May 18, 2009 Sony has officially announced three new dSLRs, the seventh, eighth and ninth cameras in the Alpha lineup. The new models will be known as the A230, A330 and A380. Although some may see them as updates to the current A200, A300 and A350, the new dSLRs go far beyond a mere reworking of existing units. While the sensors are similar, the body and controls are completely new, setting the new trio apart from previous Sony Alphas.
Look ma, I have an Auto-focus motor!
I am very happy to report that the speculation that the new Alpha models would jettison the in-body auto focus motor is false. All three dSLRs have an in-body auto focus motor, making them fully compatible with older Minolta and Sony A-Mount lenses. There was speculation Sony might have removed the body AF motor for weight and size considerations. The upshot is the A230, A330 and A380 should be filly compatible with the complete range of A-mount lenses.
One other major rumor about the new cameras suggested that Sony would drop the Compact Flash Slot in favor of smaller SD and Memory Stick slots. This time, the speculation was spot on, as the new cameras feature slots for both a SD card and a Memory Stick Duo. These will be the first Sony Alphas that cannot use CF cards.
After reflecting on Sony’s target market for these cameras, I am much more accepting of the SD/MS memory cards. Sony is clearly aiming these cameras at people moving up from Point & Shoot cameras. These users may have a collection of SD and/or Memory Stick cards that saw use in their older P&S digital cameras. They can reformat them and use them in the new Alpha dSLRs, reducing the cost of entry.
Unlike the CF and Memory Stick slots in the A700, which can both be used at once, users will need to choose which card slot will be active. If the SD slot is live, the MS slot will be unusable. If the user shifts to the MS slot, the SD port will become inactive.
If there was any doubt that Sony is targeting first time dSLR users with the new cameras, all you have to do is look at the new graphical menu interface. In addition to graphs that help explain the relation of various settings to each other, there is an on-board manual that can be read on the LCD screen. This is a great feature that should enhance the appeal of the cameras to those just dipping their feet in the dLSR pool.
Although the three cameras correspond neatly to the earlier models (A230 to A200, A330 to A300 and A380 to A350) the bodies are physically different. The most obvious difference is the smaller grip, which contains a new battery. Actually, it isn’t completely new, as it is the same NP-F50AM battery used in certain Sony CyberShot models. The new battery is ony rated at 510 images per charge, while older NP-F500 used in the current Alphas can reel off 750 frames before recharging.
That is a minor drawback, but 510 images is more than most users will shoot in a single day.
Where is the vertical grip?
One thing I haven’t seen anyone comment on is Sony’s silence about a vertical grip for the new cameras. Since there is a new battery, I doubt that the new cameras will accept the older VG-B30AM vertical grip.
There is no mention of a grip in the Sony press release, nor are the new cameras pictured with a grip. When the A300 and A350 were announced, the pre-relese photos showed them attached to the optional grip.
Sony may have a grip in the works for the new cameras, or they may feel that the target market isn’t interested in a vertical grip. On the other hand, Minolta didn’t think users would be interested in a VG for the Maxxum 5D. The 5D begat th Sony A100 — which also did not have factory VG.
The demand for grips to fit the 5D and the A100 shows that both Minolta and Sony erred by not offering a grip for these cameras. At the time, the posts I wrote about aftermarket and DIY grips for the A100 were extremely popular. Even now, with both cameras long out of production, my server logs still show I get several visits a week to the pages about the 5D/A100 grips.
There is lots more news, including the welcome addition of a new inexpensive flash unit that can also serve as a flash controller on the Sony A900. I will look more deeply into that next time.