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Testing / Performance
**Color***(8.02)*We shoot a GretagMacbeth color chart under controlled tungsten lighting with each camera we review, and analyze the images with Imatest software. The tests are standardized, so our results are comparable from review to review. Our priority in testing is color accuracy, determined by analyzing saturation and hue. Imatest produces two charts. The first shows the GretagMacbeth chart with squares and rectangles of color superimposed on each test patch. The outer section of each patch shows how the Sony A100 rendered the color. The inner square shows the chart's original color, corrected for luminance, and the inner rectangle shows the ideal color. The A100 had an average saturation of 104.4 percent, which is a good score. 100 percent is perfect, and many snapshot cameras score over 110 percent. The mean color error is 7.74, which again is a good result.
Imatest's second chart translates the results into a two-dimensional chart. Each small square shows the location on the chart that matches the ideal rendition of a color patch. Each square is linked by a line to a circle, which shows where the A100's rendition sits on the chart. A perfect camera would show only circles, because the ideal and the real would be perfectly aligned, and the camera's circles would cover up the ideal colors' squares.
To the extent that there is distance between a circle and a square, the camera's color is wrong. The white spot in the middle of the chart is completely unsaturated, and the edges of the chart are fully saturated, so, if the circle is closer to the center than the square, it is undersaturated. If it is farther out, it's oversaturated. If the circle is rotated around the center, relative to the square, then the hue of the camera's color is wrong.
The A100's oversaturation errors are mainly in the reds, with a couple of blues. A some of green tones and a purple are undersaturated. Boosting reds is common among digital cameras – that tends to flatter skin tones, so we assume the bright reds are intentional. The blues make for pretty skies in landscapes. It's likely that Sony could have made the A100 a little more accurate, but chose a punchier look to please its target market. It's important to note that our saturation figure is an average -- some of the colors are well more than 104 percent saturated, but are offset in the average by the undersaturated and accurate colors. Like the saturation deviations, the hue errors tend to be flattering. The reds tend away from magenta in the direction of orange, and the blues err on the side of purple, rather than cyan. Both errors make the colors seem richer. **Still Life Scene**We photograph our still life scene, a miniature model of Editor Alex Burack's office, with each camera we review. The Sony α (alpha) A100's rendition is shown below. Click the image below to link to the full-resolution file.
Resolution*(5.57)*Resolution measures the amount of detail captured in an image. We shoot an ISO standard test chart under controlled lighting at a variety of focal lengths and apertures with each camera we review, and analyze the images with Imatest software, the premier image quality analysis software available. Imatest reports results in line-widths per picture-height (lw/ph), a measure that remains comparable regardless of the size of the image sensor being tested. The Sony A100 performed best at f/9 and 60mm. It resolved 1967 lw/ph (horizontal), with 2.27 percent oversharpening and 1796 lw/ph (vertical), with 1.37 percent undersharpening. These are good results, indicating that the A100 can produce sharp images. All cameras sharpen images digitally as they are processed.
Oversharpening is more of a concern than undersharpening, because undersharpened images can be sharpened in post-processing, but the problems caused by oversharpening can't be fixed after the fact. With the A100, neither is a big concern: a couple of percentage points away from ideal is not noticeable. **Noise – Auto ****ISO***(4.13)*We test noise at the automatic ISO setting. We shoot the test under bright light, so the camera should do as well as it does at its lowest manual ISO setting. The A100 didn't do as well as it should have – its performance was comparable to its ISO 400 setting. Given that many A100 owners will use the camera in auto modes, it's disappointing that the auto ISO setting doesn't do better. **Noise – Manual ****ISO***(9.24)*Noise is what gets in the way of smooth tones in pictures. It often looks like the grain in photographs from film cameras, just a bit uglier and more distracting. We test noise by analyzing photos of the GretagMacbeth chart shot at each ISO setting on a camera. Below is a chart showing the A100’s manual ISO options on the horizontal axis and the noise accompanying them on the vertical axis.
The Sony α (alpha) DSLR-A100 is a step up from compact cameras and ultra-zooms, which have much smaller sensors. Unfortunately, it doesn't keep up with competing DSLRs. Both the Canon EOS Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80 perform better than the A100 in this area.* ***Low Light ***(8.25)*We test low light by photographing the GretagMacbeth chart under 60, 30, 15 and 5 lux of light. 60 lux is at the dim end of comfortable for reading, and 5 lux is about what you get with a single candle in a small room.
We shot the α A100 low light images at ISO 400, adjusting just the shutter speed. Below is a chart showing how much noise crept into the long exposures. The horizontal plane shows the shutter speeds and the vertical displays the noise level.
Our tests show a slow but steady decline in saturation as exposures lengthened, as well as an increase in noise. All in all, the A100 maintains image quality well at long exposures, compared to competing cameras.
**Dynamic range is the breadth of tones from light to dark that a camera can capture. We test it by photographing a Stouffer step chart, which shows over 13 EV of dynamic range. Using Imatest software, we analyze images shot at each ISO setting, and report Imatest's results for high and low quality. High quality has a noise level no higher than 1/10 EV. Low quality has noise up to 1 EV. Low quality isn't good enough for detail in the main subject, but it indicates texture in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. The A100 scored impressively, staying close to 8 EV in high quality all the way up to ISO 200. It dropped significantly at 400, 800 and 1600, though, so users should keep their ISOs down as much as they can. The A100 would benefit from having 1/3-EV steps on its ISO scale, so users wouldn’t have to take the quality hit of jumping a full stop unless they absolutely have to.
Speed / TimingThe Sony α (alpha) A100 took an average of 1.05 seconds to start up and take a shot in our tests. That's about twice as long as comparable DSLRs take. Combined with the odd, left-hand placement of the power switch, the delay might slow users down enough to miss some great spontaneous shots. Users should turn on the A100 before the opportunity to shoot arises to avoid the delay imposed by the camera. *Shot to Shot Time** (7.51)*In our tests, the Sony A100 shot 2.5 frames per second in high-quality, full-resolution JPEG mode. We used a 2GB SanDisk Ultra II CompactFlash card. That rate is relatively slow – Sony says the A100 can deliver 3 fps, and some competing cameras actually surpass even that. The good news is that the A100 will keep on shooting at that rate until the card is full or the battery dies. *Shutter to Shot Time (8.46)**
*The lag between the moment the photographer presses the shutter and the moment the picture is actually taken can ruin a picture. Many photographers get used to their cameras’ delays and anticipate the action, pressing the shutter slightly before the moment they want to capture. That's a little tougher with the A100 than with some other DSLRs. The A100 lagged 0.27 seconds in our tests. Most competing cameras turn in results under 0.2 seconds.
**Front **(7.5)The Sony A100 has a rubber grip on the left side. There's a ridge across the middle of it, which may help some users hold the camera more securely. The self-timer light is on the top of the grip. The depth-of-field preview button is on the left side of the mount toward the bottom, reachable with the pinkie or ring fingers. The lens locking button is on the right side of the mount. It is large and easy to use. The focus mode switch is below it. The internal flash pops up from the viewfinder hump. The Sony logo is on the hump, and a red "α" alpha character is on the right shoulder. It's a simple, straightforward interface.
**Back **(6.25)The power switch is in the upper right corner of the alpha's back, next to the very large, soft rubber eyecup. The viewfinder seems small in that great expanse. Two sensors just below the viewfinder, in the embrace of the eyecup, detect when the camera is at eye-level and activate the auto focus. The diopter adjustment is tucked under the right side of the eyecup, and the exposure compensation and lock buttons are to the right of it. The 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD is centered under the viewfinder. Four control buttons run down its left side. They control the menu, data display, file deletion, and playback. A 4-way controller is to the right of the LCD, but it's more accurate to call it an 8-way controller. In addition to detents for moving up, down, right and left, it controls diagonal movements. At lower right, there's a large switch for the Super SteadyShot stabilization system, and along the bottom edge is a jack for a corded remote control.
**Left Side **(7.5)The left side of the A100 features a broad, stamped-metal strap lug, and a flexible rubber door over a DC power supply jack. The strap lug is sturdy and out of the way of the user's left hand. The rubber door is more durable and seals better than a hard plastic door.
**Right Side **(7.5)The memory card door takes up the rear half of the Sony alpha A100's right side. It's a hard plastic door, and very large. It snaps closed without a latch, and seems relatively delicate. The right-side strap lug is set flush with the upper edge of the camera, which keeps it out of the way, no matter how the user grips the camera.
**Top **(6.0)There are two big dials on top of the Sony α (alpha) A100: a standard mode dial on the right side of the viewfinder hump, and a similar-looking function dial on the left. The function dial has a button in the middle, which activates its controls. Sony's nonstandard flash shoe is on top of the hump. The burst mode control is a button between the mode dial and the strap lug. The black plastic shutter release is on top of the grip, and a control dial pokes up from the top of the grip, forward of the release. It's a simple, clear layout.
The bottom of the A100 features a metal tripod socket centered under the lens axis, and a battery compartment door. The door latches closed, which is more secure and durable than a friction closure. A metal label nearly surrounds the tripod socket, and unless the user is very careful, the label is likely to get scratched as the camera is mounted on a tripod. That wouldn't detract from the function of the alpha, but we'd rather see a textured surface that would conceal minor scuffs.
Viewfinder(6.75)The Sony alpha A100's optical viewfinder sits in a large, comfortable rubber eyepiece, but the window itself is small. With 0.83x magnification (at infinity, with a 50mm lens), the viewfinder’s view of the world looks a little shrunken. It's also less bright than competing DSLR viewfinders, and its view is grainy. The A100’s viewfinder is 95 percent accurate, which is about the same as competing models with optical viewfinders. Users who require glasses can ditch them with this model and instead use the diopter adjustment, which moves from -2.5 to +1. On the screen, it shows the auto focus sites and the spot metering area. Below the screen, it shows exposure data, flash status, frames remaining, and image stabilization status. The stabilization status includes a row of bars like a cell phone's signal strength meter, indicating how badly Super SteadyShot is needed. Just below the viewfinder is a sensor that detects when the user’s eye is level with the finder. When it detects the user, the LCD screen dims and the auto focus system jumps into action. **LCD Screen**(8.5)**A 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD is pretty much expected on a mid-range DSLR these days, and the Sony alpha A100 has one. It's brighter than average – in our comparison review, we found it easier to use in bright light than the LCDs on the Canon Rebel XTi or the Nikon D80. Its tonal range is flat, though. It's not safe to rely on any LCD to judge exposure, but the A100 is particularly tricky. Users should look at the camera's histograms and highlight warning because blown highlights aren't always obvious when the camera renders images on the LCD. Because the A100 uses the LCD as its primary interface, showing all of the camera's settings at once, its ease of use is very important. The A100's shooting layout is easy to read with the exposure mode, frames remaining, shutter and aperture settings in large, bold figures. Less crucial settings are smaller. The display rotates when the camera is held vertically, which is a much more appealing feature than it sounds like – it's much faster to read the display when one doesn't have to cock one's head. The feature works with the camera turned either way – grip-up or grip-down. Flash (7.5)In a room with a low white ceiling, the pop-up flash on the Sony alpha A100 reached to about 20 feet at ISO 100 and f/3.5, the maximum aperture of the kit lens at its wide-angle setting. That's typical for built-in flashes, and a useful amount of power for fill-flash in moderate ambient light. The user must pull the flash into position. It's not spring-loaded, and does not deploy automatically. The A100's maximum sync speed is 1/160. The following flash modes are available: Auto, Fill, Rear Sync, Wireless Flash, Red-eye Reduction, and Off. The flash is directly over the lens when the camera is held horizontally. That's the right spot for it, because it will cast shadows directly behind subjects, out of view. Unfortunately, the light source is very small, so it casts a very harsh light that is generally not flattering for portraits. The A100 accepts only Sony's own accessory flashes, which offer bounce capability, flash sync at all shutter speeds and wireless connectivity. The Sony wireless system allows the use of only one external flash at a time, a disadvantage compared to other wireless systems that can control multiple flash units. Lens**and Mount(7.0)
The Sony α (alpha) A100 kit lens is an 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Sony-branded optic. It shows color fringing at its wide-angle setting, and barrel distortion. Both are common drawbacks of kit lenses like this one. The lens is small and lightweight. The body of the lens is mostly plastic, and it feels flimsy. The maximum apertures are small, so the user will need plenty of light, high ISOs or both to shoot decent pictures without a tripod. The lens's focal range is a bit longer than the standard 18-55mm that most kit lenses offer, but otherwise, it matches the low standard most manufacturers set for low-priced kit lenses.
Although Sony has successfully adopted Konica Minolta's lens line into its Alpha series, the lenses are unfortunately offered at a premium. The inclusion of in-camera image stabilization on the A100 is marketed as a cost effective method for gaining improved performance on all lenses; however, many of Sony’s non-stabilized lenses are still more expensive than Canon's IS or Nikon's VR glass with similar specs. While this may give voice to the debate between optical lens-based stabilization verses a CCD-based setup, it doesn’t do much to validate Sony’s marketing angle or excessive price tags.
Design / Layout
Model Design / Appearance(6.5)
The Sony alpha A100 is a conventional-looking DSLR. That's disappointing because Sony can be innovative – the Sony R1 is a very interesting, high-end, all-in-one camera with a combination of unique features, some useful, some odd, and a few that are both. The A100 isn't like that. It looks a heck of a lot like the Konica-Minolta DSLRs that preceded it. The A100’s design is a little cleaner, but it retains some annoying mistakes that Konica-Minolta made – the power switch is inconveniently on the back left of the camera, and the USB port complicated the media slot. Given that Konica-Minolta went paws-up trying to sell this design, it might have made more sense for Sony to revise it in some useful ways. **Size / Portability**(7.5)
At 5.25 x 3.75 x 2.875 inches, the Sony A100 is comparable to other small DSLRs. It falls between the Canon EOS Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80. For users contemplating the switch from a compact digital camera, it will seem big. It shouldn't be carried in a backpack or purse, the way small cameras are toted around. It needs its own case, particularly if the user buys an external flash or an extra lens.
The Sony α (alpha) A100's grip is comfortable and secure. Though the viewfinder is small, the eyepiece is comfortable and it's easy to see the whole frame. The sensor that shuts off the LCD panel when the camera is at eye level is a convenient feature. Access to several basic controls – ISO, focus mode, white balance, metering pattern, and others – is inconvenient, though. The user has to set the left-hand dial on top of the camera, press the button in the middle of the dial, and then use the 4-way controller to adjust the settings, while consulting the LCD.
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size**(6.0)
The A100 has one control dial for both aperture and shutter speed. That's common on low-priced DSLRs, but it's slower than having two dials. The dial is just in front of the shutter release, poking up from the surface of the top. The mode dial and the left-hand dial on the top of the camera are stiffer than they need to be. As we note in the handling section, the second dial – call it a parameters dial – is not nearly as fast to use as dedicated buttons or multi-purpose arrangements on the 4-way controller. Speaking of the 4-way controller, the A100 has a nice implementation, one that has 8 positions rather than 4. Using the control to change auto focus points is quick as can be – along with the center button, the 8 positions account for all of the auto focus points, so pressing the dial once activates any point. The shutter release is easy to control – the length of travel is short, but the halfway point is easy to feel. **Menu**(7.5)The Sony alpha A100's menus are well-organized and legible, though the font is ugly. The menus are subdivided into Recording, Playback, Custom and Set-up. Each subdivision has two or three pages of options, and each page is accessible separately, so the user doesn't have to scroll much.
Ease of Use (6.75)
The Sony alpha DSLR-A100 is a mixed bag – the menus are logical and easy to use, the 4-way controller is very good, and the grip is fine. On the other hand, the parameters dial is slow, clunky and annoying. Worse, the A100 has only one control dial, and the viewfinder is small and dark. In sum, the A100 is relatively simple to use, but hard to use quickly. For beginners, that adds up to "easy." For advanced users who want quick response, it's frustrating.
The Sony alpha A100 can be set to a fully automated mode that takes care of every shooting parameter except image size. That includes ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance and auto focus. It's important for beginners to remember that auto mode cannot activate the flash by itself. The user has to pull the flash unit up from the camera body. **Custom Image Presets***(7.5)*Custom image presets are automatic modes that are meant to set the camera the way an experienced user would in a given kind of condition or to get a given effect. Presets are very popular on simple compact cameras, and their presence on a DSLR indicates that the camera's market is meant to include users transitioning from simple equipment. The Sony alpha A100 includes 6 presets, which is a typical number for entry-level DSLRs. The presets work as described. **Drive / Burst Mode***(5.5)*Sony says the α (alpha) A100's burst mode runs as fast as 3 frames per second, but we could only get 2.5 fps. We used a SanDisk Ultra II CompactFlash card, which should not have limited the camera's performance. On the plus side, the camera will keep on shooting JPEGs at that speed until the card fills up. Its maximum burst of RAW files is 6 frames. **Playback Mode***(7.75)*The Sony alpha A100 playback mode includes the typical options. It magnifies images up to 12x, and shows 16, 9, 6 or 4 thumbnails at a time. The thumbnail mode scrolls through images one at a time, or skips between folders. When the camera is set up to create new folders for each day of shooting, folder navigation is quite a convenient tool. The Sony alpha A100's slide show mode shows each image in memory for 5 seconds in sequence. Though DSLRs tend not to have the range of slide show options that compact cameras have, the A100's complete lack of options is disappointing. **Movie Mode** *(0.0)*The A100 has no movie mode. Like most DSLRs, it lacks the live preview mode that would allow it to record movies.
Manual Control OptionsThe Sony α (alpha) A100 offers full manual control of exposure, white balance, ISO and focus, plus a range of image parameters. Not everything that is possible is convenient on the A100, but it's all there. For instance, users must change the parameter dial on the top left of the camera while pushing the button in its center, while also navigating with the four-way control and looking at the LCD screen. This is not easy, and is a little disappointing since manual control should be a DSLR’s bread and butter. The Sony A100’s mode dial offers manual exposure, aperture priority, shutter priority and program modes. **Focus***Auto Focus (7.75)*The 9 auto focus points in the Sony alpha A100's viewfinder are clustered toward the center of the frame. One is dead center. Four more are arrayed at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, but all these are also close to the center. Farther out, the last four mark the corners of a rectangle that covers about the middle third of the frame. The 4-way controller can be used to select the active point with a single click. Hit the upper left segment of the controller, and the upper left point is activated. Hit the center button, and the center point is active. The Sony A100's focus is accurate but slow in bright light. In subdued light, it slowed a bit more. Low-light performance has been improving in DSLRs over the years, so the A100 looks better than older entry-level cameras. It doesn't perform as well as the Nikon D80, which is also new, though about $250 more. *Manual** Focus (6.5)*The Sony alpha A100's viewfinder is dark and small, and we found it hard to focus manually. Subjects simply don't snap into focus on the screen. We didn't encounter a situation where manual focus was better than auto focus.
Exposure*(8.5)*The Sony α (alpha) DSLR-A100 has an exposure lock function which allows the user to freeze an exposure setting in automated modes, and an exposure compensation control that allows the user to bias exposure 2 EV above or below the meter reading, in 1/3 EV steps. The lock function is unusually flexible. It can be set to take a spot reading and lock on that, or to lock on the current meter pattern's reading. The lock button can also be set to hold the reading only as long as it is pressed, or to hold it until it is pressed a second time. **Metering***(9.0)*The Sony alpha A100 offers three metering patterns: spot, center-weighted average and evaluative. Spot reads a small section of the image, and can be set so that the spot coincides with the active auto focus point. Center-weighted average takes a reading that encompasses the whole frame, but is most sensitive to the middle of the image. Evaluative takes readings in 40 segments across the frame, and computes an exposure setting. The evaluative setting is supposed to detect backlighting and other difficult metering situations and compensate for them. In our tests, the A100's evaluative system worked much better than competing systems. The A100 uses evaluative metering in its automatic modes, and should deliver good results in a wide range of situations.
White Balance*(7.25)*The Sony α (alpha) DSLR-A100 offers a full range of white balance controls: it has presets for daylight, shade, overcast, tungsten, fluorescent and flash. It allows Kelvin color temperatures to be set, it can create a custom white balance, and it can set white balance automatically. The usefulness of a single setting for fluorescent lighting is questionable – fluorescent tubes vary significantly from type to type. In our test, the A100's preset was too blue. When the A100 is set to a specific Kelvin temperature, it allows the option of manually shifting color toward green or magenta as well. It's a useful feature, but it would be even better if it were available in all the white balance modes rather than in only the custom setting.
ISO*(7.5)*The Sony α (alpha) A100 offers ISO settings in full stops from 100 to 1600. Competing cameras offer ISO settings in 1/3 EV increments, a feature that's helpful in limiting noise – there is usually a significant increase in image noise with every step in ISO. So, if ISO 800 isn't fast enough, it pays to try ISO 1000 and 1250 before 1600, if the camera allows it (the Sony A100 doesn’t, unfortunately). Check out the Noise sections in the Testing / Performance portion of this review to see how the ISO settings will affect the overall image quality. The A100 has two extra ISO settings: Lo80 is an ISO 80 equivalent that is meant for shooting low-key images (subjects that are supposed to look dark in the final picture). Hi200 is meant for high-key images (for pale subjects). Our dynamic range test didn't detect a significant effect from these settings.
Aperture*(0.0)*The Sony A100 can set f/stops in 1/3-EV increments via the control dial. The kit lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at 18mm and f/5.6 at 70mm. The minimum apertures are f/22-f/36, respectively. Most users would benefit from having a faster lens for available light use. While the most common second lens to buy is a telephoto zoom, a 35mm or 50mm f/2.0 would broaden the capability of the A100 at least as much.
Shutter Speed *(7.75)*The A100's shutter speed range runs from 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second, plus a Bulb setting for even longer exposures. Speeds can be set in 1/3 EV increments. There's no practical reason for a wider range of settings. At the fast end, 1/4000th allows an exposure of f/2.0 at ISO 100 in full daylight. At the slow end, timing exposures with a stopwatch is perfectly adequate for anything over 30 seconds.
Picture Quality / Size Options *(8.5)*The Sony alpha A100 offers three resolution settings: its native 10 megapixels, 5.6 megapixels and 2.5 megapixels. In JPEG mode, it offers Standard and Fine quality. Fine quality files are about 50 percent bigger than Standard files, and they look much better. The A100 also shoots RAW files, which do not undergo JPEG compression. JPEG discards some of the image data. RAW files are bigger, but they can be edited much more easily, and their increased quality is often apparent in final prints.
Picture Effects Mode *(9.0)*Sony refers to the A100's effects as Color/DEC modes. The choices are Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night View, Black and White, and Adobe RGB. They pretty much do the expected: Vivid boosts saturation and contrast. Portrait decreases contrast and favors skin tones. Landscape boosts saturation of greens and blues, and boosts contrast. Sunset bumps up reds and oranges. Night View boosts saturation, and keeps blacks from going gray. Black and White makes monochrome images. Adobe RGB saves in that color space, which has a wider gamut than the A100's standard sRGB. Users who post-process and print their own images often prefer it. The Sony alpha A100 also has individual controls for saturation, contrast and sharpness. Sony added a "D-Range Optimizer" to the A100 that is very unique; it's halfway tempting to call it a metering mode. It uses data from the metering system, apparently, to make local adjustments to brightness values. D-Range is available only with evaluative metering, not spot or average. It does not work in manual exposure mode, or with RAW files, and it overrides manual contrast adjustments. Because of the limitations on metering and exposure mode, we can't measure its effect with our standard dynamic range test. We shot a few regular scenes, though, and can share this impression: the system is active when a big area of the image is blown out (appears pure white), but is not overexposed by more than 1 or 2 EV. In the right cases, the D-R Advanced recovers detail in those areas, without darkening the rest of the image. It's similar to an automatic curves adjustment the way Adobe Photoshop does on a RAW file. It's very slick. It doesn't work with highlights that are more severely overexposed, but neither does Photoshop. Sony doesn't offer much guidance about how to use the setting. Why not just leave it on all the time when shooting JPEGs? It would take a while using the camera to be sure there isn't a downside to that. We're posting some of our test images. For easy reference, the shots with no small pumpkins in them are the ones with D-R turned off. Plain D-R is on in the shots with one pumpkin in them, and D-R Advanced shots have two pumpkins in them.
Our final take on the D-R system is this: it's a very good convenience feature, because it allows users to reap one advantage of shooting RAW, without having to shoot RAW. It's not equivalent to the extended dynamic range available from cameras like the Fujifilm FinePix S3 or S5, however. Those cameras deliver more realistic dynamic range in their expanded modes, and the Sony alpha A100 does not.
Connectivity / Extras
Connectivity*Software (7.0)*The RAW software packaged with the Sony alpha A100, Image Data Converter SR, allows white balance, sharpness, noise reduction and tonal adjustments. It's slow on our test machine, but we found that it produces good results. The A100 ships with Image Motion Browser, a simple viewing and organization package. *Jacks, Ports, Plugs (7.5)*The Sony alpha A100 has all the standard ports, but some of them are in weird spots. The remote control jack is on the back of the camera. We didn't get to test one, but we expect that a remote control cable jutting out of the back of the camera would get in the way when the user is framing a shot, especially if the user is left-eyed. The video and USB interface is inside the media slot compartment, so the media door has to stay open while the camera is connected to a computer, printer or television. That's terrible – leaving the door open will allow dust into the camera, and vastly increases the likelihood of the door breaking. The external power jack is under a rubber flap on the left side of the camera. The flap looks durable, and seals the port well against dust. The A100 has Sony's nonstandard flash shoe, which is too bad. Though relatively few users would want to use a non-dedicated flash with the A100, Sony's shoe is not as solid as the standard one, and the connector aces users out of the radio-remote control for studio flashes.**
Direct Print Options (8.5)*The Sony α (alpha) A100 supports PictBridge printers, which can be connected directly to the camera's USB port, and DPOF printing, which saves a printing job on the camera's removable media. The A100 prints index prints on compatible printers, and can be set to make multiple copies of images, make borderless prints, set the image size, or print multiple copies of an image on a single page. It can print the image file name and the date. It's an extensive range of printing options, but it does not include image editing, a feature that's becoming more common on entry-level DSLRs. *Battery** *(7.75)*The Sony A100 takes a 7.2 volt, 1600 mAh lithium-ion battery. Lithium-ion is the preferred technology for camera batteries because it is light and compact relative to the amount of power it stores. It is also rechargeable, so users don’t have to run to the convenience store for new batteries every few days. As we performed our image quality and other tests, the A100's charge lasted very well.
Memory *(3.0)*The Sony alpha A100 has a CompactFlash slot, but comes with an adapter for Sony's Memory Stick Duo media. CompactFlash is durable, fast, relatively cheap, and ubiquitous. It's the preferred choice for DSLRs even though it is larger than other memory cards. Users who already own a Memory Stick Duo might find the adapter useful, but others should buy CompactFlash, and leave the adapter in the box.
Other Features *(9.0)**Dust Control* – The Sony alpha A100 fights dust on the image sensor in three ways: the sensor is coated with an antistatic surface, the sensor shakes similarly to the Olympus Evolt’s dust reduction system, and the camera has a cleaning mode. *Vertical Display* – Konica-Minolta introduced the LCD display that switches shooting data to a vertical format when the camera is held vertically, and Sony kept that tradition up in the A100. This is very convenient. *In-camera Stabilization* – The A100 carries on Konica-Minolta's in-camera stabilization system, which means that image stabilization is available with every lens that fits the camera. Stabilization adds hundreds of dollars to the price of competitors' lenses, so that's an exciting advantage.
****Comparisons***Canon EOS Rebel XTi -* The 10-megapixel Canon Rebel XTi costs about $900, about $50 more than the A100, and lacks stabilization (although Canon lenses offer image stabilization – at a big price). Still, the XTi has better color and noise performance. Both cameras could be better-built; they're lightweight and lack the fit and finish of a truly durable camera. Both the A100 and the XTi have dust-removal systems. The XTi's controls are laid out better for quick use, and the Canon lenses offer more and better alternatives than Sony and the old Konica-Minolta line. For that matter, Canon offers an upgrade path for users who plan to buy a better camera.
*Nikon D80 -* The D80 costs about $1,100, about $250 more than the A100, and it lacks both stabilization and dust control. Still, the D80 beats out the A100 on overall image quality. Both are 10-megapixel cameras. The D80 is sturdier and has more ergonomic controls. The D80 offers in-camera image editing options, though it's not clear how useful they are. Like Canon, Nikon offers a better range of lenses and camera upgrades than Sony.
Pentax K100D - At about $700, the K100D beats the A100 on price, but offers only 6-megapixel resolution. On the other hand, it offers both of the A100's other major features: stabilization and dust control. Equally important, the K100D seems to have a far-superior auto focus system, featuring 11-focusing points. The K100D has an ISO 3200 setting as well. Pentax's K10D, at $1300, has all the features of the K100D, but matches the 10-megapixel resolution of the A100. **
Value***(7.5)*The Sony alpha A100 combines a range of important and exciting features with an aggressive price. The A100 is unique among current cameras because image stabilization is built into the DSLR body rather than into individual lenses. The A100's system is effective with the kit lens at least, and a big advantage for users who plan to buy more than a couple of lenses, or who already have compatible glass. Pentax offers a lower-resolution camera with similar features for a little bit less. For users who are content with the A100's image performance, it's a good deal. For Konica-Minolta owners who want a new DSLR body, it's the only choice, but it's also an attractive one. **Who It’s For***Point-and-Shooters -*The Sony alpha A100 is aimed squarely at point-and-shooters who want a DSLR. Most of them don't need one, though, and would be just as happy with the images they'd shoot with an image-stabilized Panasonic compact.
Budget Consumers -*The Sony A100 is a viable budget choice for DSLR shoppers, especially if image stabilization is a priority.*
***Gadget Freaks -*The α (alpha) A100 isn't really cutting-edge. It simply combines several existing features in a competitive package. The fact that it's an update of the Konica-Minolta line – which was bought up by Sony – diminishes lust for the A100. *Manual Control Freaks - Shooting the A100 manually is not as convenient as its competitors. Its image quality is less than killer, and quality is key for most manual users. Also, the control layout and lack of two jog dials is not conducive to quick adjustments. This is not the A100's demographic. *Pros / Serious Hobbyists - *The A100 isn't durable enough for pro shooting, and its image quality doesn't help. Pros looking for an inexpensive DSLR will buy the low-end camera in whatever line they already use, and that's not Konica-Minolta. If it were, the company would still be selling cameras. *
ConclusionThe Sony α (alpha) A100 is a good value for users who want stabilization, dust control and 10 megapixels, but don't mind a clunky interface and slow operation. It's a snapshot camera with some very appealing bells and whistles, and it will be a very good fit for casual photographers who want a DSLR, but don't need one. The Sony A100 is an overall disappointment. It's far too similar to the Konica-Minolta cameras it's built on. Those cameras failed in the marketplace, and some of Sony's few and minor changes, such as the parameters dial, aren't improvements. The strategy doesn’t seem to improve a product that didn't sell; it just markets it with a bigger name.
Specs / Ratings
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