SONY has entered the single-lens reflex (SLR) segment of the digital camera market with a model called the Alpha 100.
The A100 is the result of at first a collaboration with Konica-Minolta, and then the transfer of the latter's digital SLR technologies to Sony, with Konica-Minolta announcing its exit from the photo-imaging business.
The 10.2 megapixel camera is now in Singapore, and I had a chance to try it out recently.
Its design is very much like Konica-Minolta's earlier Dynax 5D. There are two dials on top of the plastic-body camera. One dial allows you to switch between a variety of modes, from fully automatic to fully manual.
In between are the usual programme, aperture- and shutter-priority modes, as well as several presets such as for sports, landscape and portrait photography.
The other dial provides access to functions such as metering, focusing, flash, white-balance, ISO and sharpness settings, as well a special feature called dynamic-range. When this feature is used, it can brighten up the darker areas in a high-contrast picture. This dial is one of the good aspects of using the A100. It provides easy access to the functions.
Just select a function by pressing a button in the centre of the dial and this causes a menu of choices to appear on the LCD screen at the back.
Pick the setting you want with a four-way rocker at the back and press a button in the centre of that to set it.
A downside is that the camera switches on with loud clicks as the lens (the test unit came with the 18-70mm kit version) mechanisms wake up. This is the first reason why this is not a camera to use if you want to take pictures unnoticed.
The second reason is the raspy loud sound with which the lens focuses, giving the impression that the focusing motor is not terribly refined. There is a third reason: a loud click-clack made by the shutter mechanism when a picture is taken.
Once past the camera's noisy character, there are more goodies, the first being Sony's Super SteadyShot, a technology acquired from Konica-Minolta. Camera shake - due to unsteady hands and low shutter speeds - leads to blur pictures; and there are two technologies that have been introduced to alleviate this in still cameras. The first is to incorporate a compensating mechanism in the lens to offset camera shake and keep the image on the sensor still, and so, sharp.
The second technology involves placing the sensor itself on a mechanism that compensates for camera body movement. Sony's Super SteadyShot uses this second technology and the boast is that you need just one anti-shake mechanism for all lenses, compared to a mechanism for each lens with the other technology. Super SteadyShot works. It allows you to hand-hold and shoot at lower speeds than would otherwise be possible.
The 18-70 mm plastic-encased kit lens is also a goodie despite its noisiness. Focusing is fast enough, and the pictures are sharp.