In the Field
The biggest difference between the A380 and the A390 is the grip. The A380’s grip was a bold departure from traditional grip design that ultimately didn’t work. Being shallower at top than bottom, it constantly felt as if the camera would fall out of your hand. The A390’s returns to a more traditional style, with a nice indent for your middle finger that provides leverage when tilting the camera up or down.
The problem with this new grip is that, for some users, it’s too deep overall. Testers with medium to small hands in particular found that their right hands were too open, once again leaving you with a less-than-secure feeling. Larger-handed shooters had much less of a problem here.
Almost every tester, though, found exposure compensation to be a clumsy operation. This requires a button press with the thumb and then a rotation of the lone command wheel on the front of the grip with the forefinger, and the placement of the controls made it near impossible to perform single-handedly at eye level.
The camera body itself, not counting the protrusions of the grip, is quite deep—just over 2 inches including the extra depth of the tilting 2.7-inch, 230,400- dot LCD screen, which adds about 1/8-inch to this dimension. But, before you blame the screen for that depth, consider that Sony was able to put a larger screen—with more than three times the pixel count, which also tilts up and down— into the NEX-3, while making it one of the thinnest cameras to accept interchangeable lenses.
Like most entry-level DSLRs, the A390 uses menus on the LCD screen to change most of the settings rather than external hard controls. Flash, ISO, display, and drive mode are the big exceptions, with direct access through the five-way control pad. Other common settings find their home in the Shooting Function menu. Strangely, you have to go to the main menu to engage or disengage the Super SteadyShot sensor-shift image stabilization, which gave our shooters between 2.5 and 3 stops of handholding leeway when using it.
If Sony would eschew the fancy icons in the Shooting Function menu, there would be plenty of room to include SteadyShot and memory card formatting, two things that are unnecessarily cumbersome to control with this camera.
The A390 accepts both Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD or SDHC cards. You must use a physical switch to tell the camera which card slot is active. It’s not a major inconvenience, but you should remember to select the card you’ve got before shooting. We’re just happy to see that the camera isn’t limited to Sony’s card type.
Conspicuously missing from the A390 is video recording, which has yet to find its way into any Sony DSLRs. The flip side is that you get arguably the best live view shooting available in a DSLR, thanks to the second sensor hidden in the pentamirror. Since the mirror in front of the imaging sensor doesn’t have to flip up during live-view shooting, the camera can use conventional phase-detection AF. All other brands of DSLRs must switch to slower contrast- detection AF in live view.