We’re photo geeks here at Geek Beat. You’ve seen what John’s done with his 5D Mk III and my Google+ is filled with ones I’ve taken. Its not everyday a sub-$400 camera makes a splash. Sony might have done just that with its new a3000. While it may look like any budget DSLR, their newest Alpha might be the starting line for a convergence that many have wondered when would happen, between Mirrorless and DSLRs.
In many ways, current DSLRs were still beholden to film. They essentially took traditional film technologies like single-reflex lens cameras and adapted them to the digital age. The full frame sensor corresponds to 35mm film. Likewise the step down APS-C sensor corresponds to the 24mm advanced photo system classic film that was used for 4×6 prints. The reason for this was for lens compatibility with existing film cameras. I could take the F-Mount lens off my dad’s old Nikon FT2 and put it on a modern F-Mount Nikon and it should work. There are much better lenses now, but that’s another point.
Of Alpha and NEX
The thing about mirrors in digital cameras, you really don’t need them. Going right from lens to sensor works just fine. Sony makes some of the best Mirrorless Cameras out there. Their NEX-line which uses the larger APS-C sized sensor instead of micro-four thirds, have been regarded as having some of the best image quality. In fact, friend of Geek Beat Trey Ratcliff recently retired his full frame Nikons in favor of the NEX-7. But the compactness of these cameras have lead to compromises. In many cases you don’t have a viewfinder, where one is standard in most DSLRs. You’re also missing that big meaty front grip in most cases. Most mirrorless cameras seemed like they were trying to make an interchangeable lens camera that you could carry like a small point and shoot. That wasn’t necessarily what photographers wanted.
The a3000 is a much larger camera than it has to be. In fact, looking at the pictures, it looks like any APS-C sized DSLR like the Canon Rebels. There is nothing to tip off that this mirrorless and uses the NEX line’s E-Mount lenses. The controls are what you’d expect for a budget DSLR. This is a photographer’s camera and looks to be a pretty good starter/backup camera from the specs. The big question here, is whether this is a pilot project or the start of a new line. Will there be a a5000, 7000, or 9000?
The Alpha a3000
The heart of this camera is Sony’s 20.1mp Exmor APS HD sensor which is APS-C sized. That’s a bit higher than its corporate cousin without the DSLR body, the NEX-3N, which has a 16.5mp sensor. ISO Range is 100-16,000. For video, it’s 1080 at 60i or 24p. The lenses are Sony E-mount. You won’t have the selection you do with an established DSLR lens type, but a check of B&H revealed 39 lenses from Sony and 8 third party manufacturers including some rather nice Zeiss lenses. That being said, some of those are repeat lenses in silver or black to match the different colors of the NEX line. It comes as a kit with Sony’s SEL1855 18-55mm f3.5-4.6 lens. Max shooting speed is 3.5 frames per second.
The camera has 11 picture modes and six photo style settings. Unheard of in this price range for a mirrorless camera is the eye level viewfinder. This makes it easy for someone used to a DSLR to pick up this camera and start shooting. The rear screen is a 3.0” LCD model. Its not touch-enabled nor does it swivel. Controls are accessed by a good old toggle switches and buttons. This is definitely an area when Sony is saving money, but for a $399 camera what do you expect?
The I/O ports are about what you’d expect save the unfortunate absence of a 3.5mm audio-in jack. You have both DC-in ad USB2.0. The USB port is for both pc connectivity and power. Speaking of power, there’s a 1080mAh lithium battery good for about 480 shots. Video is is provided from a fairly typical mini-HDMI type C. You can find type c to full size type A cables easy enough, we use them for video out of our Canon Vixias. Like I said, there’s no traditional audio-in, but on top is Sony’s multi-interface shoe for microphones, flashes, viewfinders, and other camera accessories. For wireless there is both Wi-Fi and NFC support.
The Sony a3000 will be available on September 8th and can be pre-ordered on Sony’s website. It’s a mirrorless camera aimed as either a first camera or a backup for DSLR users. Whether we’re looking at the start of a new line of DSLR-replacements or a one-off intrigues me. I’m intrigued enough that I just might get one for myself. If that happens you can expect a full review.
Until then, we want to hear from you, our viewers. Have you been looking for a mirrorless camera in a DSLR-like form factor? If you’re a NEX owner, do you like the available lenses? Post below or on our social media pages.