The Sony A380 is a brand new mid-range DSLR, replacing the existing A350 in Sony’s burgeoning Alpha range. Like the A350, it’s got a 14.2-megapixel sensor, built-in SteadyShot image stabilisation and live view via its tilting rear screen, but these have been squeezed into a dinkier, lighter body.
Sony might be a relative newcomer to the world of DSLRs, launching its first Alpha snapper in the summer of 2006, but it has already slotted comfortably into third place behind the old guard of Canon and Nikon – and helped on by a fine selection of lenses (including the only autofocus Carl Zeiss-made lenses you can get on DSLRs), we reckon it’s got the big boys looking over their shoulders.
But unlike the truly awesome high-end A900 launched last year, the Sony A380 doesn’t represent a great leap forward for Sony – in fact, it basically feels like the A350 with a tarted up exterior, HDMI output, new kit lens and slightly more user-friendly interface.
The new GUI makes the Sony A380 pretty nifty as a beginner’s DSLR, giving you more info on what changing the settings will mean for your shots, while the live view carried over from the A350 remains the only one around that offers a truly fast auto focus. The new 18-55mm kit lens lacks the focal range of the old 18-70mm number, but feels more solid and delivers better quality photos, so that’s a step in the right direction.
But in other ways the Sony A380 feels like it’s actually gone backwards. The old battery, which lasted ages and gave its remaining life as a percentage, has been replaced by a smaller, more basic powerplant that just gives you a four-bar indicator.
There are fewer buttons round the back, forcing you need to delve into the menu screens more often. The A350 was a chunky, serious-looking camera that sat comfortably in the hand – the A380’s downsized grip is trickier to hold, particularly with heavier lenses strapped to the front.
That’s not to say the Sony A380 is a bad camera – it still takes fantastic, detail-rich photos with awesome dynamic range. But with Canon and Nikon adding video to their similarly priced offerings (the Canon 500D and Nikon D5000 respectively), the A380 struggles to stand out. True, there is the size factor, but a DSLR is never going to fit in your pocket, so shaving off a few millimetres at the expense of usability seems a silly move. There are also the quick AF live view and built-in SteadyShot – but these are features you’ll find in the old A350.
The Sony A380 makes a decent first-timer’s DSLR, but existing Alpha users won’t find much reason to upgrade. In fact, the lack of video and true innovation may drive new shutterbugs into the arms of Canon and Nikon. Must try harder, Sony.