Blending a proven DSLR, 10.2MP sensor, and cool technology.
Playback controls on the A100 also include a fast 12X zoom with rapid scrolling (which is impressive for such large image files); up to 16 image thumbnails can be seen clearly. A File Browser mode also lets you move quickly among folders on a memory card, with six images displayed from each folder.
The A100's eye-activated AF sensor might be useful for some situations, but we turned it off at the start to prevent it from draining the battery or activating the AF system every time something neared the viewfinder. We like the fact that it automatically turns off the LCD when your eye approaches the viewfinder, so that the screen doesn't interfere with the view.
The viewfinder provides excellent accuracy (94%) and magnification (0.86X, somewhat smaller than the EOS 30D or Rebel XT). The viewfinder data display is also easy to read, with variable brightness based on ambient lighting conditions.
A dozen custom functions include Release Priority for the AF and many programmable button choices. For example, the Focus Hold button on some lenses can be turned into a depth of field preview, and the control dial can be set to change aperture or shutter speed. You can also set the menu to return to the last item adjusted.
Along the path of appropriating from the Maxxum 5D, the Sony's AF system appears to have been borrowed wholesale. That is good news for the A100, since the 5D had one of the fastest and most sensitive AF systems of any KM SLR. The viewfinder also has similar markings, including the wide area box, spot AF indicator, and nine selectable AF zones.
In addition, the A100 has a direct manual focus assist (DMF) that aids when shooting macro and close-ups. In manual focus mode, the camera takes distance into account for proper exposure (especially useful for flash close-ups). As a result, every time you turn the camera on in MF mode, it sets the lens focus to infinity.
The built-in Super SteadyShot system works just as well as the one found on the older KM Maxxum 7D and 5D, without the "floating" feeling found in image stabilized lens-based systems, since this one activates at shutter release. Using our DxO Analyzer 2.0 test target and software to determine differences in blur, we found that fairly stable shooters using a telephoto get about 2 stops worth of help with the A100's stabilization system, while shakier shooters averaged 3 stops of improvement.
Sony is shipping two kit lenses with the A100: an 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 wide-angle zoom and a 75-300 f/4.5-5.6 macro. The 75-300mm has actually been around for 11 years (as a Minolta) and taxes the AF system at full zoom when the aperture drops to f/5.6. We expect Sony to offer higher-quality lenses down the road; 19 lenses will be available in the next year.
The bottom line? KM and Minolta loyalists should be thrilled with the A100, as it continues many of the best aspects of the Maxxum line and won't let their investment in lenses go to waste. The merger of KM into Sony appears to have produced a better DSLR than either company could have made on its own, with features and a price that should attract anyone ready to move up from a compact or EVF digital camera to their first DSLR. Looks like the established players will be scrambling to top it -- and not the other way around.