Sony may be one of the biggest names in digital cameras, but it’s so far avoided digital SLRs. Recognising this expanding market but lacking the experience, Sony teamed up with Konica Minolta last summer.
Then Konica Minolta pulled out of the camera business, transferring its SLR technologies to Sony. A year after the original announcement, Sony has finally launched its first digital SLR, the A100.
The specs are impressive. For only $1749, you get a 10.2-megapixel digital SLR with an 18-70mm lens and built-in anti-shake capabilities, making it better in every respect than long-term A-List resident, the Canon EOS-350D, and almost half the asking price of Nikon’s 10.2-megapixel D200 body alone.
The A in A100 stands for Alpha, Sony’s new digital SLR brand. Alpha bodies employ an Alpha lens mount – simply a rebranded Minolta A-type bayonet. It should work with any Minolta-mount lens, but Sony’s also announced 21 of its own. While most are rebranded Konica Minolta lenses with new focusing and zoom rings, there are new designs, including three from Carl Zeiss due for release this winter.
The A100 is available with two lens bundles: the standard zoom kit includes the DT 18-70mm f3.5-5.6, while the twin zoom kit includes both the 18-70mm and the longer AF 75-300mm f4.5-5.6 for $1999. Since the A100’s APS-sized sensor crops the field of view, these lenses deliver 35mm-equivalent focal lengths of 27-105mm and 113-450mm respectively. The standard 18-70mm enjoys an extra 15mm over the usual 18-55mm range of other budget digital SLRs, making quite
a difference in day-to-day use.
The A100 body is based on Konica Minolta’s earlier Dynax 5D. Externally, Sony has made only subtle tweaks, but has managed to transform the rather angular 5D into a more attractive, modern digital SLR. Measuring a few millimetres wider and deeper than Canon’s 350D, it affords the A100 a larger, more comfortable grip, but it’s still very compact. The slightly heavier body lends it a greater air of confidence, although the build quality is ultimately of a similar standard to the 350D.
Crucially, the A100 inherits the 5D’s best feature: its built-in anti-shake system, now slightly tweaked and rebranded Super SteadyShot and offering three-and-a-half stops of compensation. Unlike rival systems that adjust optics in dedicated lenses, the A100’s sensor is mounted on a platform that shifts up to 5mm in any direction to counteract unwanted wobbles. While you can’t see the effect through the viewfinder, the upside of building it into the body is that every lens enjoys the benefit. In practice, the system works very well, allowing you to hand-hold much slower exposures than normal.
Like the 5D, shooting info is only shown on the main 2.5in monitor, but Sony has thankfully upgraded this to a higher-res 230,000-pixel model. Using the main screen most of the time affects battery life, but the larger real estate allows for a great deal of information or, the key facts in larger fonts. Sensors detect the orientation of the camera and cleverly flip the information 90° clockwise or anti-clockwise, so it always remains upright. Sensors also detect when you’re looking through the viewfinder, shutting down the screen and automatically starting the auto-focus. You can switch this off, but it’s handy for spur-of-the-moment opportunities.
In terms of handling, the A100 feels quick and responsive, starting almost instantly and offering continuous JPEG shooting at 3fps until your card runs out of memory. Spot, centre weighted and multi-segment metering are available, the latter evaluating tricky lighting conditions with ease, although we found Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimisation made little difference in our test shots.
Dust getting into the body is becoming troublesome for digital SLR owners, and Sony combats it with a special coating on the low pass filter and by vibrating the sensor when the camera’s switched on and off. Unfortunately, we still found occasional particles making their way into our A100 and onto images.
The specification that will grab most people, is the 10.2-megapixel CCD, which is essentially the same sensor found in Nikon’s considerably pricier D200. This delivers 3872 x 2592 pixel images, which allows the A100 to make 300dpi prints about 1.5in larger than the 350D, or 2.5in larger than typical 6-megapixel cameras.
In testing, the A100 certainly resolved more detail than the 350D, but in real-life situations it’s a subtle difference. Of greater concern are the A100’s noise levels, which at 800 ISO and above are noticeably worse than the 350D. While only bothering people who shoot at high sensitivities, this is traditionally a key benefit of digital SLRs.
Despite some minor disappointments, the Sony A100 remains a highly compelling proposition and an impressive debut. At this price, the 10.2-megapixel resolution, built-in anti-shake and slightly longer kit lens make it a worthy alternative to the 350D. The latter’s current bargain price keeps it on the A List, but the Alpha range is certainly one to watch.
This Review appeared in the October, 2006 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing