Sony A330 Review

The Sony A330 is 10.2-megapixel DSLR that is a follow-up to the groundbreaking A300.  I wouldn’t necessarily call the Sony A330 an upgrade to the A300 – more like a refresh.

First off, let me get to the point of who this camera is for – consumers upgrading from point and shoot cameras, period.  It’s not a typical enthusiast, or aspiring pro shooter’s camera.  It’s not a do-it-all DSLR like the Canon Rebel T1i or Nikon D5000.  This camera is first and foremost for those folks out there who are thinking about a DSLR but are a little intimidated by all the bells, whistles and interchangeable lenses found on DSLRs.

For this crowd, Sony, like no other, has nailed it.  If you fit into this category and want to know more about his camera, read on.  If you are a pixel peeper, want video in a DSLR (not what it’s cracked up to be), or demand the best image quality, you should probably look for something else.

Next, I’ll give Sony credit for not only shrinking the camera size, but also shrinking the packaging to be more environmentally friendly.  The A330 2-lens kit packaging is substantially smaller than the A300 2-lens kit.

Sony A330 Key Features

  • 10.2 megapixel CCD sensor (1.5x crop)
  • 2.7″ articulating LCD
  • SteadyShot sensor-based image stabilization
  • 9-point AF (center cross-type)
  • Fast Live View AF
  • ISO 100-3200 sensitivity
  • 2.5 fps shooting speed
  • HDMI output
  • Dual slot SD Card and Memory Stick compatibility

Sony A330 Functionality and Performance

The first thing you notice about the A330, as compared to the A300, is the size.  The A330 just feels tiny compared to its predecessor.  In fact, I find it too small for my hands.  At first, this was a real turn off for me, until I started thinking about Sony’s target market.  Again, back to the point and shoot crowd, this camera is a logical upgrade from those tiny little pocket cameras.

For those of you switching from a point and shoot camera, you will be immediately impressed with the boost in image quality that you get out of this camera.  The image sensor is much larger that you will find in your point and shoot camera which allow the A33o to capture much better detail.  Additionally, the images won’t be so grainy, particularly when you are shooting indoors.

The Sony A330 offers a rather plain jane 10.2 megapixel CCD sensor along with several other rather ordinary features.  It really does everything an entry-level DSLR should do.  What sets it apart though, are 2 or 3 key features – namely, sensor-based image stabilization, fast Live View autofocus and an articulating LCD screen.

Sony SteadyShot Image Stabilization

The sensor-based image stabilization system, which Sony has dubbed SteadyShot works by moving the sensor inside the camera body to effectively allow the use of image stabilization on all lenses attached to the camera. Sony’s primary competition (Canon and Nikon) use a lens-based image stabilization system, which moves the glass inside the lens to counter camera shake blur in your photos.  The image stabilized lenses are more expensive – and not all lenses from Canon and Nikon come with an image stabilization device built in.

If you aren’t familiar with image stabilization and what it does, it allows you to use a slower shutter speed than you would normally be able use.  While it doesn’t offer assistance to freeze a moving subject (you have to have a fast shutter speed to do so), it will tolerate a little bit of camera shake from your hands and shift the sensor or glass within the lens (depending on the system you are using).

To see how well the Sony A330’s built-in image stabilization works, take a look that the two photos below.  The first image was taken without SteadyShot enabled.  In the second image, I turned it on.  In both cases I used the same shutter speed of 1/4 of second, hand held and was zoomed out to 105mm using Sony’s 16-105mm lens, which makes a great walk around lens by the way.

Sony A330 SteadyShot Image Stabilization OFF

Sony A330 SteadyShot Image Stabilization ON

Pretty cool stuff, huh?  And again, this works on every lens that you mount on the camera.  That’s a major attraction for using the Sony Alpha system.

One thing I didn’t like about the SteadyShot feature on the A330 is the fact that you have to dig into the menu system to turn SteadyShot on or off.  By default, SteadyShot is switched on; however, if you need to switch it off for some reason, it takes a bit of button mashing to get it off. On the A300, there is a nice on/off switch on the back of the camera body to take care of this quickly.  I suppose this was part of the sacrifice for shrinking the body size.

Why would you want to turn it off?  Well, if you’re using a tripod, you don’t need it on.  Additionally, I encountered several situations where SteadyShot actually worsened the blur while the camera was on a tripod.  I could actually hear the sensor buzzing inside the camera during long exposures.  Once I turned it off, tripod-shot images came out nice and sharp.

Live View

Simply put, Live View works on the A330.  Sony has succeeded in implementing a Live View display in a DSLR unlike any other manufacturer to date.  Sony has placed a secondary imaging sensor in the A330 for the sole purpose of capturing an image to display on the rear LCD screen.

The focusing system is not clunkly and slow like on other DSLRs.  On the Sony A330, you get the same fast focus in Live View mode that you do when looking through the viewfinder.  Many compare using Live View on the A330 to point and shoot cameras.  That’s not really a fair comparison though – the A330 is so much better in speed and accuracy.

This ultra-functional Live View system is what makes moving from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR easy with the A330.

Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens

Sony DT 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM and Sony DT 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Lenses
The Sony DT 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM (Smooth AF Motor) lens is a new addition to the Sony kit.  It replaces the old 18-70mm kit lens.  Honestly though, my eyes can’t see a whole lot of difference between the two lenses – even when comparing the same scenes at 100% sizes.  I think that both lenses work well as entry-level kit lenses.  The autofocusing may be a little faster and quieter with the new 18-55mm lens; however, I didn’t have a whole lot of complaints with the old one either.  I certainly preferred the zoom range of the 18-70mm lens over the new 18-55mm kit lens.

While the 18-55mm kit lens won’t disappoint may shooters looking to upgrade from a point and shoot camera, you may miss the lack of zoom range found on many point and shoot cameras nowadays.  For this reason, I recommend pickup up the kit that includes both the 18-55mm lens and the refreshed DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM zoom lens.

Sony DT 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM and DT 55-200mm f/4-5.6 SAM Lenses

This gives you the equivalent of an 11x zoom range, while both lenses remain compact in size.  Additionally, adding the 55-200mm lens to the kit is more cost effective than adding it later on.

Image Quality

I don’t see a serious change in image quality over the A300; however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The A300 was not a bad camera after all.  Since the A330 is more of a refresh of the A300, we didn’t really expect to see major changes among the cameras.  I am more than happy with the image quality output found in the A330 as an entry-level DSLR.  While it’s not a best-in-class camera in terms of image performance, it’s good enough along with its other features to garner recognition among its rivals from the likes of Canon and Nikon.

ISO Performance

One component of image quality that has increasingly grown as a concern among DSLR users is how cameras handle low light shooting and what kind of image noise is produced at higher ISO settings.  ISO on digital cameras is equivalent to the ratings given to film and is based on sensitivity of the image sensor.  So, ISO 400 on a digital camera should have the same sensitivity of ISO 400 speed film.

Again, the Sony A330 is not a barn burner in terms of ISO performance; however, it’s plenty good enough.  Remember, I am looking at this camera for those of you moving from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR.  The A330 makes that move easier; however, the ISO performance is not up to par with, say, the Canon Rebel T1i.

Below is an image that shows the range of ISO performance for the A330. I cropped the center portion of the top photo at 100% zoom so that you can see it close up. For those of you who want to inspect the entire image, I’ve included links to those full size images below. Just right-click on the links and choose “Save as…”.

Sony A330 Reference Image at ISO 100

Sony A330 ISO Test

Sony A330 – ISO 100 – Original File

Sony A330 – ISO 200 – Original File

Sony A330 – ISO 400 – Original File

Sony A330 – ISO 800 – Original File

Sony A330 – ISO 1600 – Original File

Sony A330 – ISO 3200 – Original File

If that’s still not enough images to look at, consider the prior ISO comparison that I conducted between the Sony A330, A300 and A700 – click here.

Sony A330 Accessories

I think that the A330 kit (particularly, the 2-lens kit) suits you up pretty well.  Other than a memory card, you don’t really need anything to go along with it.  For memory cards, I recommend pickup up an SD card over the Sony Memory Stick.  SD cards are typically cheaper and are more universally compatible.  If you have a point and shoot camera, there’s a good chance you already have an SD card on hand.  If not, consider getting a Sandisk Ultra II 4GB or Extreme III 4GB card.  These cards have a fast transfer speed and will help you to keep shooting rather than waiting for your camera’s buffer to clear.  Also, a 4GB SD card will allow you to store 947 Fine quality JPEG files or 245 RAW files, which should be plenty between downloads to your computer.

Another consideration, which I would declare totally optional, is a 50mm lens, particularly, the affordable Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 lens.  To see why I recommend this 50mm lens, take a look at a prior post on Photography Bay – 4 Reasons Why Everyone Should Have a 50mm Lens.  Again, this is not an essential accessory; however, I hope that you can see the benefits of using the Sony 50mm f/1.8 lens.

If you don’t have a camera bag, I’m a big fan of Lowepro bags, particularly for smaller kits.  The Lowepro Fastback bags are pretty nice if you are looking for a backpack style bag.  If I am just going to the soccer field or somewhere casually, I will often times just take one lens and the camera in a Lowepro Topload Zoom 1 bag.

Sony A330 Books and Guides

Unfortunately, the Sony A330 has not garnered the attention that the Nikon and Canon cameras get from publishers.  As a result, I am not currently aware of any books available that are specific to the Sony A330.  That’s not entirely bad news though.  I think the camera’s manual can get you a long way to learning the Sony A330.  Additionally, to the extent you need further guidance on your photographic endeavors, I highly recommend Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure. At around $15, it’ll be the best bang for your buck that you ever spend on photography.

Conclusion


Like I said at the outset of this review, the Sony A330 is an excellent camera for those of you looking to make the switch from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR.  If you like being able to frame your scene on the back of the camera’s LCD, you’ll love the A330.  The fast autofocus during Live View shooting blows the competition away – sorry, Canon and Nikon, you’re behind the curve on this one.

Image quality is par for course; however, those who demand the best image quality, should look to the Canon Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000.  You’ll miss out on the cool Live View functionality; however, the advances you get in overall image quality and ISO performance may be worth the trade.

Additionally, those of you who like a larger grip on a camera may be disappointed with the A330, which feels like it was made for a woman’s hands.  My wife does love the A330 though – even over the Nikon D5000 or the Canon Rebel T1i – proving that functionality and comfort can trump image quality variances.

I can easily recommend the Sony A330 to potential buyers.  If you’ve read this far, you know who you are and likely have a good idea whether the Sony A330 will be a good fit for you.

Where to Buy the Sony A330

I recommend B&H Photo as a trusted online source for cameras like the Sony A330, along with a broad range of lenses and accessories to go with it.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Great review, thanks for posting it. I think you hit all the important points for the people this camera is aimed at AND the people it isn’t.

    …however, a little constructive criticism: your iso tests are consistently under exposed.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Micah. I let the camera do the metering and that’s what it said to expose at. In the trio ISO test b/w the A330, A300 and A700, I used the A330 as the baseline exposure and matched the other cameras to shoot at the same settings in manual mode.

      I appreciate the criticism and am open to suggestions. It seems that it is a continually refining process. I prefer to let the camera choose exposure since I generally get hammered for being bias if I monkey with it too much on my own. Again though, I’m totally open to suggestions.

  2. Roger Jordan says

    Hi Eric Thank you for your excellent review of the Sony A330, I have recently upgraded from a Fuji S9500 bridge camera (which I think is fantastic and will not be parting with) to the Sony A300 and I agree the live view is fantastic, you mention the lack of books or guides on the 330, have you seen the guide to the 300 and 350 by Gary Freidman?
    I would apprecate your advice as I am considering buying a copy, i am using the Sony 18-70 kit lens and Tamron 70-300
    Keep up the good work, I always enjoy reading your e-mails.
    Best regards Roger Jordan

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Roger. I’m not familiar with either guide from Gary Freidman, but thanks for bringing them to my attention. Hopefully, we’ll see some guides follow for the A330.

  3. Holly says

    Hi,
    Help!! Looking at the Sony A230 and the Nikon D60. I have a 3 1/2 yr old and want to capture her the best way and my point and shoot misses on a regular basis!! Which do you like best??

    Thanks!!
    Holly

    • says

      @Blessing – I think both will do the job fine. I think it mainly depends on your preferences. If you are ok looking through the viewfinder, then I’d go with the D5000. If you want the live view like a point and shoot camera, the A330 is a no brainer.

      I don’t think either camera would be a “bad” choice for capturing family moments. If you were wanting to “get serious” and maybe move into a semi-pro realm, I would lean toward the Nikon, but given the choice of a family camera, the A330’s fast Live View sure is attractive. Again, no “wrong” choice here.

  4. Andi says

    Im thinking of getting a dslr for an Africa trip.. so will obviously need a bigger lens – but is the A330 an okay body to start with?

  5. says

    Thanks! We just purchased this in Feb 2010 and while dissapointed in the lack of video capabilities, the shutter speed is an upgrade from the point and shoot Canon we’ve owned for years.