CAMERAS Sony A390 Review

Sony A390 Review

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Sony A390 Review

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Sony A390 Review

It is now a tradition at Sony that entry-level DSLRs are replaced after about a year. And so Sony has now released the Sony A390, which replaces the Alpha 380. The Sony A390’s new feature is above all the case, which is once again rather classically shaped. She has inherited the equipment and the features almost unchanged from her predecessor. Our review reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the camera and clarifies the image quality of the Sony A390. Let me anticipate you that, generally speaking, we did not like it: no video recording and not many changes from the previous Sony A380 are the main reasons.

We compare the Sony A390 with the Sony A290 in this article here.

Pros And Cons Of The Sony A390

Pros

  • Good image quality at low ISO number
  • Foldable display
  • Unique Live View concept with fast autofocus
  • Newly formed housing that fits well in the hand

Cons

  • No video recording
  • Slow reaction, slow continuous shooting
  • Problematic noise behavior already from ISO 400
  • Tiny, hardly usable viewfinder
  • Not many improvements from the previous Sony A380

 

sony a390

Ergonomics and Workmanship

Small, lightweight, and above all, no confusing array of controls – these are typical requirements that less ambitious photographers place on their DSLR camera. In last year’s Alpha 380, however, Sony had realized the desire for a compact case too radically: The handle on the right side was slimmed down so much that it could hardly serve as a “grip”.

 

sony a390

sony a390

sony a390

Now the handle on the current Sony A390 is once again so prominent that it lives up to its name. In addition, a rubberized thumb rest on the back of the camera ensures a secure grip, giving the Sony A390 a much firmer grip than its predecessor.

With a weight of around 550 grams (ready to use but without lens), the camera is pleasantly light. What’s less pleasant, though, is that Sony has apparently realized this lightweight through the abundant use of inexpensive materials: The plastic case doesn’t look very valuable, although there is no crackling even when you reach for it. After all, the bayonet and tripod thread is made of solid stainless steel and promise a long life.

The Sony A390 with its on/off switch placed in a ring around the shutter release remains in tune with the times. It looks nice, but it’s not that practical, because the main switch is so close to the dial that the index finger can easily get lost. It was too easy to switch off the camera instead of adjusting the aperture, for example.

There would have been more than enough space at the top right of the housing to place an on/off switch or other controls. Then also the dial could have moved further up, where it would have been easier to reach than in its current position. At the top left of the case, Sony has attached a neat mode dial, with which the Sony A390 can be quickly configured. All the important connections and the slots for the memory cards are easily accessible on the left side of the housing under a large flap that opens like a sliding door – this is quite a practical solution.

 

sony a390

sony a390

 

On the back of the Sony A390, practically nothing has changed compared to its predecessor. The central element is the display with a diagonal of 2.7 inches (6.9 cm). This means that although it is not lavishly dimensioned, it is sufficient.

However, the monitor only has a rather coarse resolution of 230,400 pixels. After all, the display can be folded up 90 degrees upwards and about 70 degrees downwards – so recordings in “LiveView mode” are possible without the need for breakneck contortions. The display is also quite informative: if desired, it shows a short explanation and example picture of the currently selected setting.

If you wish, you can also use the “Display” button to display a small graphic showing the selected time/aperture combination. Even the colors can be adjusted, whereby a status display in “brown” or “pink” is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Important basic and fine settings can be called up and changed on the Sony A390 via the “Fn” button. That goes quite quickly at first. However, the fact that an autofocus field can only be selected via this function menu complicates the operation unnecessarily.

Ambitious photographers will also be annoyed that the options of the function menu are only available in P, A, S, and M modes. When it comes to scene mode programs, you are dependent on the specifications that Sony’s engineers have firmly programmed into the Sony A390.

The Sony A390 only has a separate function button for exposure compensation, but it also only works in P, A, S, and M modes. The menu lists of the Sony A390 are very compact and clearly arranged, typical of a Sony camera. It is never necessary to scroll beyond the edge of the screen to call up a menu item – that’s how it should be with every camera! Sony has also positioned the battery bay favorably: The NP-FH50 energy dispenser is inserted into the bottom of the housing with the flap far enough away from the tripod connection. This allows the battery to be changed even when the quick-release plate is attached. The battery, with a power of 6.1 Wh, is good for about 500 shots when LiveView is not in use.

 

sony a390

 

Equipment And Features

The Sony A390 is primarily aimed at photographers who want to get good-looking pictures quickly without extensive set up. But this does not mean that the Sony A390 cannot be adapted in detail to the respective shooting situation. The least amount of thought has to be given to the green “automatic” program. Here the camera automatically selects the settings appropriate for the subject and lighting conditions.

If you would like to have it a little more precise, set one of the seven scene mode programs (such as “Portrait” or “Landscape”). However, the Sony A390 does without face or smile recognition. For this purpose, the camera offers a semi-automatic control of the exposure (time or aperture priority) and can even be controlled completely manually – even the autofocus can be switched off.

The flash function can be configured very largely: The Sony A390 master flashes to the second curtain as well as synchronizing with slow shutter speed. The on-board flash of the Sony A390 can even serve as a control unit for an unleashed system flash. Sony has combined all the relevant settings in a separate flash function menu. It’s just a pity that the compensation of the flash exposure didn’t find a place here as well – it is possible, but only cumbersome via the main menu of the camera. Incidentally, the Sony A390 does not have an autofocus auxiliary light; if necessary, the on-board flash jumps up with a powerful “clack” to illuminate the scene with a flash burst.

A special feature of the Sony A390 is its LiveView mode. In contrast to DSLRs from other manufacturers, Sony’s camera does not focus on the image sensor via contrast measurement.

In fact, the Sony A390 has a special LiveView sensor, so that the much faster phase AF is always active even in LiveView mode. This makes shooting where the display is used for image control a real pleasure. If desired, the camera displays a current histogram in LiveView mode (important for exposure control). However, it does not know a grid or even an “artificial horizon”. The downside of this LiveView concept: the Sony A390 cannot record any videos.

The optical viewfinder is not a source of joy either: it reproduces the viewfinder image with a modest 0.74x magnification. Moreover, the exit pupil is located so deep in the viewfinder shaft that one believes to look far into a much too small peephole. For spectacle wearers, the viewfinder is hardly usable, because they cannot capture the already small viewfinder image in its entirety. After all, there is a dioptre correction on the viewfinder, so if the ametropia is not too pronounced, the viewfinder can be used without glasses if necessary.

The autofocus of the Sony A390 is equipped with modern features: The camera has nine AF points, which can be selected individually if desired. As a rule, the autofocus finds its target quite quickly, usually, the Sony A390 has focussed and released the shutter about 0.5 seconds after the shutter release button is pressed. If the autofocus is still of the fixed type, the camera otherwise looks rather sluggish. For example, it takes a long time until the image appears on the display after the picture has been taken.

The sensitivity range is from ISO 100 up to a somewhat lean ISO 3,200. The ISO number can only be adjusted in full aperture increments, ISO auto is always fixed to the range of ISO 100 to 400.

To this end, the Sony A390 is capable of taking exposure series (always three exposures, optionally with 0.3 or 0.7 EV spacing) and has a self-timer with a two-second or ten-second delay on board. Sony has omitted the possibility of mirror pre-triggering, and the Sony A390 also doesn’t have a depth-of-field preview button to control the depth of field. Sony has also cut back on the functions in playback mode – here, the Sony A390 offers home cooking at best: it can rotate pictures, display them as slide shows or send them to a printer.

However, the Sony A390 does not know image processing functions such as cropping or framing, and RAW images cannot be developed directly in the camera. The Sony A390 makes contact with a TV set exclusively via HDMI cable. If the TV also comes from Sony, playback can be conveniently controlled using the TV’s remote control.

sony a390

Image Quality Of The Sony A390

The Sony A390 inherited the CCD image sensor with 14.2-megapixel resolution from its predecessor. While the Alpha 380’s image quality was quite convincing in our test a year ago, the bar is now higher. Canon but also Sony has shown in recent months that a high pixel density on an APS-C sensor does not necessarily have to be bought with increased noise. The question now arose as to whether the Sony A390 would still be able to keep up with its sensor.

Sony has done the A390 no favors by not implanting a contemporary sensor in it. The noise curve of the camera already increases significantly from ISO 400. Especially the red channel is in a particular hurry to get to the top. And so, even at low ISO sensitivities, spotty color disturbances are already apparent.

With increasing sensitivity, these interferences virtually grow into clouds. And because the interference is particularly pronounced in the red channel, nature shots with a high proportion of green suffer most from it – on the complementary color, the red flats are particularly disturbing. In contrast, the Sony A390 is quite good-natured in terms of “brightness noise”, which only becomes noticeable from ISO 1.600 onwards.

Thus, at least up to this ISO level, the loss of detail due to the internal noise suppression is kept within limits. Even in terms of dynamic range, actually a domain of Sony sensors, the Sony A390 offers mediocrity at best: at ISO 100, an input dynamic range of 8.3 f-stops (EV) is just about right. From ISO 800, the input dynamic range then drops below 8 EV – many cameras can do this better today. In terms of output dynamics, the Sony A390 fails across all ISO levels with a much too high black level. But to save your honor, most cameras in this discipline don’t exactly cover themselves with glory.

The Sony engineers have the A390’s sharpness mark excellently under control: the camera is extremely restrained across all brightness ranges, thus reliably avoiding artefacts on contrast edges. Here, the Sony A390 can obviously show off the advantages of a CCD sensor, since CCD sensors are generally said to have a higher basic sharpness than their CMOS counterparts.

In terms of tonal reproduction, the Sony A390 is quite “crisp” – typical of an entry-level camera. This makes the lights look a bit worn out, but fortunately, the Sony A390 also records in RAW format. Those who use this possibility have all the freedom to individually adjust the tone value curves on the PC. The set lens DT 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 SAM, with which we tested the camera, is not quite convincing: Especially in the wide-angle range, the resolution collapses towards the edges, more than 60 percent of the theoretically possible ones are not in it.

Even dimming only slightly alleviates the problem without eliminating it completely. In terms of “edge darkening” and “distortion” we have also seen better glass. However, considering the price of the lens addition, the performance of the DT 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 SAM is okay.

The Sony A390 reproduces colors quite well, but a bit too cool. The camera is also confident in the exposure, especially when the flash is used: the flashlight brightens the foreground quite discreetly, and the shots never appear overblown.

sony a390

Conclusion: Is The Sony A390 Worth It?

The Sony A390 is a facelift of its predecessor, the Alpha 380 – unfortunately, nothing more. Sony has redesigned the case of the current model, it lies much better in the hand. But under the plastic shells, nothing has changed at all: the CCD-sensor that is getting on in years delivers very detailed images at low ISO-numbers, but already from ISO 400 it tends to have some annoying color noise.

Apart from the quick autofocus, the Sony A390 also reacts rather sluggishly. With its not exactly lavish equipment, the Sony A390 is primarily aimed at photographers who want to take pictures rapidly. You will certainly also enjoy the clear menus and the overall ease of use.

If there’s one thing that speaks for the Sony A390, it’s its ingenious Live View concept: fast, accurate autofocus without the annoying bump in the mirror – currently only Sony offers this with its “Quick AF Live View”. The entry price of just under 500 euros (incl. set lens) is also okay. For this price, however, there is currently also an Alpha 500 including a set lens available. The latter offers better image quality, is much faster and, above all, much richer in features.

 

sony a390

Specifications Of The Sony A390

Profile
Manufacturer Sony
Model Sony A390
Price* approx. 500 dollars at market launch but cheaper now
Sensor Resolution 14.2 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.592 x 3.056
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens Sony DT F3.5-5.6/18-55mm SAM
Filter thread 55mm
Viewfinder Pentas Mirror
Field of view 95 %
Enlargement 0,74-fold
Dioptre compensation -2.5 – +1 dpt.
LCD monitor 2,7″
Resolution 230.400
rotatable
swiveling yes
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 mode programs
Portrait yes
Children/baby
Landscape yes
Macro yes
Sports/action yes
More 2 additional scene modes
Exposure metering Multi-field, centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes
Flash connection System hot shoe
Remote release Infrared (optional)
Interval recording
Storage medium SD/SDHC, Memory Stick (Duo)
Video mode
Format
Codec
Resolution (max.)
Frame rate (max.)
Sensitivity
automatically ISO 100-400
extended
manually ISO 100-3,200
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Shadow, Flash, WB Fine Correction
Manually yes
Autofocus
Number of measurement fields 9
AF auxiliary light Flash
Speed approx. 0.3-0.6 s
Languages English
More 14 additional languages available
Weight
(Ready for operation)
510 g (body only) 775 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. 500 pictures according to CIPA
– = “not applicable” or “not available
“* with lens Sony DT F3.5-5.6/18-55mm SAM

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Good image quality at low ISO number
  • Foldable display
  • Unique Live View concept with fast autofocus
  • Newly formed housing that fits well in the hand

Cons

  • No video recording
  • Slow reaction, slow continuous shooting
  • Problematic noise behavior already from ISO 400
  • Tiny, hardly usable viewfinder

sony a390

 

Sony A390 Datasheet

 

Electronics

Sensor CCD sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5) 14.9 megapixels (physical) and 14.2 megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 5.1 µm
Photo resolution
4.592 x 3.056 pixels (3:2)
3.408 x 2.272 pixels (3:2)
2.288 x 1.520 pixels (3:2)
Image formats JPG, RAW
Color depth 36 bits (12 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard

Lens

Lens mount
Sony AF

Focus

Autofocus mode Phase comparison autofocus with 9 sensors
Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Sharpness control Live view

Viewfinder and monitor

SLR viewfinder Mirror reflex viewfinder (prism viewfinder) (95 % image coverage), dioptre compensation (-3.0 to +1.0 DPT), replaceable focusing screens
Monitor 2.7″ TFT LCD monitor with 230,400 pixels

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement, 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 0.7 EV
Exposure Compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV with a step size of 1/3 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 (manual)
Remote access Remote triggering
Scene modes Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait, Portrait, Sunset, and Sports/Action
White balance Clouds, sun, shade, fluorescent lamp, incandescent lamp, manual
Color space Adobe RGB
Continuous shooting Continuous shooting function max. 2.5 fps at highest resolution and max. 6 stored photos
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)
Recording functions Live histogram

Flashgun Of The Sony A390

Flash built-in flash (flip-up) Hot shoe: Sony Alpha (also Minolta)
Flash range Flash sync speed 1/160 s
Flash code Guide number 10 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, fill-in flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, red-eye reduction

Equipment And Features

Image stabilizer Sensor shift (optical)
Memory
Memory Stick (Duo Pro)
SD
Power supply unit Power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Sony NP-FH50 (Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), 3.6 V, 960 mAh) 500 images according to CIPA standard
Playback functions Image index
Image parameters Sharpness, contrast, noise reduction
Special functions Live view
Connections Data interfaces: USBUSB type:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV Connections AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous optical image stabilizer (CCD shift) with 2.3-3.5 light values Correction sensor
Cleaning function and antistatic coatingFlash sync speed
1/160s Optional
noise reduction from ISO 1600Contrast
, saturation, sharpness and brightness-adjustable (-3 to 3)
Zone matching (-1 to 2)
Dynamic Range OptimizerNoise reduction
from ISO 1600AF
Sensitivity -1 to 18 EVPrediction
AF

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 128 x 97 x 80 mm
Weight 508 g (ready for operation)

Miscellaneous

standard accessory Sony NP-FH50 Special Battery

ChargerBattery

Charger

BC-VH1Video Connection CableUSB Connection CableStretch StrapImage Editing Software

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

additional accessories Sony HVL-MT24AM Macro FlashSony
NP-FH50 Special Battery Power SupplyPower SupplyAC-PW10AM

 

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Peter Dench
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.

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