Best DSLR for beginners: 6 tested

Entry-level cameras and the best DSLR on a tight budget

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

Sony Alpha A390 - £370

The cheapest camera in the group is a step up from the Sony A290, which has similar specifications, but lacks a live view shooting mode. Even so, while the Sony Alpha A390 does feature live view, there's no magnified preview facility, which precludes precise manual focusing. More disappointingly, the Sony A390 has no video-recording capability.

Resolution is respectable at 14.2MP, although Sony again bucks the trend by featuring a CCD rather than a CMOS image sensor. The maximum sensitivity is ISO 3200, which is fairly pedestrian nowadays, and there's no expanded ISO range.

There's plenty of help on hand for beginners, however, as the on-screen guide provides information on all the various shooting modes. Once you're familiar with camera settings, you can switch the guide off to have a more streamlined interface.

Another nice touch is the tilting LCD screen. Unlike the Canon EOS 1100D and the Nikon D5100, there isn't full articulation, but the tilting action still makes for convenient live view shooting from high or low angles. The LCD itself is only 2.7 inches in size, and it has a fairly low resolution of 230k pixels.

Performance

The Sony A390 has the slowest continuous shooting rate in the group, at just 2.5fps, although the Canon EOS 1100D slows from 3fps to 2fps if you shoot in raw mode rather than JPEG.

In our tests, the Sony Alpha A390 had a habit of over-exposing images in bright lighting conditions, making sunny outdoor scenes look washed out. The D-Range Optimiser helped, but even so, most shots were too bright. In dull lighting or shooting in the shadows, exposures were more accurate, but white balance errors crept in and images often had colour casts.

Outdoor image test

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

We found over-exposure to be a frequent problem in sunny conditions. This shot is out by about 1/3 of a stop.

Resolution test

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

ISO 200

The Sony A390 resolves fine detail throughout most of its sensitivity range. It only really drops off at ISO 3200.

Noise

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

ISO 200

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 is the maximum available sensitivity, and at this setting, the Sony A390 has much more image noise in JPEGs than the competition.

Colour error

Best starter dslrs: 6 tested

Colour rendition on the Sony A390 is a mixed bag, with white balance being a hit and miss affair, especially in dull lighting conditions.

Image test verdict

With frequent over-exposure in bright conditions, inconsistent white balance and image noise at ISO 3200, the Sony A390 had the poorest image quality.

Read our full Sony Alpha A390 review