Sony Alpha 3000 £350

17th Dec 2013 | 08:13

Sony Alpha 3000

Mix the build of a DSLT and the NEX E-Mount and you get the Alpha 3000

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Sony has produced another good camera in the shape of the a3000. It's not hugely exciting, but it's not meant to be. It produces excellent image quality and is available at an enticingly low price point.

Like:

APS-C size sensor; EVF; Affordable;

Dislike:

Poor screen; Disappointing EVF;

Overview

Ratings in depth
Sony Alpha a3000Sony Alpha a3000Sony Alpha a3000Sony Alpha a3000Sony Alpha a3000

Sony was one of the first manufacturers to bring a compact system camera to the market, with the original Sony NEX-5 and Sony NEX-3 back in 2010. Since then, we've seen plenty of iterations of the camera, all keeping pretty much the same type of design - that is, fairly flat and compact styled.

In the same period of time, Sony has also launched its DSLT range, which are akin to DSLRs in design, size and shape, but with a fixed, translucent mirror.

And now, in what some may see as a slightly odd move, the Sony Alpha a3000 combines the two systems. It's got the styling and size of an Alpha DSLT, but uses the E-mount and mirrorless design of the NEX range.

Sony Alpha a3000 review

Sony explains that when consumers enter a store to purchase an interchangeable lens camera, they're not necessarily looking for a traditional DSLR/DSLT, but there are many people who crave the large form factor that these 'serious' cameras bring.

Sony is not the only company to offer DSLR-shaped compact system cameras. For instance, the Panasonic G6 and those G-series models that came before it also feature a traditional type shape. The same can be said of the Samsung NX11.

Despite the fact that the E-mount is found on the Alpha 3000, Sony has decided to omit the NEX name from the camera, which could perhaps be a little confusing. In effect, Sony now has three lines, the standard Alphas, the standard NEX cameras, and the Alpha E-Mount camera.

Sony Alpha a3000 review

Sony has also recently introduced the Sony A7 and A7R, two full frame mirrorless cameras. Along with this announcement, it was revealed the company will be dropping the NEX brand from its cameras in future, they will all simply be Sony Alpha. Some will be Sony Alpha E mount, while others will be A mount. Whether this will create confusion for consumers remains to be seen.

Inside the A3000 is a 20.1 million pixel APS-C sized sensor. Sony says that this is a new sensor, and it's joined by a Bionz processor, while the camera comes with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens as standard.

On the back of the camera is a three inch, 230,400 dot LCD screen. It's neither touch sensitive or tilting or articulating. There is however, an electronic viewfinder, which is a 0.2 inch device.

As with Sony's other Alpha cameras, it is capable of shooting in raw format and allows full manual control, as well as providing semi-automatic exposure options.

It's one of the more basic cameras in Sony's range, therefore it doesn't offer Wi-Fi or NFC connectivity like the NEX 5T.

Of course there are already several cameras with this form factor in the shape of the Alpha DSLT range, but Sony says that using the E-mount has several benefits for consumers. Sony's major claim for this camera is that the AF speed and accuracy surpasses Canon or Nikon's DSLRs.

In terms of competitors, the a3000 goes up against the likes of the Panasonic GF6, Olympus PEN E-PM2 and the Samsung NX-11. It's very good value though, coming in at under £280 / $350 for the camera and kit, making it significantly cheaper than the majority of its direct competitors. It arguably also competes with Sony's own NEX-3N, which features a similar specification set but with a flatter, more compact style design.

Build quality and handling

From the exterior, the Sony Alpha 3000 looks like an entry-level DSLT camera, such as the Sony Alpha a58, albeit a little smaller.

It has a chunky grip on the right, which makes it very easy to use one handed. As standard, the camera is supplied with an 18-55 lens, and unlike the 16-50mm kit lens found on cameras such as the Sony NEX-3N, this is also quite large.

Sony Alpha a3000 review

On top of the camera is a mode dial for accessing the different exposure modes that the Sony Alpha 3000 has to offer, including fully automatic and semi-automatic (aperture priority and shutter priority) and scene mode and panoramic mode.

The number of buttons on the camera is relatively low. On top of the camera you'll only find the shutter release, EVF/LCD screen button and the playback button. On the back of the camera, as is now becoming common for Sony cameras, a couple of the buttons are customisable depending on which settings you use most often.

By default, one of the buttons accesses the main menu. The camera uses the standard NEX menu system, rather than the Alpha system. We've found that the NEX system can be a little more frustrating to use than the Alpha system in recent times, so we'd have preferred to see the Alpha menu here.

Another default option is for the right directional key to access ISO. But you can change this to access a kind of quick menu, which includes sensitivity. It's a useful menu which can be customised to include the settings that you find yourself changing the most often, such as Creative Style or White Balance.

It will be interesting to see if Sony chooses to streamline its menu systems now that the NEX name has been dropped. Hopefully the company will see fit to keep the best elements of both if so.

Sony Alpha a3000 review

A scrolling dial on the back of the camera is used for navigating through settings while in the menu, or altering aperture or shutter speed when in standard shooting mode. Unlike most Alpha cameras, there is no dial on the grip for changing these settings.

As there's no touchscreen, changing the AF point requires a little more effort. First of all you need to set the autofocus area to flexible spot in the main menu. This will make one of the customisable soft keys the access button for changing the focus point. Press this and then scroll around the frame using the scrolling dial which doubles up as a four-way navigation pad. It's not the quickest of operations, and can be a little frustrating if you want to quickly capture some fast-moving action.

In order to shoot a panoramic image, you'll need to select the appropriate mode on the dial. Then all you'll need to do is sweep the camera across the scene while holding down the shutter release button. It's an easy enough process, with the resulting image being stitched together in camera. It is however fairly difficult to tell which part of the scene is in the frame, as the composing window displays more than the finished image.

On the back of the camera is an electronic viewfinder, which is a nice addition for NEX cameras, but is of course standard for Alpha cameras. Unfortunately there is no sensor on the eye-piece for detecting when the camera is lifted to your eye, meaning that you'll need to switch between the LCD and EVF manually - something which can quickly get tiresome and doesn't make for a particularly seamless transition. The button is also on top of the camera rather than on the back, which is a little awkward to reach.

Because there's not a great deal of space on the front of the Sony Alpha 3000, accessing the lens release button can be a little tricky, taking some getting used to for the best angle.

Performance

Sony Alpha a3000 review

We've been pretty impressed by the performance of Sony sensors for the past few generations, and we're pleased to say that it's no different for the a3000.

Despite its low price point, the images from the camera are excellent, displaying a good level of detail from its 20.2 million-pixel sensor. Colours are vibrant and punchy without displaying too much saturation so as to be unrealistic. Skin tones are reproduced well too, with natural and pleasing colours.

Sony's automatic white balance system does a good job, even when presented with mixed or artificial lighting conditions. It does err slightly towards warmer tones at times, so if you are finding it to be particularly problematic, switching to a more appropriate white balance setting can be beneficial.

Similarly, general purpose metering does a good job in the majority of conditions, only confused slightly by very high contrast situations, where it has the tendency to overexpose slightly. You can either switch to spot metering or dial down exposure compensation to make up for it if it's proving problematic.

Sony Alpha a3000 review

The a3000 comes with an 18-55mm kit lens as standard, which makes for a good carry-around lens. Despite its maximum aperture of f/3.5 (at the wide angle end of the lens), you can still get attractive shallow depth of field effects when using it. Covering an effective focal range of 27 – 82.5mm, there's good scope for shooting a wide range of subjects.

By shooting at a mid range aperture, such as f/8, we can assess image sharpness across the frame. Focus is kept sharp throughout the frame in most instances, losing only a small amount of detail towards the very corners. There's also little evidence of chromatic aberration and fringing, which is pleasing.

At lower sensitivities, there's not too much evidence of image smoothing. Detail starts to be lost the higher up the sensitivity range you go, but even at ISO 2500 and above, noise is kept impressively at bay, while detail is still pretty good. If you're shooting in very low light, chroma noise does start to become more apparent, but images shot up to around ISO 2000 are still acceptable at smaller printing and sharing sizes.

Filters

Sony has quite a wide range of digital filters, named Picture Effects. Some of them, as you might expect, are better than others, but a lot of it is down to personal preference. We particularly like High Contrast Monochrome and Toy Camera, but it's worth experimenting with the range on offer. If you need more flexibility, such as the ability to shoot in raw format, it's worth trying different Creative Styles. Options such as Vivid and Monochrome are available, with customisation to parameters, such as contrast, available. Monochrome is particularly pleasing, and because you can shoot in raw format, you could have a colour version to go back to if you need it.

On the whole, processing speeds are very quick. Some of the art filters require more time, for instance the HDR Painting mode, as this is compositing three separate images, but generally the camera is ready to shoot again almost immediately after taking the preceding shot. Sony claimed that the autofocusing speeds of this camera surpassed the likes of Canon and Nikon DSLRs. That also seems to be true, especially when comparing the camera to traditional DSLRs shooting in Live View, which the a3000 is essentially always doing. That said, the speeds are still not quite as quick as those displayed by Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds devices.

Focusing speeds deteriorate when shooting in low lighting conditions, taking up to a couple of seconds to lock onto the target. On the plus side, it's reasonably rare for a false autofocus lock to be presented.

Unfortunately, the rear LCD screen is one of the worst elements of this camera. It's a disappointingly low resolution for a modern camera, but perhaps this helps to keep the price so dramatically low. When using the screen, it displays a lot of noise, especially in darker conditions, which can make it difficult to concentrate on composing the image. The EVF is a touch on the small side, but it is still fairly useable and will likely appeal to the more "traditional" style of photographer that the camera is targeted towards.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony Alpha 3000, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Sony A3000 is capable of resolving up to around 26 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please take a look at the resolution charts article.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Sony Alpha a3000

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 100. Score: 26 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 200. Score: 26 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 400. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 800. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 1600. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 3200. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 6400. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 12800. Score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 16000. Score: 18 (Click here to see full resolution image)

Raw

Raw ISO 100

ISO 100. Score: 26 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISo 200

ISO 200. Score: 26 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 400

ISO 400. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 800

ISO 800. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 1600

ISO 1600. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 3200

ISO 3200. Score: 24 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 6400

ISO 6400. Score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 12800

ISO 12800. Score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image).

ISO 16000

ISO 16000. Score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image).

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Sony Alpha a3000

In terms of JPEG files, the Sony a3000 doesn't fare particularly well when compared with other similar cameras, including its own Sony NEX-3N. It also doesn't perform as well as the Panasonic GF6, throughout the entire sensitivity range.

Raw (converted to TIFF) signal to noise ratio

Sony Alpha a3000

For the raw format files, the A3000 compares more closely with the GF6 and the NX2000, but it is beaten by some margin by its own NEX-3N.

JPEG dynamic range

Sony Alpha a3000

For dynamic range, the a3000 competes very closely with the other cameras on test, beating the others at the lower end of the scale. From the mid-range on, other cameras overtake it slightly, though.

Raw (converted to TIFF) dynamic range

Sony Alpha a3000

The A3000 sits in the middle for raw format dynamic range. It beats the GF6 at every sensitivity, but it is beaten by the NEX-3N and Samsung NX2000 at almost every other sensitivity. It's a pretty consistent performance though.

Sample images


Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Shallow depth of field effects can be achieved even when using the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

A range of different lenses are now available for Sony E-mount, including a 30mm macro lens.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

The 50mm f/1.8 is a good lens for isolating subjects and portraits.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Colours are vibrant directly from the camera.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Switching to sequential shooting allows you to capture fast moving action.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Setting the autofocus point to a different point in the frame allows you to get creative with depth of field.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

The Sony's 20.1 million pixel sensor is capable of resolving lots of detail.

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Two different types of panorama are available, a standard size and a full 360 degree view. It can be difficult to know exactly what is in frame when shooting a panorama.

Creative Styles and Picture Effects

You can choose to shoot with different Picture Effects or Creative Styles to change the look of your photos. Picture Effects cannot be shot in raw format.

Creative Styles

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Picture Effects

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

(Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sensitivity and noise

Sony Alpha a3000

JPEG

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 16000 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw (converted to TIFF)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony Alpha a3000

ISO 16000 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

Although the Sony Alpha 3000 undeniably produces high quality images, we can't help but be a little confused by the camera. It's basically a hybrid of the Alpha and NEX systems, and while both are good in different ways, we're not entirely convinced of the merits of combining the two.

That said, for those that are enticed by mirrorless technology, but want to keep the form factor of a classic DSLR, this is an intriguing prospect. It also represents excellent value for money at the price point, leaving many of its competitors in the shade.

If image quality is the most important thing here, you'll be very pleased with the a3000 as that's it's biggest selling point. It doesn't have too many exciting optional extras, such as a touchscreen or inbuilt Wi-Fi, but those things inevitably come at a price.

At the time of launch, it seemed very confusing that Sony had decided to omit the NEX name from this line of camera, since it shares the E-mount that the NEX uses. However, since then, Sony has decided to drop the NEX brand altogether, so it's not quite so surprising now. In the future, all Sony cameras will be Sony Alpha and will be differentiated by their mounts – E or A. Whether this will prove to be confusing to consumers remains to be seen, but it represents a streamlining of the range and a desire for all the company's cameras to be treated equally, regardless of mount.

We liked

This is a no-frills camera, but the images it produces are excellent with fine detail, excellent colours and lots of scope for post production editing if you're into that kind of thing. It would be a great camera to learn on for somebody who's just getting into photography.

We disliked

The screen is the major let down on this camera, displaying a low resolution and lots of noise, especially when shooting in lower light conditions. We suspect that this screen was chosen in a bid to keep the price as low as it could possibly be, though. It's also a little bit disjointing having to press a button to activate the EVF rather than it automatically switching when you lift it to your eye.

Final verdict

Sony has produced another good camera in the shape of the a3000. It's not hugely exciting, but nor is it meant to be. It produces excellent image quality and is available at a low enough price point to be accessible to a wide range of photographers.

There may be some confusion regarding the lack of the NEX name and the choice of lens mount, but there's a good possibility that someone who buys this will stick with the standard kit lens. That said, there's now an excellent range of lenses available for the Sony E mount that gives this camera good scope for those wanting to learn and expand as they go along.

On the whole, this is a good option for those who want something with traditional stylings but are tempted by the low weight and low overall size of mirrorless systems. If you don't mind the more compact style of camera though, take a look at the also excellent Sony NEX 3N, which features many similar specs to the a3000 but in a differently shaped body. The viewfinder is a nice to have feature, but it's a little disappointing compared to some of the excellent devices out there on the market, so you may find you don't use it as often as you think you might.

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