We used to have a lot of questions about Sony's takeover of Konica Minolta's camera division. Now, after running a full set of Certified Lab Tests and field tests of the new 10.2MP Sony Alpha 100 ($900, street, body only), only one question is left: How will Sony make enough of them to satisfy the demand for a camera that outperforms anything in its price range?
If you read our Hands On review you already know that the A100 has a well-designed and well-built body, is fully compatible with all older Konica Minolta lenses, has built-in image stabilization, a dust-removal system, great image and metering controls, an eye-activated AF system, and a large 2.5-inch LCD. But here's what we know now:
The A100 provides the highest image quality of any DSLR for under $1,000-thanks, no doubt, to its 10.2MP (effective) CCD and Sony's years of experience making APS-format sensors and advanced image processing systems for Nikon, Pentax, and Konica Minolta DSLRs.
With Excellent resolution, at just under 2,000 lines, the A100 beats the Canon EOS 30D and Rebel XT, stomps the Olympus Evolt E-330, and is nearly as sharp as the more expensive ($1,700, body only) 10.4MP Nikon D200. (For more details, see the Competitive Set sidebar.)
In color accuracy, the A100's Excellent Rating rivals that of the Canon 3OD and Nikon D200. At lower ISOs (from 80 to 800), it held down noise rather well. But we were disappointed with the Unacceptable noise level at ISO 1600.
Test scores don't tell the whole story, given all the A100's options and controls, some of which debut on this camera. We needed to test many of these further to figure out what they actually accomplish for the images. These include the A100's Dynamic Range Optimizer (DR) and Optimizer Plus (DR+) settings.
Both of these controls proved useful. DR acts like the Auto Levels function in Adobe Photoshop. Adjusting the entire image, it punches up the impact of a low-contrast picture. But, in a high-contrast scene, it brightens shadow areas at the expense of blowing out highlight detail. DR+, on the other hand, analyzes the scene and adapts to particular problems within the image, so dark shadow areas appear brighter and have more detail, while highlight areas add or maintain detail.