Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 Full Review
Konica Minolta and Sony announced in July 2005 that they would collaborate to produce digital SLR cameras. This deal indicated to shared technology between the two businesses, including sensors, electronics, and anti-shake systems from Sony and Konica Minolta, respectively. Six months later, Konica Minolta shocked the photography industry by announcing their exit from the industry and the transfer to Sony of certain camera assets, including the Maxxum/Dynax lens mount and associated SLR technologies.
We now have the new Sony Alpha DSLR-A100, a tiny, ten megapixel (CCD) digital SLR with a (Konica) Minolta lens mount, Anti-Shake (now Super SteadyShot), and a definite cross-breed appearance, almost a year after that initial announcement. While this camera may share some components with earlier Konica Minolta digital SLR models, it’s safe to say that Sony’s involvement has raised the bar for external style, build quality, and finish. Sony has confirmed at least 19 lenses that will sport the Sony Alpha branding and the lens mount will be known as the “Alpha mount” (although many are based on existing Minolta lenses).
Controls and the Body
The finest of Konica Minolta’s technology, which Sony inherited earlier this year, is combined with Sony’s more appealing style in the A100 and its kit lenses. The polycarbonate body of the camera is beautifully constructed, quite pleasant to hold, and has an intuitive button layout with easy access to all crucial functions.
The A100 maintains the dual mode dial system of its predecessors, with the left dial providing access to the metering, flash, focus, ISO, white balance, D-Range Optimiser, and Digital Effect Control (color/parameter adjustment) settings, and the right dial carrying settings for exposure (Auto, P, A, S, and M shooting modes; Portrait, Macro, Sports, Landscape, Sunset, Night Portrait, and Night scene).
The 2.5-inch Clear Picture LCD Plus monitor, which is located on the back body panel and serves as both a data display and control panel, has an above-average viewing angle and excellent color fidelity. For camera settings, there are two degrees of detail, with larger text and icons in the lower level. When the camera is held up to the eye in portrait mode, the display automatically flips and turns off. The viewfinder display has the typical metering and AF area marks in addition to a data display that runs along the bottom and has a bar graph showing how much anti-shake compensation the camera is using.
With support for raw and JPEG capture (including RAW+JPEG), color, contrast, and saturation adjustments, sRGB and Adobe RGB colour space settings, exposure compensation, and sensitivity adjustment, there are all the options a serious photographer could desire. White balance options include Kelvin temperature settings, custom measurement, auto and preset modes, and more. Similar to Konica Minolta, the menu system has three pages for set-up, two pages for custom functions (encompassing 12 settings), and two pages each for the record and play menus.
With nine customizable AF locations, single and continuous AF modes, direct manual focusing, and all of these options combined, the focusing mechanism is quick and flexible. For low-light shooting, there is an Autofocus assist light available. Before pressing the shutter, eye-start autofocus sensors begin focusing based on where the photographer is looking. This feature, which can in many circumstances speed up focusing, is a favorite among some photographers. For those who don’t, it may be turned off via the menu system on the camera.
The maximum shutter speed setting is 1/4000 seconds, while the flash synch speed is 1/160 seconds (or 1/125 seconds with Super SteadyShot enabled). For longer exposures, a remote commander will be available. A 10-second delay self-timer is also available; it automatically turns off after each shot. Reactivating it is simple enough to do by pushing the Drive button next to the shutter release and swiping the arrow pad. Although an adaptor is provided for Memory Stick PRO and Memory Stick PRO Duo media cards, there is only one memory card slot available, and it only supports CF cards and Microdrives.
By elevating the flash head, the built-in flash, which has a guide number of 12 (metres/ISO 100), can be used. There is a flash exposure correction of +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps available. For photographers who need greater flash power, Sony offers the HVL-F56AM (GN 56) and HVL-F36AM (GN 36) units. The A100’s body has a hot-shoe that users can utilize to mount extra TTL flash units. There is no X-synch terminal available.
Important attributes and innovations
Mount for Sony Alpha lenses
similar to the Minolta A-type bayonet attachment, preventing the need to create an entirely new system and allowing the use of a sizable back catalog of current Minolta and third party lenses. It’s interesting to note that just four of the newly announced lenses are APS imaging circle compatible.
APS-C CCD with 10 megapixels
It’s interesting that Sony chose CCD over CMOS for this camera, therefore the sensor is different from the one in the DSC-R1. Although we need formal confirmation, it appears likely that this 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD is the same one that was used in the Nikon D200.
The Minolta CCD shift Anti-Shake system has been dubbed by Sony as “Super SteadyShot,” but the concept remains the same. Yet according to reliable sources, Sony’s engineers have made some important system upgrades and now assert that shutter speeds 3.5 stops slower can be used while Super SteadyShot is activated. The availability of high sensitivities up to ISO 1600 is the subject of the second chapter of the Anti-Blur tale.
Since the advent of digital SLR photography, there has been a “dust” problem that has varied effects on various cameras. With its SSWF filter, Olympus gained the upper hand; Sony appears eager to take advantage of this. The low-pass filter in front of the CCD has a specific anti-static coating (Indium Tin Oxide) that prevents dust buildup caused by static electricity. Second, a “Anti-Dust vibration” that makes use of the camera’s CCD shift technology but occurs at power-off rather than startup.
Image processor Bionz
Canon is to thank for the trend of branding the image processor used in cameras; Sony obviously sees the potential of this but has unluckily not chosen a name that is particularly catchy. They claim that the new “Bionz” image processor is a vast improvement over anything found in earlier KM digital SLRs. It also makes the A100’s Dynamic Range Optimization feature possible. Because it is built in at the hardware level, Sony claims that this will be the fastest system of its kind.
AF Eye Start
For former Minolta SLR owners, Eye Start AF is nothing new, but Sony is clearly eager to keep using it. With the A100, Eye Start AF does exactly what it says; it starts autofocusing as soon as the sensor notices that your eye is getting close to the eyepiece and continues in “continuous” autofocus until the shutter release is only partially depressed or you put the camera down. In practice, this means that prior to shutter release, the camera is probably about focused on the subject.
Shooting nonstop till all media are used
The A100 offers continuous shooting at three frames per second at any image quality option (aside from RAW), something we’ve seen on a few other digital SLRs, up until the storage card is full (with a reasonably good performance Compact Flash card).
Metering using a 40-segment honeycomb layout
The A100 improves on this with its 40 segment sensor compared to the Konica Minolta 7D and 5D’s 14 segment honeycomb design metering sensors.
2.5″ Clear Photo LCD Plus monitor with 230,000 pixels.
The huge, high-resolution LCD monitor appears to have excellent viewing angles and to produce a very decent image (better from above, left and right than from below).
The new NP-FM55H battery used by the A100 is not labeled as InfoLithium, but it appears to be compatible with any previous Sony DSC that utilized the NP-FM50. The A100, however, lacks the InfoLithium readout. Standard NP-FM50 batteries cannot be used in the A100.