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Some people forget that I'm a photographer, not a camera reviewer. I can't review everything. I only have the time to review what I might want to use myself for my own work.
I wrote this page because I got so many requests for my opinion on the new Sony SLR. Of course you might have a different opinion. That's what makes the world free. It would be really boring if everyone had the same needs: every camera would be exactly the same!
I have my preferences. Others have different preferences. I do this site to share what I love. I can't possibly test every camera, especially not today when there are new cameras every week. I have to make a fast triage of what's worth buying personally (my D200), what's worth borrowing from a friend (the Infra-red D50), and what to ignore.
If a camera lacks direct dedicated input buttons for White Balance, ISO or Quality, I pass. Would you drive a car that required a menu or function selector knob to steer if you could get one with a real dedicated steering wheel instead? Of course not. I adjust WB for almost every shot, so I demand direct access. For me, needing menus for critical adjustments is as silly as not having a steering wheel. You may differ. These are my biases and prejudices. Without them I'd accomplish nothing from analysis paralysis.
I won't be reviewing the Sony A100 because it doesn't make my cut as something I'd use personally. Other people may love the A100, but not me. For me there are better choices.
I'd rather have a Nikon D50 or Canon Digital rebel, for less money. Either of those gives me faster access to the adjustments I need to make shot-to-shot. The A100 goes for $900, body only, and I can get a D50 for $549. I'd rather shoot with a D50 even if it cost more, and no, Nikon doesn't give me anything, even to borrow. Sure the A100 has a bigger screen, but other cameras work faster to get me better photos I might miss otherwise.
It's critical to me to have the right controls in my hands when I need them, and not be dicking around menus or function knobs to set basics. One lost second can mean a lost shot. It's that critical for me, since my subjects don't wait.
The Sony A100 is based on the Minolta DSLRs. It will sell as of July 2006 for $900, body only. Not enough people bought them when Minolta sold them, so Minolta quit the camera business. That was too bad; the first real camera I ever bought was a Minolta. Many people loved the Minolta DSLRs, but not enough.
Sony bought what remained of Minolta, and out of that and some new tweaks and sensor we have the A100. A reader writes that he was scooping up bargain close-out Minolta SLRs at Circuit City in California for under $500 each. If true, I see no point of waiting to buy the Sony-branded version for twice the price.
The A100 only takes old Minolta AF lenses, which is what Sony now calls it's A mount. Sony is re-branding the Minolta lenses as Sony. Minolta made great lenses, but not as many as Canon or Nikon. Personally the Nikon 18 - 200 AFS VR has completely changed the way I make photographs. Minolta, Sony, Pentax and Canon have nothing close to it. You can buy other 18 - 200 lenses, but they lack VR so you need to bring a tripod, and they lack AFS and don't focus as fast as I'd like for sports. The Nikon lens does it all for me. Lens choice is more important to me than cameras, another reason I stick with Nikon and would go Canon if I was going to change (which I'm not, today anyway.)
The good news is that Minolta's trick feature was wiggling the CCD to reduce image shake. The A100 retains that, which if it works as promised gives VR and IS to any lens you put on it. That's cool: I love VR and IS.
10 Megapixels: Who cares? See the megapixel myth. No one cares how many pixels you have if they are all black because you had to take your eye away from the finder to navigate a menu and missed the shot. I make eye-popping 12 x 18" prints all the time from my 6MP DSLRs.
Lenses: Minolta AF (Sony A) Mount only.
ISO: 100 - 1,600. Auto ISO only goes to 800, presumably because ISO 1,600 is noisy.
WB: Same as Nikon
Sync Speed: Only 1/160, or 1/125 with VR on, which is crummy. See Why Sync Speed is Important
Bionz Image Processor. Who cares? I used to be impressed by this decades ago before I myself worked in marketing inventing these stupid acronyms. Guess what? Every camera has this same stuff, and how well it works has nothing to do with who in product marketing dreamed up the acronyms. Want to know the best, fastest camera processor on the planet? The Casio point-and-shoot cameras, which respond faster to my menu and playback commands than any of my Nikons or Canons, make no acronymic processing claims! My Casio can scroll past 10 images per second, full screen. My D200 is less than half that fast. My Canon point-and-shoots with DIGIC are also slow in spite of their acronyms. Sorry, I have a degree and design experience in electronic engineering and digital image processing, and we know how well something works has nothing to do with its marketing. That caveat aside, how well this Sony works waits to be seen in person.
Dynamic Range Optimizer. Sony mentions a clever, selectable local dynamic range optimization routine they call DRO. More important to good photos is getting the light right so you don't have to jerk the image around with these processors, but one can't always do that in the field. In rare occasions where fill flash can't fix something I revert to Photoshop CS+. This feature could save valuable time over manual Photoshop massage. Only real shooting will tell us how well the camera renders light. Sony has been in electronic imaging since at least the 1960s and makes the sensors used in many other cameras of every brand, so they know a thing or two which hopefully makes it into this camera. Just don't buy any camera based on what you see in advertising. Buy it based on the photos you can make with it.
I'd prefer the Nikon D50 which costs less! If you shoot Canon, get the cheapest Canon Digital Rebel, which also allows better control.
If you know what you want then don't let me dissuade you. If you want my opinion, this Sony is designed for the needs of hobbyists and not full-time photographers, which of course makes sense. I predict it will go the way of Minolta.
This camera is nice if you already own the lenses, but if not, you're better off with a compact point-and-shoot for convenience, or a Nikon or Canon with which you can grow a system for decades without worrying about them going out of business.
Every day I shoot I use my Nikon D200 and adjust WB, ISO and QUAL purely by feel! I push the button, and count the clicks of the command dials. I see no such direct entry buttons on the Sony, which is what dumps it on the pile of cameras I won't bother reviewing. Life's too short.
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