Alpha DSLR-A100K

Alpha DSLR-A100K

Sony's hoping to get a piece of the growing SLR pie with the new Alpha A100K.


The Alpha DSLR-A100K is the first of a new line of Sony digital SLR cameras, and this 10.2-megapixel powerhouse is an in-your-face challenge to the SLR old boy's club of Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax. It's the first SLR released after Sony and Konica-Minolta announced a collaboration, and it shows: The A100K finds its roots in Konica-Minolta's Maxxum 5D.


Compact and well balanced, the A100K's grip allowed our forefinger to align perfectly with the shutter button. Menu diving is considerably reduced thanks to an innovative Function Dial on the top left of the camera. By turning the dial and pressing its center button, you access metering modes, flash options, focus, ISO, contrast, saturation, sharpness, white balance, and control over the dynamic range of the image. Each function's options were displayed on a 2.5-inch LCD, ready for fine-tuning with the camera's rocker switch.


The A100K also has a separate mode dial with six preset scene selections in addition to the advanced settings. With a top shutter speed of 1/4,000th of a second, continuous shooting of up to three frames per second, and a flash reach of over 40 feet (at ISO 1,600), there isn't much you won't be able to shoot. You can even keep the shutter open for up to four hours for special night effects.


We got a big kick out of the A100K's autofocusing system - the camera has an IR sensor under the viewfinder that triggers the focusing when you bring the camera to your eye. But when we wanted to try the flash, we were stumped. It doesn't pop up automatically and there's no button. You have to lift it up with your fingertip - how quaint! On the other hand, you can be sure it will never flash when you don't want it to.


We slid in the camera's 750-shot rechargeable battery, inserted a 2GB SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash card (you can also use Sony's Memory Stick Duo cards with an included adapter) and set off to shoot local flora and fauna. The camera turned on in about a second, focus was quick, shutter lag was a nonissue, and shot-to-shot time was as fast as we could click 'em, even when using the 3-frames-per-second continuous burst mode. Colors reproduced accurately with good saturation and big blow-ups on Epson's Stylus Photo 2200 inkjet printer showed excellent detail.


The A100K's sexiest feature is its antishake capability, which Sony calls Super SteadyShot. It works with any lens, and when turned on, it shifts the sensor to cancel out camera movement at slow shutter speeds. We tried it under three conditions most likely to produce blurry images. First, we shot at a very slow shutter speed in low light. Then, we racked the telephoto lens out to its maximum focal length (the shaky, high-powered binocular analogy). Finally, we shot some extreme close-ups. In each case we were able to get sharp images at slower-than-normal shutter speeds that let us use smaller apertures to better keep both near and far objects in focus. When we shot under the same conditions with the antishake off, most of our images were unusable. Sony also uses this feature to shake dust off the sensor when the camera is powered down.


Sony offers an inexpensive starter lens that we used to shoot most of our images - a Sony 18 to 70mm (27 to 105mm in 35mm terms), f/3.5-5.6 lens (with an included sunshade) that has a silky-smooth zoom and is extraordinarily sharp. We also had an opportunity to try Sony's lightweight 11 to 18mm (16.5-27mm in 35mm terms), f/4.5-5.6 super wide-angle lens that gave us visually dramatic pictures with great depth of field. Most Minolta lenses (and millions of them are out there) will work with the camera, and a line of Zeiss-made digital glass is on the way.


The bottom line. When Konica-Minolta decided to ditch its camera business, you could just hear its Maxxum 5D echoing a Brando-esque, "I coulda been a contenda!" With Sony now at ringside, the rejuvenated A100 definitely has a shot at the title.


PRICE: $999.95 with 18-70mm (27-105mm 35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 lens, $899.95 body only
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.1 or later, USB
Great ergonomics. Easy to learn. Fine images. Built-in antishake preserves image sharpness at slow shutter speeds.
Flash must be raised manually. Mechanically noisier than others in its class. No Mac image browser included.





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