DSLR kamere


Sony Alpha / first test
By Matjaz Intihar / translated by Joze Sveticic
Jun 13, 2006, 22:29

 



In January, when Sony announced their entry into the DSLR market by taking over the photography department of Konica Minolta, I started getting a rough idea as to how Sony want to enter this market that was entirely new to them. Sony’s first step was to buy the best available choice when it came to SLR bodies, which proved to be the right way to enter the DSLR market. After all, Sony has no own experience when it comes to SLR technology, such as autofocus, light metering, use of real shutters etc.  They got all this by purchasing the Konica Minolta photo business. And that’s not all. The technology that Sony now possess is top quality and quite comparable to the competition. But Sony made another smart move. By buying Konica Minolta technology, they acquired a large user base of Minolta SLR cameras and lenses. The total number of Minolta lenses sold so far is 16 million, and they can all be used on Alpha cameras. It’s only logical for Minolta shooters to regard the Sony brand with some suspicion. However, Sony used all the good bits from Minolta 5D, and only changed the shape and the names and use of functions in order to make it more familiar to users of Sony’s compact digicams. (Dear CyberShot users, before entering the DSLR world, read the “Compact digicam vs. SLR” article.) By doing this, they achieved two goals. Konica Minolta users are reassured, since Sony kept the Minolta technology, whereas Sony users will have less trouble entering the DSLR world, as many functions and their names are already known to them. Most of all, Sony used an excellent slogan for the first, entry level Alpha camera. “We help you make better pictures!”

 

After seeing the presentation of their philosophy (see article on introduction of the Alpha), I’m sure that Sony thought out this move quite well and that they will be a strong competitor for Canon and Nikon. As for the other manufacturers of DSLR cameras, e.g. Olympus, Pentax, Samsung and Panasonic, I'm sure Sony will leave them behind.

 

A month before the official beginning of retail availability, Sony have an adequate number of cameras ready.

 

Attaching a Sigma lens on the Sony Alpha 100 works flawlessly. This considerably extends lens choice.

 

The body

 

After the first presentation of the camera, we were able to examine it more closely and test it in practice. When it comes to the body, Sony didn’t experiment too much. After buying the Konica Minolta photo business, they did not make the mistake of severing the ties with body experts. Several Konica Minolta engineers are still working on development of new cameras under the Sony Alpha name. In this way, the shape of the body was changed only minutely. It retains several well known features of the Dynax 5D (Dynax 5D DIWA test). The body (94.7 x 133.1 x 71.3 mm, 545g) is made of plastics, while the big, nicely formed grip is covered in rubber. On the back, there’s the 2.5 inch display with a resolution 230,000 pixels and function buttons that are very similar to those on the Dynax 5D. However, the top is changed drastically. The two dials, reminiscent of those on the Cybershot 828, are well built. Especially the right one, used to choose the capture program, clearly shows that it was taken from Sony cameras in an attempt to make the new camera more familiar to the established user base. The Alpha uses a 1600 mAh Li-ion Stamina battery, enabling it to achieve top-of-the-class 750 frames per charge. The testing also showed that this battery does indeed have a large capacity and does not run out of juice easily.



Everything is OK. It’s just the Sony name that isn’t yet familiar on an SLR camera. But it won't be long before Sony cameras will get the respect they deserve.

 

The body itself hasn’t changed much from the Minolta 5D. Sony did the right thing. All that is typical of good DSLR cameras was incorporated into the new Alpha 100.

 

The back is very clean, with few buttons and a large 2.5 inch display with 230,000 pixels.

 

 

 

The left dial is used for several settings. Pick the desired function, push the middle “Fn” button and change the setting. It is obvious that this is not a professional camera. For fast work, changing the settings is a bit awkward and takes some additional time. However, it's still better to have these settings on the controls rather than having to look them up in the menu.

 

Control dials are well made.

 

The battery has an extremely high performance, while the memory card slot takes CF cards. The kit also contains an adapter for using MemoryStick Duo cards in the CF slot.

 

The basic kit lens has a plastic mount.

 

The Alpha 100 and both kit lenses.

 

The telephoto lens provided in the kit has a high quality metal mount.

 

Technical features

 

As with the body itself, Sony didn’t do much experimenting with the technical features. The vast majority of Dynax 5D’s features were kept, while some new features were added.

 

Sony is the biggest CCD manufacturer. Therefore, they could afford to be the first to put a 10.2 MP sensor in an entry level camera. The sensor is an APS-C job with a 1.5 crop factor compared with the full 35 mm format. Since the presentation was in the very dusty environment of the Atlas mountain rage in Morocco, we could expect a sensor cleaning feature. Sony coated the sensor with a special anti-static coating which helps repel dust particles. Since the camera already uses the Super SteadyShot technology to minimise camera shake effect on the final image (very similar to Minolta's AntiShake technology) which works by moving the sensor to compensate for camera movement, the camera shakes the sensor when the camera is turned off, shaking off any eventual dust particles. In practice, the anti-static coating performed well. Because of this, there’s less need to worry about dust particles destroying the fine details in the picture. (article on sensor dust)

The camera also contains a new processor, called the BIONZ, which enables the camera to process the image captured by the sensor quickly and well. It is this processing speed that enables JPEG writing at such speed that there's no burst length limit when shooting JPEG at three frames per second. This is partly due to the camera's strong data compression, enabling it to write the data faster.

 

Sony was the first to include the possibility of correcting the dynamic range of the images in camera. The Dynamic Range Optimiser makes it possible to decrease the contrast in a high contrast image by modifying the gamma curve in the camera.

 

The vast majority of Alpha 100’s settings hasn’t changed from the Dynax 5D and therefore won’t be discussed in this first test.

 

They did however include Minolta’s Eye Start technology, which means the camera starts focusing as soon as it’s put to the eye. In the viewfinder, 9 focus points are visible. The centre point is a cross, while the other eight are lines, meaning that vertical or horizontal lines may prove to be a bit problematic to focus sometimes. As with most entry level DSLR cameras, the Alpha 100 foregoes the use of a pentaprism in favour of a pentamirror for the viewfinder. Because of this, the viewfinder magnification is only 0.83. However, the viewfinder is sufficiently bright. Viewfinder information is the same as in the Dynax 5D.

 

Metering is also implemented using Minolta’s tried and tested honeycomb system. A total of 40 metering fields in a honeycomb shape ensure excellent metering of incident light.

 

The camera’s built-in flash has a guide number of 12 and uses the ADI metering system. The shutter is capable of times from 1/4000 second to 30 seconds. The flash syncs at 1/160 second, and at 1/125 second when using image stabilisation. Burst shooting has a maximum rate of three frames per second and unlimited burst length in JPEG format. When shooting in RAW, the buffer depth decreases to 6 frames (or 3 when shooting RAW+JPEG), after which the burst rate is decreased. The Alpha 100 enables bracketing for exposition and white balance.


Minolta was always a technology leader. The Alpha 7000, introduced in 1985, was the first SLR with autofocus. Sony managed to keep the qualities of Minolta's cameras, meaning that Minolta users will grow used to the new name quickly.

 

Functioning of the antidust system. Smaller, non-sticky dust particles don’t stick to the CCD, since it has a special anti-static coating. Before the camera is turned off, the sensor is shaken, removing any sticky dust particles. However, the most difficult dust must be then removed with a blower. Read the “Dust on sensor” article. It'll help you sleep at night instead of obsessing with sensor dust, and learn how to clean your sensor if the dust grows too much for you.

 

The sensor moves quite a bit to compensate for camera shake, almost 9 mm diagonally, to be more precise.



The Super SteadyShot system is supposed to offer even better camera shake compensation than Minolta’s AntiShake system.

 

As with the most entry level SLR cameras, the Alpha 100 doesn’t have a prism to transmit the image into the viewfinder. The "head” of the camera contains mirrors. (an interesting look at the built-in flash in the upper right corner).



To the right of the tripod socket is the AF system.

 

The large, high resolution display makes detailed image review possible.  It also displays the settings in use. The rest is the same as with the Minolta 5D. When the camera is tilted from the horizontal to the vertical position, the display is reoriented automatically.

 

I also tested three Sigma lenses with the camera.



Old Minolta lenses work well with the Alpha, too. (28 - 80mm, 50 mm and 70 – 210 mm).

 

I also tested the Minolta 5200i flash. It does function, but ADI doesn't work.

 

Sony also includes a CD with all necessary applications. The cameras should hit the shelves in mid-July.

 

Sony Alpha 100 in practice

 

I grew familiar with the camera very quickly. It’s an amalgamate of Minolta's and Sony philosophy. It sits well in the hand, the buttons grow familiar very quickly, and the vast majority of settings can be changed with the buttons, eliminating the need to use the menus. The speed is comparable to the competition, and when it comes to focusing, the Eye Start focus enables faster functioning. The Super SteadyShot technology works very well and has – in the entry-level cameras - a considerable advantage over in-lens stabilisation. This system works with all lenses. Also, the built-in flash can control an external flash even if it is not connected to the camera. Wireless flash operation is therefore possible even with the basic Alpha camera.

 

I tested the camera with the new DT 18-70 mm and DT 75-300 mm lenses as well as with older lenses. Sigma’s lenses function well (I haven’t tested Tamron and other third party lenses yet), enabling Alpha users to choose from a wide variety of different lenses. By the end of the year, 21 Sony lenses should be available. These will include the G series, representing the upper bracket of Sony’s lenses, very similar to Minolta's lenses. In December, the well known lens manufacturer Carl Zeiss will introduce three top lenses for the Alpha under the ZA designation. It seems that Sony will introduce a pro-level Alpha camera at that time.

 

75-300mm / 75mm, 1/100sek., f/13, 100ISO.

 

18-70mm / 30mm, 1/100sek., f/5,6, 200ISO.

 

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/100sek., f/7,1, 200ISO.

 

18-70mm / 20mm, 1/125sek., f/14, 100ISO.

 

50mm 1,7 / 50mm, 1/125sek., f/18, 80ISO.

 

18-70mm / 24mm, 1/13sek., f/22, 100ISO.

 

18-70mm / 24mm, 1/160sek., f/20, 100ISO.

 

75-300mm / 75mm, 1/160sek., f/6,3, 100ISO.

 

70-210mm f/4 / 70mm, 1/160sek., f/7,1, 200ISO.

 

70-210mm f/4 / 130mm, 1/200sek., f/11, 400ISO.

 

75-300mm / 300mm, 1/200sek., f/5,6, 100ISO.

 

18-70mm / 24mm, 1/160sek., f/20, 100ISO.

 

75-300mm / 135mm, 1/2000sek., f/4,5, 400ISO.

 

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/30sek., f/13, 200ISO.

 

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/30sek., f/4, 100ISO.

 

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/80sek., f/14, 100ISO.

 

18-70mm / 20mm, 1/40sek., f/4,5, 100ISO.

 

70-210mm f/4 / 135mm, 1/400sek., f/6,3, 100ISO.

 

70-210mm f/4 / 70mm, 1/400sek., f/9, 400ISO.

 

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/500sek., f/10, 400ISO.

 

75-300mm / 300mm, 1/500sek., f/5,6, 100ISO.

 

70-210mm f/4 / 210mm, 1/500sek., f/7,1, 400ISO.

 

18-70mm / 20mm, 1/50sek., f/5,6, 100ISO.

 

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/60sek., f/14, 100ISO.

 

70-210mm f/4 / 120mm, 1/640sek., f/5,6, 100ISO.

The whole picture. Below, 100% crops are shown at various focal lengths and aperture values.

18 mm. On the left, f/4.5, in the middle, f/8 and on the right, f/22. With a fully stopped down aperture, the sharpness decreases.

70 mm. On the left, f/5.6, in the middle, f/8 and on the right, f/22.

75 mm. On the left, f/5.6, in the middle, f/8 and on the right, f/22.

300 mm. On the left, f/5.6, in the middle, f/8 and on the right, f/22. Both kit lenses have a reasonably constant sharpness up to f/11. From f/11 upwards, contrast and sharpness decrease. This, however, is not a great failing. Both lenses are intended for the amateur users and perform well for their price. Those desiring a higher quality, however, will have to pay considerably more.

50mm f/1,7

50mm f/22

18-70 mm. The lens has very little chromatic aberration.

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/80sek., f/9, 100ISO.

100% edge crop.

100% centre crop.

18-70mm / 70mm, 1/13sek., f/5,6, 1600ISO.

1600ISO izrez 1:1.

1600ISO izrez 1:1.

Dinamic Range Optimazer 0.

Izrez 1:1. Dinamic Range Optimazer 0.

Dinamic Range Optimazer ON+.

Izrez 1:1. Dinamic Range Optimazer 0.

Fill-in-flash.

18-70mm / 45mm, 1/80sek., f/11, 100ISO.

18-70mm / 18mm, 1/200sek., f/4,5, 100ISO.

18-70mm / 70mm, 1/125sek., f/8, 100ISO.

18-70 mm / 18 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, 100 ISO. The lens has very little chromatic aberration.

100% centre crop.

100% edge crop.



Conclusion of the first test

We may not be quite aware of it yet, but Sony’s introduction of the Alpha marks a considerable shift in the world of photography. A lot will change regarding the way their competition think and introduce new technology. Sony will quickly achieve a 10% market share in DSLR cameras, causing lot of trouble to smaller manufacturers.

 

With the right attitude, using their own sensor and electronics technology, and by taking over Minolta’s excellent autofocus, metering and lenses, and by further developing cameras with the same team and collaborating with Carl Zeiss, there are sure to be a lot of buyers for their cameras. This also means that Sony’s entry into the DSLR market is a good thing for all DSLR camera users. It will cause the erstwhile untouchable Canon and especially Nikon to increase the pace of development and show something new. We can expect their response to the Sony Alpha within a month or two.

 

The Sony Alpha 100 will hit the shelves in mid-July. I’ll perform and publish a DIWA test of the camera then. We’ll soon see how Minolta’s users will react to it. I think they might be a bit reluctant at first and wait for a mid-level Alpha camera. Sony CyberShot users and those who know Sony by their audio-video products will likely be the first buyers of the Alpha 100. To them, the Sony name means a certain degree of quality, and besides, they're not familiar with real photography companies. This means that Sony managed to attract a lot of new photographers who didn’t even think about entering the DSLR world. To all these, the Alpha 100 will be an excellent companion and a camera that will enable them to explore possibilities which are just not available using a compact digital camera.

It is only fitting that we wish all the best to a new system camera. However, even though they have an excellent camera, Sony needs to convince the more demanding photographers who are not used to the Sony brand in the DSLR class. The engineers performed their job well. The rest is now up to marketing. These must prove to the photographers that Sony is trustworthy in the DSLR world as well. Judging by their entry, I believe they'll succeed.

Sony 18-70 left, Sigma 18-125 right. (f/5.6).

Sony 18-70 left, Sigma 18-125 right. (f/11).

There will be a lot of Sony accessories available by the end of the year.

Some lenses are new, with most taken over from Minolta, and soon to come are the truly top-notch Carl Zeiss lenses.


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