Photography for the past few years has had a series of drastic changes 35mm has been replaced by digital as the primary medium for professionals and consumers alike The fixed-lens point and shoot has given way to entry level Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras that give the photographer as much control as the professional 35mm SLR’s did years ago And with digitals rise, the names of the photographic game have changed, but the game itself remains the same Gone are Yashica, Konica, and Minolta and in their place, new companies rising to the occasion such as Panasonic and Sony
Sony purchased the camera assets of Konica-Minolta back in April of this year, causing some concern among those that had Minolta and KM series of lenses Some, understandably, jumped ship to other brands such as Nikon, Canon or Pentax Others, waited and watched With the unveiling of the Sony Alpha A100 those that waited were rewarded for their patience But what, exactly, were they rewarded with?
The stats for the Alpha on their own read like a DSLR buyers dream come true Every feature from in-body anti-shake to a simple and effective dust removal system has been added to the shopping list Combined with support for most Minolta Maxxum lenses and flashes doesn’t hurt either While Nikon and Canon grabbed the glory for their lens design, Minolta perfected a very solid and sharp lens system, which can deliver results comparable to their more notable brethren. But Sony now ups this ante, providing true Zeiss lens compatibility, with several lenses announced for the lineup
But, how does it perform? Shutter speed was found to be adequate, with focusing being notably faster with the standard lens than the focusing of other DSLR’s at the same price point Flash recharge was also found to be a respectable recycle time, allowing me to take pictures about once a second with a full charge The viewfinder was bright and sharp, allowing me to use manual focusing with few issues The camera felt solid in the grasp, however I did find myself wishing that it had a battery grip option whenever I wanted to do a vertical shot
The camera is able to use a Compact Flash type I or II by default, but Sony has included a Memory Stick Duo adapter as well In addition, the camera works very well with the optional Konica Minolta SD card adapter, allowing me to have a camera that can take any memory card from any of the cameras I have in my collection The ports for USB, DC and the remote are easily accessed, however the remote port is in a slightly awkward position, near the bottom corner of the LCD screen.
The control dial on top of the camera gave me quick access to most of the higher-end functions of the camera, enabling rapid changes to white balance, metering, and AF control The menu was virtually identical to that of the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, save for changing the color to a higher-contrast solution (light on dark)
In the end, all of the design work is for naught if the pictures don’t deliver Several of my friends expressed concern over Sony’s ability to deliver the quality image that they have come to expect from DSLR’s over the past few years A few quick snapshots, however, and those fears are found to be groundless The picture quality on the Sony I found to be crisp, sharp, and most of all, beautiful The color palette gives the picture a closer to reality hue that I’ve found lacking in competing DSLR’s in this price point The contrast I found to be more true to life, allowing me to see the details in the shadows and highlights with few issues Noise was found to be noticeable at higher ISO’s, but still within reason The RAW file support I found to be limited, however, not being usable by my primary photo editing program (The GIMP) but once loaded, gave me the freedom that I have grown accustomed to with RAW files, and I found that using the computer to convert the RAW into JPG files actually improved the noise levels to the top of the pack at even the highest ISO speed (1600)
As a first effort camera, the Alpha A100 has shown itself to be a very robust, and potent shooting platform If this is what Sony can deliver out of the gate, I am left to wonder, what’s next?
- 10 MegaPixel APS CCD – In comparison to 6- and 8-megapixel competitors, the A100 offers 10 megapixels But the pixel count is just the beginning. With the exquisite sensitivity of Sony’s Super APS-sized CCD, you get great pictures in candlelight or night shooting. And with Sony’s full 23.5 x 15.7 mm APS frame, you get incredibly low image ‘noise.’ Plus superb dynamic range. Plus the power to blur the background for outstanding portraits.
- Super SteadyShot(r) Image Stabilization – Unlike most DSLRs, the A100 has image stabilization built into its body, so that, unlike other cameras, any lens you use benefits from a stabilized image, and this includes many of the 16 million Maxxum A-mount lenses dating back to 1985. The Super SteadyShot system empowers you to take spectacular shots where un-stabilized lenses would give you blur. It’s great anywhere a tripod is unavailable. Or in museums and churches where flash is prohibited. It’s perfect for indoor sports. Or candlelit subjects that would be ruined by flash. Or macro telephoto shots.
- Quick Response – To capture life as it happens, your camera has to be fast. Most point-and-clicks have a delay of one to three seconds after you push the button before the image is captured.The Sony A100 brings the exceptional responsiveness of an SLR camera and adds innovative features that improve speed. With Eye-Start Autofocus, the camera begins focusing as soon as you put your eye to the eye piece, so it’s ready to shoot when you are. And Continuous Burst Mode lets you capture up to three frames per second – up to the limit of the memory card.
- A 21-year Legacy of Lenses – The Sony A100 is built on the foundation of 16 million Maxxum A-mount lenses dating back to 1985. These include such cherished Minolta glass as the classic 135mm Smooth Transition Focus (STF), the awe-inspiring 300mm f/2.8 G and the 500mm f/8 Reflex -the world’s only AF telephoto reflex lens. Not only is Sony retaining a wide range of these well-loved lenses, we’re also introducing Carl Zeiss (r) A-mount optics, taking a proud legacy into the future.
- Anti-Dust technology – A simple lens change can let dust particles collect on the image sensor surface, degrading picture quality Once there, dust is difficult to remove That’s why the A100 has comprehensive anti-dust technology. A special Indium Tin Oxide CCD coating repels dust What little dust gets past this first line of defense is dislodged by a unique CCD ‘shake’ routine. The result? Clean, clear pictures!
- Dynamic Range Optimizer – Why can’t a camera capture what the eye sees? Often, the culprit is limited ‘dynamic range.’ Expose for shadow detail and you end up blowing out the highlights Expose for the highlights and you end up crushing the blacks That’s where Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) comes in DRO Normal selects from the most appropriate of 400,000 gamma curves to improve shadow detail. DRO Advanced adjusts area-by-area, to maximize detail in both highlight and shadow areas.
Written by Nate Downes