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All of the major manufacturers have entry-level models in their DSLR line-ups. They are usually sold with a standard zoom kit lens, or a twin lens kit with the addition of a telephoto zoom. Pentax has the K-m (£380 including 18-55mm lens), Nikon has the new D3000 (£434 including 18-55mm VR lens), Canon has the EOS 1000D (£385 including 18-55mm lens), while Olympus has its bargain-priced E-420 (£290 including 14-42mm lens). Sony, always keen to expand its growing share of the DSLR market, has just updated its own entry level model, so today I'm taking a look at the new Alpha A230, which is currently available with a new kit lens for a very competitive £330.
Buying an entry-level digital SLR is a serious business, because you're not just buying a camera, you're buying into a system. Once you've chosen a camera and a lens, and you've had it a few months and come to appreciate the superior control and image quality, you'll probably want to buy maybe a spare battery, then an additional lens, and maybe a good flashgun. Before you know it you've got an ever-growing collection of accessories that cost more than the original camera.
The trouble is that once you outgrow the capabilities of your entry-level camera and want to upgrade to something a bit more sophisticated, you will naturally want to still be able to use all these accessories, and so rather than sell everything and move to a different system you're far more likely to buy a mid-range camera from the same brand.
This built-in brand loyalty is the reason why the big camera companies are so keen to get us all buying DSLRs and other system cameras. They know that if they can sell you an entry-level kit they've probably got a customer for life. They may not make a lot of profit on the entry-level cameras, but those expensive lenses are a gold mine.
The Sony Alpha DSLR system is relatively new, having only been launched in 2006, but it is based on the old Minolta Dynax system, and Sony Alpha cameras can use most old Minolta and Konica-Minolta accessories, including a wide range of high quality lenses that are easily found on the second-hand market. Sony's own range of lenses, including the fantastic Carl Zeiss T* lenses, is steadily growing, and there are good ranges of Sony compatible lenses from third-party manufacturers including Sigma and Tamron.
The A230 is, as you'd probably expect for the price, a very basic model with only the bare minimum of features. To keep development costs to a minimum it has the same Sony-made 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor previously seen in the Alpha A100 and A200. In fact it's pretty much the same camera as the A200, but with a new body design and a new compact 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.