Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail at lowest sensitivities (but some loss of low-contrast detail when shooting jpeg)
- Class leading battery life (displayed as a percentage)
- Sophisticated AF system for this class of camera
- Large viewfinder
- Solid construction (although slightly cheap looking plastic surfaces)
- Wireless flash control
- Efficient in-body image stabilization and dust reduction
- Comprehensive recording mode display
- Good selection of image parameters
- Good ergonomics and control layout
- Reliable flash performance
- Good dynamic range, especially in highlight areas
- JPEG output makes good use of the sensor's dynamic range
- Good resolution of high contrast detail (test charts)
- Manual White Balance Value indicated in Kelvin
- Reliable metering
- Comes with a comprehensive bundle of software
Conclusion - Cons
- Poor rendition of low-contrast detail in JPEG (shoot RAW to avoid this)
- AF button (multi-controller) can unintentionally be operated with your nose (if you're left-eyed)
- Large amounts of chroma noise and little shadow detail in high ISO images
- Longer than average start-up time
- Record review takes longer than average
- No built-in AF assist
- Poor white balance performance in artificial light
- High ISO noise reduction blurs a lot of detail
- Screen difficult to view in bright conditions and prone to smearing
- Image quality suffers above ISO 800 (from both noise and excessive noise reduction)
- Magnification factor in play mode not customizable (jumps straight to 6.1x)
If you're currently in the market for an entry-level DSLR and you've come across the Sony DSLR-A200 one of the first things you have probably noticed is its incredibly tempting price point. If your budget is limited the A200 is by default one of your top options. But does it actually provide value for money or would you be better off spending a little extra and getting a competing model?
As usual, there is no easy answer and it will entirely depend on your specific needs. Feature-wise the A200 provides all the essentials but there are better specified and more customizable cameras in the entry-level segment. Most notably the A200 is lacking a live-view system which is featured by most of its direct competitors. Only you can tell if you actually need this (and if you do, and would otherwise be happy with the A200, you should probably consider the Sony A300) but is has almost become a standard, even in the bottom bracket of the market. On the other hand you do get dust reduction and an efficient image stabilization system, something you could not necessarily expect at the A200's price point.
The A200's plastic surfaces look and feel a little cheap but the overall build quality can be described as solid. The control layout and the menu structure are simple and intuitive but from an ergonomics point of view there is one major point of complaint. When in shooting mode the multi-controller to the right of the screen is programmed to trigger the AF. For most people this might not be a problem but it was for us. A number of left-eyed photographers in the dpreview office repeatedly, and unwillingly, operated the button with their noses when looking through the viewfinder. This caused quite a few out-of-focus shots and can be extremely annoying. So if you're considering the A200 I can only recommend you check beforehand if it is compatible with your facial features.
The A200 is not the quickest performer we've ever come across but does generally a solid job. The camera takes a little longer to start-up and display an image in record review than most of its direct competitors but in a real-life situation that's hardly ever an issue. Just leave the camera switched on if you want be prepared to take an unexpected shot (the excellent battery life is certainly useful when doing that).
Image quality on the A200 is a bit of a double-edged affair. While at base ISO the Sony's output is fairly clean and detailed (though not very good at low-contrast detail) things go downhill once you dim the lights and switch your camera to a higher ISO setting. The A200's noise reduction is pretty aggressive and causes visible smearing of fine detail in the camera's JPEG output. Most of the A200's direct competitors can produce visibly better results in challenging light situations. Shooting RAW to reduce the noise reduction's impact is a good option and makes sense even at base ISO where you can squeeze visibly more low-contrast detail out of an image (compared to its out-of camera JPEG counterpart).
In conclusion, the Sony DSLR-A200 is a solid overall performer that does not have any major flaws (AF button issue aside) and comes with a feature set that is more than adequate for its very attractive price point. Therefore it just earns our Highly Recommended badge.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|
Highly Recommended (just)
|Wiley Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 Digital Field Guide eBook||$12.99|