Sony Alpha DSLR-A300K Digital SLR Camera
At a Glance
Updated 12/23/08: Like competing compact digital SLRs designed for users stepping up from the point-and-shoot realm, the 10.2-megapixel Sony Alpha DSLR-A300K has live-view functions--but it enjoys an edge over its rivals in that its flexible live-view LCD works in real time. Priced at $550 (available in a kit only, with a 18mm-to-70mm lens; price as of 12/10/08), this camera offers tilt-screen tricks that may make it attractive to stealth shooters and to people who want to capture unique images.
The 2.7-inch live-view screen offers optional real-time viewing, so you can compose images using your LCD just as you would with a point-and-shoot camera. A mechanical switch allows you to toggle back and forth between using the live-view LCD or the viewfinder for composing. Because the Alpha DSLR-A300K's live view (as on the Alpha DSLR-A350) uses a separate mirror and sensor to transmit what it sees, the live-view mode imposes no slowdown on the sensor's handling of the actual images as you shoot. If you prefer to use the traditional viewfinder, though, Sony's works just fine; its eyecup and diopter comfortably fit my eye.
Thanks to the live-view mode, composing shots of subjects at ground level was a breeze, since I didn't have to crouch down onto the ground to look through the viewfinder. Though both the LCD's quality and live view won me over, I was a little disappointed to see that it folds out and extends only vertically. The design allowed me to point the lens around a corner periscope-style, but only in that one way. I can imagine how constructing a sturdy, fully swiveling screen might be difficult, but here's hoping that Sony will achieve such a thing in future models.
The A300K weighs just 0.2 ounces more than the Nikon D60, but it seems a bit heavy at 16.3 ounces; still, the camera's ergonomic design gives it a solid and balanced feel in the hand.
If you put your fingers on the camera's grip, they won't get in the way of the bundled 18mm-to-70mm lens (f/3.5 to 5.6, effective 35mm focal length of 27mm to 105mm) or block the pop-up flash. Commonly used settings are accessible from the top of the camera for quick access. Menu controls are available on the back, and all settings are viewable on screen.
I found the camera intuitive to use. The A300K offers a 3-frames-per-second burst mode for sports and other fast-moving action, but that mode steps down to 2 frames per second if you use live view. The camera will also let you get close for macro shots. It has dial settings for landscape, portraits, and sunsets, and offers in-camera image stabilization. Several cool pre-shooting, image-enhancement features--including saturation, nighttime, and black-and-white settings--are easily accessible within the menu.
The noise-reduction and dynamic range expansion settings made quite a difference during long exposures at high ISOs (which range from 100 to 3200). That said, I observed a good deal of noise in shots not employing noise reduction; I also noticed some artifacting along high-contrast edges, a bit more than I would like in a high-quality image file. Even so, in the final evaluation of PC World Test Center tests, this model earned a score of Very Good for its overall image quality, including its excellent flash exposures.
Manual settings are easy to dial up, as are the aperture- and shutter-priority modes. I particularly liked the A300K's Exposure Shift setting, which novice photographers may find valuable: First, you set what you perceive as a proper exposure, and then, with the shift function, you can make equivalent exposures using different combinations of shutter speeds and apertures. White-balance settings are similarly simple to adjust and customize via the menu, and the camera will also shoot bracketing for white balance, which allows you to see multiple takes of ambient color in your shots so you can pick the ones you like best.
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A300K's smooth live-view handling makes this model worth consideration for anyone graduating from a point-and-shoot camera. That this model offers advanced features in a fun-to-use, uncomplicated form should only make for more photographic joy.