Glaciers, bears, and 10.2 megapixels, oh my!
5. Battery Life. Sony rates the battery to 750 shots with 50 percent using the flash. Let me put that into perspective. On Day One, I started shooting before 7 a.m. By 11 p.m., I had 247 images on the 2GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, and the battery indicator had gone down just one notch. This was with a lot of chimping and zooming in on the shots on the camera's LCD. Granted, I didn't use the flash much that day, but the Eye-Start system was on until 5 p.m. And this would seem to be a major amp-eater.
6. Eye-Start. Another KM legacy, Eye-Start snaps on the autofocus as soon as anything comes close to a tiny sensor just under the viewfinder. The idea is to give you a split-second advantage over breaking action. You don't have to wait for the AF. No sooner do you have your eye to the viewfinder than the camera is ready to fire. Nice in theory. And maybe in action for some. But not for me. I found that with Alpha around my neck, every time the Eye-Start sensor bumped up against a piece of clothing, the lens was turning as it hunted for a target. With a 300mm lens onboard, it was like having a living creature squirming on my chest. I went into the menu and shut it off.
7. Lens Variety. Sony also took on KM's lens mount, which means the Alpha can handle the millions of KM lenses in photographers' camera bags. This represents glass going back to the mid 1980s. And it includes a full range of optics. Working from the KM portfolio, Sony plans to soon have 19 lenses and two teleconverters to market under the Alpha brand. About all that will change are cosmetics. More are expected to follow, some totally new and carrying the upscale Carl Zeiss label. But on this Alaska adventure, just the 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and a 75-300mm carried the Sony marque. Other lenses were KM models rounded up from a variety of sources-including eBay-and the lenses worked very well. While there may be exceptions to this backwards compatibility, I didn't see any.
8. Wireless flash. The Alpha's wireless flash system is another KM legacy. Born in the Maxxum 7 35mm SLR, this system mates the camera to compatible flashes (now called the HVL-F56AM and HVL-F36AM by Sony), and lets you place the strobe just about anywhere you need a burst of light. The free-standing flash is triggered by the camera's built-in flash. The system is simple in its setup (it takes under a minute) and the results are far above anything you can achieve with an on-camera strobe. If you want to take a shortcut to becoming a Master of Flash, this is your ticket. I used an F56AM flash wirelessly with the Alpha to light the interior of the Beaver float plane as well as dancers at the Alaska Native Culture Center. Simple, simple, simple. About the only flaw in the system is that it's easy to forget to raise the Alpha's pop-up flash. It doesn't pop itself up in this use, or under any circumstance. You must place a fingernail under it and lift the flash manually. A button, or at least a lifting tab, would be a welcome addition.
In a longer evaluation, more of the camera's features and flaws would surface. And our Test Team is eager to put everything to the test--from the sensor's anti-dust system to the D-Range Optimizer, which is billed as beating backlighting. In the meantime, however, from my perspective, the Alpha 100 emerged from this field test as a very strong performer.
Hands On: Sony Alpha 100 DSLR
Inside Story: Testing Sony's Alpha 100 DSLR