Sony's first digital SLR camera has a 10-megapixel sensor with Sony's Super Steady Shot anti-shake system, a full range of exposure controls, and a sensor dust reduction system. Sony offers a full range of lenses and the A100 Alpha is also compatible with all Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses.
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 is Sony's first digital SLR. It's a 10-megapixel camera with built-in image stabilization, a full range of exposure modes and controls, Sony's new BIONZ processor, and it comes with an 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Sony kit lens.
Sony announced their intention to design a digital SLR over a year ago. Soon after, Konica Minolta closed up their camera business and Sony acquired key elements of their digital camera technology, including their anti-shake system and the Maxxum SLR lens mount. The photography press and analysts were very curious and Konica Minolta SLR owners were anxious to find out what Sony was going to deliver.
Sony usually plans and executes well. With the rights to use the Konica Minolta anti-shake system and the well-established Maxxum lens mount, I expected Sony's first digital SLR would be a solid entry-level camera. And I was excited to try it. So excited that I actually went out and bought it instead of waiting for Sony to send me one. A month and a half of shooting with Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 has proved it to be a solid camera which can compete with any other entry-level digital SLR out there. Read on to find out more…
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 Features
The features that make Sony's new digital SLR stand out are the Super Steady Shot anti-shake system, D-R dynamic range extension, the 10.2-megapixel sensor, the big LCD display, and Sony's new Bionz processor. It also has all of the photographic tools you'd expect of any entry-level digital SLR - a range of exposure controls, including full manual and scene modes, white balance control, RAW capture, depth-of-field preview, a pop-up flash, etc. Pretty much anything the Canon, Nikon, Pentax, or Olympus entry-level cameras have, the Sony has it too - and then some. A nice surprise is the A100's CompactFlash memory card slot. The camera comes with an adapter for previous Sony owners who already own Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo. The CompactFlash slot is probably to ensure that Sony keeps Konica Minolta Maxxum owners on board. The CompactFlash slot also makes the camera a more viable option for people like me who already own a lot of CompactFlash memory.
The most exciting thing about the Sony Alpha A100 is the Super Steady Shot anti-shake system. It was a great idea for Konica Minolta
to apply anti-shake technology to the sensor instead of the lenses. With the Konica Minolta digital SLRs, and the Sony Alpha, the photographer doesn't have to invest in special lenses to benefit from image stabilization. No matter what lens you use, your photos will be image stabilized. The downside of applying anti-shake at the sensor is that with longer, heavier lenses, it may not work as well. Canon and Nikon's image stabilized lenses (Canon IS and Nikon VR) have dedicated image stabilization systems built in to each lens, ensuring optimal performance for those lenses. Sony has improved on Konica Minolta's original anti-shake system and people who've used both are saying that the Sony Super Steady Shot system does allow slower shutter speeds than the Konica Minolta digital SLRs. I have very limited experience with the Konica Minolta digital SLRs and can only say that the Alpha's Super Steady Shot technology worked wonderfully for me.
Unedited photo taken using the Sony Alpha's D-R dynamic range optimization. Click on the image to compare full-size images taken at all three D-R settings.
The Sony Alpha's D-R dynamic range optimization effectively extends the density range of images processed in the camera. That means it only works when you're capturing JPEG files. If you're shooting RAW you're proabably able to optimize the unprocessed files on your own. D-R is a consumer-oriented feature to help less experienced photographers, or those who don't want to process their own images, capture more highlight and shadow detail in demanding lighting situations.
The Sony Bionz processor is comparable to other entry-level digital SLR processors. The camera starts up very quickly, performs well when shooting sequences, and has no noticeable shutter-lag with prefocused, non-flash photos. The processor is also responsible for image processing and the Alpha's image quality is very good, with a very nice tonal range and excellent color. No one should expect the Sony Alpha to compete with the Canon EOS 1D Mark II N for speed. But the Bionz processor does a fine job of making sure slow response isn't on my "cons" for the Alpha.
The A100's auto focus capabilities are much better than I expected, with continuous auto focus available in all exposure modes. Previous entry-level digital SLRs have offered limited auto focus functionality with continuous AF available only in sports or action scene modes. The A100 offers three "AF area" options: Wide AF area, Spot AF area, and Focus area selection. For focus method it has Single-shot AF, Direct Manual Focus, Automatic AF, as well as Continuous AF. Auto focus can be actuated by depressing the shutter release halfway or by using the AF button on the back of the camera. There's also a switch on the camera body to select manual or auto focus.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 Design
Sony has been creative with the A100 design and control placement without trying to completely redesign the wheel. The camera body is neither too big nor too small. It's a little larger than the Canon Digital Rebel XTi or the Pentax digital SLRs and about the same size as the Canon 20D or Nikon D70s. The feel is plasticky, but it doesn't seem flimsy or breakable. And it should be said that modern plastics are very resilient and the A100 body should stand up to anything most photographers will subject it to. I haven't experienced anything that would indicate any issues with the quality or durability of the Alpha.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100's pop-up flash and main controls.
The camera controls are fairly standard, with a couple of exceptions. The shutter release is built into the grip on the right side of the camera, with an exposure control dial right behind it. Like other entry-level digital SLRs, one exposure control dial controls both the shutter and the aperture, with a button to toggle between the two if the camera is in manual exposure mode. I prefer separate controls for shutter and aperture. But like I said, this design is pretty standard for entry-level cameras and will work just fine for most people.
Where the camera differs from others is the LCD display and the control dial on the top left of the camera. The top left dial controls white balance, ISO, auto focus, DRO, flash, metering, and DEC (contrast, sharpness, and saturation). To change any of those settings, you rotate the dial to the desired feature and press the button in the middle of the dial to access the feature controls. Then you use the four-way keypad on the back of the camera to change the settings. I really liked the way this works. It's definitely different than other cameras I've used. It's a very effective use of camera body space and cuts down on the number of buttons on the back of the camera.
The Alpha's LCD display is beautiful. It's large, very bright, sharp, and easy to see even in bright sunlight. But where it differs from other cameras is that it displays all of your camera settings in big, easy to see characters.* So if you're making changes and not looking
The left control dial accesses ISO, white balance, DRO, auto focus, and image quality adjustments.
through the viewfinder, or you want to check your settings quickly, all it takes is a momentary glance at the rear of the camera to check your ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc. The big non-glare LCD is also really nice for reviewing images. It's easy to see and much more accurate for evaluating photos than the LCDs on my own Canon digital SLRs.
* The recently introduced Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi's rear LCD display also continuously displays exposure and other important settings.
The main LCD display on the Sony Alpha shows current exposure and other settings
Sony Alpha's image playback with info and histogram displayed
Sony Alpha A100 LCD with main menu showing
The Sony Alpha's ISO settings, accessed via the dial on the top left-hand side of the camera
Camera Experience I'm gonna have to just come right out and say it - I love this camera. With most SLRs I've tested I was happier using my own SLR for important photos. I've guiltily noticed that I think of grabbing the Sony before I consider using my own cameras. To be fair, my personal cameras are a couple of generations old. But you'd think that me being used to them would make them the tool of preference for most situations. However, unless I needed a particular lens or had a specific technical requirement that required I use my own cameras, the Sony was my first choice. The Sony's big bright LCD, 10.2-megapixels of resolution, and Super Steady Shot image stabilization make it an absolute pleasure to use.
For me, the Super Steady Shot image stabilization makes the A100 a winner. Image stabilization is a valuable feature with very real benefits. It will absolutely increase the number of sharp photos for every photographer. I left it on all the time and it made many, many photos possible that I would otherwise have needed a tripod to capture. I shot successful handheld photos at or below 1/10th of a second and even got one notable exposure at half a second.
Unlike Canon and Nikon's image stabilization, which is applied to the lens optics, Sony's Super Steady Shot compensates for camera shake by moving the camera's sensor. The argument against applying image stabilization at the sensor is that different lenses - especially telephotos - require different image stabilization. I shot 99.9% of my photos with the Sony's small, light 18-70mm kit lens and the Super Steady Shot performed great. I also had the opportunity to shoot a few tests with the Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens at 200mm. When seated and braced against the wall I could successfully shoot at 1/15th to 1/30th of a second. Standing, I had to increase the shutter speed to 1/125th or 1/160th to get a photo without any camera shake. That limited testing seems to confirm diminishing returns with the Super Steady Shot at real telephoto focal lengths. Sharp photos at 200mm and 1/125th to 1/160th second aren't bad, though. Plus current camera and lens electronic communication is very sophisticated and I have no doubt Sony will figure out better ways to optimize for different lenses. For the average user, who will likely have the kit lens and maybe one more, the Super Steady Shot will make a huge difference without any extra expense.
Since I do a lot of mountain bike photography and point-and-shoots usually don't cut the mustard, I had to take the Alpha out on the trail. I tested it in manual exposure mode and using the Sports Scene Mode. The Sony Alpha offers continuous, predictive auto focus regardless of the exposure mode. That's a deal breaker for me and I was very happy to discover that it offered continuous AF even in manual exposure mode. Since most Alpha owners will likely use the camera's Sports scene mode for their kids' soccer games, pets at the park, or their own mountain bike adventures, I made sure to test it. In the Sports mode, the A100's auto exposure was right on, even in fairly tough lighting. And even though it's basically an auto mode, some overrides, like flash exposure compensation, exposure compensation, and ISO, were still available for those who want them. Given the option, I'll always set ISO sensitivity myself and adjust exposure compensation to fine-tune each photo. I shot a full day of mountain biking in the Sports scene mode and was very happy with the results. For people who have more experience and want more control, the manual exposure mode and continuous auto focus make the Alpha perfectly capable of action photography.
Image Quality The Sony A100's image quality is excellent. Some people have complained that there is too much noise. But I disagree. Image files viewed at 100% on the computer may exhibit more noise than some other cameras. However, the noise isn't going to be a problem for most display sizes and purposes. For a real world image quality comparison, I made 8.5x11-inch prints from studio tests of the A100 at ISO 100 and 400 and compared them to studio tests from the Canon EOS 5D. The EOS 5D is a much more expensive camera with 30% more resolution. I believe the Sony Alpha compares very favorably although noise does become more obvious at ISO 400. Check the studio samples from both cameras to form your own opinion:
At ISO 800 noise becomes very noticeable, but I don't find it disagreeable. I would pass on the ISO 1600 setting unless it's an emergency, though. It's very chunky and unpleasant to my eye. Plus, with the Super Steady Shot image stabilization, I don't see much need for ISO 1600. If someone did need it, they'd likely be so disappointed with the results that they're better off finding another solution, anyway.
Full-resolution, Fine quality JPEGs deliver excellent color and contrast with no apparent digital artifacting. I needed to make very few corrections for realistic, pleasing color and contrast. There was none of the harsh over-saturation or over-sharpening I expect from Sony's compact digital cameras. The A100's image processing is obviously intended for a more discriminating photographer. All of my photos were shot at the default image quality settings. If someone did want more or less contrast, sharpness, or saturation, they can all be adjusted in-camera via the DEC menu. I prefer to make my adjustments with Photoshop, after the fact.
Click on thumbnails to see photos.
Click on thumbnails to see photos.
Conclusion Super Steady Shot image stabilization sells the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100. Super Steady Shot, a really good 10.2-megapixel sensor, and good camera design mean Nikon and Canon have some dangerous competition for their entry-level digital SLR customers. The Sony system may not be as rich as Nikon or Canon's right now. But for digital SLR newcomers who don't feel the need to buy into the Nikon or Canon system, I heartily recommend the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100. Right out of the box, with the kit lens, the 10.2-megapixel sensor and Super Steady Shot image stabilization almost guarantee better photos than competitor's cameras. And better photos are what make a good camera.
Who Should Buy The Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 The Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 is a camera that should be seriously considered by anyone shopping for their first digital SLR. The Super Steady Shot image stabilization alone is a compelling reason to choose this camera over the competition. It's a solid choice for entry-level digital SLR users or anyone who wants a digital SLR for casual, all-purpose use. Photographers who need a sturdier, faster, more professional body or a wider range of lenses and accessories are gambling a little by investing in a Sony digital SLR right now. For people who already have a Konica Minolta Maxxum 35mm or digital body, the Sony will provide improved anti-shake performance, more resolution, and better image quality. You shouldn't feel like you have to upgrade. But if you own a Konica Minolta digital SLR and want someone to help you rationalize the purchase, I'll happily give you the thumbs-up on the Sony.
In The Box (Kit):
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 digital camera body
Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens
NP-FM55 lithium-ion battery
BC-VM10 battery charger
Shoulder strap with eyepiece cap and Remote Commander clip
Memory Stick-Duo to CompactFlash Adaptor
Image Data Converter SR Ver.1.1/Picture Motion Browser Ver.1.1 CD-ROM
Strengths: In body image stabilization
Auto Focus in several modes
awesome set of features.
Weaknesses: low light conditions bring out colour noise at higher ISO settings
not sealed to fine dust, moisture
doesn't have an auxiliary battery capability
doesn't have a vertical shooting set of controls (not much of a negative though)
a bit hard on battery power
Although first out of the gate for Sony DSLR's the A100 gets high praise. As a Konica-Minolta camera rebadged and improved by Sony the A100 performs well throughout the range of features. It is a good, solid, camera that delivers on everything; AF is sharp and quick, in-body image stabilization, metering, etc.
I have used the A100 for almost 3 years now and I can't see why I would change, except to buy a camera with higher pixel count and better low light capability. If the a900 is as good as I have read, that might be my next purchase, but the A100 will still have a place in my camera bag.
I use the camera for personal and professional purposes. Not a complaint yet from myself or my clients.
Strengths: Super steady shot
In build anti dust
easy to use
easy to setup
Weaknesses: noise (although i have to test it because mine has the latest firmware )
the sound it makes is louder than my other dslrs
non auto pop up flash
The Sony Alpha 100 is a unique piece of electronics. I have bought it in like mint condition for a reasonable price.
I like the tilting screen , the super steady shot and inbuild dust removal. it is only the second day i'll have it , so i cannot say that i really know it all, but teh menu's are real easy to use , read some reviews and decided that i wanted it
first results are not bad at all , given the fact that i really didn't focus on making a good picture but nevertheless the image was good .
It is not yet going to replace one of mine nikons or the canon just a add in the gear list ..
Strengths: A Light weight camera with long battery life. And good stablity while photographing.
Weaknesses: I cannot think of any weaknesses for any application or use.
The sony A-100 camera is a fully functional dslr with a great potential to become one of the most sought after cameras for astrophotography. It's function controls which are mounted on the top and back make it the ideal camera for piggy back photography. Then I started thinking It would make a great camera for prime focus and projection photography. As it turned out I was right. With the compact flash card slot on the side and the battery on the bottom I can exchange both on the fly between exposures It was lightweight enough to connect to my telescope via an t-adaptor and is very stable while photographing distance star clusters. That is a challenge.in its self with any other camera. This camera is destine to become the 57 chevy of cameras.