Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution, plenty of detail although no leap over eight megapixels
- Vibrant color response, similar hues to other digital SLR's
- About a third of a stop more sensitive than indicated
- Neutral tone response with soft roll-off in highlights
- In-body SteadyShot system provides about 2 stops of additional shutter speed latitude
- All your lenses become 'SteadyShot' at no extra cost
- Extra highlight detail using the High Key Hi200 setting
- In-hardware Dynamic Range Optimization, works best in Advanced mode
- Eye Start AF can be an advantage in certain circumstances (useful for 'priming' AF)
- Good build quality but slightly lighter-weight plastic than expected, compact design
- Easy to use Function dial for changing settings without using the menu
- Smart mirror lock-up implementation (mirror is always locked up with the self-timer)
- Unlimited continuous shooting in JPEG mode (with a reasonably fast CF card)
- Excellent CF throughput (the fastest we've recorded to date, 13 MB/sec for RAW)
- Excellent USB 2.0 throughput when used in Mass Storage device mode
- Supplied software good, interesting 'Picture Motion Browser'
- Good battery life
Conclusion - Cons
- High sensitivity noise at ISO 800 and 1600
- Occasional Multi-segment metering under-exposure
- Long exposure noise reduction artifacts (black pitting, softness, posterization)
- Limited image parameter adjustment (only -2 to +2)
- LCD anti-reflective coating becomes smeared with marks easily
- Proprietary hot-shoe design (fewer third party flash / accessories)
- Flash must be raised for AF assist
- Unable to control in-camera high ISO noise reduction
- Blinking highlights only in histogram display mode
- Fairly loud mirror / shutter noise
- Power on not absolutely instant (just over a second)
- Only one control dial
- No dedicated control panel LCD means reliance on the main LCD
- No multiple user memories
- No vertical grip option
Sony's entrance to the digital SLR market comes thanks to their finial 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. 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.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sony (or was it Minolta?) has taken a conservative approach to sharpening, in some circles this may lead to comments of 'soft images' but examine the images properly and you can see just as much detail as an over-sharpened image from other camera models. If you prefer your images a little sharper then just add +1 sharpening. Obviously you can always squeeze a little more detail from RAW images.
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.
I personally experienced only one 'issue' which marred my use of the camera and that was the occasional under-exposed image when using multi-segment metering. This problem didn't affect all shots, it required a certain set of circumstances, and could easily be corrected (although would need a second exposure once observed). As mentioned already you should also be aware of noise levels at ISO 800 and 1600, if you are likely to use these high sensitivities on a regular basis it may be worth also considering other cameras.
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.
|Detail (D-SLR)||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|