Sony has finally entered the digital SLR game with its new 10MP Alpha 100, and it's full of surprises. Does this newcomer stand a chance against veteran DSLR players Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax? Some might have said, "No way!" before Sony acquired Konica Minolta's DSLR division earlier this year. But now, by combining some of KM's best DSLR features with Sony's advanced sensor technology and design innovations, the Alpha 100 makes it a whole new game.
Of course, the A100's success could ride on cost. At press time, the official price hadn't been set, but our educated guess is that it will be about $899 (street) for body only, and with the Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 macro kit lens, $999. That puts it directly in price competition with the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, Nikon D70s, and Olympus Evolt E-330 (see sidebar).
Sony gave us an exclusive look at one of the very first working models of the Alpha 100, and we came away extremely impressed. Several features and specifications were still being finalized, and it may be a few months before a production version is ready for testing, but here's a glimpse at the A100's top features and functions:
1. Nice Body
The A100 is fairly compact and well-balanced. The body weighs 1.4 pounds, just slightly more than the Rebel XT's 1.2 pounds, and is similar in height and width (5x3.8 inches) to the XT. Two large dials on top give you quick access to most image quality and metering controls, and the camera back includes well-positioned buttons for playback and menu controls. According to Sony, the internal frame is made of magnesium alloy, and the Minolta A-type bayonet lensmount is made of stainless steel. The outside shell is a tough black polycarbonate, with a well-formed grip and mirrored finish around the shutter button. In all, a sound design.
2. Uncommon Sensor
A Sony-manufactured 10.2MP (effective) CCD sensor holds the key to image quality. A true APS-sized sensor, it gives a 1.5X 35mm lens factor to any optic mounted on the camera. The A100 captures a 10MP image (3872x2592 pixels) at up to 12 bits per color when stored in Sony's SRF 1.1 RAW format (the same format as on the Sony DSC-R1 EVF), and it can be set to JPEG, RAW + JPEG, and RAW only. The resolution can also be set to 5.6MP (2896x1936 pixels) and 2.5MP (1920x1280 pixels). In addition, the A100 uses a new image processing engine, called "Bionz."
3. Flexible Memory
The A100 accepts CompactFlash Type I/II cards and microdrives, and Sony Memory Stick Duo cards with a supplied CF adapter. Card type and speed help determine burst duration and frame-per-second shooting speed. According to Sony, with a fast CF card it should capture fine-quality, full-resolution JPEGs at slightly more than 3 fps continuously until the card is full (impressive for a 10MP DSLR). In RAW, the duration drops to 6 or 7 frames without a pause; in RAW + JPEG, around 3 frames. It can continue firing as soon as enough space clears in the buffer for another shot, but not at the faster rate.