A Review of the Sony Alpha a3000 DSLR Camera
A rookie gets a taste of big-time picture-taking
A circuitous path, involving England, New York, rural Michigan, Indiana, and lots of parts in between brought Matthew Freeman to Charlottesville, where he's been writing about mobile audio/video for Crutchfield off and on since early 2000. He fosters an eclectic taste in film, and is fond of a wide range of music. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he found his way to the University of Notre Dame, where, in an act of charity unsurpassed in the history of Western civilization, he was given a B.A. in English.
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The Sony Alpha a3000 DSLR-style camera
I’ll admit it: when it comes to photography, I’m a rank amateur. I live mostly in the car A/V world, so there’s quite a bit of camera technology that passes me by. But I also take lots of road trips, and, recently, I’ve been getting off the interstate and taking smaller roads. It’s a great way to get a real feel for this great country of ours by checking out the oddball attractions and hidden treasures that you'll find on the back roads and byways.
Like most people, my smartphone acts as my primary camera. And while smartphone cameras have improved dramatically over the last few years, they still have their share of limitations. So I’d been toying with the idea of making the big leap: bypassing point-and-shoot cameras and diving straight into DSLRs. While I was excited by the prospect, I was kind of intimidated, too. Turns out, I didn’t have to be.
On the road with the Sony Alpha a3000
Late in the fall, I got the opportunity to take a Sony Alpha a3000 along with me on one of my many trips out to the midwest. It’s positioned as a “crossover” camera: advanced enough for pro shooters, yet simple enough for rookies like me. Long story short, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with it.
This purple cow head stands guard outside a now-closed restaurant in Dooms, VA, not far from our headquarters in Charlottesville. I shot these in Intelligent Auto mode.
Right off the bat, the camera’s size, weight, and ergonomics won me over. It fit neatly in my hand and seemed to weigh next to nothing, which made it easy to carry around for long periods of time, and nimble enough to encourage me to go after more dramatic shots than I might normally have considered with just my phone or a simple point-and-shoot.
Snuggled near a train trestle at the eastern edge of Covington, VA, not far from the West Virginia border, lies a hidden gem: the Humpback Bridge, a restored bridge that had been used from 1835 to 1929. The "Love" sculpture was built with railroad materials. I shot these using Intelligent Auto mode.
I also loved the fact that, even though it focuses itself in automatic shooting mode, the camera requires the shooter to adjust the zoom manually by twisting a ring around the lens. The ergonomics of this encouraged me to put the camera up to my eye and use the viewfinder to frame my shots instead of using the LCD. This, in turn, made me feel a little more like a real photographer, which made shooting way more fun and exciting.
Great results in Auto modes
At the north and south ends of Rockingham County, VA, along US Route 11, stand two statues that commemorate the importance of the poultry industry in the county. To get some of the fine detail, I shot these using Superior Auto mode.
Because of my experience level, I stuck to the camera’s automatic shooting modes. Most often, its standard "Intelligent Auto" yielded fantastic results, especially in good sunlight. From time to time, I’d switch to the "Superior Auto" mode, which lets the camera evaluate shooting conditions and make appropriate lens adjustments. In this mode, the camera not only makes lens adjustments, it’ll either shoot just one image or create a composite of multiple images it captures when you press the button. I used Superior Auto to capture some spectacular nighttime shots.
The famous Mothman, harbinger of doom, has been commemorated in downtown Point Pleasant, WV, with a life-size, and pretty scary, statue. Intelligeng Auto mode made these shots turn out nicely, espcially the detail of the raindrops and the vibrancy of the eye color on the closeup.
As I got more comfortable with the camera, I tried out a few of the fun Scene Selection modes, which help shooters capture specific types of shots. Portrait, for example, keeps the people you’re shooting in focus in the foreground while blurring the background. I was particularly impressed by the Hand-held Twilight mode, which let me get some pictures of lighted signs that didn’t appear too “hot”; the camera kept the visual noise down and captured the lights accurately and naturally.
Fun shooting, fantastic shots
Neon signs, like these in South Bend, IN, are impossible to shoot clearly with a smartphone camera. I managed to capture the left image in the Hand-held Twilight Scene Selection mode. The sign on the right I got by using Intelligent Auto mode, then adjusting the level of background noise. The crispness and color detail of each of these surprised me.
To sum up, then: this is a great camera. The picture quality, depth of color, and richness of detail were pretty thrilling, especially after years of taking pictures with nothing but my phone. Using it was not only fun, but a learning experience, and one that’s encouraged me to want not only to learn to take better pictures, but to become a better photographer.
This is definitely a camera that encourages experimentation: I’m looking forward to taking the camera out again and testing more of what it has to offer, like Panoramic mode, and its high-def video capabilities.
So if you’re ready to make your first foray into the world of DSLR, the Sony Alpha a3000 is a very good way to do it. Right out of the box, it lets even the newbiest of newbies, like me, capture satisfying images. And that can lead to shooting more, learning more, and taking advantage of all the pro-level control the camera has to offer.