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A more expensive A350?
on 5 August 2009
To all first time DSLR buyers and even the lower end enthusiasts, Sony was given the chance to answer your prayers. Building on the strengths of the a350, which I will be comparing this camera to, the a380 tries to make its mark as the new kid on the block. Other than the obvious physical changes, it seems that Sony have revamped many of the core features of the old series (dare I say it), with a complete overhaul of the user interface to boost its appeal to the photography novice, while attempting to keep the more advanced features up to scratch with its Nikon/Canon/Olympus competitors.
Out of the box the a380 is almost 100 grams lighter than the a350, resembling the light-weight build quality you would find on the Nikon D90 for example. However it is important to mention now that practically none of the selling points of the camera are a drastic shift from the a350. In the reviews I had read prior to pre-ordering, I saw the quick AF in live view mode, a tilting screen and the same 14.2MP CCD. In some ways it was like reading the same reviews again. What makes the a380 250 pounds more expensive then? As previously mentioned, the layout is much better on the outside; the function and trash buttons have been shifted inwards and the ISO and drive mode buttons have been condensed into the thumb pad. This touching up makes the camera a lot neater and definitely more stylish, but do photographers really spend their money on looks over functionality?
When inserting the memory card for the first time I immediately noticed a slight difference. Instead of having to use a CF/SD adapter as with the a350, the a380 features both slots with a handy toggle selector depending on which one you want to use. The menu is fantastic. New interactive graphics make changing settings much easier; even with DSLRs it's sometimes hard to tell whether you've got the right settings until you've taken the picture. However the new display helps you get it perfect first time.
Image wise, I am very concerned. An improvement to the ISO performance as well as image sharpness was expected however not delivered. I have only owned the camera for a day but I have taken a lot of pictures and fiddled with the settings extensively and I honestly feel that no improvement has been made whatsoever after uploading.
The 100 gram slim down does no favours for the new alpha. I enjoyed the bulky, albeit creaky build of the a350, and the shed in weight has resulted in a shed of build quality. On paper, it looks more stylish with its pillowed exterior, however in the flesh it feels tackier; I utterly dislike the lackluster top plate. Moreover, the new hand grip is inadequate and fiddly to use.
Overall I question the worth of buying this camera over the a350. For the price, I don't feel I have gained anything new. Trading in my a350 in the name of photography may have been a mistake and I regret not waiting for the price to drop as it is essentially the same camera with a bit of cheap makeup thrown all over it. I'm sure the price will drop significantly over time but if you are looking for a great DSLR now, save yourself the £250 and go for the a350 instead.