Sony’s affordable A3000 has the body of a mini DSLR and the guts of a mirrorless compact

The entry-level DSLR has been an arena where Sony hasn’t played in much. Instead, it’s been growing its NEX mirrorless compact system cameras (CSC) to target users stepping up from a point-and-shoot or smartphone, leaving the “baby DSLR” sector to Canon and Nikon. But Sony is joining the party (of sorts) with the new Alpha A3000, an inexpensive DSLR-like camera that Sony says is designed to compete against the Canon Rebel T3 and Nikon D3100.

We say DSLR-like because it’s still very much a mirrorless NEX camera at heart, but inside what looks like a shrunken DSLR body. From its research, Sony says 40 percent of today’s consumers will choose a CSC while the remainder will go with a DSLR. The A3000 is for that indecisive customer who would like to step up to the look-and-feel of a DSLR form-factor but would also like it to be compact and lightweight (similar in idea to Canon’s Rebel SL1, although that’s a pure DSLR).

 sony-a3000-grip

The A3000 has a 20.1-megapixel Exmor APS-C HD CMOS sensor, a bright electronic viewfinder with 100-percent coverage (shooting info is also shown), ISO of up to 16,000, Bionz image processor, Full HD 1080 video recording at 60i or 24p, a newly developed grip, and an E-mount for use with E-mount lenses (the ones used by Sony’s NEX cameras). The A3000 can use A-mount lenses with an optional adapter. Users who aren’t used to shooting through the viewfinder will have live view via the non-tilting 3-inch LCD (non touch). For those who like automatic scene modes, there are 11 of those with 15 creative effects. Sony says the A3000 is much like the discontinued A37 DSLR from last year, but it’s really a CSC in DSLR clothing.

When we had our hands on the camera, it looked and felt very much like a DSLR. There’s a mode dial and Sony’s Multi Interface hot shoe on top, and an LCD and a few buttons on the back, but unlike many DSLRs the layout is simple (akin to a CSC or point-and-shoot). Gripping it is nice and comfortable, giving you a steady hold that you won’t find in many CSCs or point-and-shoots. It feels heavier and is definitely much larger than a CSC but not an uncomfortable heft; overall, it feels nice in the hands and easy to carry like an entry-level DSLR (much lighter than the Canon 60D we were carrying). The viewfinder protrudes out a bit, which is nice because we are smudging our face up against the LCD. We weren’t permitted to take any of the images with us, so we can’t comment on picture quality for now. But Sony has impressed us with its NEX and DSLR cameras before, so we have high hopes. Sony showed us a video (see below) that demonstrates the photo and video quality, and it looked pretty stunning.

sony-a3000-rear-LCD

The price will grab the attention of buyers immediately: $400 with an 18-55 zoom kit lens. It’s an attractive price for an entry-level interchangeable lens camera, but whether it can go head-to-head against feature-rich entry-level DSLRs from Canon and Nikon is another matter. The A3000 is very much an easy-to-use CSC with a DSLR body, but its intended step-up customer may appreciate that, and we know there are plenty of those consumers out there. The camera will go on sale in September.

New Zeiss 16-70mm, G 18-105mm, and black 50mm E-mount lenses

To complement the A3000 announcement, Sony also introduced three new E-mount lenses: a 16-70mm f/4 Zeiss lens ($1,000, late September), an 18-105mm f/4 power-zoom G lens (first-ever G lens with E-mount, $600, December), and a new black finish option for the 50mm f/1.8 ($300, late September).

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