When Sony introduced its first DSLR, the Alpha 100, we liked it enough to name it our 2006 Camera of the Year. While its replacement, the new Alpha 200, doesn't break much new ground, it will certainly give its entry-level competitors a run for their money. And money is the operative word, given the A200's bargain street price of $500 with a 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 lens ($700 with additional 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens).
As we mentioned in our first look at the A200 (March 2008), the new camera has the same 10.2MP (effective) CCD sensor as its predecessor, placing it on par with other entry-level DSLRs in terms of pixel count. Like all cameras in this class (except for those made by Olympus, with the Four Thirds system), it has an APS-C sized sensor, which in this case gives it a 1.5X lens factor. Sensor-based image stabilization is built right in. Where the Alpha 200 outstrips most: sensitivity, which reaches ISO 3200. That's not only 1 stop more than the A100, but 1 stop more than the Canon EOS Rebel XS and XSi, Olympus E-420, andPentax K200D.
The real question: How well does the Alpha 200 perform? Very well indeed in our tests both in the Pop Photo Lab and in the field.
Overall, image quality was Excellent from ISO 100 through 800. It slipped to Extremely High at ISO 1600-3200, when noise reduction, a default setting, kicked in at the expense of resolution. This dropped to 1725 lines at ISO 3200 from 2150 lines on average at lower ISOs.
The A200 also fared very well in our noise tests, slightly edging out Canon's Rebel XSi from ISO 100 through 800. But even at lower sensitivities, its noise advantage costs the Sony resolution: The Canon beats it by about 100 lines at ISO 100.
And color accuracy scored an Excellent rating in our Lab test, with an average Delta E of 7.6 -- more accurate than any consumer-grade film. Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer does a good job of producing images with a wide range of tones from light to dark. Images also show excellent contrast.
Sony's 40-segment honeycomb-pattern metering system determines the right exposure for a given scene, and it's supplemented by both centerweighted-and spotmetering for trickier conditions. While its multisegment metering doesn't quite measure up to Nikon's nearly telepathic 3D Color Matrix Metering II in adapting to extraordinary situations, such as a heavily backlit portrait, we're still plenty impressed. We're also glad that Sony's multisegment metering errs on the side of preserving highlights, since it's easier to resurrect shadow detail in postprocessing than it is to salvage blown highlights.
Burst shooting came close to matching Sony's claim of 3 frames per second in our tests. A camera's actual burst rate in the field depends on a number of factors, sometimes including which memory card you use. We were able to get 25 images in 9 seconds, for an average of 2.8 frames per second using a Lexar 2GB UDMA 300X-speed card. Conveniently, you can shoot JPEGs continuously until your card fills up, though you're limited to 6 RAW images, or 3 RAW + JPEG frames, before the buffer runs out of space.