With a petite size and a relatively low price, the 10-megapixel Sony Alpha a330 builds on the strong foundation laid by its predecessor, the a300. Although this camera is clearly intended for the same new-to-digital-SLR crowd that the a300 targeted, this model is not enough of an upgrade to entice existing owners.
The Sony Alpha a330 is small and lightweight. The a330 is not an upgrade for owners of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A300. This camera is aimed squarely at the smaller-is-better crowd. Its light weight is quite convenient, but its grip is consequently smaller and may feel less comfortable and secure in larger (or even average-size) hands. With no LCD on top, the a330 instead has incorporated more functions into its buttons and control dial.
The Sony Alpha a330 still has a hot shoe for an external flash, in-camera image stabilisation, and a lovely tiltable live view screen. Fortunately, Sony's adjustments to shrink the a300 have not dented the ease of use we enjoyed on that model. We seldom had to consult the manual to find an option, and the mode dial has incorporated clean, readable scene options (such as landscape, portrait, and sports) for when you're shooting fast and loose.
In our hands-on evaluations, the Sony Alpha a330 was almost unbelievably fast to autofocus, with varying but generally correct results. The camera includes several multiweighted focus modes in addition to manual focus, and also offers multiple metering modes.
However, high-quality JPEGs from our tests often looked a little soft, likely due to the Sony Alpha a330's built-in noise reduction algorithm. While sharpening in Photoshop improved edges somewhat, shooting RAW and working on pictures on the PC achieved better results. Unfortunately, this approach is counterintuitive in a camera aimed at amateur DSLR users who may not want to spend time in an image-editing app perfecting every little detail.
The Sony Alpha a330 produced excellent, detailed macro shots using its 18-55mm kit lens. Colour was also accurate to the naked eye - vibrant but not unnatural, even with vivid reds and violets, which are often hard to render correctly. If you're looking to dial things up or down, the Sony Alpha a330 has several filters, including landscape, natural, and vivid, as well as a sunset mode. In addition, the dynamic range optimiser works well; in our tests, the feature helped render more shadow detail and also helped a little with highlight clipping (although you can't expect miracles from a high-contrast scene). In terms of digital noise, the a330 performed admirably, holding down the ugly chromatic noise until ISO 400, and much of the time, even ISO 800. (The camera offers an ISO range from 100 to 3200.)
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