Sony's entry into the DLSR market with the Alpha camera range has been pretty well accepted. So the tech maker went back to the lab to tweak its lineup with new units—though, perhaps, this should be called an along-grade instead of an upgrade.
That's because the new Alpha 2009's, the A230, A330 and A380 are direct replacements for the previous A200, A300, and A350. By direct, I mean almost literally direct replacements—though they're smaller, lighter, and cheaper, it looks like much of the actual camera parts remain the same.
For example, the A200 had a 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor, a maximum ISO of 3200, a dust-removal sensor shake system and internal optical image stabilization. And the A230 has all that too, identically. The additional features that distinguish the A230 from its predecessor are mainly size at 5.2 by 3.9 by 2.7 inches, versus 5.2 by 3.7 by 2.8 inches, and weight with the empty A230 weighing 0.05 pounds less. Sony's calling it the "lightest, most compact DSLR body ever." Up at the A380 end, the differences are a little more noticeable: 5.9 by 3.9 by 3 inches for the A350 is now 5.2 by 3.9 by 2.9 inches, and there's a 23% weight loss down to 1.28 pounds.
The styling has been improved, and there was a little work done on the controls. The hand grip appears a little smaller and perhaps more comfortable. There is an HDMI-out option now, if you're in the habit of connecting your camera to your HDTV. The three new Sony cameras are the first from the company to feature a graphical UI with a built-in help guide—they are targeted at entry level photographers, remember.
Bizarrely, Sony swapped the batteries from a chunky 1600mAh unit to a wimpy 900mAh unit—possibly to help reduce the weight and size of the body. That's going to have a direct impact on the shot-life of the cameras, as you can bet that with much of the camera internals remaining the same, the electronics isn't going to eat any less power.
At least Sony's outing a bunch of new lenses at the same time, each incorporating Sony's "Smooth Autofocus Motor" which uses an ultrasonic drive system, and adding them to the Alpha camera kits. There's an 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 unit, a 55-200mm F/4-5.6 telephoto unit and a standard 50mm portrait lens with F/1.8 aperture. The A230 goes for $550, the A330 for $650, and the A380 for $850, each with the 18-55mm lens.
Typical of Sony, given its other strange product developments, these new cameras are a great tweak to the Alpha range, but they're not really an upgrade. Compared to the wow-factor of new features rolled out in Canon or Nikon camera updates, these are slightly disappointing.