In July 2005 Konica Minolta and Sony made an announcement that they were to jointly develop digital SLR cameras. This agreement hinted at shared technology between the two companies such as auto focus, metering and Anti-Shake coming from Konica Minolta and sensors, electronics and batteries from Sony. Some six months later Konica Minolta dropped a bomb on the camera market by announcing that they were withdrawing from the camera business and had transferred certain camera assets including the Maxxum/Dynax lens mount and related SLR technologies to Sony.
Almost a year on since that first announcement we have the new Sony Alpha DSLR-A100, 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 to be 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).
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).
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.