The 14.2-megapixel Sony Alpha DSLR-A450 is pitched as an affordable digital SLR for those stepping up from a more basic camera. It closely resembles the rest of the models in Sony's Alpha range, with a blocky, plasticky chassis, and large, clear buttons and controls. But what it lacks in elegance it aims to make up for in usability.
You can expect to pay around £500 for the A450 with an 18-55mm zoom lens, or around £430 for the body only.
The A450 offers almost all the functionality expected of a modern dSLR. But, despite its HDMI output, you can't shoot video with it, which may be a deal-breaker for some.
You do, however, get Sony's APS-C-sized, low-noise Exmor CMOS sensor, and an LCD display with a live-view function that provides a 7x or 14x magnification option for checking focus. (Note that the LCD display is quite small, measuring 2.7 inches diagonally, and it doesn't tilt or swivel.)
You'll also benefit from an optical viewfinder with a 95 per cent field of view, up to 7-frames-per-second continuous shooting, and the opportunity to boost the ISO speed up to a whopping ISO 12,800 for low-light photography without the aid of the pop-up flash. Those are impressive features for an entry-level dSLR.
The A450's overall dimensions are 137 by 104 by 81mm, so it's well suited to those with big hands. A large and obvious shutter-release button atop the handgrip is encircled by a power switch, behind which Sony could have fitted a second, smaller LCD status display, had it chosen to.
Instead, you get four buttons, offering one-touch access to some key functions. Most notably, there's a control for turning on the camera's live-view feature, whereby the rear LCD can be used for shot composition as well as review. The other three controls provide access to the A450's 'D-Range' (dynamic range) options; self-timer and continuous-shooting modes; and ISO settings. These options are navigated using the control pad on the camera's back, or the command dial, which is conveniently set into the top of the handgrip.
The eye sensors set just above the optical viewfinder are a particularly cool feature of the A450, and the Sony Alpha range in general. They automatically turn off the LCD display below as you move your attention from the screen to the viewfinder.
Operating the camera is an intuitive experience. We found ourselves reaching for buttons without having to pay much attention to what we were actually doing.
The A450 takes Sony's Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards, as well as the more common SD and SDHC cards. The two slots sit alongside each other beneath a sliding door on the camera's side.
The A450 is fast and responsive. Flick the power switch and the camera readies itself for action instantly. Press the live-view button and the internal mirror mechanism audibly flips out of the way in a mere second. You don't get the impression that you'll ever miss a shot through waiting for the camera to respond. The autofocus system is similarly swift, despite offering a modest nine points (par for the course with budget dSLRs).
Shooting modes are selected via a top-mounted dial. You have the choice of auto shooting, and program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes. You then have seven further settings, including pre-optimised portrait and landscape modes, as well as close-up and night-portrait options. These are the kind of settings that anyone trading up from a compact camera will be familiar with from 'scene mode' menus.
For trickier exposures, the A450 offers an 'auto high dynamic range' mode that combines two different exposures -- one biased towards shadows, the other towards highlights – into one balanced shot. Even on fairly bright days, you'll require a tripod to make the most of this feature, however.
Sony dSLRs offer an advantage over their Canon and Nikon competitors by including anti-shake, of the sensor-shifting variety, within the body. That means any one of Sony's 30-odd lenses becomes immediately stabilised when attached.
The A450's picture quality is generally excellent, although our 18-55mm test lens didn't deliver the sharpest results we've ever seen. You could spend more on a Carl Zeiss-branded lens if you really want the best results, but that might defeat the purpose of buying a budget dSLR. Still, colours look great, and images are well-saturated and warm.
The A450's battery life is impressive too. You'll get up to 1,050 shots on a single charge, which is double the norm for this camera's class.
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A450 is speedy, easy to use and delivers impressive results. Although it faces stiff competition from other entry-level dSLRs -- not least from Nikon's excellent D3100, which offers 1080p video recording -- the A450 is one of the more user-friendly options.
Edited by Charles Kloet