Sony A100 Review

Sony A100 Review

10 Megapixel DSLR Camera Sony Alpha 100

It can be seen as a new camera or as a logical continuation of Konica Minolta’s Dynax D series. Sony’s Alpha 100 is not only the first digital SLR camera (with interchangeable lens system) of the Walkman inventor and consumer electronics giant, but also the first representative of a whole series of partly still unannounced entry-level DSLRs of the 10 megapixel class.

Short evaluation

Pros

  • MemoryStick adapter included in scope of delivery
  • wireless TTL flash control also with built-in miniature flash
  • powerful and competitive autofocus system
  • extensive functions for tonal value correction or contrast adjustment (DRO, Hi/Lo, parameter settings etc.)
  • clever coupling of the mirror lock-up with the self-timer
  • improved ergonomics (compared to Konica Minolta Dynax 5D)
  • automatic sensor cleaning
  • camera-internal image stabilization (CCD shift)
  • full compatibility with Konica Minolta’s Dynax-D system accessories (lenses, flashes, remote triggers, etc.)
  • brightest viewfinder of all beginner DSLRs

Cons

  • occasional exposure variations
  • no dust collecting device
  • proprietary hot shoe
  • AF Assist Light per Flash Salute
  • slight stripe formation in colour gradients (with long exposures)
  • increased (but negligible) image noise starting from ISO 400

Sony DSLR-A100 or also Sony A100 or Alpha 100 is the name of the new digital mirror reflex camera introduced today, depending on which source is tapped at Sony. The camera comes from the legacy of Konica Minolta’s camera division, which Sony continues to run. And with its 10.2 mega pixel resolution, image stabilizer, “anti dust” dust protection technology and compatibility with the Minolta-A bayonet and Konica Minolta flash units, the camera is truly a worthy successor to the Konica Minolta Dynax 5D and 7D – the leader of a new digital camera generation at Sony.

Sony has not only introduced a new digital SLR camera, but also a complete system: 21 lenses will be on the market by November, and 34 products are on the accessories list, including several flash units. Even if the press release claims this – Sony’s first DSLR camera is not exactly the Alpha 100, because since 1998 Sony has already had two SLR digital cameras in its product range with the DSC-D700 and DSC-D770, but with a permanently mounted zoom lens. The new camera called Sony Alpha 100 or DSLR-A100, on the other hand, has a lens mount now called Alpha bayonet, which is identical to the Minolta-A bayonet, so that the existing Minolta or Konica Minolta lenses can be operated on it and, conversely, new Sony lenses are compatible with existing Konica Minolta DSLR cameras. The same applies to the proven Minolta system flash shoe and to technical details such as the wireless TTL flash control directly controlled by the camera in conjunction with suitable system flash units. So you can say that Sony continues the (Konica) Minolta tradition consistently.

Sony promises a first-class image quality, which the 10.8 megapixel CCD sensor (10.2 megapixels effective) should deliver in APS-C format (23.6 x 15.8 mm). To ensure that this is not clouded, the camera has an optical image stabilisation system called “Super Steady Shot” and an “Anti-Dust” dust protection technology. In Konica Minolta’s “Anti Shake” image stabilization system, the image sensor is moved horizontally and vertically by two piezo elements controlled by two gyro sensors and the corresponding control electronics. Depending on the shooting situation, up to 3.5 exposure levels can be “gained”, i.e. correspondingly longer exposure times can still be photographed “from the hand”, i.e. without a tripod. Since this system is integrated into the camera, it can play out its advantages with any lens, so that the user can save a lot of money compared to the purchase of several stabilized lenses (which Sony of course doesn’t offer at all).

A system that prevents dust that has penetrated the camera body from being deposited on the image sensor when the lens is changed, thus impairing image quality, is only known from Olympus DSLR cameras. While Olympus solves the problem with a protective filter installed in front of the sensor, which “shoots away” any dust that may be adhering by ultrasound, Sony coats the CCD sensor itself with an antistatic coating (“Anti-Dust Coating”) and “shakes” the sensor when the camera is switched off by means of “Anti-Dust Vibration” so that any dust that may be present falls off. The “Anti-Dust Vibration” can also be started via the menu.

Image optimization is performed by the “Bionz Image Processor”, which analyzes the incoming pixel information and corrects exposure and color depth. This is especially useful when photographing subjects with a bright background, as it improves details in very bright and dark areas and increases dynamics.

21 high-quality lenses from Carl Zeiss and Sony are offered for the Alpha 100. The long-established lens manufacturer Carl Zeiss contributes two fast fixed focal lengths (Planar T* 85 mm F1.4 and Sonnar T* 135 mm F1.8) and a Vario-Sonnar T* 16-80 mm F3.5-4.5 zoom lens to the Sony lens range. “Sony G” is the name of the top class among Sony’s own lenses, which initially includes a 35 mm fixed focal length with F1.4 speed, a 300 mm F2.8 telephoto fixed focal length and a 70-200 mm telephoto zoom with a continuous speed of F2.8. An overview of these and other lenses announced in parallel to the Alpha 100 is given in the table at the end of this message. In combination with the APS-C sensor of the Alpha 100, this results in a 1.5-fold focal length extension factor.

 

To make sure that no scene mode is missed with the Alpha 100, its autofocus is activated as soon as you approach the viewfinder with your eye, a technique already familiar from analog Minolta SLR cameras. Usually, the shutter-release button must first be pressed partway down for the autofocus to focus. This sometimes takes too long, and the targeted snapshot is missed or the shot becomes blurred. The combination of “Bionz Image Processor” and High Speed DDR-SDRAM memory chips also enables extremely fast signal processing, so that the Alpha 100, in conjunction with a fast memory card, can take unlimited serial images in JPEG format at a speed of three frames per second.

The 2.5″ (6.3 cm) LCD monitor has a pleasingly high resolution of 230,000 pixels and displays additional information (e.g. a histogram) in addition to the recorded images. Depending on the position in which the camera is held, the information displayed rotates vertically or horizontally so that the display can always be read optimally. The photographer has the choice to save his pictures in JPEG or RAW format or simultaneously in both formats.

Sony is known for powerful batteries and long operating times. With its NP-FM55H Info Lithium battery, the Alpha 100 can take up to 750 photos according to the CIPA standard with 50 percent flash use. Speaking of flash: The built-in pop-up flash folds up high and, according to the manufacturer, achieves a guide number of 12, based on ISO 100, and can be used in the wide-angle range with lenses down to 18 mm. The camera accessory program includes two powerful additional flash units (HVL-F36AM and HVL-F56AM) with guide numbers of 36 and 56, based on ISO 100, and motorized zoom reflector for a range from 24 to 85 mm (with mounted lens down to 17 mm). Both can be wirelessly controlled directly from the camera, allowing unleashed flash with TTL auto exposure. From September the ring light HVL-RLAM and from November the macro pliers flash set HVL-MT24AM will complete the flash range. All new flash units are compatible with Konica Minolta DSLR cameras. Konica Minolta system flash units can also be operated with the new Sony DSLR camera.

Ergonomics and workmanship

Even though Konica Minolta and Minolta are now part of (photo) history and many a cosmetic detail has been changed by Sony, the Alpha 100 can hardly deny its origin. The Alpha 100 is practically written in the “face” that it springs from the same designer nib as the Konica Minolta Dynax 5D – and the partial redesign of the controls does not conceal this. What has been changed about the controls is above all their placement and assignment. Although former Dynax owners will find most of the buttons, switches and wheels in the usual places, the Alpha 100 makes a more “tidy” impression. The most important settings (exposure mode, flash mode, focus settings, light sensitivity level control, white balance, dynamic range, color and image parameters) have all been moved to the upper left rotary switch – the FN key for calling up the respective setting options now no longer has to be searched for on the back of the camera, but is surrounded directly in the center of the rotary switch.

Even though the operating concept has been improved, the operation of the Alpha 100 is still very Minolta-typical. According to this, the familiarization period is a bit longer than with various competing models (which may be a bit more “intuitive” to use), but when you get used to the peculiarities of the operating concept (which at the beginning already requires some glances into the manual), you will work faster with the Alpha 100 than with many other DSLR models. The only real point of criticism is the non-lockable navigation or control keypad, which is often popped with the nose when looking through the viewfinder, thus accidentally changing the AF field. It’s also a shame that there is no portrait or multifunction handle for the camera, as this would make the Alpha 100 – which otherwise lies very comfortably in the hand – comfortable to hold even for classic portrait shots or the like.

If the Konica-Minolta Dynax 5D still felt a bit like pure plastik, the Alpha 100 makes a more valuable impression. Although the 650 gram body (incl. memory card and battery) is still made of shock-resistant plastic, the Alpha 100 gives you the feeling of being no less robust than other entry-level digital SLR cameras when you touch it. The tripod thread of the Alpha 100 is – as it should be – made of metal and located exactly in the optical axis; the memory card as well as the battery can be changed separately thanks to separate accesses with hinged doors (even with the tripod quick-release plate mounted). The lens mount is also made of metal. Sony probably wanted to give the Alpha 100 a “personal touch” and surrounded the frame with an orange decorative ring. This decorative effect can also be found on the menu screens for the main functions that can be set via the rotary switch; the other menus look comparatively dull and do not really shine through clarity (the four main categories are divided into two to three pages with five menu items each).

Optics

If you buy an Alpha 100, you really can’t complain about a lack of lenses. With the acquisition of Konica Minolta’s photo division, Sony has not only “inherited” the entire lens fleet of its former competitor, but has also obtained the right to use the Minolta AF bayonet on its cameras. With the exception of the old lenses (MD and Rokkor series) for non-AF cameras and the Vectis series lenses (for Minolta APS cameras), all Minolta-compatible autofocus lenses fit the Alpha 100. In view of the fact that Minolta was at times very successful on the entry-level market and has sold countless Dynax cameras, Minolta AF lenses (either from Minolta itself or from third-party manufacturers such as Cosina/Voigtländer, Sigma, Tamron or Tokina) are probably still lying around in many households, and if that is not the case, you will find both new and used suitable lenses for your Alpha 100.

If you can mount an old or used Minolta AF lens on the Alpha 100 and take a picture with this pair (autofocus and exposure metering should usually work without any problems), there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, it may happen that lenses from the “predigital” period no longer quite achieve the image quality known from 35mm times when used with a digital camera such as the Alpha 100. Digital cameras and their image sensors require light rays to be incident as perpendicularly as possible, react more sensitively to so-called “scattered light” (i.e. disturbing light reflections) and generally place higher demands on the optical quality of the lenses than analog cameras. However, since quality is always very subjective and the old lenses often deliver an image quality that satisfies many people, we can only recommend the following: If you don’t notice any difference in quality, you can continue using your old lens; if you notice a loss of quality (especially at the edges of the image), you should try a newer, so-called “digitally optimized” lens (Sony Alpha lenses, ZA series by Zeiss, D and DT series by Konica Minolta, DC and DG series by Sigma, Di series by Tamron, etc.).

What one should also pay attention to is that the lens used has a built-in distance chip (for transmitting the set distance to the camera). At least if you want to use the ADI flash metering offered by the Alpha 100 and the digital dynaxes. If the lenses are not marked accordingly (for Konica Minolta lenses, for example, by a D in brackets in the lens designation), you should ask the dealer or seller. Those who don’t need the ADI measurement and are content with the TTL pre-flash measurement don’t need the chip in the lens. Last but not least, there are also some lenses (such as the Minolta Macro Zoom 1x – 3x) where the built-in image stabilizer of the camera does not work correctly. Here one is advised by Sony to switch off the Super SteadyShot system (more on this later in the test). There are hardly any other incompatibilities or limitations; our readers will find a link to the official Sony compatibility table at the end of this review (see further links). By the way, when you look at the list, it becomes clear which “uncontrolled growth” prevails in the lens palette for the Alpha 100. There are new Sony lenses, Zeiss lenses and former (Konica) Minolta lenses – the latter are also divided into different series (D, DT and G series). If we add the lenses from Sigma, Tamron, Tokina & Co., the confusion is perfect. That’s why Sony would be well advised to bring some order into its range of lenses. All newer lenses should preferably integrate an ultrasonic drive (with the SSM technology from Minolta times you already have the necessary know-how), and two prestige series (G series from Sony/Minolta and ZA series from Zeiss) do not have to be real.

Especially when changing lenses frequently, dust may penetrate the camera and affect the image quality. The Alpha 100 is one of the few digital SLR cameras (along with the FourThirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic) to address this problem. Thus, the image sensor of the Alpha 100 or the protective glass of the CCD (strictly speaking the low-pass filter) is provided with a special indium tin oxide coating. This fabric has the double property of being semiconducting and transparent. By using its antistatic effect, Sony wants to prevent dust particles from accumulating on the sensor. The remaining dust deposits should then be shaken off by “shaking” the CCD sensor. After all, the camera’s Super SteadyShot mechanism hangs it up so that it can move, anyway, and for dust removal it only needs to be “shaken” a little more than when counteracting tremors. Whether this system works as well as the SSWF technology of the Olympus and Panasonic cameras (where the dust is practically “blown away” by ultrasonic waves from a kind of membrane) is doubtful. There are also two other differences to the SSWF system: the Alpha 100’s Anti-Dust function only comes into effect on command or when the camera is switched off (so that the switch-on time is not extended compared to cameras with SSWF), and there is also no provision for a dust collector (Olympus and Panasonic use a replaceable adhesive strip in the bottom of the camera to collect the dust). That’s why Sony also recommends turning on the Anti-Dust function every now and then with the lens removed and the lens mount pointing to the ground, so that gravity does the rest of the work. Stubborn dust deposits can – as usual with other DSLRs – be carefully removed from the sensor with cleaning sticks and special cleaning liquid; the Alpha 100 offers a function that keeps the mirror up and the shutter open during the cleaning process in the system menu.

If the self-cleaning function of the Alpha 100 is not quite as elegantly solved as that of the Olympus and Panasonic cameras, it is far superior to the latter in terms of autofocus (equipment). Sony and (Konica) Minolta lenses, for example, have a number of ultrasonically driven lenses for autofocus, and with 9 AF fields, it offers three times more measuring points than its FourThirds competitors. Already when looking through the viewfinder some old Dynax owners recognize the autofocus of their camera. The characteristic measuring field arrangement (four line sensors flank the middle cross sensor and four tilt sensors) is familiar from the Dynax 5D and Dynax 7D, among others – and it is also pretty much the same AF module used in the Alpha 100. The AF system proves its capabilities particularly impressively in Focus Tracking Mode (AF-C): When the Eye Start function is switched on, the autofocus system begins to search for focus as soon as you put your eye to the viewfinder and tracks each of its movements (with the currently active AF field highlighted in red) when the main subject is detected. The subject tracking works just as reliably as with the last Dynax cameras; if you think all this is a gimmick or are not convinced of it, you can switch to normal single-frame focusing (AF-S) and/or preselect a specific AF field.

The Alpha 100 offers additional autofocus settings in the form of an operating mode automatic (the camera automatically switches to AF-C or AF-S depending on the subject), a DMF function (you can manually intervene in the focusing process at any time without first flipping the AF/MF switch), and a DMF function, a spot AF function (only the central cross sensor is used to determine the focus), a focus priority setting (you can choose whether the camera will release immediately or only after the focus is successfully completed), and a setting for the active AF field illumination time (0.3 s, 0.6 s, or no illumination). The autofocus works precisely and quickly (subjectively faster than Pentax/Samsung, Olympus and Panasonic, but – especially when using lenses without ultrasound drive – not quite as fast as with Nikon and Canon); the function of an AF auxiliary light is taken over either by the built-in miniature flash (with a not particularly discrete flash salvo) or the red light of an attached system flash unit.

Flash

When purchasing an external flash unit, it is even more important than with the lenses to ensure that a D in brackets appears in the product designation. So it is not enough that the flash has the unmistakable Minolta flash shoe (the rail-like system has the advantage over the classic ISO flash shoe of faster and non-contact locking without a locking screw, but is proprietary like no other coupling system), but it must also be suitable for use on digital cameras. An old Minolta i- or xi-series flash and even the relatively new 5400-HS flash will therefore not work properly; it must be a Konica Minolta (3600 HS-D, 5600 HS-D, 2500 D, Macro Ring Flash 1200, Macro Forceps Flash 2400) D-series (HS-)D-series flash or one of its Sony “doubles” (HVL-F56AM, HVL-F36AM, HVL-MT24AM) to ensure full compatibility.

The reason for this is the flash measurement of the digital SLR cameras from Konica Minolta (Dynax 5D and 7D) and Sony (Alpha 100). With these cameras, the required amount of light or the correct flash dosage is determined either by a pre-flash alone (pre-flash TTL) or – in addition to the pre-flash – by the subject distance (ADI measurement) transmitted by the lens (if it has a distance chip). Which of the two methods promises better flash results is controversial among users; it is clear, however, that only the newer flash units support the two measuring methods. But there is another reason why you might want to make a new purchase: wireless TTL flash control. If you want to illuminate the subject with several flash units at the same time and do not have a sound knowledge of flash technology, you will appreciate this feature or will already learn to appreciate it. Because with the wireless TTL flash control everything functions largely automatically and without any cable connection. Simply place the previously tuned flash units (you only need to mount them on the camera for a short time and switch on the WL mode) on the supplied stand, flip up the built-in flash or attach the control flash unit (e.g. 5600 HS-D) and take a picture without it; the individual flash units are automatically controlled via the modulation of the flash light (short flash impulses not perceptible to the human eye immediately in front of the actual flash serve as control sequence).

The fact that the Alpha 100 – like its Dynax predecessors – is one of the few digital SLR cameras in which the built-in flash of the camera can also serve as a control unit for wireless TTL flash control is particularly pleasing. Many other manufacturers rely on expensive accessories. The integrated miniature flash of the Alpha 100 is reasonably powerful (LZ 12 at ISO 100), illuminates an angle of view of approximately 73 degrees (which is enough for the use of lenses up to a focal length of the equivalent of 28 mm), protrudes high enough (approx. 90 mm from the lens center) from the flash box to prevent red eyes as far as possible, emits a surprisingly neutral (flash) light despite the slightly yellowish tinted reflector lens and is recharged in a maximum of three seconds after the flash. What the small light dispenser cannot do, however, is to jump out automatically if necessary. This is more intelligently solved with other cameras (in the fully automatic mode and in the scene modes, the flash automatically pops out and in the P/S/A/M modes, it must be opened by pressing a button or by hand), and with the Alpha 100 it is cumbersome to open the flash by hand first, before the automatic flash control (if it is switched on) decides whether the lighting conditions require the flash to be ignited or not.

When working with the built-in flash, the following flash modes are available for selection as flash modes: auto flash, fill-flash function (to force the flash), wireless function (WL), flash exposure compensation, and sync on the 2nd shutter curtain (where the flash fires at the end of the exposure). If the on-board flash controls one or more flash units in the wireless TTL flash mode, you can set the power ratio (either 2:1 or 1:2), but the setting applies to the entire external flash group and there are no further distribution options. If you use the system flash units from Sony or Konica Minolta, there are also comfort functions such as a pilot light function (for rough estimation of the flash effect), a stroboscope light function, a motor-controlled adjustment of the illumination angle or a of the flash reflector (often tiltable and/or swivelling) to the focal length set on the lens, HSS high-speed flash synchronization (up to 1/4,000s with slightly reduced flash output), various personalization options and manual flash control with partial output levels. These are all terms with which the layman can’t do anything, but which are sometimes very important for the ambitious photographer. Not all these functions are supported by the – often cheaper – flash units of various other manufacturers (Metz, Sunpak, Vivitar, Cullmann etc.). Therefore, you should check with your dealer or the manufacturer to see how far the compatibility goes before buying external flash units.

The flash can be used – either with the internal flash or with an attached accessory flash – with shutter speeds not shorter than 1/160 s (when Super SteadyShot is off) or 1/125 s (when Image Stabilizer is on). Shorter flash sync times are nevertheless possible with the HSS function of external flash units. In general, flash exposure is very precise and balanced, due in part to the fact that the flash exposure is determined by the same honeycomb cell (more on this in the next test section) used to measure ambient light. The Alpha 100’s flash system is among the best on the market, and the only criticism you can make of the Sony camera here is that studio photographers have to resort to expensive adapters to connect their flash systems to the Alpha due to the lack of a PC sync socket.

Picture quality

Sony – also known as original equipment manufacturer or supplier of image sensors to many large camera manufacturers – offers a wide range of CCDs and CMOS sensors in APS-C format (i.e. approx. 16 x 21 mm). Already with the Nikon D200 and the in-house prosumer camera DSC-R1, a 10-megapixel sensor of this size from Sony production was used. While the two cameras already had a different sensor, the Alpha 100 has another 10-megapixel chip from Sony that was fitted to it.

Immediately after the release of the first original recordings of the Alpha 100 by Sony itself and other websites, the discussion about the camera’s image noise was boiling over in various Internet forums. There is currently no real reference camera against which the Alpha 100 can measure itself, as – as already written – the Nikon D200 and Sony Alpha 100 are equipped with different image converters. But it can become interesting when two direct Alpha 100 competitors, the Nikon D80 and the Canon EOS 400D, come onto the market soon, which not only play in the same resolution class (10 megapixels), but also target the same target group (beginners). Then suitable comparisons can also be made with the image quality. Until then, the Alpha 100 is regarded as the first entry-level digital SLR camera with a resolution of around 10 megapixels, and as long as the above-mentioned competitors are not on the market and perform better in tests, their overall image noise is considered very good. At normal sensitivities (i.e. ISO 100 and 200) the noise is not visible to the naked eye even on larger prints (e.g. 30 x 40cm posters) at normal viewing distance, and even during laboratory measurements the noise is in the lowest range. The neutral character of the noise (virtually no color noise, non-aggressive brightness noise) contributes significantly to the fact that no noise is perceived at low sensitivities. In the higher sensitivity levels (from ISO 400), however, the image noise becomes increasingly more visible and disturbing, and even if not everyone considers the highest sensitivity level (from ISO 1.600) to be “unusable”, it is better to use it only in absolute emergencies.

The dynamic range is similarly good as the image noise. The Alpha 100 “digests” scene modes with contrast differences of up to 8.8 f-stops and gradates the images in 251 (of 256 possible) brightness levels from good to very good. The camera produces images that are slightly “soft” or slightly low in contrast in the brightest areas of the image, become nicely high in contrast in non-critical brightness areas (and with a very even gradation of the brightness values), and already from the medium brightness levels up to the darkest parts of the image, transition back to “soft” or lower in contrast. This is a very eye-friendly tonal value reproduction (since very bright image areas do not tend to “corrode” or over-illumination and darker image areas do not tend to “drown”), which should please beginners very well, but also a not exactly “authentic” reproduction. The Alpha 100 would have to be tuned differently for a tonal reproduction of the scene mode

If you do not edit your pictures on the computer afterwards and are dissatisfied with the contrast of the pictures, you should possibly switch on the first stage of the DRO function (Dynamic Range Optimiser). The camera then uses the 40 honeycomb segments of the exposure measuring cell to determine the subject contrast and automatically attempts to increase the overall contrast of the image for low-contrast subjects and to reduce the overall contrast of the image for high-contrast subjects. Since the camera here only deforms the gradation curve but does not expand it, it cannot cope with stronger subject contrasts, but only automatically regulates the overall contrast of the image. The situation is different with the second stage of the DRO function, which intervenes much more strongly in the image. This is not a simple contrast adjustment, but a true contrast compensation. If the corrections of the first DRO level (D-R) affect the entire image, only local corrections are made for the second DRO level (D-R +). Shadows are brightened in this way, while the details in the lights (i.e. the brightest parts of the image that still have drawing) are preserved or preserved to a large extent; Nikon’s D-Lighting function or HP’s Adaptive Lighting technology work in a similar way, for example. The DRO function even goes so far as to make corrections in real time and at the raw data level. However, since the raw data lose their “virginity” during processing, the processed images are no longer saved in RAW or ARW format, but as JPEG files. It is therefore useless to switch on the DRO function in the RAW mode; the DRO function remains ineffective even if one works with another exposure mode (center-weighted integral metering or spot metering) and/or one is in the manual exposure mode (M).

If noise and dynamic range or tonal value reproduction are not linked to the performance of the optics, it is difficult to make a statement about the resolution without considering which lens was used for the shot. Of course one could write that with a 10 megapixel sensor or with 3,872 x 2,592 pixel images it is possible to make poster-sized prints (DIN A3 or 30 x 40 cm or even larger), but this statement would be too superficial. It is a fact that the Alpha 100 – both visually and metrologically – delivers very detailed images, whereby with the purchase of the so-called “double zoom kit” (camera plus two zoom lenses) with the Tele-Zoom SAL-75300 (75-300mm F4.5-5.6) more balanced results with less loss of resolution towards the image corners or edges are possible than with the SAL-1870 (DT 18-70mm F3.5-5.6) included in the standard package. The SAL-75300 also cuts a slightly better figure than the SAL-1870 in terms of the remaining imaging performance (distortion and vignetting); in terms of chromatic aberrations, the SAL-75300 tends to produce a pronounced colour fringing in the telephoto range, while the SAL-1870 tends to show weaknesses in the wide-angle range. The slightly better performance of the Telezoom is partly explained by the larger image circle (the origins of the SAL-75300 go back to Minolta times in the 35mm era), but even if the SAL-1870 doesn’t only have to reduce the focal length, this lens is no better and no worse than the set lenses of the competition. Both the SAL-75300 and the SAL-1870 are worth their price in every respect, and their optical (as well as mechanical) quality is perfectly sufficient for everyday photography at the entry-level level.

As you can see, the expected image quality of the Alpha 100 is – as you would expect – strongly dependent on the quality of the lens used. In this case, this also applies to factors such as the directional dependency of the resolution. The resolution or fineness of detail may therefore be perceived as somewhat uneven, and this is not really image processing friendly. Other more or less pronounced image disturbances and interferences such as moiré effects (usually wave-shaped), aliasing effects (stepped or sawtooth-shaped) and colour gradations (especially in the case of long-term exposures) can also occur here and there on the images taken with the Alpha 100, but should only be noticed by trained eyes. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert to notice slight fluctuations in exposure (despite finer exposure metering than with Dynax DSLRs) and – under incandescent light – in automatic white balance. But the Alpha 100 offers numerous instruments for influencing the image result (including image parameter settings, Hi and Lo settings for high-key and low-key recordings, reliably functioning white balance presets, additional white balance functions, etc.), so that you can help yourself over time and with growing experience. The only thing that would be desirable for demanding people would be the possibility to change the compression levels (the highest possible compression for the smallest possible image files), which are a little too much adjusted to the amateur’s needs; the Alpha 100 is very well tuned to exemplary in terms of sharpness and colour reproduction and leaves little to be desired.

Miscellaneous And Special Functions

One of the probably most outstanding features of the Alpha 100 is the built-in image stabilizer. The Super SteadyShot system is a further development of Konica Minolta’s former Anti-Shake technology and is based on the principle of shake compensation through counter-rotating image sensor movements. In other words, the CCD compensates for the trembling movements of the user’s hand by “trembling” in the opposite direction. Since the system has been integrated into the camera, its function – in contrast to optical image stabilizers – is not dependent on the lens.

So-called piezo crystals or elements play a key role in AntiShake or Super SteadyShot technology. These have the double property of generating an electrical voltage when deformed (e.g. by mechanical pressure) (= direct piezo effect) and deforming when a voltage is applied (= inverse piezo effect). Such piezo elements are already used in the first stage of image stabilization. In order for the system to “know” how strong the countercorrection must be, it uses two gyro sensors to measure the up and down movements as well as the lateral movements of the camera. At least in the case of gyro sensors from Epson origin, the outer, T-shaped arms of a piezo element in the two sensors are set into a tuning-fork-like oscillation by applying a control voltage. The trembling of the user’s hand now releases forces that act on the piezo element according to the principle of the so-called Coriolis effect and set its “probe” (two further arms in the middle of the piezo element) in vibration. The inverse piezo effect occurs and generates a measurable voltage that can be converted into a motion signal. This signal can be evaluated by the camera electronics, which then initiate the next phase of image stabilization.

In the second stage, the camera’s image sensor, which is mounted in a kind of frame, is set in motion. This is done by a so-called “Smooth Impact Drive” mechanism (short: SIDM). In fact, there are even two SIDM parts (one for the vertical and one for the horizontal movements). Piezo technology is also used here again. In this case, a rod-shaped piezo element acts like a kind of “piston”, which – according to the principle of the inverse piezo effect – extends and contracts again. The image sensor or CCD is then pushed back and forth on its carrier board via a special coupling system that “grips” only when the piezo “piston” moves evenly and slowly. Since these correction movements must be pixel accurate, the increasing reduction in size of the individual pixel elements (with the same sensor area, the size of the individual pixels on the CCD decreases with increasing number of pixels) poses an ever greater challenge to the precision of this technology. And this is Sony’s merit: the electronics giant has improved CCD shift technology to such an extent that the precision of the Super SteadyShot system exceeds that of Konica Minolta’s AntiShake system, not only meeting the requirements of the new 10-megapixel CCD, but also reducing the risk of camera shake by 2 to 3.5 f-stops.

Even more impressive (and understandable) than the technology itself is the practical benefit of the image stabilizer. If, for example, a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200 mm needs a shutter speed of 1/200 s (simply the reciprocal of the focal length) or shorter to avoid blurring, you can go down to 1/60 s with the same focal length and Super SteadyShot switched on, or down to 1/50 s with a reasonably steady camera position, without risking blurred images. Anyone who has tried the system in practice will not want to miss it anymore; the only disadvantage of the Super SteadyShot technology is that unlike optical image stabilizers, the stabilization effect cannot be observed in the viewfinder.

Also otherwise the Alpha 100 offers a very good price/equipment ratio and shines with a few good ideas. Thus, for example, the mirror lock-up for vibration-free long exposure shots (preferably in tripod mode and with Super Steady Shot switched off) is activated when the self-timer is switched on, and you can also specify in the menu whether the camera should refuse to release the shutter if there is no memory card and/or no lens. Other features include a dimming button for visual control of the depth of field, a histogram display (DSLR-typical only in playback mode), PictBridge compatibility of the USB interface (for direct connection of the camera to a suitable printer), various personalization options (setting memory, button settings, etc.), a firmware update function and a fast continuous shooting mode.

Thanks to intelligent memory management and the use of fast DDR-RAM as buffer memory, it is possible to shoot image sequences of any length when shooting JPEG images in continuous mode. As long as the memory card is fast enough, the camera rattles until you release the shutter release button or the card is full. With RAW/ARW images, the Alpha 100 – depending on whether the raw data is stored with or without JPEG image – takes a “breather” after three or six shots – which is quite understandable in view of the impressive data volume of at least 10.2 megabytes per image (without JPEG image). Such a large image should have arrived on the computer (PC/Mac) in about 2.5 seconds via the USB 2.0 high-speed interface; the average data throughput in our computer configuration was 3.8 MBytes per second.

Finally, a small side note: The development of the Alpha 100 goes back partly to Konica Minolta times, and it was probably so advanced that it was no longer necessary to install an additional slot for memory sticks and the electronics for the to-the-minute display of the remaining battery life. So you have to rely on the comparatively inaccurate battery symbol (the lithium ion battery NP-FM55H is empty in the CIPA test after about 750 shots) and have to fall back on the supplied adapter AD-MSCF1 if you want to continue using your memory sticks (as long as they are of the “Duo” type) as a loyal Sony customer. However, in view of the fact that CompactFlash cards (the Alpha 100 accepts type I and II) are more popular anyway and some are also faster, this type of memory card will probably be preferred anyway.

Bottom line

When former Konica Minolta engineers and Sony technicians work together to complete a DSLR project that seems to have begun during Konica Minolta’s times, the camera’s accumulated know-how can only benefit. With the Alpha 100, Sony is taking off with squeaky wheels on the digital SLR camera market and can secure a firm place in the ranks of established DSLR manufacturers from a standing start. The fact that the newcomer had a very lucky hand with the takeover of Konica Minolta’s camera business and that the technological legacy of the former photo giant saved him the trouble of setting up his own system from scratch is not only an opportunity for Sony. This circumstance is also a new hope for all those who once or recently jumped on the (Konica-)Minolta train and for whom the journey under the Sony flag continues. But no matter if you’re a newcomer, a newcomer or a newcomer to Sony: The Alpha 100 should definitely be included in the shortlist for the purchase decision of a new DSLR, and there are certainly many good reasons to choose it.

Fact sheet

Fact sheet
Manufacturer Sony
Model Alpha 100
(DSLR-A100)
Price approx. 900 EUR
Resolution CCD sensor 10.2 million pixels
Max. Image size
(aspect ratio)
3.872 x 2.5922
.896 x 1.9321
.920 x 1.280
Video recording Resolution levels with

sound Video format Frame rate Recording duration

––––––
Audio recording with
video voice memo
––
optical viewfinder

Dioptre compensation

yes

yes

Mirror reflex yes
LCD Monitor Resolution Rotatable Swivels as

Viewfinder Delay Free

230.400 pixels.
Light measurementMatrix/Multi-field measurementCenter-weightedIntegral measurementSpotMulti-SpotMeasurement value memory

(AE-Lock)

yes
Display of exposure values Viewfinder
,LC screen
Program automation yes
Aperture priority 1/4,000 to 30 s
Aperture priority Aperture settings depending on
lens
manual exposureaperture shutter speedBULB long-time exposure Aperture setting depending on
lens1/4.000 to 30 sja
Motif programsPortraitSports/ActionLandscapeNight shotsPicture close-upOthers yes yes yes yes sunset

, portrait at night

Automatic exposure bracketing 3 shots1/3
or 2/3 LW
Sensitivity Automatic Manual ISO 100-800ISO 100, 200, 400
,800, 1.600
White BalanceAutomatic Presets Manual

(White Point Memory
)
Other

yesDaylight
sunny, Daylight cloudy, Shadow,
Incandescent light, Fluorescent light,
Flash yes manualcolor temperature input, White balance fine correction
Focal lengthalSmall image equivalentZoom factor lens dependent —
Luminous intensity
(wide angle to telephoto)
object-dependent
Digital zoom
AutofocusNumber of
fields of viewTarget field selectionSingle AF continuousAFAF auxiliary light
yes9 automatic and

manualyyes
(predictive)
yes (via flash salvo)

Closest focusing distance object-dependent
Filter threads object-dependent
Wide-angle converter*
Teleconverter*
Flash modesAuto manual

onRed-eye correctionLong-term sync

to 2nd shutter curtainFlash exposure correction functionSlave function

jajajajaja+

2 LW to -2 LWin
1/3 step wireless
TTL flash controller

Flash connectionFlash shoe sync socket

can be triggered by
external flash common

TTL flash shoe with central contact and
manufacturer-specific contacts–
PC TransferUSB
2.0 InterfaceUSB Mass
Storage Class CompatibilityFirewire Interface
USB/Video Combo Plug

(High Speed Class)
yes-

CompatibilityPTP image transfer protocol yes
Video output

PALNTSC

USB/Video combo jackjacket
Rechargeable battery NP-FM55HLithium ion battery
(7.2 V, 1,600 mAh)
Charging time: approx. 235 min.,
charging outside the camera
Standard batteries can be used
Mains inlet 7,6 V
Memory typeCompactFlashMicrodrive compatibleMemory

Stick Duo/Duo PRO

yesyes
(via supplied AD-MSCF1 adapter)
Self-timer 2 or 10 s
Remote release optional
Interval Shooting
Image Fine Adjustment Sharpening Image Contrast Color Saturation 5 levels5
levels + DRO adjustment5 levels
Menu languages de, en, es, fr, it, nl
,pt, ru, se, jp, cn, ko
Playback functions Index, slide show, multi-level playback zoom
, histogram display
, EXIF recording data display
, highlights and shadows display, and more.
Image EffectsGrayscaleSepiaBlack & White

(2 Bit)

yes–
Printing FunctionsDPOFPictBridgeEXIF

2.2/PrintEpson
Print ImageMatching
II/III

Yes

.

A.

Reset to factory setting yes
Firmware update by
user
yes
Switch-on time 1 s
One-hand operation
(zoom + shutter release)
Weight
(ready)
650 g
(without lens)
– = “not applicable” or “not available”* optional accessories required, offered by camera manufacturer

Short evaluation

Pros

  • MemoryStick adapter included in scope of delivery
  • wireless TTL flash control also with built-in miniature flash
  • powerful and competitive autofocus system
  • extensive functions for tonal value correction or contrast adjustment (DRO, Hi/Lo, parameter settings etc.)
  • clever coupling of the mirror lock-up with the self-timer
  • improved ergonomics (compared to Konica Minolta Dynax 5D)
  • automatic sensor cleaning
  • camera-internal image stabilization (CCD shift)
  • full compatibility with Konica Minolta’s Dynax-D system accessories (lenses, flashes, remote triggers, etc.)
  • brightest viewfinder of all beginner DSLRs

Cons

  • occasional exposure variations
  • no dust collecting device
  • proprietary hot shoe
  • AF Assist Light per Flash Salute
  • slight stripe formation in colour gradients (with long exposures)
  • increased (but negligible) image noise starting from ISO 400

Sony Releases New Firmware (V 1.02) for Alpha 100

Today a new firmware and an update for the Image Data Converter SR software is available for Sony’s Alpha 100 digital SLR camera model for free download and self installation, which improves camera operation in several – partly not unimportant – points. The new firmware has the version number 1.02 and can be installed by anyone who follows the installation instructions in the following message or on the official Sony website.

The most important improvement with the new firmware is probably the image quality for long exposures (> 1s). If we found out in the detailed digitalkamera.de test that in such shooting situations there is a slight stripe formation in colour gradients or a coarsening of colour gradations, this phenomenon will be eliminated by the new firmware. The image quality for printing has also been improved. When using the print image matching function of Epson printers, the print quality should be better after installing the new camera firmware. Last but not least, firmware 1.02 takes care of a problem that has led to RAW and ARW recordings not being opened by the Picture Motion Browser software in rare cases. In addition, the Image Data Converter SR software (version 1.1) must also be updated; through the software update, the program also learns to display the lens data of new lenses.

To “update” the Image Data Converter software, simply download the corresponding update file (IDCSR11_Updater.exe) from your (Windows) computer, run it and follow the instructions on the screen. If you want to check if the software has to be updated at all, you can call the entry “About Image Data Converter SR” under the menu item “Help” or “Help”. If the version number 1.1.00.03271 is displayed, the update can be done.

The update procedure for the Alpha 100 firmware also does not require any special technical knowledge. All you need to do is go to the page below (see the links below), where you will find all the information you need to update. After you have explicitly read the update instructions and the license agreement by clicking on the confirmation button, you will be redirected to the actual download page. There you download the appropriate update file for your operating system and decompress it by double-clicking on the program icon. This creates the actual firmware file with the file name DSCA100.app and the companion file DSCA100.str, which can be copied to the root directory of a preferably formatted memory card either via an external card drive or via the camera-computer connection via USB (mass storage transfer mode should be activated in the setup menu of the camera). After inserting the memory card, turn on the camera and press the playback button at the bottom left. The update starts as soon as the user gives his okay.

As always, it should be pointed out that the update is carried out by the user on his own responsibility – also in compliance with the usual precautions (update only in mains operation or with fully charged battery). An interruption of the power supply, e.g. due to an exhausted battery, can, in the worst case, lead to a total failure of the camera, where only the customer service of the manufacturer remains as the last hope for a quick camera recovery. If the whole thing is too tricky for you and you don’t dare to carry out this operation yourself, which is not entirely risk-free, you should only change the firmware when you really need it or have the update carried out by a dealer or a Sony service centre.

 

Sony Alpha 100 Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CCD sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)10.8 megapixels (physical) and 10.2 megapixels (effective)
Pixel pitch 6,0 µm
Photo resolution
3.880 x 2.600 pixels (3:2)
3.872 x 2.592 pixels (3:2)
2.896 x 1.932 pixels (3:2)
1.920 x 1.080 Pixel (16:9)
Picture formats JPG, RAW
Colour depth k. A.
Metadata Exif (version 2.21), DCF standard

Lens

Lens mount
Sony AF

Focusing

Autofocus mode Phase comparison autofocus with 9 sensors
Autofocus Functions Single autofocus, Continuous autofocus, Tracking autofocus, Manual, AF Assist Light
Focus control Depth of field check, preview image

Viewfinder and Monitor

Reflex viewfinder Reflex viewfinder (prism viewfinder) (95 % image coverage), 20 mm interpupillary distance, diopter compensation (-2.5 to +1.0 dpt), replaceable focusing screens
Monitor 2.5″ TFT LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 14 fields, spot measurement
Exposure times 1/4,000 to 30 s (automatic
) bulb function
Exposure control Program automatic, Aperture automatic, Time automatic, Manual
Bracketing function Bracket function with maximum 3 shots, step size from 1/3 to 2/3 EV
Exposure compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Sensitivity to light ISO 100 to ISO 1.600 (manual)
Shooting modes Landscape, Night portrait, Portrait, Sunset, Sport/Action, Fully automatic, 0 additional scene modes
Picture effects DigiTone Settings
White balance Auto, Cloudy, Sun, Shadow, Flash, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Manual
Color space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting 3.0 frames/s at highest resolution, max. 3 to 5 consecutive images depending on file format and compression level
Self-timer Self-timer at intervals of 2 s, special features: or 10 s (optional)
Shooting functions Mirror lock-up, live histogram

Flashgun

Flash built-in flash (hinged
)flash shoe: Sony Alpha (also Minolta)
Flash number Guide number 12 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, Fill Flash, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Flash On Second Shutter Curtain, Red-Eye Reduction

Equipment

Image stabilizer Sensor shift (optical)
Memory
CF (Type I, Type II)
Memory Stick (Duo)
Microdrive
Power supply Power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Lithium ion (Li-Ion) rechargeable battery
Playback Functions Playback histogram, image index
Picture parameters Contrast, Saturation, Noise Reduction
Ports Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 Full Speed
AV connectors AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod socket 1/4″
Features and Miscellaneous extremely stable housing made of fibreglass-plastic roof-mounted mirror finder systemAF sensitivity range

from -1 to 18 EV (with ISO 100)
Spherical Acute Matte G viewfinder matte screen (not replaceable)
anti-shake image stabilisation technology with CCD shift mechanism and blur warning display automatic
portrait format switching of screen contents playback zoom
(max. 5x Magnification)
Quick PlaybackZone Matching FunctionWhite Balance Auto BracketingDirectManualFocus Function

for Direct Manual Intervention in Focusing Mirror Lock Function Custom

Setting Simultaneous
RAW

and JPEG recording possibleExposure Meter Memory
(AE-Lock)
5-step adjustment of image contrast/sharp drawing/color saturation/color toneLong-term noise suppression
can be switched on and off12-bit
A/D conversion Support of
FAT12 file systems

,

FAT16 and FAT32

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 133 x 94 x 71 mm
Weight 590 g (net)

Other

included accessories Fujifilm Video Cable Video HeadNP-FM55H
(Li-Ion)-Accumulator ChargerAccessory Shoe CoverEyepiece Cover EyecupCase Cover Carrying StrapCamera Software
optional accessory protraining Sony Alpha Universal ProductReplacement BatteryPower SupplyCamera Bag

 

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Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.