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The new Sony Digital SLR Camera is set to upset the camera market with Sony now having the product that could take them to #1 in the SLR market.

Sony want to dominate in the Digital SLR market and rather than go it alone in developing new lenses and other SLR camera technology they bought out Konica Minolta a Company that had great camera technology but were struggling to compete in the world of digital photography.

 If Sony want to win the SLR crown in the mass market the new Sony Alpha DSLR-A100K Camera is a neat compact camera that screams of all the good old fashioned benefits one use to find in a film SLR Camera, it actually feels like a camera should feel, the big difference being that one is able to see images as soon as you have shot them.

The new Sony Alpha DSLR-A100K, is a compact, ten megapixel (CCD) digital SLR with a (Konica) Minolta lens mount, Anti-Shake (now Super SteadyShot) and a definite cross-breed appearance. It’s fair to say that while this camera may share some components with previous Konica Minolta digital SLR’s Sony’s involvement has brought external styling, build quality and finish up to a higher standard.

The lens mount is now is called the ‘Alpha mount’ and Sony has announced no less than 19 lenses which will carry the Sony Alpha branding (although many are based on existing Minolta lenses).

The camera is easy and responsive to use and won’t frighten the first time SLR user. However I warn buyers that you do need to spend some time getting use to the setting as simply putting it on automatic and shooting will not get you the best results.

 The quality of the images we saw in the camera viewer were excellent however I like a lot of camera users have now got use to using an LCD screen to view and set up shots. With this camera and because it is a digital SLR all shots have to lined up through the eyepiece with technical information being displayed on the screen prior to shooting.

 A neat feature is the automatic rotating of the data when one moves from vertical to landscape. A big problem that I had was that with two computers I was unable to boot the camera into the system to download images. The camera should have appeared as a USB device on my PC instantly and despite re booting the system it still failed to recognise the  Sony Alpha DSLR-A100. It however boot into a notebook.

In the end I took the memory out of the camera and manually loaded the images into Photoshop.

 

 But I have to give it to Sony they have do a great job with their first try. Although Sony is a newcomer to the field of SLR cameras they are determined to win the trust and respect of users everywhere. This dedication will set them apart as one of the premier SLR camera makers if they can deliver on this promise.

Sony’s entrance to the digital SLR market comes thanks to their association with and later purchase of Konica Minolta’s photo division. When you first use the A100 it clearly has more Konica Minolta DNA than Sony however their influence comes in the added features and image processing (the camera’s user interface and control systems are very similar to previous Konica Minolta digital SLR’s, and that’s no bad thing).

The A100 is aimed at the ‘serious amateur’ market, however from a price point of view it doesn’t easily slot into one of the existing market segments. In the USA the base model of body and lense is US$999.00 which at todays exchange rate is $1332.00. The reccomended retail price set by Sony Australia for the same kit is $1,744.00 a difference of more than $400.00.

Depending on how you look at it the A100 is either an expensive entry-level digital SLR with an advanced set of features or a bargain in the higher segment (EOS 30D etc.), without a metal body and high speed shooting.

It was inevitable that Sony would choose to put a ten megapixel sensor in the A100 and as expected the sensor is based on that used in the Nikon D200 (although as I’ve already mentioned Nikon are keen to stress that their edition has some specific design elements for that camera, four channel readout for a start). The A100’s sensor is at its best between ISO 100 and 400, delivering fairly noise free and sharp images with plenty of detail (especially if you shoot RAW). Above this and the A100 loses out in comparisons to Canon’s excellent CMOS sensor which maintains more detail and exhibits less noise.

Super SteadyShot is an (according to Sony) improved version of Konica Minolta’s CCD stabilization Anti-Shake system. In our tests we observed a two stop shutter speed advantage using Super SteadyShot, which is good but not quite up to the 3.5 stops claimed. I’m also still not convinced that the ‘hit rate’ of sharp images is as good as a lens based optical stabilization system.

My final rating? For me it’s a fairly comfortable Highly Recommended, the A100 is a very capable camera with a wide feature set, a good range of manual controls and some unique developments. The built-in Super SteadyShot provides you with that little extra comfort level at slower shutter speeds and the ability to use longer lenses with more confidence.

 

 

Key features and technologies

Sony Alpha lens mount
Identical to the Minolta A-type bayonet mount, enabling the use of a large back catalogue of existing Minolta and third party lenses as well as avoiding the development of a whole new system.  Interestingly only four of the new lenses introduced are designed for an APS imaging circle.

10 megapixel APS-C CCD
Interestingly Sony has gone for CCD rather than CMOS with this camera, so it’s not the same sensor as used in the DSC-R1. We’ve no official confirmation but it seems likely that this is the same 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD used in the Nikon D200.
Anti-Blur
Sony has renamed Minolta’s CCD shift Anti-Shake system as ‘Super SteadyShot’, but the principal is the same. However we have it on good authority that Sony’s engineers have made some significant improvements to the system and now claim shutter speeds 3.5 stops slower can be used with Super SteadyShot enabled. The second part of the Anti-Blur story is the availability of high sensitivities of up to ISO 1600. 

Anti-Dust
The ‘dust’ issue has been around since the beginning of digital SLR photography and it affects different cameras to different degrees. Olympus took the advantage with their SSWF filter, Sony appear to be keen to capitalize on this. Firstly a special anti-static coating (Indium Tin Oxide) on the low-pass filter in front of the CCD ensures no build up of dust due to static electricity. Secondly an ‘Anti-Dust vibration’ using the cameras CCD shift system, but instead of introducing a delay at startup this occurs at power off.

Bionz Image Processor
Canon can be thanked for the trend of branding the image processor used in the camera, Sony clearly realize the value of this but unfortunately haven’t exactly picked a very dynamic name. Their new ‘Bionz’ image processor is said to be a significant improvement over anything used in previous KM digital SLR’s, it also enables one of the A100’s unique features; Dynamic Range Optimization. Sony claim this will be the fastest such system as it is designed in at a hardware level.

Eye Start AF
Eye Start AF isn’t anything new to previous Minolta SLR owners but Sony are obviously keen to continue its use. On the A100 Eye Start AF does exactly what it says, when the sensor detects the proximity of your eye to the eyepiece it begins to auto focus and remains in ‘continuous’ auto focus until the shutter release is half-pressed or you put the camera down. In reality this means that the camera is likely to have an approximate focus on the subject before shutter release.

Continuous shooting until media full
We have seen this on a couple of other digital SLRs but the A100 allows you to shoot continuously at three frames per second at any image quality setting (apart from RAW) until the storage card is full (with a reasonably good performance Compact Flash card).

40 segment honeycomb pattern metering
The Konica Minolta 7D and 5D both featured 14 segment honeycomb pattern metering sensors, the A100 advances this with its 40 segment sensor.

2.5″ 230,000 pixel ‘Clear Photo LCD Plus’ monitor
The large high resolution LCD monitor appears to provide a very good image and has good viewing angles (better from above, left and right than from below).

Lithium-Ion battery
The A100 takes a new NP-FM55H battery which while not carrying the InfoLithium name is apparently compatible with any other Sony DSC which used the NP-FM50, however the A100 doesn’t have the InfoLithium readout. You can’t use standard NP-FM50 batteries in the A100.

 

See good & bad points on next page along with specifications.

 

 

Good Points

· Fast and responsive

· Easy to use and won’t frighten first time SLR owners

· If you know your way around lenses, it’s capable of some stunningly detailed results, though the standard lens is adequate for starters

Bad Points

· Loud shutter sound may distract your subjects

· Plastic build and feel

· Expensive investment for anyone more used to snapshot cameras and at the reccomended retail price set by Sony Australia it may well be worth bypassing a purchase in Australia as in the USA the camera is some $400.00 cheaper.

Overall

Boasting more pixels (for now) than its budget D-SLR rivals, Sony’s Alpha 100 mixes innovation with the tried and tested. The result is a camera that’s a fuss-free a pleasure to use and well worth the money. Ouch!

 

Price

· Body only (DSLR-A100K): $1499
· Kit inc. 18-70 lens (DSLR-A100K): $1749

 

Body materialPlastic
Sensor· 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD sensor
· RGB Color Filter Array
· Interline interlaced CCD
· Built-in fixed low-pass filter
· 10.8 million total pixels
· 10.2 million effective pixels
· 12-bit ADC
Image sizes

· 3872 x 2592 (L)
· 2896 x 1936 (M)
· 1920 x 1280 (S)

File qualities / formats · RAW (12-bit,.ARW format, approx. 9.1 MB per image)
· RAW + JPEG Fine
· JPEG Fine
· JPEG Standard
Dust reduction · Static-resistant anti-dust coating
· CCD-shift dust reduction mechanism
Lenses· Sony Alpha lenses
(also compatible with Minolta A-type bayonet mount lenses)
FOV crop1.5x
Super SteadyShot · CCD-Shift ‘Super SteadyShot’ system
· Five level LED shake indicator in viewfinder
· Anti-shake effect: Equivalent to 2 – 3.5 steps in shutter speed
Auto Focus · TTL CCD line sensors (9-points, 8 lines with center cross-hair sensor)
· EV -1 to 18 (ISO 100) detection range
· Predictive focus control for moving subjects
· Auto-tracking focus point display
AF area selection

· Wide AF area
· Spot AF area (center)
· Focus area selection (any of 9)

Focus modes · Single-shot AF
· Direct Manual Focus
· Continuous AF
· Automatic AF
· Manual focus
AF assist illuminator · Via internal flash, must be raised
· 1.0 – 5.0 m range
Eye-start AF Yes, selectable from menu
Shooting modes

· Auto
· Programmed AE (with shift)
· Aperture priority AE
· Shutter priority AE
· Manual
· Scene modes (below)

Scene modes · Portrait
· Landscape
· Macro
· Sports
· Sunset
· Night portrait
Sensitivity

· Auto (100 – 800)
· ISO 100
· ISO 200
· ISO 400
· ISO 800
· ISO 1600
· Lo80 (ISO 80, Low key)
· Hi200 (ISO 200, High key)

Metering modes· Multi-segment (40 segment Honeycomb pattern)
· Center-weighted
· Spot
Metering range · EV 1 to 20 (Multi-segment / Center-weighted)
· EV 4 to 20 (Spot metering)
(at ISO 100 with F1.4 lens)
AE Lock· AEL button
· Half-press shutter release
AE Bracketing· 3 frames
· 0.3 or 0.7 EV steps
Exposure compen.· -2.0 to +2.0 EV
· 0.3 EV steps
ShutterElectronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane Shutter
Shutter Speed· 30 to 1/4000 sec
· Bulb
Flash X-sync· 1/160 sec
· 1/125 sec (with Super SteadyShot on)
Aperture valuesDepends on lens, 0.3 EV steps
DOF previewYes, dedicated button
White balance

· Auto
· Daylight
· Shade
· Cloudy
· Tungsten
· Fluorescent
· Flash
· Color temperature (2500 – 9900 K)
· Manual (Custom)

White balance fine tuning · Auto (none)
· Preset WB: -3 to +3
· Fluorescent WB: -2 to +4
· Color temperature WB: -9 to +9
(Magenta to Green)
White balance bracketing · 3 frames
· Hi or Lo steps
Dynamic range optimizer · Off
· Standard
· Advanced
Color space· sRGB
· Adobe RGB
Color modes · Standard
· Vivid
· Portrait
· Landscape
· Sunset
· Night view
· B&W
· Adobe RGB
Image parameters · Contrast (-2 to +2)
· Saturation (-2 to +2)
· Sharpness (-2 to +2)
(Available in all color modes)
Noise reduction · Long exposure for exposures longer than 1 second
· User controllable: On / Off
Viewfinder

· Eye-level fixed pentamirror
· Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen (not changeable)
· Magnification approx. x0.83
· 95% frame coverage
· Diotric adjustment (-2.5 to +1.0)
· Eye-relief 20 mm from eyepiece, 16 mm from frame
· Eyepiece cup removable
· Viewfinder info bar

LCD monitor · 2.5″ TFT LCD (‘Clear Photo LCD Plus’)
· 230,000 pixels
· Anti-reflective coating
· Auto dimmed by viewfinder eye sensor
Flash · Built-in pop-up flash (manual release)
· Metering: ADI, Pre-flash TTL, Manual flash control
· Guide number 12 (ISO 100/m)
· Angle of coverage 24 mm (35 mm equiv.)
· Flash sync 1/160 sec, 1/125 sec (SteadyShot on)
Flash modes

· Auto
· Fill Flash
· Red-eye Reduction (pre-flash)
· Wireless/Remote Off-camera Flash
· Rear Flash Sync.
· High Speed Sync.
· Slow Sync with AE Lock

Flash compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV in 0.3 EV steps
External flash (optional) · Sony HVL-F56M (guide no. 56)
· Sony HVL-F36M (guide no. 36)
· Macro Twin Flash Kit HVL-MT24AM
Drive modes · Single-frame
· Continuous
· Self-timer (10 or 2 sec)
· Continuous bracket
· Single-frame bracket
· White balance bracket
Continuous shooting · RAW: 3 fps, up to 6 frames
· RAW+JPEG: 3 fps, up to 3 frames
· JPEG: 3fps, unlimited
Self-timer · 10 sec
· 2 sec
Orientation sensor Yes, for shooting, playback and control panel display
Connectivity · USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (mass storage or PTP)
· Video out (NTSC or PAL)
· DC-IN
· Remote terminal
Video outSelectable NTSC or PAL
Storage · Compact Flash Type I/II
· Memory Stick Duo / Pro Duo via CF adapter
· Supports FAT16 / FAT32
Power· NP-FM55H Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (1600 mAh)
· Battery charger included
· Optional AC adapter
Vertical grip Not available
Dimensions 133 x 95 x 71 mm (5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)
Weight (body) · No battery: 545 g (1.2 lb)
· With battery: 638 g (1.4 lb)

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