Angela Nicholson explains the benefits of buying a second DSLR and compares some of these more affordable DSLR cameras with enthusiast-centric models

Buying a second DSLR – Sony

Sony A230 DSLRIf Live View isn’t important, the Alpha 230 is a low-cost option for a second body for Alpha 700 users. If it is important, the Alpha 380 is only around £70 more.

Enthusiast Sony (and Konica Minolta) users may have been feeling a little frustrated of late, as the company appears to have been neglecting them and concentrating on bringing out a collection of very similar cameras for less experienced photographers.

This does at least mean there are cameras that make suitable second bodies for those using the Alpha 700. At £298.99 in the shops, the Alpha 230 is perhaps the most attractive option. This camera has an effective pixel count of 10.2 million, so the images it produces are only a little smaller than those from the 12.25-million-pixel Alpha 700.

Image quality

Sony Alpha 700 wireles remoteWhen the Alpha 700 is set to 2sec self-timer and is triggered using the supplied wireless remote, the mirror automatically flips up and locks before the exposure to reduce vibration. The Alpha 230 doesn’t have mirror lock-up and isn’t supplied with a remote but, fortunately, it is compatible with the RMT-DSLR1 that comes with the Alpha 700.

We have found that the violent mirror movement in some Sony Alpha cameras can cause noticeable camera shake, and in the absence of a mirror lock-up facility there is a slight decrease in image resolution. This isn’t a problem if the shutter speed is kept over around 1/125sec.

If longer exposures are required, placing a heavy beanbag over the camera on a solid tripod can help dampen the vibrations. Alternatively, selecting a much longer exposure to minimise the proportion of the exposure that has vibration can help.

Live View

As the Alpha 700 doesn’t have Live View technology, those looking for a second body may wish to buy a camera that allows images to be composed on the LCD screen. The Alpha 230 isn’t Live View-enabled, but the Alpha 380 – which costs only around £70 more – does have it, along with a tilting screen that makes it easier to compose from high or low angles. This camera also offers the advantage of a 14.2-million-pixel sensor, although neither it nor the Alpha 230 has sensitivity settings beyond ISO 3200.

Image stabilisation

Alpha 700 users will appreciate the fact that the Alpha 230 and 380 offer sensor-shifting image stabilisation and dynamic range optimisation options, but the DRO Levels setting found with the enthusiast camera is not present.

Build and handling

Both the Alpha 230 and 380 are much smaller and lighter than the Alpha 700, but they still feel pretty well made. The shorter grips are deep enough to provide a firm hold. As usual, there are fewer buttons on the entry-level cameras, but shortcuts are provided to the essentials such as the drive, flash and AF options. Helpfully, all three cameras have an information screen that enables camera settings to be checked quickly.

Flashguns

Although a manufacturer’s current flashguns are usually compatible with its entire DSLR range, a small camera may feel unbalanced when a large flashgun is mounted on it. If you regularly use flash and need a flashgun to accompany a new second body, it may be worth considering buying a smaller unit more in keeping with the proportions of the back-up camera.

Sony’s HVL-F20AM (around £120) is small, yet it has a GN of 20m @ ISO 100 and an adjustable bounce angle. It also folds flat when not in use, so it’s easy to transport. While its size makes it a good match for the Alpha 230 (its pop-up flash has a GN of 10m @ ISO 10m), it is also a handy for use with the Alpha 900, which does not have a built-in flash, and it can act as a wireless trigger.

  Alpha 700 Alpha 550 Alpha 450 Alpha 380 Alpha 230
Date tested 3 Nov 2007 21 Nov 2009 20 March 2010 27 June 2009 Not tested
Pixel count 12.25 million 14.2 million 14.2 million 14.2 million 10.2 million
Street price Discontinued £548 £414 £369 £298.99
AF points 11 9 9 9 9
Max sensitivity range ISO 200-6,400 ISO 200-12,800 SO 200-12,800 ISO 100-3200 ISO 100-3200
Memory card CF, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo SD/SDHC, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo  SD/SDHC, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo  SD/SDHC, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo  SD/SDHC, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick
Battery NP- FM500H  NP- FM500H NP- FM500H NP-FH50 NP-FH50
Grip VG-C70AM VG-B50AM N/A N/A N/A

  1. 1. Choosing a second body
  2. 2. Buying a second DSLR - Canon
  3. 3. Buying a second DSLR - Nikon
  4. 4. Buying a second DSLR - Olympus
  5. 5. Buying a second DSLR - Pentax
  6. 6. Buying a second DSLR - Sony
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