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Past Article Calendar

June 2010
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New Alpha 290 and 390

Sony has announced two new cameras this morning – but it’s not an announcement which will have Alpha system users rushing to the cashpoint and queuing at Sony Style. The Alpha 290 and 390 are dumbed-down versions of the 230/380 with user interfaces partly borrowed from the NEX including the built-in Help Guide. The rear 2.7 inch Clear Photo LCD screeen does most of the work of communicating with the user.

This will have many Alpha system stalwarts saying ‘Help!’ in their own right, as they are still waiting for the predicted arrival of the real new Alphas, the 700 replacement with HD video and its 500-series sibling. What they did not expect was to find two entry-level models arriving without video, and with the changes restricted to a Tale of Peter Rabbit – they lost their buttons while squeezing under the fence to get into the point’n’shoot upgraders garden.*

But actually it’s good news, because it’s a garden full of cabbages who will appreciate the simplified interface and button layout. And they get a very high quality carrot in the form of that 14.2 megapixel sensor, as this looks to be Sony’s standard pixel count for all cameras at this level and higher. If 14.2 is entry level, a denser sensor must surely be on the way for a midrange/semipro APS-C model soon.

It’s presumably the same 14.2 megapixel CCD sensor as found in the Alpha 380, with its ISO 100-3200 range and 2.5fps continuous capture. On Dyxum’s forum, there is speculation that processing will be improved.

The 290 has a plain fixed screen, the 390 has a tilting screen and Quick AF live view (the in-prism system using phase detection). Both have chunkier and better shaped handgrips than earlier models, perhaps in reponse to criticism of ever smaller handling profiles. Thy at least have the same eyestart sensor arrangement as normal and do not copy the 450, which has the sensors above the eyepiece instead of below, and makes for a very awkward camera to use.

They keep exactly the same AF sensor, metering system, shutter, flash system and in-body SSS image stabilisation as previous models. The pop-up flash is GN10, the battery life is around 500 shots (230 in Quick AF Live View mode). The A290 weighs only 456 grams.

And the 290 has not a button in sight on top, even the shutter release and on/off switch have been shifted forward leaving a clear top panel. It’s rather like seeing Botticelli’s Venus without a navel. However, the shutter release placement of the last series was a major criticism, and this new position restores a more ‘industry standard’ placing as used by Nikon and Canon, and by Sony in the A450/500/550 series.

That rather impressively compact lens, by the way, is the 75-300mm Sony SAL seen in a neatly compressed perspective, not something new you don’t know about. And that tells us the cameras do have screw drive AF (fears in certain forums unfounded).

After asking ‘What’s NEX?’ we have the answer – mainstream Alpha DSLRs using the same software based type of virtual-controls interface as NEX, with the same level of built-in guidance for new users. All the functions of their predecessors are still there, if not so obvious camera users with experience of traditional controls.

Instead, you get ‘colourful on-screen icons’ though no claim is made in the press announcement that Sony Ericsson mobile phone designers were involved (as they were for the NEX interface). Lens options include the 18-55mm SAM and a twin lens kit with the 55-200mm SAM added.

The press and technical data does not clarify whether the card drive is the same dual format single slot used by NEX (replacing the twin slot drive SD/MS Pro Duo of earlier models) or what type of battery is used. There is no mention at all of wired cable release, but ‘Remote Commander’ remains as a feature (the infrared controller, sold separately). And there is no mention in the specifications of wireless remote flash, either, though it is included – nor of features like DRO+. There’s still an AC mains adaptor socket.

Premium features such as HDR multi-shot blending, found on the 4-5xx series, have not been added to these models.

To download a raft of high-res images of the two new Alphas and the full launch press release, click:


The slight lack of info hints at a fast-track process to release details.

– DK

* I should point out that Peter Rabbit lost his buttons getting OUT of the garden, after eating too many lettuces. But Sony is clever and realises that to get INTO the consumer market garden faster, you might as well lose the buttons first. If you ever need to get out, well, you lost more than buttons…

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