Sony's DSLR-A330 (aka the Alpha 330) is a simple yet powerful dSLR that offers a great deal of control, while at the same time providing exposure options for the simplest of users. Like we saw last year, Sony announced three dSLR models at the same time, the DSLR-A230, DLSR-A330, and DSLR-A380. Each model shares similar specifications with it's siblings, with the A330 holding the "mid-level" spot. Building on the success of past Alpha series models, the A330 offers most all of the features we came to love about these cameras, including their speedy Live View system, Anti-dust technology, D-Range Optimizer, and the built-in Super SteadyShot image stabilization system. The A330 also sports a 10-megapixel APS-C sized imager, Alpha/Minolta A-type bayonet lens mount, 9-point AF system with Eye-start option, 40-segment metering, 2.7-inch titling LCD screen, 2.5fps burst mode, ISO 100-3200 sensitivity range, RAW and JPEG still image capture, and a Li-ion power source. Along with the typical Memory Stick Duo memory slot, Sony also added a separate slot for SD/SDHC type media, with a simple switch to change the memory being used. The only thing missing from the A330 is some sort of HD video function.
The body of the A330 resembles past Alpha models, with a nice clean and crisp design. The smooth black and grey exterior is appealing to the eye, and the added rubber accents on the hand-grip, left-hand side, and on the thumb rest really add to its sophisticated look. These accents also ensure you get a good secure grip on the camera. The control layout is very simple, with enough buttons to gain access to various often used settings. However, it's not cluttered and overwhelming. While most of the controls seem to positioned in a comfortable manner, I was baffled by the placement of the Menu button. If you hold the camera like one normally grasps a dSLR, none of your fingers are anywhere close to it. However, if you "pinch" the camera like a consumer P&S, your index finger will rest right on top of it. I'm guessing they figure users will change the positioning of their hands when they go to make menu changes; I personally didn't find it to be a huge problem to move my hand to access the button.
The A330 is smaller and lighter than past models (like the A350), however it still fit quite well in my large hands. The hand-grip offers a nice comfortable feel, with the controls falling nicely beneath my finger tips. Again we found the Fn (Function) button to be very handy, allowing for quick changes to several functions like AF mode/area, D-Range Optimizer, Creative Styles, etc. The 2.7-inch titling LCD was a pleasure to use both indoors and out. Thanks to it's tilting abilities, you can capture waist-level or over the head shots with ease; something that is quite difficult with fixed screens. This function also comes in handy when you have the camera mounted on a tripod. With 230K pixels of resolution, the LCD offers a nice clear picture when reviewing captured photos as well as during Live View shooting. My only complaint is that the display could benefit from a non-glare coating.
Live View has become a standard option on almost all dSLRs these days. Like we've mentioned in the past, we feel Sony has the cleverest system yet. Instead of having the mirror move twice (or more) to capture a single image, the system on Sony Alpha cameras features a separate image sensor used just for the live image that is displayed on the LCD. This means no waiting around for the camera to move the mirror out of the way of the main image sensor for you to get a live feed, and then again wait for it to move back so the camera can focus and capture the image.
The A330 employs a penta-Dach-mirror optical viewfinder, which I found quite comfortable to use, thanks mostly to the deep rubber eyecup (included). There's plenty of shooting information along the bottom, and the dioptric adjustment easily accommodates those who wear glasses, providing a clear and full view of the focusing screen and display areas. One feature that we continue to like about Alpha models is the "Eye-start" sensor right below the optical viewfinder. When enabled via the menu, the camera will shut off the LCD and focus the camera when you bring it up to your eye. The intended focus areas are illuminated briefly when autofocus is locked, and you also have the ability to choose one of the 9 focus points when using Local AF area mode via the Fn menu. The A330 uses the same spherical acute matte focusing screen that we have seen in past models. The A330 also continues the use of the Super SteadyShot "shake scale" at the bottom right of the optical viewfinder. This system displays the amount of camera shake detected, giving you a visual reference when you are holding the camera up to your eye.
Shooting performance was very robust. From power up till the first image was captured measured a mere 5/10 of a second. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was almost instantaneous (less than 1/10 of a second) when pre-focused, and between 1/10 and 4/10 second including auto focus time; depending on the degree of focus change required by the lens. Shot-to-shot delay averaged a 6-7/10 of a second between frames without the flash, and about 1.5 - 2 seconds including the internal flash, depending on subject distance. With the optional HVL-F20AM flash unit attached, the shot to shot delay averaged 6/10 of a second.
Sony claims the A330 can continuously capture JPEG images at 2.5fps in Continuous Advance mode. I was a bit disappointed with our burst mode tests, as I was unable to get the camera to perform at this claimed speed. When using Auto mode, I was able to capture 10 Large Fine JPEG images in approx. 6.5 seconds (about 1.5fps). This was when using either a class 6 SDHC card or a Sony MS Pro Duo (Mark2) card. Switching the camera to Program mode sped things up a bit, but the best I could pull off was 10 frames in 4.7 seconds (about 2.1fps). This was with the sensitivity set at ISO Auto. In RAW mode, the capture rate was basically the same, allowing me to capture 10 frames (Sony claims 6) in 4.8 seconds (2.0fps).
Update: While conversing with one of our respected forum
members on our A330 burst performance tests, I decided to play with
the camera a bit more before sending it back to Sony. In doing so, I
was finally able to get the camera to perform up to (actually beyond)
Sony's 2.5fps claim. When switching the AF mode from the default AF-A
(Automatic) setting, to AF-S (Single-shot), I was able to capture 10 frames
in just 3.8 seconds (about 2.6fps). Boosting the ISO to 1600 allowed me to squeeze out approx. 2.8fps. While this is great news, I'm
still a little disappointed that I had to manually change the autofocus
settings to achieve this rate. I feel that the camera should be able to
shoot at 2.5fps out of the box, as long as the user has a "faster"
When using Live View, camera performance was almost identical to the above numbers; basically, the A330 is not slowed down at all by the Live View system. Power up till the first image was captured was similar at just 5/10 of a second. Shutter lag measured the same as above, less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and between 1-3/10 of a second including the AF system. The shot-to-shot delay averaged about 6/10 of a second between frames without the flash, and 1.5 seconds with the built-in flash. Continuous capture slowed a bit, to about 1.9fps (10 images in 5.2 seconds). The LCD briefly shows the last image captured when in burst mode, much like a consumer digicam. So, I feel your best bet is to use the optical viewfinder when following fast moving subjects. All our results were obtained using the 18-55mm Sony AF DT kit lens, a Sony 4GB MS Pro Duo Mark2 card (also tested with an OCZ Class 6 4GB SDHC card), Auto and Program modes, flash off, AWB, 10M Large/Fine JPEG mode, ISO Auto, unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The A330 captures high-quality images when using the 10M Large Fine JPEG setting. We used Program mode with the ISO set to 100 (the lowest setting) and the standard creative style selected, and the camera captured beautiful photos of our normal outdoor subjects. Images are nice an sharp with minute amounts of edge softness, colors are rich, and exposure is spot on. The camera also controls noise quite well. We left the High ISO NR on (default setting), and after reviewing our M&M man ISO test photos, found that the A330 can produce usable images all the way up to its maximum 3200 setting. At the lower 100-200 settings, you can see slight traces in dark or shadow areas under some critical inspection at 100%. At ISO 800, you do start to see a slight loss of detail from the NR system, however our photos still looked great. When set at 1600 or 3200, you can spot noise easily even when viewing an image full screen (about 25%), however color saturation and detail still look good. I would have no problem using ISO 3200 to create a 4x6 or 5x7-inch print. Overall, the camera performs quite well in various conditions, whether you are outdoors in bright sunlight, or in marginal conditions where you'll need to boost the ISO.
We used the kit DT 18-55mm (27 - 82.5mm in 35mm equivalence) f3.5-5.6 lens with our evaluation A330. Offering approx 3x magnification, this lens will work well for general photo taking and snap shots. While it won't be mistaken for an expensive professional series lens, it does have the ability to produce nice images throughout the zoom range. The majority of our shots were sharp, with only a slight amount of edge softness present in some of our photos. Chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) were well controlled, with only some Very minute traces present in areas of extreme contrast (I had to view images at 100 - 150% to really see them).
When shooting portraits, I found the A330 does an exceptional job. The light weight of the camera allows you to easily change the orientation or angle of the shot; I just wish Sony made a compatible vertical battery grip. The built-in Auto pop-up flash unit is quite powerful, and produced good exposures from beyond 7 feet when shooting at ISO 100 using the telephoto end of the kit lens to tightly frame our subject. It also did well when capturing our M&M flash photos, which were taken at 55mm (82.5mm equivalent). While this flash will do fine for individual or small group portraits and snap shots, if you plan on shooting a large group or across open rooms, you'll want to purchase an optional external flash unit like the HVL-F42AM. We also tested the A330 with the compact HVL-F20AM, which also works great for small groups. While I didn't find it to be much more powerful than the A330's built-in unit, the benefits it offered were the ability to bounce and use the diffuser.
Battery life was not quite what I had expected. The A330 uses a much smaller pack than that found supplied with past Alpha models. The NP-FH50 is only a 900 mAh pack, compared to the A350's 1600 mAh NP-FM500H battery. Sony claims you can capture up to 510 photos when using the OVF (Optical ViewFinder) or about 230 images using Live View. I was able to capture about 320+ photos using the OVF 85% of the time. However, I had to charge the battery twice in order to capture those images and complete all of our other usual tests. I Strongly recommend that you purchase at least one extra pack (I'd snag two if you shoot a lot of photos) to keep charged and ready at all times; yet another situation where a battery grip option would come in handy.
Bottom line - Occupying the "mid-level" spot in Sony's consumer dSLR offerings, the Alpha 330 is a very appealing camera. I really enjoyed using it, and only found two real weakness:
- I was not able to get the burst mode to perform up to Sony's claims without having to change the autofocus mode from the default setting to AF-S (Single-shot)
- And, battery life was not up to par in my opinion, due to an anaemic battery
Other than the above, I found the A330 to be a sound camera. It produces pleasing photos in a variety of shooting environments, offers speedy performance, plenty of user-friendly exposure options, terrific high ISO results, and is comfortable to use/hold. With a street price of US$649.99 or less for the A330L single-lens kit (SAL-1855 standard zoom lens), or US$849.99 for the A330Y two-lens kit (includes both the SAL-1855 and SAL-55200 zoom lenses), we feel the Sony DSLR-A330 offers a great value for the capabilities and quality you are receiving.
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