Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 First Impressions Review

After a year-long stint as the company’s debut DSLR, the A100 finally has a successor. It isn’t much different, though: Sony markets it as “faster, lighter, and easier to use,” according to their January 6 press release. The Sony α DSLR-A200 come

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Components

Viewfinder

The Sony A200 has the same viewfinder component as the A100. The eye-level pentamirror optical viewfinder has 0.83x magnification and is 95 percent accurate. This is typical accuracy for DSLR optical viewfinders: the Canon 40D and Olympus E-510 are among a slew of DSLRs with 95 percent accuracy.

The optical viewfinder sits just above the LCD screen on the back of the camera. It is nice and large – at least a half-inch – and is cushioned on the top and sides by a rubber eyecup. It isn’t hard rubber; it’s a soft rubber that gives nicely when squashed by faces.

The Sony A200’s viewfinder has an interesting feature borrowed from its predecessor: a sensor below the finder that detects the photographer’s face and then jumpstarts the autofocus system and turns off the LCD screen below so the view in the finder is easier to see.

One complaint about the older A100’s optical viewfinder was that it is darker and grainier than its competitors, the Canon Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80. The new A200 seems to have fixed that problem, though. The A200’s optical viewfinder is clear as day. It looks a little brighter, although still not as bright as the XTi and D80.

There is a horizontal strip along the bottom of the viewfinder that provides information to photographers. It includes focus, image stabilization levels, exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture, shake warning, shots remaining, flash charge, high speed sync, manual focus, AE lock, and aspect ratio 16:9.

There is a diopter adjustment dial to the upper right of the viewfinder for users who wear glasses. The dial is tiny and made of cheap plastic, but only needs to be adjusted every once in awhile. It moves in 11 steps from -2.5 to +1.

Overall, the Sony A200’s optical viewfinder is a solid component that improves upon its predecessor with a much smoother and clearer view.

**LCD Screen

**Many newer DLSRs are incorporating some form of live view on the LCD screen. Sony doesn’t seem to be jumping onto this trend with the A200, though. The Sony A200 does upgrade from its predecessor to a Clear Photo LCD Plus. The 2.7-inch LCD has 230,000 pixels. This is the same resolution found on the A100’s screen, but the A100’s LCD is slightly smaller, at 2.5 inches. That seemed to be last year’s standard: the Nikon D80 and Canon XTi have that size, as well. The A100’s LCD was hailed as brighter than its competitors, though.

The A100’s LCD didn’t show very wide angles. The A200 makes strides in this area with wider viewing angles from side to side. It can be seen when the camera is held below, but not when held above the head. The LCD seems to repel fingerprints and wipes clean easily but catches glares in strong lighting, so it isn’t perfect.

The Sony α DSLR-A200’s LCD screen acts as a screen for shooting information when photographers are not reviewing images. The LCD can show the following info: Exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, Flash mode, exposure compensation, ISO, Drive mode, AF area, metering, Focus mode, Color mode, white balance, D-RO mode, battery power, image compression, image size, and number of remaining images on the memory card. The display button can hide the info or show basic or full info. It also displays the Function, Recording, and Setup menus.

The A200’s LCD screen has a nice feature that rotates the display on the screen when the camera is held vertically or horizontally. This feature is also on the older A100, and is quite useful with the A200’s ability to add a vertical battery grip. The A200’s LCD brightness can be adjusted in five steps in the Setup menu.

The Sony A200’s LCD screen is impressive. The A100’s LCD came out on top of a head-to-head-to-head review with the Nikon D80 and Canon XTi, and the A200’s screen has much better viewing angles and the same great contrast. Despite this, Sony seems to hold its best LCD technology for its higher-end model, the Sony A700. It has a 3-inch LCD with an amazing 922,000 pixels that looks much like a television screen.

Flash

flash.jpg
The built-in flash unit on the Sony A200 is completely different from its predecessor. It doesn’t pop up nearly as high: the old version popped up about two inches and was so high it looked odd. The A200’s flash pops up only about an inch and seems to hover over the lens, rather than tower over it like the one on the A100.

Despite the lower stance, the A200’s flash has the same guide power as the A100. The A200’s light isn’t as bright in the corners, as is common with almost all flashes, but it looks even. It doesn’t work well for shooting close-up subjects, but lit portrait subjects well and didn’t wash out their faces. That was a big complaint on the A100: its harsh light was not flattering in portraits. The Sony A200 has flash exposure compensation with a full +/- 2 scale in steps of a third, so the light from the flash can be adjusted.

The A200 can control multiple flash units wirelessly using a system origionally developer by Minolta for their Dynaxx cameras; with certain flash models (such as the Sony HVL-F36AM or F56AM) the built-in flash sends signals that tell them when to flash. (UPDATE: a previous version of this review stated that the A200 could not control multiple flash devices)

The hot shoe behind the built-in flash accepts Sony HVL-F56AM and F36AM units. The A200 also accepts Konica-Minolta flash units.

The A200’s flash automatically pops up, but has a flash button on its left side to override the auto and manually pop it up. This is different from the A100 - its flash can only be opened manually. The Flash mode can be changed by pushing the function button and entering the Flash mode option at the top of the menu. The mode options are Off, Auto, Fill, Slow Sync, Rear Sync, and External Flash.

The flash has a published recycle time of four seconds, but the camera at the CES show seemed to recycle about every three seconds. The flash can sync at 1/160th of a second (UPDATE: a previous version of this review listed the flash synch as 1/16th), and there is a High-Speed Sync mode that works with certain Sony flash guns (such as the F36AM and F56AM). In the Custom Recording menu, the red-eye reduction can be turned on and off.

Overall, the A200’s flash is an improvement upon the old. It is shorter and better-looking (UPDATE: a previous version of this review listed the A200's flash as being more powerful than the A100; they have the same power), and the light from the flash can be adjusted and it seems to light subjects in portraits without overexposing them.

Zoom Lens

Sony acquired Konica-Minolta’s camera division in 2006 and meshed their technologies together to create Sony’s α DSLRs. They have Minolta A-type bayonet lens mounts that accept most old Konica-Minolta Maxxum lenses, along with newer Sony and Carl Zeiss glass.

The A200 comes with a DT 18-70mm, f/3.5-f/5.6 Sony kit lens. This is equivalent to a 27-105mm lens in the 35mm format. Most DSLR kit lenses measure 18-55mm, so the A200’s inclusion of a slightly longer lens is a nice touch. The 3.9x Sony lens is the same one included with the A100. The kit lens is very lightweight and has a flimsy plastic shell. Its focus mechanism is very loud compared to other lenses. It’s enough to interrupt a ballet or piano recital.

The 18-70mm lens has a 55mm threading for optional filters and attachments. The zoom ring on the lens has a nice rubber grooved ring, and its plastic focus ring is on the edge. The 18-70mm lens can focus as close as 1.3 feet; if you try to photograph anything closer, the lens makes a disturbing clicking noise.

There is also a dual lens kit that includes a 75-300mm, f/4.5-f/5.6 lens in addition to the 18-70mm lens and sells for $899. (UPDATE: the second lens in the dual lens kit is not a Digital Technology (DT) model, as a previous version of this review stated).

The Sony A200, like its predecessor, comes with Super SteadyShot image stabilization built into the camera body. The idea behind this is that consumers will only pay for the stabilization technology once, rather than over and over again when purchasing separate lenses, which is how many manufacturers do it. However, Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR equivalent lenses haven’t proved much more expensive than the Carl Zeiss lenses marketed for the α DSLRs. To its credit, the image stabilization system allows you to use shutter speeds 2.5 to 3.5 stops faster than would normally be possible, according to the press release. The image stabilization can be turned on in the lower right corner of the A200’s back.

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Sections

  1. Components
  2. Design / Layout
  3. Modes
  4. Control Options
  5. Image Parameters
  6. Connectivity / Extras
  7. Overall Impressions
  8. Conclusion

What's Your Take?

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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