Sony Alpha A3000 review: Photos, price impress on this slow, faux dSLR

Sony’s Alpha ILCE-3000 (aka Sony A3000) attempts to overcome all of these obstacles at once by cramming one of its NEX cameras into a DSLR body and pricing it at $400 as a kit.

Rather than shrinking down one of its single-lens translucent (SLT) models like Canon did with the SL1 compact DSLR – which would have likely resulted in a more expensive model – Sony built a mirrorless DSLR-style body around its E-Mount lenses and the NEX menu and control system. Overall, the idea makes a lot of sense. Once you drop the mirror, the biggest constraint on shrinking down becomes the lens mount. On paper (though not necessarily in practice), the NEX menu system makes this camera more friendly to new buyers. It’s telling that the A3000’s closest price competitors, like the Canon T3, are generally two-year-old products.

Image Quality

This is the one thing the camera really does right; it’s truly the best image quality you can get for $400 (at this moment). It delivers very good JPEG images up to ISO 800, and, depending on image content, relatively usable images up to ISO 1600. If you’re upgrading from a point-and-shoot, you can even use ISO 3200. Image processing is pretty good, although you might get slightly better results if you shoot Raw+JPEG and process the Raw image; you get more detail, but only in exchange for a grainier photo.

Sony Alpha A3000 Photo SamplesThe tonal range is fairly typical for an entry-level APS-C model, as it clips highlights and doesn’t retain much detail, but it recovers shadow detail without adding a ton of noise. Colors are saturated and contrasty, with some tonal shifts in reds, but still pleasing to the eye. There’s no option for a neutral color profile; you can tweak existing presets, but you can’t save as new ones. Video also looks good for its class. Yes, it’s a little washed out, and there are aliasing artifacts (jaggies) on diagonal lines or film edges, but detail resolution is decent. As you’d expect, artifacts increase as ISO sensitivity increases, but overall I’d say video quality is adequate for vacation, school, and other casual use.


The A3000 may look like a DSLR and produce similar images, but it doesn’t shoot like one. Part of that is because it uses an old-school contrast AF system—not the newer hybrid AF found in Sony’s higher-end NEX models, nor the fast phase-detection AF found in true DSLRs—and it’s relatively slow to process. Even its superzoom counterpart, the HX300, is generally faster.

It takes 1.9 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot; that’s slower than the similarly priced (as it’s replaced) Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5 mirrorless ILC, and a lot slower than competing DSLRs. It takes 0.5 second to focus and shoot in good light, and 0.8 second in dim conditions.. Design and Features

Lighter than a DSLR but much heavier than a more compact ILC camera, the A3000’s design’s best aspects are the relatively large handgrip, the large stereo microphone, and the placement of the memory card slot on the left side rather than in theSony Alpha A3000 Camera Battery compartment. On top there’s a hot shoe, a rare feature at this price, a button to switch between the viewfinder and the LCD, a mode dial with the usual manual, semi-manual, and automatic modes (actually two automatic modes, Auto and More Automatic) plus Panorama, and a play button. I have to say: you really don’t appreciate the eye sensor on the higher-end models unless you’re forced to switch manually. On the back are the EVF, a large and well-placed movie record button, a surprisingly smooth non-rubber thumb rest, and NEX-like controls. The latter include ISO sensitivity, drive mode, exposure compensation, and display options, but they’re all reprogrammable.

The two buttons above and bel
ow the adjustment dial are context-sensitive, with soft labels that appear on the LCD. Conclusion

I think my biggest gripe with the A3000’s design is that it’s just plain boring. Its shooting features aren’t particularly attractive or streamlined, and the mediocre viewfinder and fixed, low-quality LCD make shooting feel like a chore, which is something I’ve experienced with recent cameras. Given the mediocre performance, it’s a hard sell. The NEX-3N is only $50 more in some places, and is more compact and has a better LCD. The Nikon D3200 kit starts as low as $550 and offers comparable photo quality, a better LCD, an optical viewfinder, and better performance. Sony’s HX300 is similarly priced, has a better viewfinder, LCD, performance, and a fixed zoom lens, and could offer more flexibility to the typical A3000 buyer, who probably won’t buy an additional lens. But it can’t match the photo quality.

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