Sony A3000 Review

Sony A3000 Review: Sony Alpha 3000 says goodbye to the mirror – Mirrorless system camera in SLR design

Sony says goodbye to the mirror with the Alpha 3000, at least in the entry-level segment. Once again, Sony is making a generational change: from the oscillating mirror (DSLR) to the fixed, semi-transparent mirror (SLT) to the mirrorless system camera “DSLM” with E-Mount, the bayonet of the NEX system. In purely optical terms, however, the Alpha 3000 continues to compete with entry-level DSLRs from other manufacturers, but at a very attractive price.

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Smooth autofocus (for single frame shooting)
  • Good image quality
  • Many useful automatic functions
  • Very light, ergonomically well formed housing

Cons

  • Slightly limited range of functions overall
  • Very low serial frame rate
  • Hard plastic “eyecup”
  • Puny EVF, coarse resolution display

Mirrorless system cameras are still booming – in the Far East. In the western world, on the other hand, buyers have become much more cautious; here, more than ever, the classic DSLR is considered the measure of all things. Sony has drawn an interesting conclusion from this and simply packed the technology of the NEX system into a classic DSLR housing. The result is the Alpha 3000, one of the most affordable system cameras ever. Can this concept work?

 

The Sony Alpha 3000 is a mirrorless system camera with the E-Mount, which is also used in the NEX system. [Photo: Sony]

The housing appears larger and, above all, much thicker than it should be. Comparing the distance of the bayonet to the rear display, the Alpha 3000’s distance to the rear display is significantly larger than a NEX. Apparently, Sony didn’t want to design the case too thin in order to make the buyer believe that it was a DSLR. Also the distinctive handle as well as the hump with the viewfinder and flash construction rather reminds of a reflex camera. However, the Alpha 3000 works purely electronically and completely without mirrors, neither a fixed nor a folding one. Sony and Zeiss currently offer 18 lenses for the E-Mount, which is used in the NEX system as well as the Alpha 3000, including two new, high-quality zooms, which we are presenting in a separate news item (see further links). The optional LA-EA2 adapter is also designed to connect Alpha lenses to the Alpha 3000. The photographer also does not have to do without a fast phase autofocus, as the 20 megapixel CMOS sensor in APS-C format has a phase detection system integrated directly on the sensor.

The rear, fixed screen measures three inches (about 7.5 centimeters) diagonally and has a resolution of only 230,000 pixels. The electronic viewfinder even only achieves a meagre 202,000 pixels resolution. The switch from mirror to mirrorless also seems to have a disadvantage elsewhere: The serial frame rate is now only 2.5 frames per second, slightly faster 3.5 frames per second should only be achieved with “speed priority”. Sony doesn’t reveal what this means exactly, probably they don’t use an autofocus tracking, maybe even an exposure tracking.

The Alpha 3000 boasts other features. For example, many automatic functions that do not require any technical knowledge on the part of the photographer, but manual adjustment of the exposure parameters is of course still possible, and the Alpha 3000 is also capable of handling raw formats. In addition, Sony includes a voucher for free online training with the camera, which is intended to explain the basic concepts of photography to beginners in an understandable way as an introduction to ambitious photography. The camera does not lack the obligatory image effects such as retro look, miniature or partial color, whereby the effects each offer adjustable parameters. If you’re not quite sure about the optimal image detail, simply take a little more wide-angle and activate the “Auto Object Framing” technology, which optimizes the image detail and saves the original as well as the cropped image, highly interpolated to 20 megapixels.

The Sony Alpha 3000 comes in the classic SLR design, but it is a mirrorless system camera. [Photo: Sony]

Also the pop-up flash of the Sony Alpha 3000 rather reminds on a reflex camera. [Photo: Sony]

A pronounced grip is also a must for the Sony Alpha 3000. [Photo: Sony]

The SEL-1855 is a standard lens supplied with the Sony Alpha 3000, covering a focal length range of 27-83 mm (KB) and equipped with an optical image stabilizer. [Photo: Sony]

 

The Sony Alpha 3000 records videos in Full HD resolution with stereo sound, because a stereo microphone is integrated in the housing between the flash and the viewfinder. The videographer has the choice of shooting 50 fields or 25 full frames per second (50i/25p). From September 2013, the Sony Alpha 3000 will be available at a price of almost 400 EUR. The scope of delivery includes the SEL-1855 standard lens, which with its focal length of 18-55 millimetres covers a focal length range of approximately 27 to 83 millimetres equivalent to a small image. It offers a maximum speed of F3.5 at wide angle, which decreases continuously to F5.6 at telephoto. The lens also features an optical image stabilizer, OSS from Sony.

On the back, the Sony Alpha 3000 offers a three inch screen, but with a meager 230,000 pixels resolution. The electronic viewfinder has a resolution of only 202,000 pixels. [Photo: Sony]

The hot shoe and program dial give the impression that the Sony Alpha 3000 is a full-fledged DSLR. [Photo: Sony]

Very nice to see in the side view: The Sony Alpha 3000 is considerably thicker than a NEX, despite the E-bayonet, probably to keep up the appearance of a “real” DSLR. [Photo: Sony]

Ergonomics and Workmanship

Until now, the system camera world at Sony has been divided into two: On the one hand, the Alpha system, which combines the concept of a classic DSLR using a semi-transparent mirror (SLT) with an electronic viewfinder. And on the other hand, the NEX family, in which Sony’s mirrorless system cameras are part. Sony is now bringing the two families together with the Alpha 3000. It doesn’t matter whether the cameras are equipped with the traditional A bayonet or with the E-Mount, newly developed for the NEX family: From now on, all system cameras at Sony will be called Alpha. The A3000 is the first camera in this family reunion, taking over the E bayonet from the previous NEX family. Its housing design, on the other hand, makes it look like a genuine Alpha, while the A3000 looks like a DSLR.

Sony is thus following a trend that Far Eastern camera manufacturers have been following for some time: In the western world, the motto “small is beautiful” does not apply so much to system cameras, unlike in the Far East. Even buyers of a low-priced camera with interchangeable object prefer a rather voluminous housing in Western Europe and North America, which should not look like a compact camera if possible. And so the Alpha 3000 sits comfortably in the hand thanks to its strongly shaped handle. However, the photo enthusiast is not really happy about it, because the construction of the A3000 is under a strict austerity dictate. And so the simple plastic housing of the Alpha 3000 looks a little cheap, but fortunately not at all rickety. Solid is also the fixed flap on the left side, under which the memory card compartment and the few interfaces of the A3000 are hidden.

How much Sony has really saved can only be seen when you look through the electronic viewfinder. It is very small, has an unseemly coarse resolution of 200,000 pixels and is by no means completely visible to spectacle wearers. As if that weren’t enough, Sony has included the viewfinder eyepiece of the Alpha 3000 with a hard plastic frame that shouldn’t be brought into intensive contact with the lenses too often. So it is only good that the viewfinder eyepiece at least offers a far-reaching dioptre correction – most people with defective vision will therefore be able to use the viewfinder without glasses. Another problem remains, however: Sony has eliminated the EVF eye sensor on the A3000. Switching between viewfinder and display is always a laborious manual operation.

Looking through the EVF of the Alpha 3000 is not very enjoyable, unfortunately the same is true for the rear display. It has an extremely modest resolution of around 230,000 pixels, and symbols and menu texts appear clearly pixelated. Sony has built the display firmly onto the back of the camera, it cannot be folded or swivelled. There is little mystery to the operation – as long as you don’t dive into the menus of the A3000. A handy mode dial on the top of the camera makes basic configuration a breeze. In addition, there is a smooth-running rotating ring on the back, which takes on different functions depending on the context. Two buttons can be assigned functions of your choice. Anyone who wants to set their camera precisely to the respective shooting situation is forced into the menu of the Alpha 3000 – for example, to activate exposure bracketing or change the ISO sensitivity. Now at the latest, the A3000 can no longer hide its close relationship to the NEX Family: The menu is divided into five main levels from “Camera” to “Brightness/Color” to “Setting”. If you have the command list of one of these submenus in front of you, you have to choose the detour to another submenu via the main level. What is actually intended to serve the clarity, makes the operation in practice rather cumbersome.

The bottom of the camera holds no surprises: Here you will find a tripod thread made of metal, which sits neatly in the optical axis. The battery compartment is also accessible from below, its flap is far enough away that it can be opened even when the quick-release plate is attached. The battery stores energy for about 470 shots (according to CIPA). Sony does not provide a charger cradle, instead there is only a simple charger to refresh the battery in the camera via USB connection.

Equipment

Sony has therefore made noticeable savings on the display and viewfinder. Does this also apply to the equipment of the Alpha 3000? At first glance, she certainly has everything important on board. Two all-round carefree automatic systems ensure that the photo novice does not have to worry about the correct settings. One of the two even selects programs that visibly improve image quality through multiple shooting – for example, significantly minimizing image noise at high ISO speeds or shooting subjects with strong contrasts as an HDR image. It is also nice that the fully automatic functions can be overridden, for example the exposure can be adjusted. If you don’t want to rely on the fully automatic system to do the job already, the A3000 can also preset one of ten scene modes. In this case, however, one remains dependent for better or worse on the specifications of the respective program; the scene mode programs cannot be overridden.

Sony has also equipped the Alpha 3000 with useful special functions. In addition to the programs with multiple exposure already mentioned, the “Sweep Panorama” function is also included. If it is activated, you only need to pan the camera over the scene and it will record a widescreen image. This works both vertically and horizontally, so the A3000 can even capture tall buildings as a “panorama”. It goes without saying that the A3000 also features automatic face recognition, which can be combined with the smile shutter release if required. Then it automatically triggers when a smiling face appears in the viewfinder. The automatic framing function, better known as auto cropping, can help you compose your images by detecting subjects in focus and cropping the image after shooting it so that it is composed according to the rule of thirds.

Thus, those who want to take pictures in a carefree manner will be well supplied with useful automatic functions by the Alpha 3000. But what are the possibilities for demanding photographers? First of all, the A3000 offers options for semi-automatic or manual exposure control. It also offers exposure series, but these are limited to three exposures with a maximum spread of 0.7 EV. A dedicated key for the measured value memory is missing, but one of the two freely configurable keys can be assigned the AEL function. Another nice feature is that the flash output can be controlled independently of the exposure compensation. By the way, the flash system of the Alpha 3000 is quite mature, only one function for wireless control of external system flash units is missing. That’s a pity, as the A3000 comes with an extended ISO shoe that can be upgraded with a flash. But this is not necessary, the camera has an on-board flash that serves as a small brightener.

The focus system of the Sony Alpha 3000 also offers a wide range of possibilities. For a system based on pure contrast measurement, the autofocus focuses quite quickly at around 0.3 seconds. Experienced photographers will also be pleased that they can place the focus area in one of 144 possible positions over almost the entire viewfinder aperture. For those who prefer manual focus, the A3000 also offers focus peaking, with contrasting edges in the focus plane highlighted in color. And with the DMF function, the autofocus can be manually overridden at any time.

When it comes to video recording, the Alpha 3000 is not quite up to date. In Full HD resolution, it achieves the highest frame rate of 50 frames per second only in interlaced mode (1080i). In addition, the autofocus pumps briefly but powerfully when it adjusts the focus during video shooting. The A3000 is not particularly suitable for zooming, because the focal length on the set lens can only be changed in a jumping manner, leaving annoying scraping noises on the soundtrack of the video. After all, the A3000 records the movie sound in stereo.

The Alpha 3000 lags somewhat behind the competition in terms of serial image speed. Including continuous autofocus, it only achieves 2.5 frames per second (fps). When the focus is locked on the first frame of the series in high-speed mode, the focus is 3.5 fps. As usual with Sony, the editing possibilities in playback mode are very limited. Ambitious photographers will especially miss a feature that quickly converts raw images to JPEG images. Playful natures, on the other hand, may wish for possibilities to effectively alienate the photos. The A3000 certainly has that to offer – but the effects programs need to be determined before the recording. The camera, on the other hand, has to fit when it comes to WiFi connectivity or GPS – Sony has sacrificed both to the pressure to save money. And so, unlike its younger siblings in the NEX family, the A3000 cannot be expanded with camera apps.

Image quality

Does “austerity” this also apply to the image sensor and processor of the Sony Alpha 3000? In terms of the number of pixels, the camera’s APS-C sensor is at least generous, delivering an effective resolution of 20.1 megapixels. But that’s only half the story, as the lens also contributes to the image quality. The A3000 is offered exclusively as a set with the E 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL-1855) lens. Exactly this combination ia the one we had the opportunity to test.

First of all, the sensor surprises with a remarkable dynamic range of almost 11 EV up to ISO 800, so high-contrast motifs hardly pose a problem for the Alpha 3000. But not only the input dynamics are high, the A3000 also converts them into remarkably high output dynamics. The A3000, on the other hand, is not very accurate with its colour reproduction, especially cyan and orange tones are reproduced very vividly. The signal-to-noise ratio, on the other hand, is completely acceptable, as it only falls below the critical limit of 35 dB beyond ISO 3,200. This is, however, also due to the noise reduction, which from ISO 800 onwards intervenes visibly and metrologically verifiably in the process. From this ISO level on, the texture sharpness decreases, but the photos only lose a disturbing amount of details if they are taken with more than ISO 6.400.

As far as the image converter is concerned, there is probably no other camera currently available (as of 2014) with such a good price/performance ratio as the Alpha 3000, but this advantage is partly lost when the lens comes into play. Over the entire focal length range, it has only a moderately high resolution of slightly more than 40 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm), and the resolution decreases rapidly at the edges of the image. High-quality compact cameras can partly do this better, at least in the low ISO regions. Less pleasing is also the fact that the A3000 does not automatically correct the pronounced distortion in the wide angle range of the lens – but the distortion correction can be switched on in the “Settings” menu. In return, it’s to be welcomed that Sony doesn’t even try to hide the loss of resolution towards the edge of the image by vigorously re-sharpening. In any case, the artifact rate is pleasingly low, and images taken with the A3000 do not appear artificially sharpened.

Conclusion

With the Alpha 3000, Sony presents a somewhat unconventional camera in which NEX technology has been transplanted into a DSLR housing. But this idea does have charm. So the A3000 is refreshingly light, but still sits comfortably in the hand. But their biggest pound is certainly the very reasonable price of well under 400 euros including kit lens. Measured against this, the scope of the equipment is perfectly acceptable. Especially the clever automatic functions are convincing in practice, but ambitious photographers will miss the one or other option. But the Alpha 3000 fails in what is probably the most important practical discipline: the viewfinder. This applies to both the puny EVF and the pixel display. If you don’t let this spoil the fun of photography, the A3000 rewards you with a more than decent image quality. The price-optimized set lens is proving to be the main brake on this. It’s just as well that the Alpha 3000 grows with the demands and can be retrofitted with higher quality lenses from the NEX range if required.

Profile

Profile
Manufacturer Sony
Model Alpha 3000
Price approx. 300 EUR* at market launch
Sensor Resolution 20.1 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 5.456 x 3.632
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens Sony E 18-55 mm 3.5-6.5 OSS (SEL-1855)
Filter thread 49 mm
Viewfinder electronically
Dioptre compensation -4 to +3.5 dpt.
Resolution 201.600
Enlargement 0,7-fold
Image field coverage 100 %
LCD monitor 3″
Resolution 230.400
rotatable
swiveling
as viewfinder yes
Video output HDMI
Automatic programming yes
Automatic aperture control yes
Automatic timer yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long time exposure yes
Scene modes
Portrait yes
Children/baby
Landscape yes
Macro yes
Sports/action yes
Additional scene modes 5 additional scene modes
Exposure metering Multi-field, centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes
Flash connection ISO hot shoe with Sony multi-interface
Remote release
Interval recording
Storage medium SD/SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick
Video mode
Format AVCHD or MP4
Codec H.264/AVC
Resolution (max.) 1.920 x 1.080
at frame rate 50i
Sensitivity
automatically ISO 200-3,200
extended
manually ISO 200-16.000
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection
Manually yes
Autofocus
Number of measurement fields 144
AF auxiliary light orange
Speed approx. 0,3 s
Languages Yes
Additional languages 16 languages
Weight
(ready for operation)
411 g (body only
)605 g (with lens*)
Zoom
Zoom adjustment manually on the lens
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
Triggering during storage possible. yes
Battery life approx. 470 pictures (according to CIPA)
– = “not applicable” or “not available”* with lens Sony E 18-55 mm 3.5-6.5 OSS (SEL-1855)

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Smooth autofocus (for single frame shooting)
  • Good image quality
  • Many useful automatic functions
  • Very light, ergonomically well formed housing

Cons

  • Slightly limited range of functions overall
  • Very low serial frame rate
  • Hard plastic “eyecup”
  • Puny EVF, coarse resolution display

Sony Alpha 3000 Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)20.4 megapixels (physical) and 20.1 megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 4.3 µm
Photo resolution
5.456 x 3.632 pixels (3:2)
5.456 x 3.056 pixels (16:9)
3.872 x 2.576 pixels (3:2)
3.872 x 2.176 pixels (16:9)
2.736 x 1.824 pixels (3:2)
2.736 x 1.536 pixels (16:9)
Panorama Sweeping panorama
12.416 x 1.856 pixels
5.536 x 2.160 pixels
8.192 x 1.856 pixels
3.872 x 2.160 pixels
Image formats JPG, RAW
Color depth 36 bits (12 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.3), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 25 p
1.440 x 1.080 (4:3) 25 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 25 p
Maximum recording time 29 min
Video format
MPG4 [codec MPEG-4]

Lens

Lens mount
Sony E

Focus

Autofocus mode Contrast autofocus with 25 measuring fields
Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Tracking AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Sharpness control Live view

Viewfinder and monitor

SLR viewfinder Grille can be faded in
Monitor 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels, brightness adjustable
Video finder Video viewfinder available, dioptre compensation (-4.0 to 3.5 dpt)

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 1,200 fields, spot measurement
Exposure times 1/4,000 to 30 s (Automatic
) Bulb function
Exposure control Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual
Exposure bracketing function Exposure bracketing function with a maximum of 3 shots, step size from 0.3 to 3 EV, HDR function
Exposure Compensation -3.0 to +3.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 (automatic
)ISO 100 to ISO 16,000 (manual)
Remote access Remote triggering
Scene modes Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait, Portrait, Sunset, Sports/Action, 0 additional scene modes
Picture effects Miniature effect, Blur, Colorkey
White balance Automatic, Clouds, Sun, Shadow, Fluorescent lamp, Incandescent lamp, Manual
Color space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting Continuous shooting function max. 2.5 fps at highest resolution and max. 13 stored photos
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)
Recording functions Live histogram

Flashgun

Flash built-in flash (flip up
)Flash shoe: Sony Multi Interface, standard center contact
Flash range Flash sync speed 1/160 s
Flash code Guide number 4 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, fill-in flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, red-eye reduction

Equipment

Image stabilizer no optical image stabilizer
Memory
Memory Stick (Duo Pro, Pro)
SD (SDHC, SDXC)
Microphone Stereo
Power supply unit Power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Sony NP-FW50 (lithium-ion (Li-Ion), 7.2 V, 1,240 mAh
)470 images according to CIPA standard
Playback functions Image index
Face recognition Face recognition, smile recognition
Image parameters Sharpness, contrast
Special functions Live view
Connections Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous BIONZ image processorSensor
cleaning function and anti-static coatingContrast
, saturation, sharpness and brightness adjustable (-3 to 3)
Dynamic Range Optimizer with 5 levelsStereo
Microphone Six
creative styles

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 128 x 91 x 86 mm
Weight 411 g (ready for operation)

Miscellaneous

standard accessory Sony AC-UB10C Special Battery ChargerSony
AC-UB10D Special Battery ChargerSony
NP-FW50 Special BatterySony
RM-VPR1 Remote Cable ReleaseMains/ChargerUSBChargerUSBCharger

AC-UB10USB Connection CableBayonet CapEye ShieldShellStrapBeltsImage Editing Software

Sony Software Package for Windows (XP/or higher) and for Macintosh (System X/or higher)

additional accessories Sony HVL-F20M Swivel Reflector Attachable FlashSony
HVL-MT24AM Macro FlashSony
RM-VPR1 Remote Cable ReleaseNP-F50-Li-Ion Replacement Battery ChargerRemovable Memory CardE-MountLenses

 

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Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.