Review: Sony A3000

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The Alpha line is quickly becoming Sony’s catchall brand for cameras. In the last year we’ve seen new cameras like the full-frame mirrorless A7 and A7r and new form factor cameras given designations like the A5000 and A6000. The Sony A3000 comes from the other end of the spectrum with an SLR styled body and high resolution 20MP sensor that takes smaller E-mount lenses.

With an electronic viewfinder and no translucent mirror, or any mirror for that matter, the A3000 has one foot in the space of full-on SLR Alpha cameras and the other steeped in Sony’s smaller mirrorless world. It’s an odd hybrid but how does it all work together in practice?

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Kevin Lee The Phoblographer Sony A3000 Product Images 9 of 13Large comfortable grip
  • Low $400 price
  • Lightweight
  • AF fine tuning and focus peaking

Cons

  • Extremely limited burst fire rate
  • Noisy live view LCD
  • Blurry EVF
  • Sometimes unreliable autofocus

Gear Used

For this review, I used the Sony A3000 with the Sony 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 OSS and Sony 24mm f1.8, reviewed previously.

Tech Specs

Courtesy of B&H Photo Video’s listing:

  • 20.1MP APS-C Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ Image Processor
  • Tru-Finder 0.5″ QVGA EVF
  • 3.0″ 230.4k-Dot LCD Monitor
  • Full HD 1080i/p Video at 60 or 24 fps
  • Multi Interface Accessory Shoe
  • Continuous Shooting Rate of 3.5 fps
  • Shutter Speed: 30 – 1/4000 sec
  • ISO 100-16000
  • Dimensions: 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.5″
  • Weight: 9.91 oz (without memory card or battery)

Ergonomics

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The Sony A3000 comes with a sizable grip that gives me a firm handhold on the camera. The rest of the body, meanwhile, is large and shapely enough to fall into the small DSLR category right between the larger Nikon 3300 and the tiny Canon EOS Rebel SL1. Despite the A3000 being a larger body, this camera actually has fewer controls than some Sony’s smaller bodied mirrorless cameras.

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From the front there’s surprisingly little going on with the camera other than the shutter, autofocus lamp, lens release, and flash button.

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Up on top is the hot shoe in the middle flanked on the right side by a button to switch between the LCD and EVF, mode dial (M, S, A, P, and Auto), on and off toggle, plus the preview image button. This is where you’ll be spending some of the time when it comes to the controls.

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On the back the first thing to notice is the 3.0″ screen topped with a half-inch EVF. All along the right users will find the movie record button, a menu button, four-way control dial (display, burst/time, exposure compensation, and ISO), and trash/programmable function button.

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On the bottom there’s nothing exciting to see other than the tripod mount and battery compartment. The left side of the camera also has a door hiding the microSD card slot, and microUSB port for charging as well as direct file transfers.

Build Quality

The Sony A3000 feels incredibly light. When I first picked it up my first instinct was to knock on it to hear how much of it was hollow plastic. A lot of it is. The A3000 really does seem like a NEX camera stuffed into a SLR shell, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It feels like plastic, there’s no denying it, but the grip is nicely contoured for fingers and wrapped with leather for a holding firmly. While camera gives me plenty to grip onto, it’s still light enough to carry handheld all day.

Autofocus

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Autofocus on the A3000 is tack sharp making most of my shots bang on accurate. Unfortunately while the AF is pinpoint it can take an extra half-second for the A3000 to narrow down exact focus from its 25 contrast detection points even in bright light. Even when shooting a doorknob or other close by objects within two-feet, the Sony spins focus to infinity before finally settling down.

It’s an issue that crops up no matter what AF mode I’m in whether it be multi, center, or flexible spot. Beyond an annoyance, the unreliability of the A3000’s AF system could miss out on key moments for street photographers or parents taking pictures of their kids.

In darkness the A3000 spotty autofocus capabilities are further exacerbated. But luckily this entry-level camera sports some surprisingly robust features including focus peaking and AF micro adjustment.

Ease of Use

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Lower end cameras have a habit of leaving the user to live in menus and the A3000 is no different. While the camera gives me easy access to many of my most used setting including the usual trinity (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture), I have to dig into the settings every time I want to change the white balance or autofocus modes. It’s a particular annoyance because both options are spread far apart inside the menu system.

The biggest problem I have using the A3000 is its lackluster resolution screen. With only 230,400 dots, it’s hardly enough to do the 20.1MP sensor justice. Worse yet, it can look like a complete digital snowstorm at higher ISOs. Not far off, the EVF has even worse image quality at such low resolution it is impossible to judge focus by eye or discern any fine details.

Metering

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This image was taken at f16, 1/100 of a second, and ISO 100 on a partially cloudy day facing away from the sun. Going by the Sunny 16 rule, the A3000’s sensor takes in almost the perfect amount of light. In certain circumstances photos might be slightly underexposed, but it’s an easy fix in post production or a smidge slower shutter speed.

Image Quality

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Despite my numerous gripes about the camera, the sensor does not mess around. Other than slightly raising the exposure and cropping down the image in Adobe Lightroom 5, this picture above is straight out of the Sony A3000. When paired with a really good piece of glass like the Sony 24mm f1.8, the sensor can resolve tons of detail even down the erosion of the brick seen in the corners.

What’s more, the sensor was able to capture  great dynamic range without blowing out the sky and even a lit ceiling light though one of the dark windows. In the other photos I took with the Sony Alpha camera, I was really pleased with the color accuracy without needing any extreme corrections.

High ISO Images

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The image above was shot at 6400 without any noise reduction or other changes made to the shot other than white balance correction. There’s definitely some noticeable grain on the image, but that’s expected especially at such a high sensitivity.

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At lower ISOs including this image above shot at ISO 3200, the grain is still there. However, it’s a small problem that can be fixed easily with small increments of noise reduction.

RAW File Versatility

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I was already impressed by the 20.1MP Exmor APS-C CMOS sensor, but playing around with the RAW files shows me just how flexible the A3000’s images are. Originally this photo was shot purposefully overblown. In post I was able to level out the image almost entirely and even got back details seen in the reflections of the coke bottle.

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Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

In many ways the A3000 seems like a half-baked experiment on Sony’s part. It feels cheap, like a kit DSLR frame fitted over a smaller NEX camera in the same way the 1980 Batmobile was really a Chevrolet Impala underneath. At the same time there’s all so much wasted space where I would have liked more controls. I’m also disappointed by the camera’s poor autofocus system and LCD screen. But on some level there have to be tradeoffs for a camera that costs less than $300.

The real shame about these flaws is they hinder the A3000’s amazing sensor. For as little as $294 the Sony A3000 has a high-resolution sensor that pumps out detailed RAW images with nearly perfect color and decent low light capabilities.

At the end of the day the A3000 is one of Sony’s most affordable cameras. It also gives Sony mirrorless camera users a more substantial camera body to play around with, which was part of the reason the Sony NEX 6 and NEX 7 were created in the first place. But the lack of controls and screen problems are hardly worth the extra girth.

The Sony A3000 is available for purchase from Amazon, B&H Photo or Adorama.

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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Brooklyn.