image-sensor manufacturers, is any new technology in the sensors, let alone a resolution increase. We don't believe that's a requirement, as 10 and 14 megapixels is just fine in this market, it's just surprising.

If Sony really is intent on changing the kind of consumer they attract and serve, drawing more people into the art of SLR photography, concentrating on affordable lenses and accessories makes a lot of sense. Sony may also try to stick to a schedule of annual upgrades in an effort to stay ahead of the competition, whose products are on an 18-month product cycle.

Shortcomings of the Sony A380 include the small grip, lack of a depth-of-field preview method, no movie mode, shorter battery life than its predecessor, and a very slow continuous capture rate of 1.7 frames per second, which makes it a poor choice for action photography.

In technological terms, the Sony A380 doesn't make any monumental leaps, but their Live View technology is in many ways miles ahead of the competition. The onscreen image may be a little softer, but Sony's Live View autofocus is much faster than any other digicam or SLR with live view, bringing digital SLR shutter-lag times to the world of live view. Sony's Live View method does not make adding video capture easy, however, so though they've announced three new consumer SLRs at once, none of them can compete with the Canon T1i or Nikon D5000 in the video capture column.


Sony A380 Basic Features

  • 14.2 MP Super HAD CCD delivering resolutions as high as 4,592 x 3,056 pixels
  • 3x Kit lens, 18-55mm (27-82.5mm equivalent), f/3.5-5.6
  • Optical viewfinder
  • 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD Screen mounted on a tilting base
  • ISO Sensitivity: 100 to 3,200
  • Shutter speeds: 30 seconds to 1/4,000 second
  • 1.7 frames per second continuous capture
  • Secure Digital or Memory Stick Pro Duo memory card slots
  • NP-FH50 Lithium-ion battery
  • Dimensions: 5.03 x 3.8 x 2.8 inches (128 x 97 x 71.4 millimeters)
  • Weight: 17.2 ounces (489g) without lens, battery or card


Sony A380 Special Features

  • Tilting LCD, with auto brightness control
  • 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. Improved algorithm from Sony A900
  • Anti-Dust Technology
  • Auto Pop-Up Flash with four main operating modes and a variable Slow-Sync function
  • External, proprietary flash hot-shoe for Sony accessory flash units
  • Built-in support for wireless TTL flash exposure with certain Sony flashes
  • Eye-Start Autofocus System
  • 9-Point Center Cross AF Sensor
  • Auto and Manual focus options with Single and Continuous AF modes
  • 40-segment honeycomb metering system, plus Center-Weighted and Spot metering options, with AE Lock function
  • Scene Selection Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night Portrait, and Flash-off
  • Creative Style Settings
  • sRGB and Adobe RGB color space options
  • RAW and JPEG file formats
  • Contrast, saturation, and sharpness adjustments
  • Adjustable White Balance setting with presets and a manual option
  • Index and Slide Show Display
  • High-Resolution Thumbnails for PhotoTV HD Viewing
  • Help features explain Function menu items and capture modes
  • USB 2.0 High-Speed cable and interface software for connecting to a computer and downloading images
  • HDMI output
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), Exif 2.2, Print Image Matching III and PictBridge compliant


In the Box

The Sony A380 ships with the following items in the box:

  • DSLR-A380 body
  • DT18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM zoom lens (if purchased as a kit)
  • Body cap
  • Lens caps
  • Lithium-ion battery (NP-FH50)
  • Battery charger
  • USB cable
  • Eyepiece cover
  • Shoulder strap
  • CD-ROM
  • Instruction manual
  • Warranty card


Recommended Accessories


Model Differences

The table below summarizes the differences between the three new models.

Summary of Differences
Sony A230
Sony A330
Sony A380
Total Megapixels
Effective Megapixels
Maximum Resolution
3872 x 2592
3872 x 2592
4592 x 3056
Reduced Resolutions
2896 x 1936,
1920 x 1280

3872 x 2176,
2896 x 1632,
1920 x 1088
2896 x 1936,
1920 x 1280

3872 x 2176,
2896 x 1632,
1920 x 1088
3408 x 2272,
2288 x 1520

4592 x 2576,
3408 x 1920,
2288 x 1280
Viewfinder Magnification
Viewfinder Eyepoint (mm)
Metering Sensitivity
(f/1.4 lens, ISO 100)
EV 1 ~ 20
EV 3 ~ 20)
EV 2 ~ 20
EV 4 ~ 20)
EV 2 ~ 20
EV 4 ~ 20)
Burst Speed (Tested)
2.4 fps
2.4 fps
1.7 fps
Live View Mode
Tilting LCD
LCD Brightness Adjustment
5 steps manual
2 steps auto +
5 steps manual
2 steps auto +
5 steps manual
Battery Life (CIPA shots)
510 (OVF)
510 (OVF)
230 (Live View)
500 (OVF)
230 (Live View)
Dimensions (WxHxD, mm)
128 x 97 x 67.5
128 x 97 x 71.4
128 x 97 x 71.4
Weight (body only)
452 g
491 g
489 g
MSRP with 18-55mm lens


Sony A380 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Simple controls
  • Sony's exclusive Live View mode allows very fast autofocus and low shutter lag
  • Super SteadyShot in-camera image stabilization
  • Tilting LCD allows easy horizontal shooting from above or below
  • Recessed Mode dial reduces accidental activation
  • New power switch is easy to activate
  • Left side port door makes getting at cards easier
  • Quiet shutter sound
  • AF points are more visible
  • HDMI port
  • Easy menu
  • New status screen shows Aperture and Shutter speed scales
  • Excellent tonality; handles both highlights and shadows very well
  • Better than average color accuracy and saturation
  • Excellent shutter lag in Live View mode
  • Faster than average shutter lag overall
  • Excellent detail at ISOs of 400 and below (with good lens)
  • Very good resolution
  • Nice, fine-grained saturation control, with little impact on contrast
  • Very effective contrast adjustment, with little impact on saturation
  • Excellent printed results, making a good 13x19-inch print at ISO 100 and a good 11x14 at ISO 400
  • Awkward grip design is uncomfortable and insufficient for heavier lenses
  • Body feels somewhat hollow
  • Menu and zoom buttons are difficult to use
  • Deploying the flash takes too many steps
  • No depth-of-field preview method
  • Poor Live View accuracy; only 92% coverage, slight rotation
  • Kit lens quality seems rather variable; from good to only so-so
  • Focus accuracy issues with some lenses and subjects
  • Poor low light AF when not using AF assist (~1/4 fc limit)
  • In-camera instructions for setting manual white balance are incorrect (!)
  • Flash needed for AF assist
  • Poor flash coverage at wide angle with the kit lens
  • Poor LL metering (had to use manual exposure mode, auto metering was underexposed by 4 stops at the darkest level tested)
  • Slower than average burst mode
  • Short battery life in Live View mode (not uncommon), slightly below average for optical viewfinder
  • Continuous drive mode is insufficient for sports


Sony's complete physical redesign of the A200 and A300 series digital SLRs brought with it a slight weight loss, a new card/connector door, and a good power switch relocation, but also came with a significantly reduced grip and the loss of the easy-to-use flash activation button. The redesign also included a new 18-55mm zoom lens, whose shorter length reduces the overall profile of the cameras.

Internally, there were few enough changes that we didn't expect a lot, but were nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the high print quality across the Sony A380's ISO range, with its 14-megapixel images capable of producing very good 16x20-inch prints at the lowest ISOs. Viewed onscreen at 100%, the image quality seemed to drop off pretty dramatically from ISO 800 up, but our printing showed the ISO 800 shots were still usable printed at 13x19 inches. That's quite good. ISO 1,600 and 3,200 shots were also usable straight out of the camera, producing good 8x10 and 5x7-inch prints, respectively.

The new autofocus screen on the Sony A380 is a welcome change, and we also like the new graphical status screen that shows the available range of shutter speeds and apertures for a given scene. We're also happy to see that the menu is about as simple as it was in last year's models, because they were just right. Autofocus speed is fast, but the frame rate is too low for sports shooting, at 1.7 frames per second.

Sony's unique Live View mode increases the value of the feature in the A380, whose autofocus functions just as fast in Live View as it does when autofocusing via the optical viewfinder, while most digital SLRs with live view slow down quite a bit. And though it doesn't have quite the full range of other digital SLRs, the tilting LCD design works well when shooting horizontally from overhead and down low. It also handles vertical shooting around corners or backed up against a wall quite well.

One thing missing from the Sony A380 is a movie mode, something some of its main competition at this price point have. It's important to remember that movie mode in most of those cameras isn't as easy to use as your standard camcorder, and most of them don't autofocus while you shoot, so it's not as big a strike as you'd imagine, but still worth considering.

Compared to the other two Alphas in this series, the Sony A380 would be our second choice after the A330. The Sony A380 scores lower than the A330 in the areas of low-light autofocus and flash power. For $200 less, you get better indoor performance than you'll get from the Sony A380, both with and without flash.

Unless you plan to make enlargements up to 16x20 inches, you won't need the Sony A380's 14-megapixel image size, because the Sony A330 is able to output 13x19-inch prints with no trouble at all. While we like the A380 for its simplicity and good image quality, you get more bang for your buck with the Sony A330, the only one of Sony's three consumer cameras to earn a Dave's Pick.


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