In terms of performance, the A300 is about average for an entry-level camera. Like most DSLRs it starts up almost instantly, and shuts down again nearly as fast, although there is a slight delay for the sensor cleaning routine. Shooting performance varies depending on the image quality setting. In single shot mode and fine JPEG quality it can keep up pretty much as fast as you can press the button, and in continuous mode it can average approximately two shots a second, although the rate is uneven, with a faster burst of three frames at first. Adding Raw mode into the mix slows things down considerably. In single shot mode and Raw + Fine JPEG quality setting it can only manage a shot every 1.2 seconds, which is a bit slow by recent standards, while continuous shooting is limited to a three-shot burst.
Image quality is pretty much identical to the A200, so no surprises there. The same 10.2-megapixel APS-C sensor has been used in the A100 and A200, as well as the Nikon D60 and D80, and it is a well-proven piece of kit. Overall image quality is very good, with excellent colour reproduction and plenty of fine detail. Image noise is reasonably well handled, with excellent quality as 100 and 200 ISO, a little noise at 400 and 800, and progressively worse quality ate 1600 and 3200 ISO. Dynamic range too is quite good, and the D-Range Optimiser feature does a good job of preserving shadow detail without compromising image quality with shadow noise.
The only real problem I encountered with the A300 was some slightly questionable metering while shooting in the snow we've had this past week. With the camera set on auto it was inclined to under-expose, although this was not entirely unexpected under the circumstance and was easily corrected by using exposure compensation.
The Sony Alpha A300 represents good value for money, offering virtually the same features as the more expensive A350 with only a slight reduction in overall picture quality. It stands up well to the competition, offering a excellent handling, reasonable performance, a good range of features and decent image quality for a competitive price. If you're looking for an entry-level DSLR for under £350, the Sony Alpha A300 should definitely be on your short list.